Is Coconut Water Better for Runners Than Sports Drink?

Coconut water has become the thirst quencher du jour. It’s now a permanent fixture in the coolers of convenience stores and natural food stores, alongside traditional sports drinks, flavoured waters, and Perrier. It fills the fridges of hot-yoga studios and it’s no surprise that runners are asking, “should I be drinking coconut water?”

Before we answer, let’s explain some basics.

Coconut water is the liquid derived from the fluid inside the coconut. It’s not to be confused with the coconut milk in the dairy aisle (alongside soy, rice and almond milks), which is a mixture of coconut water and fresh-grated coconut. And it should definitely not be confused with cream of coconut, which is one of the main ingredients in your favourite beachside cocktail.

Coconut-based products have gotten a lot of media attention recently because of purported health and weight loss benefits. Coconut oil, which is extracted from the meat of the coconut, has been hailed as a weight-loss agent in large part because of its unique fat content. While it contains mainly saturated fat, it is also a source of harder-to-find medium-chain triglycerides, and these medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs) are absorbed differently than other common dietary fats and used for fuel more quickly than the long-chain triglycerides (LCTs) found in meats and dairy products. But experts say that there just isn’t enough solid scientific data to back up the weight-loss-coconut connection, and all that saturated fat can wreak havoc on cholesterol levels and potentially overall health.

That said, coconut water does offer some benefits. It’s a natural way to replenish electrolytes after hard workouts. Unsweetened varieties are free of the sugar, artificial sweeteners or dyes contained in many conventional sports drinks. And it’s high in potassium and magnesium, two nutrients the body needs for general health and good performance.

A 235mL carton of unsweetened coconut water has approximately 170 kilojoules and nine grams of sugar, compared with approximately 210 kilojoules and 14 grams of sugar for the same serving of Gatorade.

However, compared to conventional sports drinks, coconut water is lower in two of the main ingredients your spent system needs after a tough workout: sodium, the main electrolyte you lose through sweat, and carbohydrates, which help restock the body’s spent energy stores. That being said, coconut water is an excellent source of potassium (430 milligrams per 235mL serving), and many of us don’t take in anywhere near the recommended daily amount of 4700 milligrams.

So if you’re looking for electrolytes to rehydrate after a long run, a speed session, or just a tough workout in hot weather, a traditional sports drink is still going to be the best bet to rehydrate and replenish your energy. If you’re looking to cut kilojoules and keep your fluids au natural, coconut water is a fine choice. Just be sure to reach for unsweetened varieties!

Remember: If you’re just going for a short run of 60 minutes or less, good old-fashioned water is a perfectly fine way to hydrate. Sip fluids throughout the day so you’re well-hydrated heading into the run; chug-a-lug right before you go, and you could end up with an upset stomach while you’re on the road.


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