[Read more on La Puma's ideas about turning your kitchen into a clinic.]
Coconut water. Not to be confused with the far richer coconut milk, coconut water is a clear liquid extracted from very young (green) coconuts. It's billed by one producer as being "nature's sports drink," because, like Gatorade and other energy drinks, it contains water for rehydration, carbohydrates in the form of sugar for energy, and electrolytes to replace what's lost through sweat. If you compare Gatorade with Zico brand coconut water, here's how they stack up, per ounce:
Gatorade: 6.25 calories, 1.75 grams sugar, 3.75 mg potassium, 13.75 mg sodium
Zico: 5.45 calories, 1.3 grams sugar, 61 mg potassium, 5.45 mg sodium
The most notable difference is in the electrolyte content: more sodium in Gatorade, much more potassium in Zico. But sodium is more important than potassium for athletes who are exercising heavily, says Ryan, so don't switch to coconut water just for its very high potassium content. And, says Nancy Clark, dietitian and author of Nancy Clark's Sports Nutrition Guidebook, neither product contains enough sodium to replace what's lost through sweat. So if you are a heavy perspirer and work out intensely in the heat, you're better off sprinkling some salt on your oatmeal or having a handful of pretzels before you head out the door than relying on either drink to replenish your stores, she says.
In terms of carbs and hydration, yes, coconut water offers similar benefits to Gatorade—benefits that could also be achieved by drinking water and eating sports gels, gummy bears, raisins, or other portable sources of energy, says Clark. It depends on your personal preference and workout routine—the harder you're working, the more important it is to have something that's designed to be easily digested, like conventional sports drinks. Because coconut water hasn't been studied as much, Tara Gidus, a nutrition performance coach and American Dietetic Association spokesperson, doesn't advise her athlete clients to swap it for conventional sports drinks but says it's fine for them to try out to see how it affects their digestive system and performance.
Just be aware that coconut water tends to be more expensive than Gatorade—on Freshdirect.com, Zico was 18 cents per ounce, compared with 5.6 cents per ounce of Gatorade. And don't believe some of the wilder claims, advises Amy Jamieson-Petonic, director of wellness coaching at the Cleveland Clinic. Unsubstantiated hype claims it has the ability to "control diabetes, fight viruses, speed metabolism, treat kidney stones, smooth your skin, stop dandruff, or prevent cancer," she says. As a drink mixer, of course, it's perfectly fine.