The American diet is low in potassium, an electrolyte that keeps you from getting cramps when you exercise. While drinks like Gatorade promise to supply electrolytes, you can get five times as much potassium from an all-natural drink.
Your best bet for electrolytes: coconut water. An analysis of the drink was delivered at the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.
Even those who don’t exercise much can benefit from coconut water’s potassium, according to Chhandashri Bhattacharya, Ph.D.
“Coconut water is a natural drink that has everything your average sports drink has and more,” says Bhattacharya. “It has five times more potassium than Gatorade or Powerade. Whenever you get cramps in your muscles, potassium will help you to get rid of the cramps. It’s a healthy drink that replenishes the nutrients that your body has lost during a moderate workout.”
Coconut water is the clear liquid found most abundantly inside young, green coconuts. It long has been a popular drink in the tropics, where street and beach vendors sell green coconuts with a drinking straw in the top.
Bhattacharya’s team analyzed coconut water, Gatorade and Powerade and found that coconut water contained up to 1,500 mg/liter of potassium, compared to up to 300 mg/liter for Powerade and Gatorade. Coconut water, however, had 400 mg/liter of sodium compared to 600 for the other two drinks. It had comparable quantities of magnesium and carbohydrates as the other drinks.
Coconut water’s lower sodium content is where it falters as a good sports drink for people who engage in strenuous exercise that produces a lot of sweating, Bhattacharya said. Sweating makes people lose more sodium than potassium, and coconut water alone can’t replace that lost sodium. But adding a modicum of salt to the drink should alleviate that deficit.