The importance of hydrating before, during and after exercise cannot be understated. Sports drinks, such as Gatorade and Powerade, are typically the beverage of choice for athletes; however, coconut water is increasingly touted as a natural alternative. But can the hype really be believed? According to top scientists, it can — to an extent.
Natural coconut water, including coconut water from concentrate, has everything a sports drink offers and then some. Like sports drinks, coconut water contains carbohydrates and electrolytes (specifically potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus), which are depleted during exercise and strenuous activity.
In fact, one 12-oz serving of coconut water contains more potassium than a banana and five times the amount found in the average sports drink. Potassium is especially helpful for athletes because it works to alleviate muscle cramps and promote the replacement of intracellular water post-exercise. It’s even helpful for those who don’t engage in heavy activity. Because the average American diet contains high levels of sodium, consuming potassium-rich foods can help to balance your electrolytes and reduce the risk of death from heart disease.
That’s not all — coconut water is also high in antioxidants, which help prevent cell damage caused by free radicals. And, the carbohydrates found in coconut water are naturally occurring; there is no added sugar. Sports drinks, by comparison, derive their carbohydrates from high fructose corn syrup, a substance believed to be associated with obesity and diabetes.
But, despite all the benefits of coconut water, sports drinks have the edge in one key area: they contain more sodium. During periods of heavy sweating brought about by strenuous exercise, more sodium is lost than potassium. Coconut water alone can’t replace all the sodium the body loses; it boats only two-thirds of the sodium content found in sports drinks. So, for endurance athletes and others who push their bodies to the limit, sports drinks are preferable. When it comes to light or moderate exercise, however, coconut water is an excellent and natural substitute for sugary, high-calorie sports drinks.