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sports drink nutrition

Coconut water versus sports drink

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With the sports drink industry being worth a massive US$7 billion in the United States, it’s easy to see why beverage companies constantly bombard us with various reasons why one drink is better than the others. 

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Can coconut water replace the more conventional sports drink? Photo: Action Images

On top of the various isotonic and thirst quenching drinks, a new drink – coconut water – has been championed as an all-natural alternative to the traditional sports drink.

Many articles have been written about the various benefits of both, but to see beyond all the smoke and mirrors, one needs to understand the crux of the issue: whatever recovery drink you choose depends on the type and objective of your exercise.

For people who exercise purely as recreation, what you drink doesn't make much of a difference as the fluids and electrolytes lost through perspiration can be replaced with both sports drinks and coconut water.

“If we are talking about a recreational person who just exercises, and they want to put back what they lost in their sweat, the fluid can come from either sports drinks or coconut water,” said Cheryl Teo, a Sports Dietician at the Singapore Sports Institute.

“So coconut water or isotonic drinks is an all-in-one package. Coconut water is touted to be a natural sports drink. Isotonic drink is something that is man-made.

“But if we look at it in a nutrient perspective, it is the same. It just depends on whether one would like something that is natural or man-made.”

However, for competitive athletes or serious sportsmen, Cheryl recommends drinking sports drinks instead as they are more regulated and give you a clearer idea how much nutrients you are actually ingesting.

“Sports drinks have been tailored to give between four to eight per cent of carbohydrates,” she said.

“For coconut water, depending on whether it has been manufactured, or it has been plucked from the tree, the amount can vary quite widely. Because it’s from a natural source, it’s not as heavily regulated, so there is more variability in there.”

“If the person trains for a very long time, up to two hours for example, and he wants to drink that can replenish fuel and help him rehydrate, then I would say it’s better to go for something that is more regulated so you know exactly how much is there.”

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