The Skinny on Coconut Water

Filed under: General Health, Nutrition

It seems lately that coconut water is all the rage for post-training replinishment. Due to its natural sugar content, high electrolyte content, and general overall deliciousness, people are declaring coconut water to be the greatest post-training drink ever. Is this actually the case?

I will end the suspense now, as no, it is not. While I do not have an issue with people consuming coconut water in conjunction with some protein and maybe a little healthy fat, it is not the holy grail of hydration some make it out to be.

I will state that I am a huge fan of coconut. I love the oil (extra virgin organic kind), I love it unsweetened and shredded, and even the milk to a degreee (again the organic kind). Coconut is a great food, and the water is no exception. The only issue is that it is not cheap, and is it actually any better than say a banana post-training? I am not convinced.

In my mind for most people there is no need for anything too special post-training. For general fitness enthusiasts what do you need after training? You need a blend of high quality proteins, preferably anywhere from 20-40+ grams, depending on size, training session and goals (a whey and casein blend works wonders here). You also may need a blend of high quality carbs, though they don’t need to be fast acting (unless you have another intense long-duration session within 8 hours), and need really depends on goals. A little healthy fat doesn’t hurt, and some has been shown to actually increase muscle protein synthesis. Lastly some electrolytes to top of the re-hydration process would be a good idea as well. We want all this, but we also want it to be reasonably priced. You could make an insanely expensive version, but is that extra cost really worth the assumed extra benefit? Who knows.

In my humble opinion a great example of proper post-training nutrition (whether after a long run, a sprint session or an intense lifting session) would be something like this:

  • 1 cup 2% plain Greek yogurt
  • 1 scoop Vanilla whey protein
  • 1 banana
  • 1 cup frozen strawberries
  • 2 tbsp chopped walnuts
  • ice cubes
  • small amounts of water if desired
  • blend

To me that is an awesome post-training shake. Granted this is more of a caloric intake for a decent sized male, women may want to halve this. It provides everything we stated we needed for recovery. You have a nice blend of protein, roughly equal amounts of whey and casein. You also get a nice blend of carbs, with mainly glucose and fructose, providing muscle and liver glycogen. This smoothie also provides a very nice assortment of electrolytes and minerals including sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium in abundant quantities. The yogurt and walnuts provide some awesome saturated fat and omega-3′s. For some nice bonuses, the fruit also gives us a nice dose of antioxidants after a stressful training session, the blend of glucose and fructose (rather than just straight glucose) increases hydration status, and the yogurt tosses in some gut-friendly bacteria.

All in all, I think this provides us with everything we need to recover, is a reasonable price and is certainly healthier than just whey with some simple sugars. It also provides more benefits to me than just coconut water. You can also make this shake even healthier, depending on your budget. You can make the yogurt organic or even raw (regardless it should be from a company that does not use hormones), you can choose whey from grass-fed cows treated at low temperature, you can choose organic bananas, and organic local strawberries. The list can go on. Essentially you can keep adding in luxuries if it is within your budget, but they aren’t completely necessary.

That is also how I feel about coconut water. It is a luxury, not a necessity. If you can afford it, great, toss it in a smoothie and enjoy it. If it is outside your budget, then I don’t see this tremendous need for it. It is a fine product, but, like most things in the fitness world, it is not the holy grail many tout it to be.

Thoughts?

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Posted on September 1st, 2009 by Brian St. Pierre

12 Comments

  1. Steph Says:

    Did you say LONG RUN? I’m choking on my Chobani right now in disbelief.

  2. Coco Says:

    I’m delighted to see a post that broaches a subject which I’ve been pondering for a while now – whole food post-workout nutrition. I’ve gone along with the supplement industry’s assertion that whey protein isolates, BCAAs + d-glucose etc is the superior choice. Their argument that no fat should be present to promote maximum (a favourite word of theirs) ‘shuttling’ of nutrients to the muscles, seems to make sense. The recipe above does contain some fats, but is it really as big a deal as protein companies make out?

    I also wonder: is there a difference between the american version of Greek yoghurt and what we commonly see here in Europe? Here, it seems they simply add cream to the yoghurt to make it thicker. Tasty, but with 10% fat, I’d imagine it’s not incredibly healthy.

    http://www.yoplait.co.nz/products.aspx?catid=29&proid=113

  3. Arthur Says:

    “In my mind for most people there is no need for anything too special post-training. For general fitness enthusiasts what do you need after training? You need a blend of high quality proteins, preferably anywhere from 20-40+ grams, depending on size, training session and goals (a whey and casein blend works wonders here).”

