Everyone knows that water is important to drink throughout the day, especially if you are active. Physical activity requires an increased fluid intake because we sweat- which contains not only water but also salts and other compounds and helps regulate body temperature. This loss of salts can lead to an electrolyte imbalance. It is important to replace these electrolytes, especially after vigorous activity. Electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, and calcium are essential for the body to function and plain water typically does not contain these vital electrolytes. Coconut water and sports drinks are often looked to after physical activity to restore hydration levels as well as electrolyte levels. But which is better?
Coconut water is the clear liquid inside young, green coconuts. Coconut water is different from coconut milk which is squeezed from the white, freshly outer layer.2 It is packed with naturally occurring potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus- all very important electrolytes. Coconut water also contains natural sugars and protein.
Sports drinks are specifically made with added electrolytes, carbohydrates, or protein, depending on the brand. Many now have a “low calorie” version, but typically contain calories in the form of carbohydrates to help restore energy levels during or after physical activity. Sports drinks sometimes contain protein to help aid muscle recovery, adding to the calorie count.
Which is Better?
There are only a few research studies comparing coconut water, sports drinks, and plain water directly. In regards to rehydrating, Harvard Medical School recommends drinking plain water if you are not doing vigorous physical activity. “Drink when you are thirsty and don’t waste your money or calories on sports drinks- choose water instead… Athletes who have had a muscle cramps may need to drink extra, and may need more electrolytes.”4 While it is better to drink either coconut water or a sports drink to replace electrolytes, the studies that have been done found no significant difference between rehydrating with either one. Both will replace the electrolytes lost, help refuel you with energy, and contain protein.1,2,3 However, it was found that both coconut water and sports drinks will lead to more gastrointestinal bloating compared to plain water.3 Interestingly, those participants drinking sports drinks felt that their thirst was quenched better than those drinking plain water or coconut water.1
Overall, all agreed to rehydrate! Save the coconut water and sports drinks for moderate to vigorous intensity physical activity. Drink plain water throughout the day. If you are not sure how much water you should be drinking, check with your doctor.
- Kalman, D. S., Feldman, S., Krieger, D. R., & Bloomer, R. J. (2012). Comparison of coconut water and a carbohydrate-electrolyte sport drink on measures of hydration and physical performance in exercise-trained men. J Int Soc Sports Nutr Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, 9(1), 1. Retrieved March 9, 2016, from http://jissn.biomedcentral.com/articles/10.1186/1550-2783-9-1
- Levers, K. (n.d.). NATURE'S GATORADE: Effectiveness of Coconut Water on Electrolyte and Carbohydrate Replacement. Retrieved March 09, 2016, from http://huffinesinstitute.org/resources/articles/articletype/articleview/articleid/446/natures-gatorade-effectiveness-of-coconut-water-on-electrolyte-and-carbohydrate-replacement
- Saat, M., Singh, R., Sirisinghe, R. G., & Nawawi, M. (2002). Rehydration after Exercise with Fresh Young Coconut Water, Carbohydrate-Electrolyte Beverage and Plain Water. [Abstract].J. Physiol. Anthropol. Journal of PHYSIOLOGICAL ANTHROPOLOGY and Applied Human Science, 21(2), 93-104. Retrieved March 9, 2016, from http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12056182
- Skerrett, P. J. (2012, July 30). Trade sports drinks for water [Web log post]. Retrieved March 9, 2016, from http://www.health.harvard.edu/blog/trade-sports-drinks-for-water-201207305079
Blog post by Nikki Courtney.