Last March at Expo West, I was amazed by the number of coconut water brands that had hit the market in a relatively short period of time. They were being promoted as a natural source of electrolytes, instead of sports drinks, but also as a more healthful alternative to bottled water.
I understand the appeal. Plain water can get boring. While I enjoy the taste of coconut water, especially if it’s from a freshly opened coconut, I don’t think it lives up to the hype as a wonder-drink for a couple of reasons:
Sugar content – I watch my sugar intake but like to eat a variety of foods during the day, including dessert. An individual serving sized bottle of coconut water can contain 11 to 22 grams of sugar, about the same amount of sugar as in a coconut- or almond-based frozen dessert. I would much rather cut back on my daily overall sugar intake by drinking water and enjoy the dessert.
Electrolyte content – Coconut water is touted as a superior source of natural electrolytes, however, a ConsumerLab.com analysis found that the amount of electrolytes in some of the popular brands were often far less than claimed on the packaging. One brand had only 18% of the stated amount of sodium, and another had 59% of the listed sodium content, according to ConsumerLab. Sodium accounts for much of the mineral loss during exercise.
A new study published in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition suggests that coconut water has no benefit over bottled water for typical post-exercise hydration. In the study, 12 young, healthy men exercised on a treadmill for 60 minutes on four different occasions and were given either bottled water, coconut water, coconut water from concentrate, or an electrolyte sports drink. They found that the beverages were essentially comparable in their ability to improve hydration status (they looked at body mass, fluid retention, plasma osmolality, and urine specific gravity an hour after exercise). After hydration, the subjects went back on the treadmill and the researchers found that there was no difference in their treadmill time to exhaustion depending on their beverage. What’s more, subjects reported feeling more stomach upset and bloating after coconut water than with bottled water or the sports drink.
Tips on Staying Hydrated
1. For many people, plain water is an adequate hydration method during the day and after exercise.
2. If you don’t like the taste of plain water, try adding a splash of unsweetened blueberry, cranberry, or pomegranate juice. If you are out and don’t have access to filtered tap water, try an unsweetened flavored water, like Hint or Ayala’s herbal water.
3. For long bouts of strenuous or vigorous exercise, a drink containing water, carbohydrates, and electrolyte minerals can help to replenish and rehydrate. In this case, coconut water may be superior to plain water, because it has water and carbohydrates, and to sports drinks, because of the lack of food dyes and additives that some of them have. Just make sure that you choose a coconut water that contains at least 110 mg of sodium per serving, according to ConsumerLab. Also, look for the results of their analysis to find the coconut water brand(s) that list accurate nutritional information.
4. My favorite way to rehydrate after a strenuous workout (though not as easy to find or prepare), is fresh vegetable juice. Watery vegetables contain the water, sugar, and minerals needed to rehydrate you. If you have access to fresh juice, try a green juice. Celery is rich in organic sodium and cucumber is also excellent. Use caution when shopping for bottled vegetable juice in stores – they often contain few vegetables and more filler.
5. Although I recommend filtered water, vegetable juice, green or herbal tea, if you find yourself drinking a lot of soda, coffee, energy drinks, or very sugary drinks, coconut water is the far better choice, especially if it’s one of the brands that contains less sugar.
Do you drink coconut water? Why or why not? Do you have another beverage of choice? I would love to hear your tips!