Coconut Water: Miracle (or Myth) in a Box?

Dreading a blazing day’s forecast last year, I knew to start chugging the liquids early before heading out to an all-day tennis competition. In my home that morning, I had two options: trusty water from my fridge (free) or the much hyped hydration “miracle” coconut water (certainly not free).

Reaching for anything to keep my feet moving faster than my opponent, I went with the coconut water. Hours later and about a dozen dollars poorer, I still cramped under the heat and felt thirsty and exhausted. I knew the next morning would be spent lying on the couch struggling to get around all day.

Is coconut water really the fountain of athletic youth it is claimed to be, or are all the claims simply hype? Here’s what I learned about the juice, while lounging haplessly the next morning and researching what the experts had to say:

  • Water may be just fine. Most of us won’t compete in the Ironman triathlon, so for many exercises, even strenuous routines, water is adequate to replenish liquids. Be sure to sip the stuff before, during and after a workout and watch for signs of dehydration.
  • It’s all about what you sweat.When you sweat, you lose electrolytes (such as potassium and sodium) as well as water. With increasing time spent exercising and sweating, you may need additional electrolytes and hydration.
    • Coconut water’s real asset is high potassium (300 to 500 milligrams). Yet, sodium is mostly what we sweat out and need to replace; this is what coconut water lacks.
    • Coconut waters available on the market vary in the amount of sodium they contain. Rehydration drinks typically contain 110 mg of sodium per 8-ounce cup serving, but pure coconut water beverages (not concentrate) claim to contain about 40 to 60 mg of sodium in an 11-ounce serving (one particular brand contains 160 mg per serving).
    • You’re better off drinking water and eating some salty pretzels to replenish electrolytes. You can also replace both sodium and potassium by eating some fruits or vegetables after your workout.
  • Don’t buy into all the other health claims. Can coconut water prevent cancer, help manage diabetes or even prevent aging? It is highly unlikely and not at all backed by convincing scientific evidence. You should speak with your doctor about proven ways to prevent illness through nutrition.

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Dane Fukumoto enjoys playing tennis. When he is not on the court, he is working as Virginia Mason’s patient communications manager.

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