"Coconut water is a natural drink that has everything your average sports drink has and more," Chhandashri Bhattacharya of Indiana University Southeast in New Albany said in a statement. "It has five times more potassium than Gatorade or Powerade. Whenever you get cramps in your muscles, potassium will help you to get rid of the cramps."
Bhattacharya said the potassium in coconut water may benefit other people who do not exercise.
The typical American diet is low in potassium and high in sodium. Previous research showed people who ate foods low in potassium and high in sodium had twice the risk of death from heart disease and a 50 percent higher risk of death from all causes.
Bhattacharya's team analyzed coconut water, Gatorade and Powerade and found coconut water contained as much as 1,500 milligrams/liter of potassium -- more than a banana -- compared to as much as 300 mg/liter for Powerade and Gatorade. However, coconut water had 400 mg/liter of sodium compared to 600 for the other two sports drinks.
Coconut water's lower sodium content is where it fails as a good sports drink for people who engage in strenuous exercise that produces a lot of sweating, Bhattacharya said.
"Sweating makes people lose more sodium than potassium, and coconut water alone can't replace that lost sodium," she said.
The findings were presented at the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society in Philadelphia.