As we become more wary of artificially flavored and sweetened beverages, it's, well, only natural to start seeking out more natural alternatives. And that's especially true in the health conscious fitness community.
So when companies like Vita Coco and Zico started touting coconut water as an all-natural, healthy and potassium-rich alternative to neon-shaded sports drinks (think Powerade or Gatorade), many consumers started to switch. The proof is in the earnings: the largest supplier of coconut water, Vita Coco saw a more than 400 percent increase in sales between 2007 and 2009, from just $4 million to $20 million.
But does the drink stand up against the manmade stuff for hard-working athletes? A small new study from the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition took a look at 12 men in good physical shape, each of whom spent a full hour on a treadmill on four different occasions. After each strenuous and dehydrating workout, they drank either a bottle of plain water, a coconut water (provided by Vita Coco), coconut water from concentrate, or an unspecified carbohydrate-electrolyte based sports drink. Then, the researchers evaluated their response to the drink, using three different categories:
Fluid Retention: Coconut water -- either fresh or from concentrate -- were equal in terms of fluid retention, which was fare for both drinks. The subjects lost an average 1.7 kg of mass following the workout.
Exercise Performance: Once more, there was no difference between coconut water, sports drink or bottled water when it came to exercise performance.
Self-Reported Measures (thirst, bloatedness, refreshment, stomach upset, and tiredness): The participants were more likely to say they had bloat or stomach upset after drinking the fresh or from-concentrate coconut water. But none of the drinks caused major physical discomfort.
"Little difference is noted 3 between the four tested conditions with regard to markers of hydration or exercise performance in a sample of young, healthy men," wrote the researchers. Given that, water -- the all natural and calorie-free option -- may be best. After all, as an earlier article on the subject in the New York Times points out:
Sports drinks serve a purpose among elite athletes and those who exercise for long periods. But for those who exercise at a moderate intensity for an hour or less, water is probably the better choice.