Is Coconut Water truly the perfect, all-natural energy drink? By some, it’s regarded as the best fluid for hydration and electrolyte replenishment on the bike. They claim that it’s hydrated athletes naturally, for thousands of years, with 100% all-natural goodness. Sounds good. But is it better than modern sports drinks? Recently, a client asked me what I think about coconut water as a sports drink. I asked him how much he’s willing to spend each ride. Joking aside, here’s my answer and a recipe for the perfect sports drink using coconut water as its primary ingredient…
Recipe of the week: Coconut Juice Energy Drink
- 12 oz. coconut water (from 1 medium fresh coconut or boxed/bottled 100% coconut water)
- 4 oz. 100% juice (any flavor, I’ve used apple, white grape, and blueberry/pomegranate)
- 1/12 tsp salt (estimate 33% of a 1/4 tsp)
Mix all ingredients together. Drink 16-24 oz. per hour on ride.
Nutrition information (per 8 oz.): 56 calories, 13 gm carbs, 168 mg sodium, 306 mg potassium, 11 mg calcium, 15 mg magnesium
If you’ve read my fueling recommendations before, you know that I think there are many ways to fuel and hydrate well. In fact, many times readers and clients want me to recommend the one best way to fuel a ride, and quite simply, I can’t. As long as you end up with adequate carbs, calories, electrolytes, and fluid per hour, and avoid any products or ingredients that cause stomach upset for you personally, you should use some personal preferences to make your choice. I often find athletes trying to make themselves drink or eat something on the bike because their coach or training partner recommended it, only to find that they hate the taste, texture, or stomach feeling they get from it. They end up dehydrated, nauseous, or bonked because they simply can’t make themselves drink enough consistently. Don’t fall for this “one best” drink mentality. Instead, know what you need, and find your preferences for getting it.
In order to determine if coconut water works for a sports drink, let’s start with a cyclist’s fuel goals per hour of riding.
For a cyclist whose goal is to push themselves on a ride, for any intense ride >90 minutes, I recommend:
16-24 oz. fluid, 200-300 calories, 40-60+ grams carbs, 400-700 mg sodium, 100-300 mg potassium, 80-120 mg calcium, and 40-60 mg magnesium per hour. Additionally, antioxidants such as vitamin C, and amino acids such as l-glutamine may reduce oxidative stress, inflammation, and promote faster recovery. For a shorter ride, or one that’s less intense, a cyclist can shoot for half these calories and carbs (but generally, and especially in moderate to high heat or humidity, still needs full amounts of fluids and lytes). Of course, this doesn’t all need to come from a drink. Usually, I aim for all the fluid, most of the electrolytes, and about half the calories and carbs from my drink.
So, what’s in Coconut Water or other recommended sports drinks?
Zico Coconut Water (per 8 oz.): 34 calories, 7.4 gm carbs, 91 mg sodium, 325 mg potassium, 15 mg calcium, 20 mg magnesium
1st Endurance (per 1/2 scoop in 8 oz. water): 47 calories, 13 gm carbs, 150 mg sodium, 80 mg potassium, 50 mg calcium, 75 mg magnesium
Skratchlabs (per 1/2 scoop in 8 oz. water): 40 calories, 10 gm carbs, 155 mg sodium, 20 mg potassium, 30 mg calcium, 25.5 mg magnesium
Hammer Heed (per 1/2 scoop in 8 oz. water): 50 calories, 13 gm carbs, 20 mg sodium, 12.5 mg potassium, 25 mg calcium, 13 mg magnesium
Coconut Juice Energy Drink (8 oz.): 56 calories, 13 gm carbs, 168 mg sodium, 306 mg potassium, 11 mg calcium, 15 mg magnesium
Kelli’s Homebrew (fluids + carbs + lytes, 8 oz.): 60 calories, 15 gm carbs, 150 mg sodium, 44 mg potassium
As you can see, the plain Zico Coconut water has approximately 50% of the calories, carbs, and sodium of most “full” nutrition sports drinks, similar to G2 or other half-strength drinks . This is not necessarily bad as many athletes prefer a light taste for a drink, but it does leave an athlete with a lot to make up in nutrients every hour. At 20 oz. per hour, you’d get 85 calories, 19 gm carbs, 229 mg sodium, 812 mg potassium, 39 mg calcium, and 50 mg magnesium per hour. This is far lower in carbs and sodium than a good, comprehensive sports drink would provide per hour, and can leave a serious athlete in a nutrition hole. Our All-Natural Coconut Juice Energy Drink, on the other hand, provides nutrients similar to leading sports drinks with a good amount of electrolytes. Still, there are some purists that want to drink coconut water the way nature intended it. There’s certainly pros and cons.
Other pros and cons of using plain 100% Coconut Water as your sports drink:
Pro: All-natural – this is a big-time benefit compared to sucking down artificially flavored, colored, and sweetened drinks
Pro: Low acidity: Many cyclists have a hard time tolerating high-acids sports drinks hour after hour
Pro: It’s a good amount of carbs and lytes per hour for a less-serious or non-competitive cyclist, or for a shorter ride
Con: Sodium is the primary inadequate electrolyte…sodium is also the most important lyte to a cyclist during the ride
Con: The nutrients and electrolyte vary from brand to brand of coconut water, so it’s important to determine the adequacy of different brands
Con: At ~$2 per 11 ounces bottled coconut water, and a need of 20 oz. per hour, this could be one pricey sports drink
BONUS – Coconut Juice RECOVERY Drink Bonus Recipe: Add 1 scoop protein powder OR 6 oz Greek Yogurt to 16 ounces Coconut Juice Energy Drink (use blender if mixing Greek Yogurt). Approx. 212 calories, 28 gm carbs, 391 mg sodium, 687 mg potassium, 109 mg calcium, 42 mg magnesium.
Overall, YES, coconut water is a great sports drink option. Is it the perfect one? Almost and sometimes. For the less serious athlete or ride, it’s perfect. For the serious athlete, the extra carbs and sodium in our Coconut Juice Energy Drink will come in handy. Either can work well within a good overall fueling plan. Best of all, both offer options that are 100% natural and easy on the system. If you like the taste, and want to pay for it, coconut water may be for you. If you don’t like the taste, skip it – there’s other options that will work just as well. If you’re a bit of a tight-wad like I am, you can save a lot of money with Kelli’s Homebrew or less expensive drink options. Remember, there are many ways to fuel and hydrate well on the bike – the trick is finding what combo works best for you and your wallet.
Oh, and if you’re looking for fresh coconut water, why not visit Darryl in Grenada and get one right off the tree?
Fuel Your Ride. Nourish Your Body.