Using Coconut Water As an Electrolyte Drink During Runs

Coconut Water

Verywell / Alexandra Shytsman

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Coconut water has gained in popularity as an alternative to sports drinks or recovery drinks for runners and other athletes. It is low in calories, fat-free, and cholesterol-free. But is it really more healthy than the traditional alternatives? For some, it may be.

What Is Coconut Water?

Coconut water is different from high-fat coconut milk or coconut oil. It's a clear liquid that comes from the center of young, green coconuts. Coconut water is made from an emulsion of the grated meat and fluid of a coconut.

Pure coconut water is not the same as coconut-flavored beverages. Some sweet drinks include coconut flavoring as well as added sugars and other ingredients. These drinks are generally not advised as hydration fluids during runs.

Unsweetened coconut water contains about 43 calories per one-cup serving. It also provides about 10 grams of carbohydrate (almost all sugar), half a gram of protein and no fat.

Coconut Water Benefits for Runners

Coconut water contains easily digested, energy-boosting carbohydrates in the form of naturally occurring sugar. Many runners who participate in long training runs or races need to replace carbohydrates in order to maintain energy levels and muscular endurance.

Coconut water also provides micronutrients such as potassium and magnesium that runners and athletes lose during workouts. These micronutrients help your body to function better during long workouts.

Potassium assists in muscular contraction, nerve transmission, and heart function. According to that National Institutes of Health (NIH), adult women need 2,600mg of potassium per day. Men need 3,400mg per day. A single cup of coconut water provides about 400 milligrams of potassium.

Magnesium helps regulate muscle and nerve function. Women need 310 to 320mg and men need 400 to 420mg of magnesium per day. One cup of coconut water provides about 15 milligrams of magnesium.

Coconut Water vs. Other Beverages

Coconut water is often touted as a superior alternative to water and other sports beverages. But studies have not confirmed substantial benefits.

Water

Studies have investigated how coconut water compares to plain water for the purposes of hydration during sports like running. Most studies that have compared coconut water to plain water or to sports drinks have been limited in nature. That is, they involve only a few test subjects and many of them only include well-trained men.

While research shows that coconut water is as effective at rehydration as water. But most study authors suggest that it is no more effective and that more studies are needed to determine additional benefits.

Coconut water is more expensive than water and is not likely to be available on race day. If you're used to training with it, you'd have to carry it with you if you want to consume it during a competitive event. However, coconut water contains calories (energy) and micronutrients that may decrease your need for sports gels or other fuel, depending on how long and intense your race is.

Sports Drinks

Some runners wonder how coconut water compares to sports drinks. Some athletes may be interested in replacing drinks like Gatorade with coconut water because it is more natural. But there are some key differences between them.

Pure Coconut Water
  • Does not contain added sugars

  • Not likely to be available at races

  • Does not contain electrolytes

  • May produce less nausea

  • Easier for some to consume

Sports Beverage
  • May contain added sugars

  • Popular brands usually available during races

  • Available for purchase at most stores

  • Usually contains electrolytes

  • May cause nausea

Pure coconut water does not contain the levels of electrolytes, especially sodium, that are found in sports drinks and are necessary to replace all of the electrolytes lost through sweat. Commercial sports drinks, such as Gatorade, offer a complete hydration and electrolyte replacement option for people who are running for more than 60 minutes.

However, one study found that coconut water caused less nausea, increased fullness and no stomach upset when compared with carbohydrate-electrolyte beverages. Test subjects also found that it was easier to consume in a larger amount.

But that study did not involve running in a race. During races, coconut water is not likely to be available at water stops. However, Gatorade and other similar fuels are almost always offered.

Timing

There are different times when consuming coconut water may work within your nutrition and hydration plan. Consider any of these timing scenarios.

During Short Runs

If you're running less than an hour, you don't need to worry about electrolyte replacement, so plain water should suffice. And because research has indicated that plain water hydrates as well as coconut water, you may choose water because it has fewer calories and is less expensive. However, if you like the taste of coconut water, it's certainly a good option for those shorter runs.

During Long Runs

Some runners opt for coconut water during long runs because their sensitive stomachs can't tolerate the sugar and artificial sweeteners in many conventional sports drinks. Of course, you should definitely see how well you tolerate coconut water before you decide to use it for a long run.

One study found the subjects didn't like the taste, and as a result drank far less of the coconut water than they did plain water. That could put you at risk of dehydration. Another study found that the subjects experienced more bloating and stomach upset when using coconut water as compared to a sports drink.

If you find that you enjoy coconut water and tolerate it well, you may want to add a few sprinkles of salt to it or do a salt shot halfway through your long run to make sure you're replacing sodium.

After Runs

Coconut water is also used as a recovery drink and a natural way to replenish electrolytes after a hard run or workout. Some runners like to mix it with protein powder to make sure that they're getting the ideal 3-to-1 protein to carbohydrate ratio for optimal recovery.

If you choose not to drink coconut water during your run, consider adding it to a post-run smoothie. Add bananas, fresh berries, coconut milk and coconut water to a blender and add a small amount of protein powder. You'll get a filling, protein enriched treat that also provides carbohydrate and potassium for muscle recovery.

When choosing coconut water, be sure that you look for unsweetened varieties, as some coconut drinks contain added sugars (and therefore more calories). Check the label to be sure that the product contains only coconut water and no other fillers or flavors.

Always check the product label to see if your coconut water needs to be refrigerated. Some brands recommend it.

A Word From Verywell

It is important to stay hydrated during endurance exercise and replenish your body after exercising. Coconut water can be one way to do that, but only if it is something you enjoy drinking. It has long been a recommendation of the American College of Sports Medicine that whatever you use for fluid replacement must be palatable so you will drink enough of it.

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5 Sources
Verywell Fit uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Coconut water, unsweetened. FoodData Central. U.S. Department of Agriculture. Published October 30, 2020.

  2. National Institutes of Health Office of Dietary Supplements. Magnesium: Fact sheet for health professionals. Updated August 11, 2021.

  3. Kalman DS, Feldman S, Krieger DR, Bloomer RJ. Comparison of coconut water and a carbohydrate-electrolyte sport drink on measures of hydration and physical performance in exercise-trained menJ Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2012;9(1):1. doi:10.1186/1550-2783-9-1

  4. Saat M, Singh R, Sirisinghe RG, Nawawi M. Rehydration after exercise with fresh young coconut water, carbohydrate-electrolyte beverage and plain waterJ Physiol Anthropol. 2002;21(2):93-104. doi:10.2114/jpa.21.93

  5. Peart DJ, Hensby A, Shaw MP. Coconut water does not improve markers of hydration during sub-maximal exercise and performance in a subsequent time trial compared with water aloneInt J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2017;27(3):279-284. doi:10.1123/ijsnem.2016-0121

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