Why I Love Coconuts (and You Should, Too!): Part 2

Coconut Water

What do you drink when you want to drink something other than water?

For me, it was always cranberry juice.  Back in the day I would drink Ocean Spray cranberry juice drink (sugar free, of course) like it was going out of style.  The words juice drink and sugar free, despite the sweet taste, should have been a clue that this was not the healthiest choice of liquid, but the more I drank, the more I wanted to drink.  (Read more on the vicious cycle of artificial sweeteners here.)  So, when I cut out artificial sweeteners (goodbye cranberry juice drink) and extraneous sources of added sugar I found my liquid menu was quite small.

Back in the day I was also an avid long distance runner, which meant Gatorade and Powerade were regularly consumed and in large quantities.  However, after revising my diet Gatorade and Powerade were off the menu.  Both are loaded with unnecessary amounts of sugar, including a glucose-fructose syrup (aka high fructose corn syrup), artificial flavorings, and colors.  But, I still needed an effective way to replace the electrolytes I had lost during particularly long or grueling workouts.  I was at a complete loss and not exactly thrilled to have water as my only liquid choice.

Then, I found coconut water.

Coconut water, like Gatorade and Powerade, is loaded with the electrolytes critical to recovery after a workout.  When we sweat, we secrete the salt minerals that conduct electricity and help balance the amount of fluid your body needs to function properly.  These salt minerals are electrolytes.  The presence of electrolytes in the fluids you drink speed the movement of water into dehydrated tissue.  This movement of water allows you to rehydrate and recover quickly and  to maintain your level of hydration when consumed during a workout.

What is Coconut Water, exactly?

Coconut water is the liquid that is found inside young, green coconuts before they mature.  During the maturation process the coconut water becomes the familiar milky white flesh of the coconut.  It contains simple sugar, vitamins, minerals, and the five electrolytes the human body needs to function – potassium, magnesium, sodium, phosphate, and calcium.

Introducing Your Electrolytes

Sodium – found in Gatorade, Powerade & Coconut Water

Sodium is one of the major electrolytes found in sports drinks.  It is a positively charged electrolyte found primarily on the outside of cells and plays a large role in regulating fluid balances in your body and electrical conductions of the nervous system.  Sodium stimulates sugar and water uptake in the small intestines, as well as the thirst mechanism.

Potassium – found in Gatorade, Powerade & Coconut Water

Potassium is a positively charged electrolyte found primarily on the inside of cells and is involved in heartbeat regulation and muscle contraction. Potassium is a vital mineral needed in adequate amounts–not too high or low–for cells to function properly.

Chloride – found in Gatorade & Powerade

Chloride is a negatively charged electrolyte found primarily on the outside of cells. Chloride electrolytes work with sodium, potassium and water to regulate the balance of fluids in your body.

Magnesium – found in Coconut Water

Magnesium is a positively charged electrolyte found both inside and outside your cells.  Magnesium is necessary to maintain the cellular electrolyte balance and is involved in over 300 enzymatic reactions and almost all hormonal reactions.  Magnesium is also needed for muscle contraction and energy metabolism.  These energy metabolism processes include how your body utilizes glucose, creates proteins, and synthesizes / breaks down fatty acids like Omega-3s – an essential fatty acid.

Calcium – found in Coconut Water

Calcium is a positively charged electrolyte found inside and outside your cells as well as in your blood stream.  Like potassium, calcium must be maintained at a homeostatic level – not too much or too little.  Calcium is necessary for nerve conduction, muscle contraction, and enzyme functions. If too little calcium is available to carry out necessary functions, calcium will be taken from your bones, ultimately weakening them and contributing to osteoporosis.

Phosphate – found in Coconut Water

Phosphate is a negatively charged ion both inside your cells and in your bones. Phosphate plays a role in energy metabolism, acid-base regulation, and it is used as a building block for DNA.

Why Coconut Water?

At first glance it appears Gatorade, Powerade, and coconut water seem pretty similar.  But, coconut water, like a Transformer, is more than meets the eye.

Coconut water contains, on average, 2x the potassium of a medium sized banana, and because it is in liquid form, is more easily absorbed.  Remember, potassium is an essential component of muscle contraction and heart beat regulation – and we loose potassium as we sweat.  Coconut water contains approximately 515 mg per 8.5 oz serving.  In comparison, Gatorade contains 140 mg of potassium per 12 oz serving and Powerade, only 25 mg of potassium per 8 oz serving.  This makes coconut water the perfect liquid for a post workout protein shake.  Mix coconut water with your protein for a special treat – especially when the WOD has been over 20 min or tough metabolic conditioning workout when electrolyte and glycogen replacement is necessary.

If you have mildly high blood pressure coconut water is a highly effective natural remedy.  First, the magnesium found in coconut water has a relaxing effect on the blood vessels.  The more relaxed the blood vessels, the more they are able to expand and contract with each heart beat, thus lowering your blood pressure.  Coconut water is also rich in Vitamin C, an antioxidant critical in maintaining the elasticity of the collagen in your blood vessels.  (Read more about the importance of collagen and what can effect its elasticity here.) This increased elasticity keeps your blood pressure low by keeping the vessels flexible and able to expand and contract with every beat of your heart.  Lastly, the potassium in coconut water helps regulate blood pressure by counteracting the stimulating effects of sodium. This combination of magnesium, Vitamin C, and potassium effectively prevents blood pressure related issues like stroke and heart attack.

Need more?  Here are some of the other health benefits associated with coconut water:

  1. Coconut water is naturally sterile, isotonic beverage.  This means it has the same salt level that we have in our blood and can be used as IV fluid in a pinch.  This also makes it the ideal rehydration beverage.
  2. It contains lauric acid, also present in human mother’s milk, which is a powerful anti-bacterial and anti-viral, as well as an immune system booster. (LINK to coconut post)
  3. Coconut water is contains many naturally occurring bioactive enzymes that aid in digestion and metabolism.
  4. Coconut water is a great source of B vitamins.
  5. Coconut water has been used for many generations to replace fluid loss from the gastrointestinal tract due to diarrhea and/or vomiting and reduce the need for IV fluid therapy.

Did I also mention…

That it is absolutely delicious?

If you’re not a huge plain coconut water fan, try a coconut water that also includes other juices like these from VitaCoco, or these from Zico.

My favorites are:

You can find coconut water almost everywhere these days, so go ahead…give it a try!  Your body will thank you!

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