Is Coconut Water A Good Sports Drink?

One of the best parts of my job as a sports dietitian is sifting through new products for endurance athletes and evaluating their claims as facts or fiction. Since most products fall into the “bogus” category, imagine my delight to see coconut water touted as “an all-natural, super-hydrating, nutrient-packed, potassium-stacked, mega-electrolyte” sports drink.

Why?  Because most of that statement is true. Coconut water, which is the clear liquid that sloshes around inside a coconut, really is high in potassium. One cup provides about 500 mg of potassium along with reasonable amounts of sodium and magnesium, and smaller amounts of phosphorous an vitamin C. Natural sugars give it a mildly sweet taste and there’s no fat or cholesterol.

It’s no wonder that numerous beverage companies now sell coconut water in bottles and cans, touting it as a “natural” sports drink.

But like many other nutrition products, what starts off as a great idea, ends up as another fad that quickly fades into oblivion before you know it.

One of the problems with bottled or canned coconut water is that they don’t always contain what they say they contain. According to a recent product review by ConsumerLab.com, an independent testing company, two out of the three products they tested had significantly less sodium than what their labels claimed they had.

This is important because the primary electrolyte we lose in our sweat is sodium; we lose far more sodium than potassium when we sweat and it needs to be replaced in long endurance events.

One package of O.N.E. Coconut Water  had only 11 mg of sodium, much less than the 60 mg stated on the label and a whole lot less than the recommended 240 mg per serving it would need to be called a good sport drink.

Another problem with coconut water is that it produces a mild laxative effect in some users, most likely due to it’s high magnesium content. Obviously this is not what you want in the middle of a long training bout or race!

Lastly, coconut water is expensive. A 414 mL bottle of Zico Natural Cocounut Water is $2.50, a pricey way to get the same nutrients you’d get in a glass of orange juice.

Bottom line?  Coconut water is a much healthier alternative to soda pop or sweetened fruit drinks but it is not an effective sports drink because of the low sodium and higher magnesium content. In this case, it’s better to make your own sports drink or stick to the preformulated, “tried and true” products, like Gatorade or Powerade (for events longer than 90 mins) and of course, plain old water for shorter events. Drink up!

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