The Truth About Coconut Water
Some Athletes Swear By It
Professional tennis player John Isner credits coconut water with keeping him on his feet for his epic 11-hour marathon Wimbledon tennis win. “It is super hydrating and has kept me going in long matches and prevented me from cramping even in the hottest and most humid conditions,” Isner says.
He drinks a mixture of coconut water and water the night before a match in difficult heat conditions and routinely mixes a cocktail of coconut water and sea salt for on-court hydration and mixes it with protein powder for post-match recovery.
Coconut water may be better at replacing lost fluids than a sports drink or water -- as long as you enjoy the taste. A study recently published in Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise shows that coconut water replenishes body fluids as well as a sports drink and better than water but the athletes preferred the taste of the sports drinks.
Sports nutritionist Nancy Clark, MS, RD and author of Nancy Clarks Sports Nutrition Guidebook says coconut water won’t rehydrate the body unless you can drink plenty of it. If you enjoy the taste and can tolerate large amounts, it could help keep you hydrated.
A 2007 study shows coconut water enhanced with sodium was as good as drinking a commercial sports drink for post-exercise rehydration with better fluid tolerance. Another study reported that coconut water caused less nausea, fullness, and stomach upset and was easier to consume in large amounts during rehydration.
What Experts Say
Staying hydrated is one of the most important things for recreational and professional athletes. And if the taste of coconut water helps you drink plenty of fluids, it is a fine choice for most people but may not be for those in prolonged physical activity.
Coconut water is low in carbohydrates and sodium and rich in potassium, which is not exactly what athletes need when exercising rigorously, says Clark.
“Whether you choose a sports drink, coconut water, or plain water, they all work to keep your body hydrated. The challenge is when you exercise strenuously for more than three hours in the heat and lose lots of body fluids, you need easily absorbed carbs for quick energy and to replace lost electrolytes like sodium and potassium,” Clark says.
Neither coconut water nor sports drinks contain enough sodium or carbs for the heavy perspirer. “Supplement with a quick source of energy like a banana or some raisins and a handful of pretzels to provide nutrients to replenish your stores,” Clark says.
Recovery starts before exercise begins. “Most people don’t need to worry about calories, potassium, or sodium. Eat a bagel with peanut butter to get food into your system before and drink plenty of water during exercise,” Clark says. If you exercise for prolonged periods, she suggests eating salty pretzels and raisins or other portable sources of energy.