Choose Coconut Water: a Natural Sports Drink

Donna Sundblad's picture

Coconut water replenishes nutrients lost during a moderate workout, but how does it compare to sports drinks?

Coconut water has been an important nutritional source in cultures for thousands of years. Today drinking coconut water is a health trend that taps into that source. Celebrities like Rihanna and A-Rod have plugged the benefits, and while some might look at it as a passing faze, a recent study compared the benefits of coconut water to sports drinks and in many ways coconut water comes out the winner. Researchers found it has 5 times more potassium than Gatorade or Powerade and stated, "It's a healthy drink that replenishes the nutrients that your body has lost during a moderate workout."

The study also suggests coconut water is a healthful choice for non-athletes, too. Potassium is a mineral generally deficient in the typical American diet. Low potassium levels can be the result of dehydration, diarrhea, excessive sweating, or lack of potassium in the diet. Some medications can affect potassium levels, too. Symptoms of low potassium are usually mild and many people are unaware they have low potassium without a blood test.

Coconut Water vs. Sports Drinks
Sports drinks are designed to help replace water, electrolytes and energy or carbohydrates lost from exercise. Researchers discovered coconut water contains up to 1,500 mg per liter of potassium, while Gatorade and Powerade have up to 300 mg per liter. The differences go beyond potassium, though. The study showed coconut water provided 400 mg per liter of sodium while the sports drinks had 600 mg per liter. This lower sodium level might sound like a good thing, but athletes deplete sodium through strenuous exercise and it needs to be replaced. This is why sports drinks based on coconut water often add sodium to the product. For people who do mild to moderate exercise, the lower sodium levels are fine. The study showed magnesium and carbohydrate levels for all three were similar.

Along with less sodium, coconut water also has less calories than sports drinks. Ounce for ounce, most unflavored coconut water contains 5.45 calories, 1.3 grams sugar, 61 milligrams (mg) of potassium, and 5.45 mg of sodium, while Gatorade has 6.25 calories, 1.75 grams of sugar, 3.75 mg of potassium, and 13.75 mg of sodium.

Health Benefits of Coconut Water
Coconut water has less sugar, no fat or cholesterol, and is gluten-free. According to the study, a 12-ounce serving of coconut water provides more potassium than a banana, and it is also rich in antioxidants. The health benefits of coconut water have been embraced by many cultures for thousands of years, and modern medicine has finally started to catch up.

  • Anti-cancer properties
  • Benefits metabolism, energy and weight management
  • Helps manage HIV/AIDS
  • Helps manage or ward off various neurological disorders
  • Helps recovery from hangover
  • Helps to lose weight
  • Helps treat and manage diabetes
  • Hydrates skin
  • Improves athletic performance
  • Improves digestion, nutrient absorption and intestinal health
  • Improves kidney and liver health
  • Lowers blood pressure
  • Offers antibacterial and antimicrobial properties
  • Provides cardiovascular health benefits
  • Supports the immune system

Is Coconut Water Right for You?
While coconut water offers all these health benefits, athletes need to weigh their nutritional needs to determine if it is right for them. The average American diet is high in sodium and low in potassium, but if you don't eat a diet high in sodium and you perform moderate or high intensity workouts or sweat a lot, natural coconut water may not replenish the sodium you need. However, it is an effective sports drink for many people.

Image by keetr License type: Creative Common License