    Brian,

    From something like the sample you gave, how much modification would be made for someone who plans on competing in bodybuilding competitions or figure competitions? I realize that the standard thinking is that more often than not, people do not fall into the special exception category, but I am just curious what you might be likely to do with those who make up “the rest,” since your comment said what would be good for most people/general fitness enthusiasts.

    On a quick side note, do you tend to stick with he banana and strawberries combo or do you like to mix it up with frozen mango, pineapple, or even fresh papaya (all obviously dependent on season, price, and availability)?

  4. Jack Says:

    Hi Brian.

    Based upon this post, I am guessing that you would be somewhat suspicious of the strategies being touted over at T-Nation, given their pushing of casein hydrolysate (in the yet unreleased supplement), extra leucine, “designer carbs” like palatinose and rice oligodextrin, etc.

    They still seem to promulgate strictly limiting (or avoiding altogether) fat around training and using casein hydrolysate (supposedly for its fast absorption). This seems to fly in the face of what you said about fat and muscle protein synthesis and also about touting a whey/casein blend. Do you think they are pulling out the stops to get their stuff selling like hotcakes?

    I understand if you do not feel comfortable commenting on this, but I ask because you’re just about the only knowledgeable nutrition expert who harbors no bias toward any particular supplement company.

  5. Lou Says:

    Brian,

    Why are you so effective? You simplify. Eat well, train hard (and smart), recover. Pure genius. Great post.

  6. Brian St. Pierre Says:

    Coco,

    First off that yogurt isn’t really what I would call Greek yogurt, even on the label it says Greek style, not Greek yogurt. The version I recommend is much higher in protein because it takes a lot more milk to make it. They don’t just add cream. Dairy fat from grass-fed cows is actually a good thing.

    Also the idea of removing fat from the post-training meal looked nice on paper, but in the real world I’ve seen benefits from including some. Speed is not of the essence in the post-training meal, no matter what they tell you. Research and real wold results do not bear that out.

  7. Brian St. Pierre Says:

    Arthur,

    That would highly depend on the time of year they are in. Are we talking off-season? Pre-contest? What does the rest of the diet look like? The post-training meal still has to fit into the context of the rest of the diet. Off-season it may not look much different, depending on their size, gender, goals, etc. Gearing up for a competition it may be lower carb, it may not, it really depends on what they respond to.

    Yes you can absolutely change up the fruit. That was merely an example of MANY options. I am a creature of habit and eat pretty much the same things on a daily basis, but for clients I have a lot of variety.

  8. Brian St. Pierre Says:

    Jack,

    I do want to point out that Biotest has some really really good products (curcumin, rez-v, superfood, flameout, etc.), but I guess I don’t yet see the point of casein hydrolysate. The benefit of casein is it’s slow release of aminos. Pre-digesting it and chopping it up just makes it become like whey hydrolysate, quickly in and out, just with a slightly different amino acid profile. Leucine isn’t necessarily a bad idea, it is the key ignitor of protein synthesis, I just don’t know how much extra benefit it can provide in a protein adequate situation.

    I honestly haven’t been following it all that closely, but I definitely fall into the whole-food camp for most situations. That doesn’t mean that you can’t use protein powder or leucine or turn it into a smoothie, it just means that I like to see some real food in there as well.

  9. Brian St. Pierre Says:

    Thanks Lou.

  10. Matt Says:

    I have been adding the Chobani yogurt to my post-workout shakes for a while now. Its so good. Im gonna have to try it with the walnuts now too. That sounds interesting. One other ingredient that I tried out of curiosity, that actually turned out to be a good addition is pumpkin butter. Not too much , just enough to get that little bit of flavor to come out. Love pumpkin butter. Ever tried pumpkin butter, Bri?

  11. Coco Says:

    Thanks for your answers Brian. I’ve been looking for reasons to turn my back on protein powders recently, so i’m sold on the idea of wholefoods post training. It’s partly on account of the price of these ‘wonder’ proteins, but also on account of them being somewhat unnatural (especially whey that’s loaded with sweeteners like sucralose etc). Maybe I’m getting too neurotic..

  12. Aron Castruita Says:

    This post is nice, im sorry to say but for some reason i can’t view your post on chrome, thats why i had to use a different browser.

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