Coconut water vs sports drinks

Sports drinks, such as Gatorade and Powerade are ubiquitous within the recreational and competitive fitness and sporting world. Manufactured and artificially flavoured carbohydrate-electrolyte beverages are used to promote rapid fluid replacement after heavy exercise. This is due to their high electrolyte content which helps to keep ingested water in the body and promotes voluntary uptake into the cells. They are scientifically designed to help athletes rehydrate, restore electrolytes and other nutrients, but are they really the best option for you?

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What is it about Coconut Water?

A lot of recent attention has been given to coconut water, as a natural alternative to manufactured sports drinks, due to it’s nutritional composition and rehydration capability. Coconut water has been consumed in tropical climates for hundreds of years but has only increased in mainstream popularity in the last 10 years. So what makes it so special? Well for starters it is completely natural, hypo-allergenic and isotonic. Coconut water is free from fat and cholesterol but full of electrolytes, vitamins, minerals and amino acids. It contains no additional sugar beyond its natural glucose and fructose (around 10-12 grams per serve, which adds up to about 50-60 calories per serve).

In addition to it’s array of nutrients, coconut water also contains phyto-hormones and cytokinins, compounds which regulate plant growth and have been known to have antioxidant, anti-cancer and anti-aging properties, especially for skin cells. The anti-viral, anti-fungal and antimicrobial nature of coconut water helps to remove toxins from the body, aids digestion and reduces the incidence of illnesses such as cancer, kidney stones and stroke.

Exercise and rehydration

Rapid and complete rehydration after exercise is an important part of the recovery process and becomes even more important in hot humid conditions, such as in Brisbane. Rehydration during and after exercise requires replacement of electrolytes lost in sweat, as well as fluids. Heavy sweating during exercise can cause body fluid losses in excess of 1 litre per hour and exercise performance becomes impaired when an individual is dehydrated as little as 2% of their body weight. Failure to replace these electrolytes can lead to muscle cramps, increased fatigue and impaired nerve function.

The requirement for sodium replacement stems from it’s role as the major cation in extracellular fluid and the main electrolyte lost through sweat. However potassium replacement could play an important role in rehydration because it is the major intracellular cation, necessary for the regulation of blood pressure, nerve function and muscle contractions.

Coconut water vs sports drinks

Numerous studies have found that beverages with high potassium content such as coconut water, are just as effective as sodium rich beverages, such as conventional sports drinks in terms of exercise performance and post-exercise rehydration. Coconut water provides the same benefits as conventional sports drinks but in an all-natural form. Compared to gatorade, coconut water is far more nutrient dense, with higher amounts of fiber, riboflavin, choline, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, selenium, zinc and of course potassium. In fact one cup of coconut water contains more potassium than one banana or 15 sports drinks, as well as more than 10 percent of your daily vitamin C, magnesium, sodium and manganese.

The sugar content of coconut water is much lower than that of sports drinks, and comes from naturally occurring sources, rather than the artificial high fructose corn syrup present in sports drinks. In addition, coconut water contains no artificial flavours, colours or chemicals, meaning it has a much lower in acidity when ingested.

Coupled with the fact that it is naturally sterile, the basic composition of coconut water’s electrolyte levels matches that of human blood so closely that it can be injected intravenously as a form of plasma replacement. (How cool is that?!)

The verdict

Of course sport drinks do contain much more sodium than coconut water (about 4 times more), but considering that no difference has been found between sports drinks and coconut water in terms of hydration indicators, blood glucose, electrolyte replacement and subsequent exercise performance, it seems that coconut water is an obvious choice for health conscious athletes. Many athletes from various sporting disciplines have turned to coconut water as their primary rehydration source, due to it’s proven success and added health benefits.

For more information about how Health Place helps athletes and non-athletes reach their peak performance, call 07 3852 2434 or email: info@healthplace.com.au.