Is Coconut Water Really Better Than Gatorade?

Coconut water is well, watery, and high in the electrolyte potassium. Recently, some marketing genius realized that it was basically a natural “sports drink.” But is it really better?

Mother Jones looked into the issue and found that, while coconut water isn’t exactly the same as a sports drink, it’s pretty good for a mild to moderate workout.

But according to Liz Applegate, director of sports nutrition at UC-Davis, coconut water isn’t ideal for prolonged bouts of physical activity. That’s because of its particular blend of electrolytes. Unlike sports drinks, which generally contain a lot of sodium and a little potassium, coconut water is the opposite: heavy on potassium, light on sodium. “Even though the belief is that when you exercise you need a lot of potassium, sodium is more important,” says Applegate. “When you sweat, you lose a lot more sodium than potassium.” (Zico’s new Natural Bottle product has a little more sodium, but unlike most coconut waters, it’s made from concentrate.) Applegate says she has never seen any convincing scientific evidence to support anti-aging and kidney health claims. Still, she doesn’t dismiss coconut water entirely. “If you like the taste, great,” she says. “If you’re doing a short workout, great.”

Mother Jones also says that coconut water isn’t horrible for the environment, because coconut trees require little fertilizer or pesticides and prevent soil erosion.

Just don’t confuse it with coconut milk, which is made from the white part of the coconut. Coconut water is a clear liquid found inside young coconuts.

Is Coconut Water Really Better Than Sports Drinks? [MotherJones]


Edit Your Comment

  1. ExtraCelestial says:

    I passionately hate coconut water. I have been trying to incorporate it into my diet, but gag even at even the thought. I was hoping the article would be more devastating. I don’t drink sports drinks either. And since I work out early in the morning.. I also don’t eat before! I tried to eat beforehand once and thought I would die

    • jurisenpai says:

      I agree! I tasted it and almost threw up – it smells rotten to me. And I love coconut milk and coconut flesh and all other things coconut!

      At least my husband likes it; I’ll just stick to my Propel, kthx.

    • qwickone says:

      Have you ever had it fresh out of a coconut? I know not everyone has a taste for it, so maybe you don’t, but the fresh stuff is pretty different from what you can buy in a can/bottle, in most cases. Some bottled coconut water tastes pretty close, but not most of them.

    • lordargent says:

      I love coconut water, I have been trying ti incorporate into my drinks :D

      /I’m from a tropical island in the Caribbean, I used to climb the trees and crack open fresh coconuts. The packaged stuff doesn’t compare to a fresh one. It doesn’t matter if it’s 80 outside, the coconut water is cool when you take it right from the nut.

  2. LaziestManOnMars says:

    When I run out of coconut water, I just drink dirty dish
    Tastes the same!

  3. tbax929 says:

    I am only allergic to two things (that I know of): cocunut and avocado. Both of them make me break out and itch like crazy. I’ve never had coconut water, but I’m assuming my skin would react horribly to it.

  4. Suisei says:

    I can only down coconut water if some type of sweetner is added. Its barf-o-rific all by itself.

  5. GuyGuidoEyesSteveDaveâ„¢ says:

    Mother Jones also says that coconut water isn’t horrible for the environment, because coconut trees require little fertilizer or pesticides and prevent soil erosion.

    Unlike Gatorade trees.

  6. Alvis says:

    So… salted coconut water FTW?

  7. Hodo says:

    Love the stuff personally, but it’s so darn expensive . . . .

    • spinceoli says:

      You could get coconut water in asian supermarkets at a much cheaper prices for years now. You’re just paying for marketing and packaging here.

  8. zandar says:

    salty coconut water in the near future? yum.

  9. zandar says:

    this seems like, as usual, much ado about nothing. The average person gets plenty of sodium from their diet. What they need, even for the hardest workouts, is water, unless they are running a marathon or climbing a mountain. It’s better for you than gatorade OR coconut water. Bonus: no cloying artificial fruit, or dirty dishwater, flavor.

    • syzygy says:

      Thank you. Supplements are for people who don’t eat a proper diet. If you need to take a handful of pills every day to avoid malnutrition, you’re not doing it right.

    • dulcinea47 says:

      You forgot the other bonus of water: extremely cheap when you drink it from the tap or use a Brita or Pur type filter.

    • GuidedByLemons says:

      Long bouts of intense exercise (and concomitant sweating) absolutely do deplete sodium enough to require replenishment. I rarely bike more than 50 miles, but that’s more than enough. Clear water vs. water with electrolytes* is absolutely the difference between cramping and not cramping.

