September 17, 2014

You’ve probably noticed, but there’s a new trend in exercise hydration. Coconut water, maple water, aloe water, and even almond water line grocery store shelves these days—many claim to be the “ideal post-workout drink” by providing electrolytes essential for recovery such as potassium and sodium. With so many options and assertions out there, making a smart choice can be difficult. Sure, you may enjoy the nutty flavor of coconut water or the subtle sweet taste of maple water, but should you drink them instead of water after a workout? To find out, we compared the nutrition of several popular brands:

Coconut Water:The facts: Endorsed by celebrities and athletes for its cure-all qualities, coconut water is a clear liquid found inside young, tender coconuts. It’s low in calories, contains no artificial ingredients, and is a natural source of electrolytes.The verdict: While coconut water has more potassium than a banana, it has significantly less sodium than sports drinks such as Gatorade. For most normal workouts, this isn’t a problem, but for high-intensity efforts over an hour, we don’t think coconut water will adequately replace all electrolytes.

Maple Water:The facts: Already a hit in Canada, maple water is making its way onto grocery store shelves in the United States. Essentially the sap from maple trees before it’s boiled down into syrup form, maple water contains electrolytes and is actually lower in calories and sugar than coconut water.The verdict: Like coconut water, maple is not a good source of sodium. Popular as it may be, no scientific studies have yet been conducted on maple water and hydration.

Aloe Vera Water:The facts: Aloe vera water contains nutrients that are believed to lower cholesterol, aid in weight loss, support the immune system, and fight inflammation and muscle aches after exercising.The verdict: Aloe water’s health benefits are more anecdotal than scientifically proven. Even more worrisome, the National Toxicology Program released a study stating the potential carcinogenic effects of aloe vera water.

Almond Water:The facts: A newcomer to the market, almond water is a combination of ground almonds, sugar, water, and other flavorings. Given the nutrition of almonds, you’d think almond water would be a gold mine of health benefits.The verdict: In addition to having zero potassium and sodium, no scientific studies have been conducted about almond water and exercise. Plus, Victoria’s Kitchen, a manufacturer of the drink, claims that, “…the original purpose of almond water was simply to be a delicious refreshment drink and an amazing treat…”

Conclusion: For normal-intensity workouts, such as running on the treadmill or using the elliptical, we think coconut water and maple water are fine, but they aren’t crucial for recovery. You’ll actually replace all the electrolytes you lost by eating at your next meal or snack. In addition, a recent study in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition suggested that coconut water was no more effective in restoring hydration than water after a normal-intensity workout.

However, for a high-intensity workout that lasts over an hour, such as a half-marathon or a workout in extreme temperature conditions, we suggest something higher in electrolytes, such as Gatorade or my favorite—Nuun tablets. So, when in doubt, drink water. Why? It’s free, widely available, and has been keeping humans alive for, well, forever.

For more information about exercise and hydration, check out the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics.

 

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