The Truth Behind the Coconut Water Hype

Does the popular beverage live up to its health claims of being a great recovery drink?

By: Melissa Romero

A testing found that Zico coconut water was the only brand that lived up to its nutritional claims. Photograph courtesy of Zico.

Last week, we offered nutritionists and trainers’ top five picks for post-workout foods. But some of you wanted to know: Where was the love for coconut water?”

Foods and drinks like chocolate milk and yogurt protein shakes help get us the ideal amount of carbs and protein needed after exercise, while coconut water doesn’t. However, drinking it can be beneficial in other ways.

“The real purpose of adding [coconut water] to a post-workout recovery meal is in the micronutrients,” explains personal trainer Allyn Blind.

Coconut water, long a popular drink in southeast Asia, took over the US just a few years ago, with sponsors like Rihanna and Madonna singing the praises of its health benefits. The drink rakes in millions of dollars for popular brands like Vita Coco and Zico, which tout their products as all-natural, super-hydrating, fat-free, cholesterol-free, and stuffed with potassium and electrolytes.

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But a 2011 testing of Zico, Vita Coco, and O.N.E. coconut water by ConsumerLab.com found that only one brand lived up to its nutritional claims. While Vita Coco and O.N.E. drinks contained the correct amount of sugar and potassium, testers found that the actual amount of sodium and magnesium was much lower than advertised—82 and 35 percent lower, respectively.

Zico, the only brand that met its health claims in the testing, packs 569 milligrams of potassium—equal to drinking 15 sports drinks and eating more than one banana.

As for whether coconut water is an ideal post-workout drink, the jury is still out. A 2007 study found that sodium-enriched coconut water worked just as well as plain water and sports drinks for rehydration. Still, for athletes who exercise for long periods, coconut water may not be the best choice post-workout.

The bottom line: If coconut water is your thing, adding a serving to a post-workout protein shake can’t hurt, says Blind. Just don’t let it be the only drink or food you have after a grueling gym session.