We’ve all heard of Gatorade and Powerade. Sports drinks are made for athletes who want to replenish the water and electrolytes they lose during workouts. Since the 1980s, sports drinks have been on the market as a way for athletes to hydrate and replenish electrolytes. Ever since football teams started handing out Gatorade on the sidelines of American football, sports drinks have grown in popularity, thanks to clever branding and marketing. Yet there are better alternatives to overhyped sports drinks.
There are some benefits to drinking sports drinks, as well as some downsides. Sports drinks are better than water when you’re exercising for long periods and in situations where you’re sweating a lot and need to replace electrolytes.
Even though some sports drinks aren’t great tasting, they supply your body with carbs, fluid, electrolytes, and vitamins to help you exercise or play longer. However, some have a lot of sugar and high fructose corn syrup. Those that don’t usually contain artificial sweeteners, as most sports drinks wouldn’t taste good without added sweetness.
Is there a healthier alternative to that overpriced bottle of sports beverage? Coconut water is a natural liquid that comes from immature green coconuts. It contains natural carbohydrates, electrolytes, and little or no fat. Some companies enhance coconut water by adding extra sugar, so some brands may be healthier than others.
Coconut water may contain added sugar, but it’s typically less than what you’d find in a sports drink. There’s also unsweetened coconut water. With this option, you’ll still get some natural sugar from the coconut, but the amount is less than what a sports drink has. Glucose is the main sugar in coconut water, but it also contains fructose. Some people say coconut water is unhealthy because of the fructose, but fructose only makes up 15% of the total sugar content. Soft drinks and fruit juices contain more, and soft drinks may contain a concentrated source of fructose called high fructose corn syrup.
Coconut Water is a Natural Source of Potassium
Most sports drinks contain added potassium, but sports drinks are a natural source of this mineral and electrolytes. In fact, coconut water has over five times the potassium of Gatorade. The average person needs 4,700 milligrams of potassium a day and coconut water has around 410 milligrams. Gatorade supplies 37 mg for comparison. Plus, you lose potassium through exercise when you sweat. It’s important that if you’re exercising for longer than an hour, you replace lost sodium, potassium, and chloride that leaves your body when you sweat. Coconut water is better at doing that than most sports drinks.
You Get Antioxidants When You Drink Coconut Water
Beyond nutrients, like potassium, coconut water is a natural source of antioxidants. Sports drinks can’t make that claim! Exercise places your body under stress and that creates oxidative damage. The antioxidants in coconut water help keep those cell and tissue-damaging free radicals in check. Sports drinks are not a natural source of cell-protective antioxidants like coconut water is.
You can also take in antioxidants in other ways besides drinking coconut water. One good example is by eating more fruits, vegetables, legumes, nuts, seeds, and spices that have high levels of antioxidants. Healthy diets that contain lots of plants tend to be higher in antioxidants and compounds that reduce inflammation than meat-based diets that include few fruits and vegetables.
Coconut Water Is More Natural Than Sports Drinks
Sports drinks may contain a variety of colorings and flavorings. While there’s no evidence that these flavorings and colorings are harmful, why add more synthetic flavorings and dyes to your body when you have an alternative?
You can buy packaged coconut water that’s raw, organic, and free of artificial additives. As with any bottled beverage, read the label, see what the ingredients are, and how much sugar it contains. Don’t buy blindly or because of clever advertising. When companies try to sell you a product, they paint a rosy picture. The real facts lie with the ingredients list and the nutritional information.
One Caveat about Coconut Water
Where coconut water may fall short is the amount of sodium it contains. Unlike most packaged foods and beverages, coconut water falls a bit short in its sodium content. Sodium is the main electrolyte you lose when you sweat, and coconut water contains less sodium than a sports drink.
One way to overcome this shortfall is to add a pinch of salt to your coconut water before drinking it. You only need to do this if you’ll be exercising and sweating a lot. If you’re drinking coconut water when you aren’t exercising, you don’t need the extra sodium.
The Bottom Line
If you’re looking for a more natural alternative to a sports drink, coconut water may fit the bill. You can also use coconut water in recipes too for more electrolytes. Whatever you do, stay hydrated!
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