Why coconut water is not the secret ingredient

written by Jenna West, dietetic intern
Coconut water is definitely an acquired taste. Although many people love it, you’re not alone if you wonder why some people like it! For those of you who are unfamiliar with coconut water, it is the liquid portion of immature coconuts. This is different than coconut milk which is extracted from the “meat” portion of the coconut.
You have likely seen coconut water sold in fitness centers and yoga studios where it is heavily advertised as a natural rehydration beverage. This is because the companies that produce commercially available coconut water claim it contains significantly more electrolytes than sports drinks.
However, you might be unaware that many of the companies that produce coconut water have exaggerated the health benefits and electrolyte content of their products. In reality, there is limited evidence proving that coconut water is as effective as sports drinks for rehydration after exercise.
It is recommended that sports drinks contain approximately 460 to 690 milligrams per litre of sodium and 78 to 195 milligrams per litre of potassium. Although coconut water does contain a significant amount of potassium, it contains a lower amount of sodium than what is recommended for sports drinks. Some varieties of coconut water have been enriched with sodium, and these have been shown to be as effective as sports drinks in rehydrating the body post workout.
In addition to losing essential minerals, the body uses up a significant amount of its glycogen (sugar) stores to provide the body with fuel during exercise. Carbohydrates are therefore needed post workout to replenish these glycogen stores.
When you are choosing your post workout beverage make sure it has approximately 30 to 60 grams of carbohydrate per liter. Many brands of coconut water may contain “added sugar,” which should not be confused with the natural sugar found in pure coconut. If you are trying to avoid added sugar, choose brands of coconut water that do not contain ingredients such as: fruit sugar, fruit pulp and natural flavour.

Wondering if you could benefit from a sports drink after exercising? It depends on how much you have sweat. The Dietitians of Canada recommend a sports drink if :

  • You have exercised for over 1 hour
  • The exercise was intense
  • The activity lasted longer than 1 hour
  • You sweated a lot and notice cakey white salt lines on your clothes
  • If you wear a lot of protective equipment like in hockey or football
  • The weather was hot and humid
  • Your fluid needs to be quickly replaced, like during soccer tournaments or two-a-day training sessions

Sports drinks can be expensive, so if you are looking for ways to cut costs without missing out on any of those essential nutrients, food and water is the cheaper way to go. For example, bananas are an excellent source of carbohydrate and potassium.

Match that with a glass of water containing a pinch of salt, some lemon and honey for taste, and you have all you need to replenish your sodium, potassium and glycogen stores.

If you are interested in making your own sports drinks, try these recipes from Dairy Farmers of Canada and Vivai:
This recipe is excellent for exercise during hot weather:
500 mL (2 cups) water
500 mL (2 cups) apple juice or orange juice
2.5 mL (½ tsp) salt

This recipe is ideal for cool weather:
500 mL (2 cups) water
500 mL (2 cups) grape, pineapple or cranberry juice
2.5 mL (½ tsp) salt
Many people wonder if it’s safe to drink coconut water when they are not exercising. The answer is yes. Like most things in life, moderation is key which means limiting your coconut water consumption to one can per day. If you suffer from a heart condition, it is recommended that you check with your doctor to make sure coconut water is a safe option for you.

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