Not long ago, few athletes had heard of coconut water, but sales have skyrocketed, largely because of its reputation as a healthy and natural source of electrolytes.
Pure coconut water contains many electrolytes, like sodium, the critical one lost during sweating. But many commercial varieties have less sodium than is found in juice straight from a coconut or in traditional sports drinks. An 8.5 ounce serving of Vita Coco 100% Pure Coconut Water, for example, contains 30 milligrams of sodium and 15 grams of carbohydrates. An eight-ounce serving of Gatorade Pro 02 Perform is equal in carbs (14 grams) but has more sodium (200 milligrams).
A recent study by Consumerlab.com, an independent laboratory, found that two of the most popular varieties, Vita Coco and O.N.E. Coconut Water, contained even less sodium and magnesium than advertised. Only Zico Natural contained the amount of sodium listed on its label (160 milligrams).
Few studies have looked directly at coconut water and exercise. In one, researchers had subjects run for 90 minutes in hot temperatures and then tested the effects of plain water, a sports drink, coconut water or a sodium-enriched coconut water in the two hours after exercise. While all remained “somewhat dehydrated,” the sodium-enriched coconut water worked as well as the sports drink.
Sports drinks serve a purpose among elite athletes and those who exercise for long periods. But for those who exercise at a moderate intensity for an hour or less, water is probably the better choice.