Coconut Water vs. Sports Drinks: How Do They Compare?

Sports drinks– the artificially-flavored carbohydrate-electrolyte drinks – they work, but are there other alternatives that are more natural?

Serious trainees are always seeking better ways to boost workout performance and enhance recovery time between training sessions. Whether it’s a new exercise, training format, or nutritional supplement, it’s all about finding what works best.

Sports drinks are no exception. They have become commonplace in the fitness industry. A variety of manufacturers churn out drinks for every situation: pre-workout, in-workout, and post-workout.

Regarding the ones meant to combat dehydration and improve work performance during exercise – the artificially-flavored carbohydrate-electrolyte drinks – they do work, but are there other alternatives that are more natural? Let’s take a look.

In a study in Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, coconut water (natural, not manufactured) was compared to conventional sports drinks on measures of hydration and physical performance in 12 healthy men with exercise experience. They performed a 60-minute treadmill workout on four occasions, separated by five days. The goal was to dehydrate the men.

They were then given:

  • Group 1 – bottled water
  • Group 2 – pure coconut water
  • Group 3 – coconut water from concentrate
  • Group 4 – carbohydrate-electrolyte sports drink

The amount of fluid given was based on body mass lost during the 60-minute workouts. The fluids were administered in random, single (subject) blind, and cross-over design. Hydration status and treadmill performance (time to fatigue) were determined during the recovery periods.

In addition, subjective measures of thirst, bloatedness, freshness level, stomach feeling, and level of tiredness were also determined.

coconut water, coconut water for hydrationThe results of this study were interesting:

  • The men lost approximately lost approximately 3.5 pounds during exercise and then regained it during rehydration using the four fluids.
  • No differences were noted when coconut water or coconut water from concentrate was compared to sport drink in any case.
  • No significant difference was noted between bottled water, coconut water, coconut water from concentrate, and sport drink regarding exercise performance.

However, subjects generally felt more bloated and experienced more stomach discomfort under the coconut water and coconut water from concentrate conditions.

It was concluded that all beverages were capable of promoting rehydration. Only small differences were noted between the four conditions regarding markers of hydration or exercise performance in the 12 healthy men.

So, if you want to go “natural,” coconut water may be a viable option as a post-workout rehydrator (provided your stomach can handle it). If not, it looks like you can stick with plain water if you don’t want to invest in manufactured sport drinks.

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