Which is Better for Hydration: Sports Drinks or Coconut Water

Sports drinks or coconut water?

I get asked that often and just the other day, when I was in Cincinnati working with the Bengals, the question came up again.  An offensive lineman was concerned he was taking in too many calories through sports drinks and wanted to know if coconut water was a better option.

Coconut water has certainly grown in popularity.

I have two different answers to the question — sports drinks or coconut water: one answer for many of the people I work with, including those that take my boot camp class, and one for the 290 lb lineman, who is practicing  for hours in the heat, and will soon be at Training Camp at the end of July, when it’s likely going to be even hotter.

Coconut water is a great alternative to traditionally high calorie, high sugar options for some people.  It is lower in calories than sports drinks.  It’s high in potassium, one of the important electrolytes that is lost in sweat.  The average gym-goer who’s hitting the weights a few times a week, maybe adding in some cardio or intervals, doesn’t really need the extra calories and sodium in sports drinks. Coconut water certainly is a great alternative if they want something more than plain water, and with about 45-60 calories per serving, they won’t drink back all the calories they just burned.  So for someone taking my boot camp class or hitting the gym for their normal 30-60 minute workout, I’m all for it and use it myself.

I actually love it pre-workout with a scoop of whey protein.

But as for the Bengals lineman, while coconut water could be part of his fluid regimen, it should not replace sports drinks. While high in potassium, coconut water is naturally low in sodium, which is the primary electrolyte lost in sweat.  It also doesn’t provide the necessary calories to replenish what’s lost during heavy training.

And I encourage people training over 60 minutes, particularly in a hot, humid environment where they’re sweating a good deal, to also use a sports drink, which can be in conjunction with coconut water if they want to meet their hydration needs during the rest of the day.

The question then is which brand is best? I personally use, like and trust Vita Coco because it’s 100% pure coconut water that’s not from concentrate.  I have worked with the brand, and they recently sent me samples for my boot camp class participants, which came in handy as temperatures in Kentucky have reached the triple digits. Many brands out there are from concentrate and offer less than 10% coconut water and are instead loaded with added sugar.  Make sure you read the label and if you’re going to try it, use the purest brand.  Here’s another hint — make sure it’s cold.  It tastes better and is more refreshing.

Source: Chris Mohr, PhD, RD, Men’s Health
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