I don’t know if anyone else has noticed, but there’s been a lot of hype amongst the athletically-inclined about coconut water lately. I started noticing it when a brother brought a can of coconut juice from the Asian grocery store to the gym, and have watched the craze evolve into people raving about specially-branded coconut waters that come in fruit-box style packaging at the health food store and are marketed as sports drinks, available in flavours like guava and nectarine.
I love coconut juice; the clear, pristine water inside a green coconut, surrounded by a translucent layer of sweet white flesh. The coconut is something I gorge myself on whenever I am anywhere near my motherland, along with all of the other things that connect me to my mother’s childhood. They were objects of almost mythological significance when I used to watch re-runs of fights and fight-hype from Thai TV, and watch dehydrated boxers emerge from weigh-ins, coconut-in-hand. Coconut juice was what I looked forward to every Saturday after training. Coconuts are iconic. I photograph myself with them as if they were long-lost friends.
But what is all the hype about, and what are the benefits of drinking coconut water?
It turns out that coconut water or juice (not to be confused with coconut milk) is a rich source of electrolytes. Electrolytes are important as they enable electrical impulses, which signal muscle contraction, to be transmitted through the body. Fluid loss, which occurs while sweating profusely due to strenuous exercise, means electrolyte levels become depleted. Drinking water alone will not replenish electrolytes, which has lead to the demand for sports drinks.
So, coconut water is basically nature’s sports water, free from preservatives or the trademark blue colouring in some well-known sports beverages. It’s relatively low in calories, and also contains magnesium which helps prevent muscle cramps, B vitamins for energy, vitamin C which boosts the immune system and supports collagen production, and calcium for muscle contraction and strong bones. As with sports drinks, which are greatly over-used, you’re probably not going to need it nor feel its benefits if you are only exercising at a moderate pace for an hour or less, but if you have more than one training session to get through, or an intense session in the heat, coconut juice could help you to prolong good performance by keeping you hydrated and fighting off fatigue and muscle cramps.
Some of these benefits may be overshadowed, however, if you are buying a highly-processed coconut juice with added flavours, sugars and preservatives, so as with anything else, read the label or if possible go for the natural alternative – a real coconut.