Last week, I wrote about some of the staples that should be in your kitchen in order to help to achieve fitness goals. But what about liquids?

We all know water is nature’s beverage but what about others?

Enter coconut water or ‘nature’s Gatorade’.

Coconut water is a nutritious, potassium-rich drink and can fit into a balanced diet as a low sugar alternative to sports drinks for hydration.

The liquid inside young, green coconuts has long been enjoyed in tropical countries like ours, because of its availability, cultural traditions, and beliefs regarding its health benefits.

But the drink has also gone mainstream in the United States and other countries and can be found in colourful, juice-style boxes and in a variety of flavours in most supermarkets. Sales of coconut water in the US have jumped in the last five years from about $4 million to between $40 million and $60 million annually. Part of this increase can be attributed to A-list celebrity endorsers who have recently invested in Vita Coco®, and the investment of Pepsi in O.N.E.™1 But is this drink really nature’s sports drink and can it promote smoother, more hydrated skin? What are the facts behind the hype?

I thought I would do some research and decide for myself.

Coconut water is not to be confused with coconut milk which is squeezed from the inside pulp and used as a common ingredient in many culinary recipes. Coconut water is from young, green coconuts and is low in calories and a natural source of electrolytes including sodium and potassium. Eight ounces of coconut water has 46 calories, 9 grammes of carbohydrates, 250 mg of sodium, 600 mg of potassium, 60 mg of magnesium, 45 mg of phosphorus, and 2 grammes of protein.

The electrolyte content is more than double that of traditional sports drinks with about half of the carbohydrates. So, if you wash some food down with fresh coconut water after your workout then, yes, it can contribute to optimal hydration and recovery. In addition to electrolytes and carbohydrates, coconut water contains other beneficial components including vitamins, minerals, antioxidants, and amino acids.

The commercial brands sold in the US (I looked at the nutrient data for 5 brands) have a potassium content that is similar to the water fresh from the fruit; however, the sodium content is much lower with an average of 35–60 mg per eight ounces. Compare this to Gatorade which contains 70 calories, 19 grammes carbs, 154 mg sodium, and 42 mg potassium per serving and as a sports drink the sodium level in consumer coconut water is far too low for adequate electrolyte replacement.

I also researched the use of coconut water as a fluid replacement drink for physical activity and found two published studies. The first study compared rehydration after exercise with young coconut water, a carbohydrate electrolyte beverage, and plain water.

The results indicated that recovery was similar when either coconut water or the carbohydrate electrolyte beverage was ingested. However, as stated previously, water straight from the nut has a higher sodium content then the commercial varieties sold in stores.

The second study used a sodium enriched coconut water for testing rehydration and compared it to a sports drink and fresh coconut water from the nut. The results indicated that the sodium enriched coconut water was as effective as the sports drink in whole body rehydration.

Although coconut water may not beat traditional sports drinks at rehydration it can serve as a healthy alternative to soda and other sugary drinks. Most people fall short of their potassium requirements, an electrolyte that plays an important role in regulating blood pressure and muscle contractions. The Dietary Guidelines for Americans recommend that humans follow a potassium rich diet by including adequate servings of fruits and vegetables. Despite this recommendation only 14 percent of adults and 9 percent of adolescents eat the recommended 5 servings of fruits and vegetables per day.

Bottom line: if you are looking for a low calorie refreshing beverage with a high amount of potassium, then this is your drink.

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