Secrets from the Training Room: Is coconut water a miracle drink?

September, 12, 2011
9/12/11
5:45
PM ET
ESPNHS, ESPNHS trainingLarry Crowe/APCoconut water has been billed as a miracle drink, and athletes and celebrities have endorsed it. Experts share their thoughts on "nature's sports drink."

Lately it seems every day there is a new wonder product promising to shave minutes off your time, help you jump higher, run longer or make every single shot you take. And while some seem legit, it’s not always easy to determine which ones actually work and make sense for your sport.

So we’re ducking into the training room to get the scoop straight from the experts’ mouths — the coaches, trainers, and professionals who make telling the real from the bogus their everyday jobs.

First up? Coconut water.

What it is: The clear liquid found inside young coconuts gained popularity in the U.S. through two key brands — Vita Coco and Zico. The founders of Vita Coco (two best friends) claim the brand was born after asking two Brazilian girls in a bar what they missed most about their native land. When the answer was coconut water — what they touted as “the most delicious and nutritious drink in the world”— an idea was born.

How it works: Branded as “nature’s sports drink,” coconut water is low in calories and completely void of fat but high in potassium — containing two times as much as a banana, the long-standing post-workout choice of runners. Combined with the small amount of sodium the drink contains, you have a powerful combo of recovery-promoting electrolytes. (For those of you who were texting during science class, electrolytes are basically salts making up a high percentage of your body’s fluids. While working out, you lose sodium and potassium electrolytes through sweat, which then need to be replenished.)

How to use it: Usually after a workout, but you can also enjoy it at any time of day as a healthy snack, meal accompaniment or smoothie ingredient.

Who drinks it: Celebrity athletes, runners, and high-octane performers such as Alex Rodriguez and Rhianna have jumped on the bandwagon, and food magazines and fitness websites have even gone so far as to call the drink a “superfood.”

Worth the hype? “As long as you’re getting pure coconut water, it can be an added benefit to an already healthy routine,” says Dave Geslak, former assistant strength coach of the University of Iowa and founder of the Exercise Connection Corporation in Illinois. “If you like the taste, it could be a nice post-workout reward once in a while — but I don’t think it’s a necessity.”

Molly Laughlin, a volleyball player at Mount Vernon (Fortville Ind.) says she and her sister Caitlin, a tennis player at Mount Vernon, enjoy the drink for the benefits it gives, but aren’t crazy about the taste. “It’s not bad,” Molly says. “But I love how it helps me stay hydrated and boosts my energy back up after a long workout.”

Running at about $2 a pop, the price may outweigh the benefits.

James Hardy, director of strength and training for basketball at the University of Colorado, agrees.

“While coconut water will supply some important nutrients the body needs, there’s no replacement for hard work and healthy choices. It should be an added indulgence on top of daily smart habits — not a miracle fix.”

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