      I mean OK, you don’t need a sports drink to get through your cardio kickboxing class at the gym, but you don’t need to be running a marathon either before you benefit from supplementing electrolytes.


      • Shadowman615 says:

        Well, biking 50 miles ain’t exactly a light workout either.

        • GuidedByLemons says:

          The claim was that sodium supplementation is unnecessary for “even for the hardest workouts”.

          Cycling 50 miles is roughly equivalent to a half marathon. Anything over 30 miles on a hot day and I cramp if I don’t supplement electrolytes.

    • jurisenpai says:

      I actually have a condition where I have to eat a high-sodium diet, drink tons of fluids, and exercise a ton.

      I go through Propel like a madwoman, but it keeps me alive and going. I also add salt to it! Mmm, tasty!

  10. sirwired says:

    Although if you are suffering from a potassium deficiency, additional potassium can help ward off muscle cramps. Really, most people don’t need the sodium replenished because the body has quite large reserves of the stuff. Yes, you can run too low, but that takes hours of activity and chugging large quantities of water.

    • RvLeshrac says:

      And a pretty good diet. I doubt the majority of people consume less than 5-10x the RDA of sodium.

      Hell, that’s one Quiktrip sandwich.

  11. RonNYC says:

    I bought some yesterday at Whole Foods. Couldn’t even finish one bottle; gave a half cup to a friend of mine, who also couldn’t drink it. I returned the other bottles back to Whole Foods. I told them the liquid reminded me of what you drink before a colonoscopy. Just the worst thing I have ever tasted in a long while.

  12. RxDude says:

    I have no opinion on coconut water. However, Mother Jones is one of the last places I would look to for health advice.

  13. El-Brucio says:

    Ehhhh….I’ve never encountered a bottled coconut water beverage that tasted good. You are better off just buying a young coconut and drilling a hole in it yourself. Insert straw and you are in heaven.

    Of course, you’d have to carry the drill and straw around with you in most places in North America, but there are few grocery stores that will do it for you.

  14. balthisar says:

    I had no idea you could get coconut water anywhere but the sea coast, and right out of the coconut (literally, that is, they bring you the coconut macheted open, unless you order a pitcher, and then when you’re done, they’ll chop up the coconut meat so you can eat it.).

    Oh, and this: I prefer my coconuts with about a shot of gin added to the water.

  15. smo0 says:

    I have to mix coconut water with cranberry juice or something else… if it’s missing some sodium, a little sea salt to the mix couldn’t hurt…. overall – this has got to be better than pumping your body full of the chemicals found in those other sports drinks.

  16. Demonpiggies says:

    So essentially what you’re saying is if I put a lime in it will it and then drink it all up will it then be better for a “prolonged bouts of physical activity”?

  17. probablykate says:

    OK I totally missed this whole coconut water craze. I’ve had “coconut water” where you are in a tropical location and they make a hole in a coconut and put a straw in and you drink the liquid inside. Is that the same thing that they’re bottling? Everyone is commenting that it tastes awful, but the thing I’ve had is delicious, and I’m not even a big fan of coconut.

    • qwickone says:

      I don’t like the bottled varieties, for the most part. I could drink it straight from a coconut all day long. No seriously. I’ve done it.

  18. the Persistent Sound of Sensationalism says:

    I’m fairly certain that I read somewhere that sports drinks are completely unnecessary unless you are doing intense workouts. The loss of electrolytes due to light or moderate workouts is minimal. Drinking water and eating your regular meals should suffice.

  19. yusefyk says:

    We make our own coconuts at home. Really, we have some trees on one of the properties. So it’s all we could eat, haha.

    How to prepare a cocount.

    Just put a metal stick in the ground. Then hit the outside part of the coconut so the metal pokes in there. Turn it over so the soft part pulls off. After you rotate the coconut somewhat, push it back onto the pole. Don’t use a knife for this, it is dangerous. Just use a metal stick.

    Take the hard middle part and chop the top off with your machete. Drain, then cut in half. You can cut a little piece off the husk to use as spoon. Then you can scrape the jelly out and eat it fresh. Though I prefer it is cold, if hot it is too waterey.

    Then dry and grinds the white part, let it dry really well, then mix with dried prawns and chilis to eat on rice. Or wrap some in banana leafs and put in your rice cooker to make the rice taste nice.

    Yay kelapa ^^

  20. LuckyLady says:

    If you *do* want to make your own Gatordade-type drink yourself, just mix water or tea with a little sugar and a little salt. Very basic, cheap, easy and tastes a little funny, but no HFCS and no barfy coconut water.

