Wednesday, October 31, 2012

Is Coconut Water the New Sports Drink?

Contributed by Christine Blanchette (@christineruns,

When I think of coconut – I think of basking in the tropics while sipping an exotic drink with one of those little umbrellas. Didn’t that famous chimpanzee, ‘Cheetah,’ supply Tarzan and Jane with all the coconuts they could eat?

Well, now there’s a new energy drink on the market - coconut water – and it's trending in a large way with North American endurance athletes. No wonder Tarzan was so buff.   
What is coconut water you might ask? It is an all natural energy drink containing potassium and minerals, great for hydrating and low in calories. You can buy coconut water almost anywhere these days. For those unfamiliar with this product, the main question is: is it just a trend or a natural energy drink that will give you a needed boost at the right time? To learn the health benefits, I recently tried coconut water with pulp for the first time and while it tasted refreshing and sweet, I wanted to know how it compared to other energy drinks on the market.

I asked registered dietitian and accomplished runner Crystal Higgins about the benefits of drinking coconut water. Does she drink it? “Yes, especially when it is ice-cold. Don't try to drink it warm at room temperature,” Higgins warns by email from her Vancouver office.

Are there substantial benefits to be gained from coconut water? “Absolutely. Coconut water is 100% natural compared to other sport drinks that are artificially sweetened, coloured and flavoured,” Higgins says. “In fact coconut water has even been successfully used as an alternative IV treatment in remote areas. There may also be some antioxidant properties, which may aid in neutralizing reactive oxygen species production resulting from long duration exercise.”

According to PMC – US National Library of Medicine,
All ResourcesChemicals & Bioassays  coconut water is naturally occurring, is very rich in potassium, contains sodium chloride and carbohydrate and is viewed as the hydrating beverage of choice in many countries, including India, Brazil, Singapore, Southeast Asia and the CaribbeanBioSystems
Higgins says athletes should drink coconut water when performing an aerobic exercise or long, intense runs lasting longer than 75-90 minutes. Higgins enjoys one cup (eight oz) after a 90 minute bikram (yoga) class or a long run. She finds it “quite tasty and refreshing.” Remember, the large cans often have more than eight ounces, so watch the portion size she notes.

“Many people enjoy the flavour, the natural-factor and the fact that it has low carbohydrates, sugar and chemically manufactured elements,” Higgins says. “Most definitely it is a trend. There are currently limited studies and clinical evidence to suggest that coconut is any better than water or other sport drinks at rehydration, recovery and performance. Carbohydrate-electrolyte beverages are widely consumed and represent a multi-billion dollar segment of the food and beverage industry.” 

Higgins adds, “It is certainly a more natural choice relative to commercial sports drinks, but there is not sufficient evidence to suggest that it's necessarily better. Although it is excellent in terms of potassium, coconut water falls short on sodium. If you're a 'salty-sweater' you may require additional sodium for adequate rehydration and recovery.”

In an article by Molly Kimball, a registered dietitian in New Orleans, “coconut water ranges from 34 to 76 calories per eight ounce serving, compared to 50 calories for the same amount of Gatorade or PowerAde. Vita Coco, by the way, is the brand of coconut water that appears to most closely match the calorie content of a regular sports drink, with 45 calories per eight ounces.”

Ultimately, the choice is yours to try coconut water. I did but I still prefer old fashion water, nice and cold, straight from the tap.

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