Could Coconut Water Improve Your Exercise Workout?

Research reported in the Huffington Post suggests that rather than go to the gym with sports drinks such as Powerade or Gatorade, you may be better off taking a bottle of natural coconut water. This is because not only does coconut water contain natural sugars, vitamins and minerals, but it also contains a large amount of potassium. And in a scientific test by US researchers in Indiana, it was shown that coconut water contained five times as much potassium than other popular fitness drinks. Lead researcher, Chhandashri Bhattacharya, who conducted the comparison for Indiana University Southeast, analyzed coconut water, Gatorade and Powerade and found that coconut water contained up to 1,500 mg/liter of potassium, compared to up to 300 mg/liter for Powerade and Gatorade. In other research, it was shown that a 12-ounce serving of coconut water had more potassium than a banana.

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It is thought that we lose potassium when we exercise and therefore drinking coconut water could make it an excellent natural sports drink. Coconut water has been a popular drink in tropical countries such as Brazil, India and South East Asia, where people tend to drink it fresh with just a straw. Coconut water now is available in bottles, cans and other containers, and marketers have promoted it as a healthy beverage. It has gained popularity in the US as its health benefits have been explored, especially within a sports environment. In fact, Americans have been drinking coconut water since 2004, with companies such as Coke’s ZICO, Cracker Coco, Grace, Tiana, Vita Coco and Biona all using coconut water, some 100% and others mixing it with either water or fruit juice.

Sales of coconut water in the UK are up on last year, with Vita Coco, who are the main seller in the UK, reporting an increase of 122% year on year. It is thought that this increase is in a direct response to the marketing of coconut water as a post exercise drink, but not everyone is convinced of the health benefits. Coconut water does not contain much sodium and it is this lower sodium content where it fails as a good sports drink for people who engage in strenuous exercise that produces a lot of sweating. When you sweat, you lose more sodium than potassium, and coconut water alone can’t replace that lost sodium. A report from the LA Times concluded: “Coconut water isn’t the cure-all it’s cracked up to be.” Some nutritionists contest its value as a post-exercise drink, because it contains more potassium than sodium, but “we lose more sodium than potassium [when we exercise] and coconut water cannot really replace it,” says Sue Baic, a registered dietician and nutritionist. “There doesn’t seem to be a lot of evidence to support claims for sports recovery.”

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However, Bhattacharya said that the potassium in coconut water also may benefit other people who do not exercise as the typical American diet is low in potassium and high in sodium, which is found in table salt. He says that other research has shown that such an imbalance is unhealthy. In fact, in one study, people who ate foods low in potassium and high in sodium had twice the risk of death from heart disease and a 50% higher risk of death from all causes.

So, although coconut water won’t replace all the salts lost through strenuous exercise, it is a naturally healthy drink that contains potassium and is probably better for you than fizzy soda.