Researchers have found that coconut water contains similar levels of carbohydrates as other sports drinks. A comparison to Gatorade and Powerade has also shown that coconut water has higher levels of potassium. However, sodium levels are lower in coconut water. The study points out that the liquid must come from a fresh or green coconut. Coconut milk cannot be used as a substitute. Previous research has shown that coconut milk has high levels of fat.
The lower sodium content of coconut water does not make it suitable for vigorous exercise. The human body requires a higher level of sodium that tends to be found in other sports drinks as replenishment after excessive sweating. Some athletes and coaches add extra sodium to coconut water for this reason.
The research presented at the American Chemical Society is not the first to recommend coconut water as a sports drink. It has been part of multiple sources over the years including a recent compilation by registered dietitian Matthew G. Kadey. The popularity of this beverage has been increasing, so more studies will follow.
As the popularity of coconut water continues to grow, manufacturers have responded with more options for consumers. Unfortunately, many of these drinks are cheap imitations that contain little to no actual coconut water. The sports drink industry in the U.S. reached $1.6 billion in 2009. Recent estimates indicate that the industry has climbed to $7 billion around the world. Although the benefits of sports drinks continue to be debated, researchers believe that the high levels of potassium in coconut water are too helpful to ignore.