Coconut Water, Homemade Sports Drinks and Other Thoughts on Hydration

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:

Pros

  • 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

Cons

  • 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.

Chicken Myths

At the 2011 Food Media Seminar, sponsored by the National Chicken Council and US Poultry and Egg Association, I got the chance to eat a lot of great chicken dishes (see picture of Charlotte Jenkins Gullah Jerk Chicken–a Lowcountry Cuisine classic). I also thought about some of the myths about chicken so let’s set the record straight.

Myth 1: Always buy chicken labeled as “hormone free” or “natural” to get the healthiest bird for your family.

The truth is that the word “natural” means nothing on a food package and no hormones are used in any chicken products. So, saying a package of chicken breasts is hormone-free is like saying that bag of potato chips has no cholesterol–no potato chips contain cholesterol (cholesterol is found only in animal foods) and no chicken sold in the US is fed hormones to fatten it up. You may prefer to buy organic poultry but you don’t have to spend extra money to get hormone-free chicken.

Myth 2: All chicken is pumped full of sodium-containing liquids.

Some chicken does contain liquid that can increase the sodium content, but not all. If you are reducing sodium look at the label to find out if the product is “enhanced” or “marinated” which might indicate there is added sodium. Choices abound in the meat counter of the grocery store so read labels to find sodium content (make sure to take your reading glasses as all food labels can be hard to read for those of us over a certain age!)

Myth 3: Boneless, skinless chicken breast is the healthiest of all chicken parts.

It might be the lowest in total fat, but, to steal line from presenter and registered dietitian, Colleen Pierre, “don’t be afraid of the dark.” Chicken thighs are popular with chefs as they are more flavorful than white meat; nutritionists like dark meat because it has 24% more iron and 3 times the zinc as white meat. Iron and zinc are two nutrients that are often low in the diets of children and adolescent girls so break out of the white meat chicken rut and try boneless chicken thighs or drumsticks. Kids love drumsticks–they come with their own handle.

Myth 4: Chicken skin should always be removed before cooking.

Cooking chicken with the skin on helps seal the juices and makes the chicken meat more tender and flavorful. More than half of the fat in chicken skin is monounsaturated fat–the healthy kind of fat. So, leave the skin on when cooking and remove the skin at the table to cut extra calories while saving flavor.

Myth 5: Wings are always a high-fat choice in restaurants.

Ever see “boneless” chicken wings on the menu? Turns out the “boneless chicken wings” are not really wings–boneless chicken breast is used and just called wings. So, if you really want wings…look for boneless wings (preferably baked, not deep-fat fried!)

For more information on chicken and some great recipes, visit http://www.eatchicken.com