Hydration: Sports Drinks vs. Coconut Water

Hydration is essential to daily life and plays a key role in sports performance. Many of you quench your thirst with a large Gatorade or Powerade post workout…. But is this your best bet???

Coconut water has long been enjoyed in tropical regions, and has gained popularity in the United States as a 100% natural alternative to sports drinks, where it is promoted for rehydration following exercise with one of the highest sources of electrolytes known to man.

A sports drink is defined as a beverage designed to help athletes rehydrate when fluids are depleted after training or competition. Electrolyte replacement promotes proper rehydration, which is important to delaying the onset of fatigue during exercise. Carbohydrates are the primary fuel utilized by exercising muscle and are important in maintaining or enhancing sport performance.

Coconut water is isotonic and rich in electrolytes, minerals, lauric acid and capric acid. These acids are antiviral, antibacterial, antifungal and help to boost your immune system. Talk about benefits huh?! This unique composition makes it an excellent hydrator; and has even been used as an emergency replacement for IV fluid in the past. Coconut water is the clear to translucent liquid present inside young green coconuts. The flavor of coconut water varies depending on the harvest region, but it is generally mild and slightly sweet.

Potassium, sodium and chloride comprise the electrolyte family of minerals. They are called electrolytes because they conduct electricity when dissolved in water and these minerals work together closely. About 95% of the potassium in the body is stored within cells, while sodium and chloride are predominantly located outside the cell. Calcium, magnesium, and phosphorus are also vital to everyday body function (but we will discuss them at a later date).

Potassium is especially important in regulating the activity of muscles (muscle transaction) and nerves (nerve transmission). The frequency and degree to which our muscles contract, and the degree to which our nerves become excitable, both depend heavily on the presence and amount of potassium. Potassium also lowers your risk of high blood pressure and plays a key role in maintaining the proper electrolyte and acid-base (pH) balance in the body. For all of you athletes or exercise enthusiasts, coconut water has more potassium than the highly acclaimed fruit-banana and 15 times more potassium than the sports drinks on the market!!

Sodium oftentimes has a bad reputation due to its role in causing high blood pressure (when consumed in excess), but when it comes to exercise, you lose a significant amount of sodium through sweat. It is important to replace the sodium lost via sweat and exercise because of its importance in proper nerve conduction. In extreme cases of sodium deficiency a person can develop hyponatremia, which is a serious acute condition where nerve impulses are interrupted all around the body and can even result in death. Coconut water has over twice the amount of sodium as Gatorade, which can be a benefit if you are a “heavy sweater” and lose excess sodium via your sweat.

Carbohydrates are the primary source of fuel used by the body during cardiovascular exercise, and should therefore be supplemented in athletes performing 60-90 minutes of high intensity exercise. There is minimal benefit to glucose supplementation for mild to moderate physical activity of a short duration (20-35 minutes). Limiting the amount of sugar you consume daily will help trim down your fat mass, leaving more room to tone your lean body mass.

For these reasons, Gatorade has recently released a sugar free version of their sports drinks using artificial sweeteners. However, don’t get me started on artificial sweeteners….that is a whole other story! Coconut water has much less sugar than regular Gatorade, and more importantly it is all natural sugar with no artificial flavors, colors or sweeteners.

The bottom line: Coconut water is 100% natural, extremely high in potassium, with a moderate amount of sodium, and is low in calories and sugar making it the perfect hydration beverage! The only downside is that coconut water is slightly expensive, but there shouldn’t be a price on your health, right?! For example, if you’re not paying for healthy, nutritious foods and beverages to refuel your body NOW…. Then you might be paying for it LATER (in medical bills). So take the preventative step and pay a few extra $ to improve your health today and increase your life expectancy!

Think of it this way: You can drink 4 ounces of the coconut water and still receive more health benefits than you would if you drank 16 ounces of Gatorade. Treat your body right and hydrate properly to enhance your energy level and sports performance today!

IMG_1868To learn more about hydration, sports nutrition or pre and post workout meal or snack plans, schedule an appointment with Courtney Walberg, Registered Dietitian, Certified Personal Trainer and founder of Nutrition For Body And Mind.