click here for video and article Coconut water — lies, rumours & the bottom line for athletes looking for hydration alternatives
Looking to wet your whistle with something lighter than coconut milk? Want to hang with all the hot celebrities? Consider coconut water. At least that’s the public image of this massively popular pseudo-sports drink at this point. Heck, it’s even popping up as an add-in for gourmet coffee as an alternative to dairy. But what’s the real nutrition story behind this buzz-worthy beverage?
If you popped a straw inside an immature (green) coconut, the liquid you would be sipping would be coconut water, the mega drink that has enjoyed the backing of the likes of Madonna and Rihanna. While coconut water can be enjoyed straight from a coconut, the image of getting on the subway with a large brown-husked fruit lacks a certain convenience; hence, the introduction of cans and tetra-packs, which have become vehicles for sales that have been said to have exceeded US$350-million a year. Coconut water can now be found in health food, grocery, and convenience stores alike. It’s everywhere.
The affection for coconut water comes from several areas: Not only is it a low-calorie beverage, usually ranging between 30 to 70 calories per serving, but it is also said to be rich in potassium (providing approximately 17%, or 600 mg, of your daily value for this key nutrient that plays a role in blood pressure control and possibly athletic performance). In a world where added sugars, artificial colours and sodium are persona non grata, many athletes like to feel that they are fuelling their bodies with something natural.
In the first known study to compare a traditional sports drink to coconut water, coconut water proved just as effective for rehydrating treadmill runners who had undergone a 90-minute run designed to cause dehydration vs. a traditional sports drink or plain water, while another study suggests coconut water may be better tolerated (meaning it causes less nausea and stomach upset), when consumed after intense exercise.
Unfortunately, that’s the extent of the research to date, and when it comes to prolonged activity (two hours or more), the carbohydrates in coconut water fall short:.While it’s recommended athletes aim for four to eight grams of carbohydrates per 100 mL of fluid, coconut water provides just nine grams of carbohydrates per 250 mL, or 3.6 grams of carbohydrates per 100 mL. In other words, its sugar content is less than an athlete would need to keep them from running out of gas during a marathon, soccer tournament or long day of cycling. Its sodium content is also relatively low, which could also be an issue for heavy sweaters or for athletes exercising in hot weather.
In August 2011, Consumer Labs published a report that, among three major U.S. brands of coconut water — Vita Coco (distributed through the Dr Pepper Snapple Group Inc.), O.N.E. Coconut Water (purchased by Pepsi in 2010) and Zico Natural (scooped up by Coke in 2009 for $15 million) — only Zico Natural lived up to its labelling claims for sugar, sodium, potassium and magnesium. VitaCoco, which boasts Demi Moore and Madonna as investors, contained only 64% of the magnesium claimed on its labels, while O.N.E. contained only 77%, and both were off the mark for their sodium content. As a result of the report, a class action lawsuit was launched against Vita Coco, who agreed, in a settlement, to change its packaging, improve quality control and remove comparisons to sports drinks, including statements claiming that Vita Coco contains “15 times the potassium found in leading sports drinks.”
DRINKING COCONUT WATER
While coconut water’s taste qualities vary by brand, its taste is distinct, and not always well-liked. As a result, an increasing number of coconut water blends are available, often with higher amounts of sugar, and diminishing amounts of coconut water. So reading the fine print is essential here, and that includes the ingredients list.
THE BOTTOM LINE
If coconut water actually contains what it is supposed to, then it can be used as a sports drink for shorter bouts of activity. Unfortunately, the research on coconut water for health or performance is extremely limited, and when combined with the industry’s spotty labelling history, this is still a case of buyer beware.