Early this year, there was a bit of an internet maelstrom over the chemical Bisphenol A (BPA), which is used in the manufacturing of polycarbonate plastics and epoxy resins. The initial topic that got the most focus was the use of BPA in the manufacturing of baby bottles. Some countries, Canada being the first, have banned the use of BPA in the manufacture of baby bottles. But it is still being used to make a whole host of other plastic products. It looks like the anti-BPA movement has been given some new ammunition with a publication of (publicly available for download) that links BPA to diagnoses of heart-disease and diabetes.
The meat of the study showed that those with BPA levels in the top 25% of the group had three times the risk of heart disease. When considering diabetes, the probability was a lower 2.43. There was no indication of an association with any other disease. According to the study, it was a possibility that BPA was really masking the true problem of obesity, as the two are inherently linked since obese people general eat more and therefore have a higher exposure to BPA as a result of higher consumption of food exposed to BPA. However, there was a correlation between BPA and an elevated liver enzyme that remained statistically relevant even when the obese participants in the study were excluded.
It is important to note that the FDA insists that BPA is perfectly safe. Given the FDA’s semi-regular stance of insisting on such safety right up until the point it issues a massive recall in conjunction with some major class action suit, I’ll remain skeptical. It’s also important to note that the study mentioned discusses food, not liquid. However, given the concern over baby bottles, I feel like I was justified in being concerned. I spend, like most triathletes, a significant amount of time imbibing liquid from a plastic container, and I’m not talking just about those handy bottles of Night Train and Mad Dog that help me make it through the big training weeks.
I estimate that I’m probably drinking out of a bottle for almost every hour that I spend training. This realization was the same motivation that moved me to switch to ClifShot as my beverage du jour, since I didn’t really think I needed to supplement my daily vitamin dosage with a large volume of Yellow-5, thank you very much. Clif uses a large percentage of organic ingredients and no artificial dyes, which is why I’ve taken to buying (no, they aren’t a sponsor) their gels and drink mix over pretty much everything else. Now, while this may seem like a bit of a derailment of the thought train, I just want to show that I do spend a significant, perhaps unreasonable, amount of time dedicated to my water bottles. So, when the BPA hullabaloo began, I took notice. My first fear-induced purchase was a copper-jacketed aluminum water bottle from Sigg of Switzerland. This worked great as a between-workouts bottle, though I must admit I don’t like being able to see whether or not it is clean (since it’s metal), which is even more of an issue given the narrow neck. But in any case, it’s a very nice bottle, though I think I may replace it with a stainless steel one with a bigger mouth.
But, the problem remained, or so I thought, “what to do *during* workouts.” Like most people who ride a bike, I have a vast and extensive flock of bottles, collected from various races and honoring various old cycling teams - such as my crown jewel, a pair of Tacx AllSport US Postal bottles. Remember AllSport? That somewhat carbonated Gatorade ripoff? Awesome.
But are these safe? I was gripped with fear until I went and checked the trusty interweb. Well, there is a way to check. Look at the bottom of your bottle and find that tiny little triangle-made-of-arrows. If it has a number 7, then it might be a polycarbonate plastic, which means it might contain BPA; this is most typical of the hard bottles like some of the older Nalgene-style bottles. Many of these companies, Nalgene included, offer information on their websites about which of their products contain(ed) BPA, and what they have done and are doing to remove BPA from their products. Looking at the bottom of your bottle, you may also see the number 7 with the letters “PC” beside it. This means that the plastic will definitely contain BPA. A plastic container without a number may or may not contain BPA, though again, it’s important to note that LDPE and PP, which are what most *soft* bottles are made from a never made using BPA. For reference, in case you care, the “safe” plastic containers to choose are those labelled with the numbers 2, 4 and 5. Trek’s bottles are #4 plastic. Trek rebadges bottles for a lot of bike shops, races, etc. So just because you don’t have a Trek logoed bottle, it doesn’t mean you don’t have a Trek brand bottle. Specialized makes probably the most ubiquitous rebadged water bottles around. Look at the bottom of your bottles, if you see a small Specialized “S” logo, it’s a Specialized bottle. These bottles are also #4 plastic, made of low density polyethylene (LDPE), which is a safe plastic. Generally speaking, the squishy bottles ok. So my TACX bottles may still retain their honored place among my bottles.
While researching this whole thing to make sure I wasn’t going to be incapacitated and thus unable to entertain you with my product reviews, I came across the Camelbak Podium bottle . It is advertised as BPA free, which I like, though as I found in my research, most bottles are actually safe. It’s a #5 plastic - polypropylene. It also has the greatest top of any bottle ever. It has an easy on/off switch. And it has a great spout thingy for spraying delicious sugar and electrolytes into your gullet. I have two 21oz. bottles and two 24oz. bottles. I like them so much, I don’t use anything else. I will admit to paying an absurd premium for them over a regular bottle and buying them largely out of fear and paranoia, but the end result has been a wonderful addition to the family.
The long and short on this whole BPA thing is probably still up in the air. Fortunately, it looks like most of our squishy bike bottles are safe. Depending on your level of paranoia, your between-workouts bottle may need to be replaced. The Sigg bottles are pretty snazzy, if not without some drawbacks, and Nalgene, always a favorite, now has a bunch of BPA free offerings. And, if like me, you want to be assured of your already-assured safety by buying yet another gadget, the Camelbak Podium bottle is the best I’ve found for on the bike. Just claim you are doing it for your health, then head to the bike shop and spend away in the name of personal wellness.
ADDENDUM: At the urging of some readers, I spoke with Jonathan Toker, PhD, Slowtwitch.com’s CNO (Chief Nerd Officer) about the subject of BPA. Jonathan mentioned the importance of minimizing water "storage" in bottles (any bottle) because there are actually a lot of things in plastic that can leech out over time. Jonathan’s own rule is that he never will drink water from a bottle that's been standing overnight. The leeching is accelerated by hot and/or acidic liquids, so don’t microwave your bottles (or your plastic storage containers) and make sure you rinse them out after using them. Most sports drinks, though not as acidic as vinegar, still have some level of acidity (citric acid is a common ingredient in citrus flavored beverages - it’s the third ingredient in Gatorade powder).
I also got an email from a triathlete in Texas who’s taken the bull by the horns (yes, that was intentional) on this issue and has founded his own company making sport bottles that seem to nicely fit the bill for “between training” bottles. ThinkSport makes double-walled vacuum-sealed (keeps hot stuff hot and cold stuff cold) stainless-steel (I just wanted to see how many hyphenated phrases I could use) bottles in 350mL and 750mL sizes. While I have not used the bottle, a quick visit to website impressed me enough that I wanted to share the link with all of you. Besides, we all like to support our fellow triathlete. So check out ThinkSportBottles.com. They also make BPA free baby bottles, for you concerned triathlete parents at ThinkBabyBottles.com.