Decoder Ring

The Invention of Hydration

Water, water everywhere.


Episode Notes

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Decoder Ring is a podcast about cracking cultural mysteries. Every episode, host Willa Paskin takes on a cultural question, object, idea, or habit and speaks with experts, historians, and obsessives to try and figure out where it comes from, what it means, and why it matters.

To say that hydration is an invention is only a slight exaggeration. Back in the 1970’s and ‘80s, no one carried bottled water with them, but by the ‘90s it was a genuine status object. How did bottled water transform itself from a small, European luxury item to the single largest beverage category in America? It took both technological innovation, but even more importantly it took savvy marketing from brands like Gatorade and Perrier to turn the concept of hydration, and dehydration into problem they could solve via their wares. Today, hydration has branched out from athletics to wellness to skincare, but the actual science behind all of it is pretty sketchy.

Some of the voices you’ll hear in this episode include Christie Aschwanden, author of Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery ,Slate senior writer Christina Cauterucci, beverage marketers Michael Bellas and Gary Hemphill, and author Amy Larocca. Special thanks to Alex Hutchinson, whose book, Endure: Mind, Body, and the Curiously Elastic Limits of Human Performance , was indispensable to reporting this episode.


This episode was produced by Willa Paskin and Benjamin Frisch.


About the Show

In each episode, host Willa Paskin takes a cultural question, object, or habit; examines its history; and tries to figure out what it means and why it matters.

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