Is Coconut Water Really Better Than Water?
Coconut water proponents make claims that it absorbs better and hydrates better than water and that it has a better electrolyte profile than sports drinks.
So what’s true and whats garbage?
Below is the electrolyte profile of a typical coconut water. For comparison, the leading sports drink has 110 mg of sodium, 30 mg of potassium, 30 gram of carbs, and no magnesium.
Understanding what happens when you sweat is important for understanding the value of coconut water. Sweat is a complex cocktail varying from individual to individual. From wikipedia:
“Sweat contains mainly water. It also contains minerals, lactate, and urea. Mineral composition varies with the individual, their acclimatisation to heat, exercise and sweating, the particular stress source (sauna, etc.), the duration of sweating, and the composition of minerals in the body. An indication of the minerals content is sodium (0.9 gram/liter), potassium (0.2 g/l), calcium (0.015 g/l), magnesium (0.0013 g/l). Also many other trace elements are excreted in sweat, again an indication of their concentration is (although measurements can vary fifteenfold) zinc (0.4 milligrams/liter), copper (0.3–0.8 mg/l), iron (1 mg/l), chromium (0.1 mg/l), nickel (0.05 mg/l), lead (0.05 mg/l). Probably many other less-abundant trace minerals leave the body through sweating with correspondingly lower concentrations. Some exogenous organic compounds make their way into sweat as exemplified by an unidentified odiferous “maple syrup” scented compound in several of the species in the mushroom genus Lactarius. In humans, sweat is hypoosmotic relative to plasma  (i.e. less salty).”
The first thing that is important to notice, is how much more sodium is in sweat than potassium. Potassium is the most tightly regulated electrolyte in your body. Most of it is stored inside the nerves. Very, very few people cramp because of a potassium deficiency. At least 9 out of 10 people that I meet that claim to cramp because of potassium, will continue to cramp after consuming a banana but stop cramping within minutes of drinking a little pickle juice (very high in sodium). Those that do not respond to the pickle juice will usually respond to a nickel sized blob of transdermal magnesium rubbed on the area. Potassium is almost never the problem.
You’ll notice on the label above that coconut water is very low in sodium and very high in potassium. If you live on the coast, where coconuts grow, and eat nothing but sea slugs and crab, then you are getting plenty of sodium and coconut water is great. But, for the rest of us, this will not do.
So what is wrong with water? Most of the time, nothing. Water is best. But under extreme conditions, when your electrolyte levels are getting low, drinking pure water can further dilute them, making the effects of dehydration worse.
Personally I prefer some Electrolyte Synergy in my water. It has a better electrolyte balance than sports drinks or coconut water and includes magnesium, another electrolyte responsible for cramping when you are deficient.
By Jeremiah Jacobs