Cracking the Shell: Does Coconut Water Live Up to the Hype?

Photo by Hello Turkey Toe

Madonna’s touting it, fitness buffs are downing it and manufacturers claim that coconut water is the best sports drink on the planet. But is it really better than Gatorade, or even plain old water?

First of all, let’s look at where it comes from. Unlike coconut milk, which is made by pureeing coconut with plain water, coconut water is drawn from the center of young coconuts. It has far fewer calories than coconut milk, and a tiny fraction of the fat. What it does have is potassium, as well as a small amount of sodium.

Hands down, regular water is the best thirst quencher. However, if you work out intensely for 45 minutes or longer, you need electrolytes like salt and potassium to keep up your energy. Long cardio workouts make you sweat out a lot of salt. If you drink too much plain water after losing all that sodium, you risk hyponatremia (dangerously low salt levels) as your cells become diluted.

The problem with coconut water as a sports drink is that it doesn’t have enough sodium to replace lose stores. So if you’re an endurance athlete, your best bet is to stick with the Gatorade or else drink plain water along with some salty pretzels or popcorn. It helps to eat salt before running that marathon, as well.

That said, the potassium in coconut water does have some value for athletes. Potassium can help prevent muscle cramps after you’ve pushed yourself. So if you tend to cramp easily, you may find some relief with coconut water.

When push comes to shove, I would stick with regular water during workouts. Coconut water has sugar and calories, and frankly I’d rather keep burning those off when I exercise instead of pouring them back in. You’ll also spend quite a bit more money on coconut water. And don’t be fooled by the other health claims; there’s just no evidence that it can make your skin glow, or prevent any kind of illnesses.

Featured photo by IM Hafiz

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