Q: Coconut water seems to be everywhere lately, and I’ve heard it has similar benefits to sports drinks. Should I start drinking it, and, if so, when?
A: For general hydration purposes, you’re better off drinking plain old H2O, says Amanda Carlson-Phillips, RD, CSSD, vice president of performance nutrition and research at Athletes’ Performance in Phoenix.
First of all, coconut water can be a sneaky source of liquid calories. Most major brands contain at least 60 calories and 10 grams of sugar per serving (around 8 to 10 ounces), and if you’re concerned about body composition, that’s important to recognize. Cutting just 100 calories a day from sugar-sweetened liquids results in five times the weight loss of cutting 100 calories a day from solid foods, a 2009 American Journal of Clinical Nutrition study found.
And while the sugar in most brands of coconut water is natural, “it’s still sugar,” says Carlson-Phillips. “Your body still has to metabolize it.”
If you’re participating in a sporting event that lasts longer than 90 minutes, you may benefit from a sports drink to replenish lost electrolytes — but don’t substitute coconut water. “Coconut water is very high in potassium, but it’s very low in sodium,” Carlson-Phillips says. Potassium is a necessary electrolyte, but “the particular electrolyte you’re looking for in a sports drink is sodium. That’s what’s going to help with hydration and prevent cramping.”
So when, if ever, should you drink coconut water? “You need a combination of carbohydrates and protein after working out, so you can make it part of your postworkout nutrition solution,” says Carlson-Phillips, who suggests adding coconut water and protein powder to a smoothie to maximize recovery.