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Athletes turn to potassium-rich coconut water

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"Mother Nature’s sports drink" is becoming the thirst-quencher of choice at local gyms and health food stores.

Coconut water – not to be confused with coconut milk, which is made from the flesh of the fruit – is the unadulterated liquid found inside young green coconuts.

It is being sold as an all-natural beverage with no added sugars or artificial flavors.

It has roughly 15 times more potassium than sports drinks, with zero fat and cholesterol. But it is not calorie free: An 11.2-ounce, single-serving carton has 60 calories.


» Coconut water and coffee help jump-start the day.

Potassium is an electrolyte essential for muscle and nerve functioning and muscle growth. Bananas are a common source of potassium, but according to VitaCoco, a popular brand, an 8.5-ounce box of coconut water contains more potassium than two bananas.

Nutritionist Alan Titchenal said coconut water might not provide appropriate hydration for intense workouts over a longer period of time.

"Coconut water could serve as a sports beverage, but it may be too low in sodium, the main electrolyte lost in sweat during endurance exercise," said Titchenal, an associate professor in the Department of Human Nutrition, Food and Animal Sciences in the College of Tropical Agriculture and Human Resources at the University of Hawaii.

He said VitaCoco has about 120 mg of sodium per liter, while Gatorade has about 460 mg per liter.

"Replacing sodium during exercise only becomes an issue during long endurance exercise lasting over three or four hours," he said. "So, for a recreational sports hydration beverage, coconut water is a reasonable option to water and sports drinks."

Manoa resident Sean Castillo said he’s not familiar with the nutritional benefits of coconut water, but it was the taste and texture of the drink that initially attracted him.

"It’s kind of more viscous than water; it’s a little thicker and sweeter," he said. "I like it. I think it tastes great."

Coconut water can be found at most grocery stores and runs about $2 to $3 for a single-serving carton to $5.99 for a 34-ounce container.


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