As college students make their way to campus, college athletes are taking the field and hitting the gym for sports training and competition. Two questions that I’m being asked are, “is coconut water better than sports drinks?” and “should I make my own sports drink to cut down on sugar?”
First, coconut water…although being marketed as “super-hydrating,” it isn’t better than sports drinks and for some athletes sports drinks still have the greater advantage. Coconut water is the liquid inside green coconuts and it not the same thing as coconut milk (which is made from pressing coconut meat). In a few studies coconut water has been shown to be an effective rehydration beverage compared to water but isn’t superior to sports drinks.
Here are the pros and cons of coconut water:
- Similar in calories to sports drinks (46 calories vs. 50 calories per cup)
- Slightly lower in sugar than sports drinks (about 2 teaspoons vs. 3 teaspoons of sugar per cup)
- Contains some protein (about 2 grams per cup)
- High in potassium…about the same as found in a large banana
- Lower in sodium than most sports drinks and sodium is needed by athletes who sweat heavily and are “salty” sweaters
- Can have a mild laxative effect when large amounts are consumed
- Expensive…$1.75 to $2.50 per serving
- Not all brands passed the Consumer Labs test to make sure that what is in the bottle is the same as what is stated on the label
Don’t be fooled by the claims of high potassium in coconut water….although it is a good source of potassium, athletes lose about ten times more sodium in sweat than potassium, so athletes need the sodium found in sports drinks.
And, what about the homemade sports drinks? First, carbohydrate in sports drinks is a good thing…the 14 or so grams of carbohydrate per cup help to replace muscle glycogen (carbohydrate) and makes the drink palatable. I’ve never been a big fan of homemade sports drinks because of the quality control….when you buy a bottle of Gatorade or PowerAde you know what you are getting. When you make your own sports drink and the recipe calls for a “pinch” of salt, how much sodium are you really getting? And, research shows that a beverage that tastes good will lead to greater consumption…and I’ve yet to taste a “homemade” brew that tastes good. I encourage athletes to stick to the tried and true sports drinks when exercising at high intensity, for long duration, or during hot and humid practices (think football, soccer, tennis, or cross country practice in August).
Enjoy coconut water if you want a light tasting refreshing drink (and can afford it), but athletes will still get great benefits from drinking sports drinks.