Is Coconut Water All That It Is Cracked Up to Be?
Contributed by Coach Karen
On any given day the recycle bin at Elite Athletic Development / CrossFit Arlington Heights contains empty tetra packs, cans and bottles of coconut water, presumably chugged by athletes as a post-WOD recovery drink.
Claims — supported by research paid for by one of the larger bottlers of the beverage — suggest coconut water is the “perfect solution” for exercise sessions less than 75 minutes. Coconut water proponents cite its purity (most brands have fewer than five ingredients), low calorie count, easy digestibility, high potassium content (more than contained in two bananas), and more.
Yet nutrition experts suggest that drinking coconut water is little more than a high-priced shell game.
The initial 15-30 minutes following a training session — particularly a Strength & Power or hard-hitting MetCon WOD — are golden when it comes to restoring energy systems for the next training session, and repairing and building muscle tissue. Research supports an optimal post-training fueling strategy includes eating three or four parts carbohydrates to one part protein, which is roughly the equivalent of snacking on 30-60 grams of carbohydrates and six – 20 grams of protein. It’s also important to drink 20 ounces of fluid for every pound of body weight lost. Athletes should cap off their snack with a well-balanced meal within 90 minutes.
“Eating a high carbohydrate snack or meal, along with some protein, is essential for future optimal performance, recovery and safe play,” said Dawn Weatherwax RD, CSSD, LD, ATC, CSCS. According to Weatherwax, failing to replace glycogen – the stored blood sugar used during training sessions – can lead to fatigue, weakness, decreased concentration, increased chance of sustaining injury, and breakdown of muscle. Protein is essential for muscle to repair, recover and build.
The absence of protein and the low carbohydrate content in coconut water makes it no post-WOD miracle beverage, according to Paleo nutrition expert Jess Kuzma, MS, RD.
“If you really love coconut water, go ahead and drink it post-WOD, as long as you sip while you eat some turkey or another source of protein, and either a sweet potato or firm banana,” said Kuzma. “Another option is to add egg white protein to your coconut water to help hold you over until you can get a real meal. Without some sort of supplementation, coconut water is basically just expensive water.”
But what about claims that coconut water is a great way to replenish electrolytes lost during heavy training because of its high potassium content? “Even though the belief is that when you exercise you need a lot of potassium, sodium is more important,” said Liz Applegate, director of sports nutrition, UC Davis. “When you sweat, you lose a lot more sodium than potassium.” Adding a pinch of salt to coconut water is one way to improve the sodium content.
Bottom line: When it comes to post-WOD fueling, coconut water will certainly do no harm, but it isn’t all that it’s cracked up to be, either.
Quench Our Curiosity. What are your thoughts on coconut water? Do you supplement your coconut water? What do you see as benefits of drinking coconut water post-WOD?