April Daniels Hussar, SELF magazine
A coconut with a straw in it may sound like the perfect beverage for a tropical vacation, but it also might be just what you need after a great workout, according to new research.
"Coconut water is a natural, healthy drink," Chhandashri Bhattacharya, Ph.D., a researcher and lecturer at Indiana University Southeast in New Albany, tells HealthySELF. Bhattacharya presented her research on what she says is the natural beverage that has "everything your average sports drink has and more" today at the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society (ACS).
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"Anyone can drink coconut water," Bhattacharya says. "People can drink it as a beverage, or people who are exercising can drink it to replenish the nutrients the body loses during moderate exercise."
Coconut water, says Bhattacharya, contains five times more potassium than popular sports drinks, which is important because potassium, she explains, helps you get rid of muscle cramps.
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Even if you're not exercising, the average American diet is low in potassium and high in sodium -- studies have shown that this imbalance increases your risk of heart disease and other causes of death, Bhattacharya says. According to Bhattacharya and her team's analysis, coconut water contains up to 1,500 mg/liter of potassium, compared to up to 300 mg/liter for popular sports drinks.
Where coconut water falls short in terms of a sports drink, says Bhattacharya, is in its sodium levels: she found 400 mg/liter of sodium in coconut water compared to 600 mg/liter for popular sports drinks. Sodium replacement is a concern for people engaged in super-strenuous exercise that causes a lot of sweating, she says.
Jim White, registered dietitian, ACSM Certified Personal Trainer and spokesman for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, says he'd recommend coconut water to athletes or people engaged in moderately strenuous exercise -- but with some caveats.
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"If, for example, you're running on the treadmill for an hour, I'd recommend coconut water," White says, adding that he'd limit it to one 8-ounce bottle during or after your workout. "But, if you're engaged in a basic, average workout, like 30 minutes on the elliptical, I wouldn't recommend it, especially if you're on a weight-loss program," he says. Why? Coconut water isn't calorie-free: an 8-ounce container of VitaCoco coconut water, for example, contains about 22 grams of sugar. "If you're walking on a treadmill, drinking coconut water or a sports drink, you're like a hamster on a wheel in terms of calories burned and calories going right back in!" White says. "It doesn't make any sense."
White recommends drinking a sports drink when you're engaged in very extreme exercise where you might be sweating profusely, "like football practice in the heat, or running marathons and triathlons." In these scenarios, without replenishing sodium lost through sweat, you can run the risk of hyponatremia, a metabolic condition in which there is an imbalance in the amount of sodium in your body fluid compared to the amount of sodium in your cells, he says. But for your average workout, "stick with coconut water or, better yet -- plain water."
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