  21. Dallas_shopper says:

    Weird, I just drink water and eat a pickle after a workout. Pickles = high in sodium. And DELICIOUS.

  22. He says:

    Wouldn’t the environmental impact be much the same as that from pal oil? Aren’t they derived from the same plant?
    Wiki says:

    Palm oil production has been documented as a cause of substantial and often irreversible damage to the natural environment. Its impacts include: deforestation, habitat loss of critically endangered species, and a significant increase in greenhouse gas emissions.

  23. Kat@Work says:

    I just bought some of this to try. This has got to be the most vile, revolting thing I’ve ever put in my mouth. Actually, the thickness and saltiness of it comes quite close to something else that’s not my fav to ingest…

    This stuff is gross.

  24. mikeP says:

    Hmm. So according to this report, I have a genius new product: CocoNaid!

    Has a mix of coconut water and gatoraid for an optimal electrolyte balance. Now I can watch the cash flow in…

  25. BelleSade says:

    Actual coconut water, from a coconut, is the best natural laxative out there. You’ll be able to crap while standing up. And no, it’s not salty at all.

  26. Kibit says:

    I really like coconut water, however I’m not a fan of the brand Zico shown in the picture. It doesn’t have as much flavor as the others. I drink it because it tastes good and reminds me of when I was little and we lived in Hawaii, we drank coconut water out of the coconuts quite often.

    I have had one bottle out of all the bottles I have had taste funky, I’m not sure why, but it did.

  27. Cantras says:

    Coconut how-to:
    (assuming you have a dehulled coconut like what you get at the grocery store in the mainland, probably something like 2/$3[which is probably waaaay cheaper than what this bottled stuff costs], but you do not have a machete)
    Pick one with no blackness, no cracks (I never get the kind that has grooves cut into it, that’s asking for trouble)– check around the coconut eyes (the dark spots on the pointed end) for any weirdness, especially.

    Hammer screwdriver into any eye (OF THE COCONUT). Remove screwdriver. Insert straw. Enjoy.

    If you want the insides of the coconut: Finish drinking, wrap coconut in a dishtowel or shirt you don’t mind getting holes in it. Place coconut on hard surface. Hit coconut with hammer till it’s open. Tada.

  28. simpleton says:

    Coconut water has been a workout secret for years especially in the Caribbean and south pacific (phillipines and thailand for sure). Both for the sprinters and the fighters.

    But naturally nowadays with the gatorade advertising blitz (using some of the same athletes that grew up drinking coconut water mind you), the young athletes nowadays are drinking gatorade. hilarious.

  29. VashtiDuty says:

    If you drink to much coconut water you can get diarrhea.

  30. sayahh says:

    It’s funny, because Zico in the original Tetra (foil) packs tasted okay, but the new ones in the plastic bottles tasted nasty. My favorite is the passion fruit Zico. Harvest Bay is good, too, but hard to find (and only one flavor: original). O.N.E. (One Natural Experience) offers four flavors (original, pineapple, passion fruit and mango) and sell other products beside coconut water, including plain H2O. VitaCoco also has several flavors (original + 4 other varieties) with some better tasting than others. I did not try Nature Factor Organic Young Coconut Water. While the reviews are polarizing, I would guess that it must be fairly good considering it is organic and the positive comments outnumber the negative.

    Another aspect of the coconut water nutrition that many fail to discuss is the pasteurization. As with milk and orange juice, pasteurization (or flash pasteurization) destroy many of the nutrients that we know about. I don’t know if any of the brands are raw (or unpasteurized). I doubt most people are drinking it for its nutritional values, but rather to quench their thirst, seeing as they are marketed as “nature’s sports drink.”

  31. legolex says:

    I tried coconut water once and it was undrinkable. I could only compare it to drinking watered down ball-sweat. Seriously.

  32. Conformist138 says:

    So… we all consume WAY too much sodium on a regular basis… But man, if you sweat a bit it’ll vanish and you just gotta chug salted sugar water to get it back in there!

    Whatever. I work out and drink water. Really, you don’t need special crap if the rest of your diet is in any way normal or balanced and “working out” is just you moving and getting off your butt. No need to work for an hour until you’re a puddled mess and then sit around watching tv for the rest of the night. Just stand more and move around and randomly drop to the floor for push ups or sit ups. I dunno, getting in shape stopped being so scary once I decided to admit I’m a mammal and if a chimp or my dog can stay trim without a stationary bike or gatorade then so can i.