The Thirst Quencher Showdown: Coconut Water vs. Sports Drinks

Posted On Jul 24, 2013 By Erin Kuh, MBA, RD

Quench thirst with a splash of water

It sounds exotic, straight from a palm tree on some tropical island to your glass. How could it get any more natural than that? Maybe only if you chop a whole coconut in half and drink straight from the fruit.

The truth about coconut water

Coconut water

Coconut water beverage companies claim it's the optimal sports drink with five electrolytes – including as much potassium as a banana – but is it natural? Yes. Does it quench your thirst? Yes, if you prefer the taste. Is it nature's sports drink? No, actually it's not.

Coconut water is a great source of potassium, an essential mineral most Americans don't get enough of. It not only aids in hydration, but also blood pressure control. We can also get potassium from fruits, vegetables, beans, nuts, salmon, and avocados. Along with potassium, sodium is another important electrolyte needed for replenishment after long sweat sessions. Unfortunately, coconut water lacks in quantity of these electrolytes to actually be an effective sports drink. Coconut water has only half the sodium you need for proper electrolyte replacement.

When you need a sports drink:
Do you exercise long or hard enough to need a sports drink?

Most people can stay adequately hydrated with water and balanced nutrition, but if you're exercising for more than an hour or in intense heat and/or humidity, then you could benefit from a sports drink. In this case, drinking something with 110 mg of sodium per 8oz and 14 grams of carbohydrates (or sugar) rather than coconut water will meet your needs.

If you'd rather have coconut water with exercise:
If you prefer coconut water because of its flavor and no added colors or preservatives, a sprinkle of salt in your 8oz serving will give you the sodium you need to use it as an electrolyte replacement drink during or after exercise.

Final verdict:
If you're drinking coconut water because it tastes good and it helps you drink more fluid, it's a better choice than a sports drink, juice or soda. But if you're watching calories, stick with plain water. It might not be as exotic and appealing, but plain old H20 will keep you just as hydrated.