By Brierley Wright, M.S., R.D. , July 27, 2012 - 9:43am
In recent years there has been an explosion of coconut water products available at grocery and convenience stores. If you’ve tasted it, you know that it’s pretty refreshing—even the plain, unflavored coconut waters (or so I think).
And because staying hydrated can make or break your workout performance, it’s not surprising that many athletes and weekend warriors are looking for an extra edge when it comes to their beverage of choice.
Related: 4 Natural Fuel Foods For Your Next Workout 
But should you be reaching for coconut water, instead of just water? Is it any better—is it worth the splurge?
The good news is that coconut water, the clear liquid found in young coconuts, naturally contains some electrolytes (potassium, sodium, calcium, magnesium), which you lose through sweat when you exercise. Although the research on the drink is still limited, one 2002 study found that exercisers who consumed coconut water drank more, but weren’t any more hydrated than those who drank water or a sports drink.
So what, then, is coconut water best for? Try it when you want something other than water that’s natural. But pay attention to which product you choose because not all are created equal. And be mindful of the extra calories. (Find out here when you should be using energy or sports drinks, electrolyte waters, juice and milk. )
Here’s how 10 plain-flavored brands compare:
FYI, with a couple of exceptions—which I’ve called out below—most brands contain only one ingredient: coconut water. I’ve also standardized all the nutrition information to 8 ounces to make it easier for you to compare.
Sobe Lifewater (per 8 fluid ounces) delivers 35 calories, 45 milligrams sodium, 8 grams carbohydrate, 8 grams sugar, 65 milligrams potassium. You get 2 1/2 servings in a bottle. The first ingredient is water, the second is sugar and the third is coconut water. Of all the brands we looked at, this is the only one with added sugar and it’s the lowest in potassium.
Related: Eat Your Water! 4 Fresh Foods to Keep You Hydrated 
Vita Coco (per 8 fluid ounces) delivers 45 calories, 30 milligrams sodium, 11 grams carbohydrate, 11 grams sugar, 470 milligrams potassium. For Vita Coco you get 2 servings per container. Vita Coco used to be made with only two ingredients, fresh coconut water and vitamin C, which explains why the bottle delivers 100 percent of your daily recommended amount of vitamin C. Now it also lists “less than 1% natural fruit sugar” as an ingredient. Their reasoning is that it allows them to standardize the sweetness based on the coconut harvest so their product will always have 11 grams of sugar in 8 ounces. Drinking one container also gives you 10 percent of your daily dose of magnesium.
Zico Natural (per 8 fluid ounces) contains just 34 calories, 91 milligrams sodium, 7 grams carbohydrate, 7 grams sugar, 324 milligrams potassium. Per cup, Zico Natural is the lowest in terms of calories, carbohydrates and sugar. Because the bottle delivers 14 ounces, if you drink the entire thing, you’ll need to up the numbers above. One bottle gives you 9 percent of your daily magnesium.
O.N.E. (per 8 fluid ounces) has 43 calories, 43 milligrams sodium, 11 grams carbohydrate, 10 grams sugar, 0 grams protein, 476 milligrams potassium. The small bottle that you’ll find in stores, however, is 11.2 fluid ounces. If you drink the entire thing that’ll be 60 calories and 15 grams of carbohydrate. You’ll also get a little calcium (4 percent of your daily needs) and magnesium (6 percent).
Naked (per 8 fluid ounces) delivers 43 calories, 14 milligrams sodium, 10 grams carbohydrate, 8 grams sugar, 462 milligrams potassium. A bottle of Naked coconut water, however, is 11.2 fluid ounces so if you drink the entire container you’ll get 60 calories, 20 milligrams sodium and 14 grams of carbohydrate. You’ll also get some calcium—and slightly more than O.N.E. at 6 percent of your daily recommendation. Of the brands we compared, Naked delivers the least amount of sodium.
Taste Nirvana (per 8 fluid ounces) has 42 calories, 35 milligrams sodium, 8 grams carbohydrate, 8 grams sugar, 504 milligrams potassium (per cup, that’s the most potassium of the brands here). Taste Nirvana is another brand where the container you buy is a little larger: 9.5 fluid ounces. Per container, you get about 4 percent of your daily recommended calcium and 9 percent magnesium.
CocoZona (per 8 fluid ounces) contains 37 calories, 121 milligrams sodium, 10 grams carbohydrate, 9 grams sugar, 408 milligrams potassium. As with some of the other brands, CocoZona comes in a larger container than a cup—14.5 fluid ounces; it also contains the most sodium of all the brands compared here. But you also get about 4 percent of your daily recommended calcium and 10 percent magnesium.
Blue Monkey (per 8 fluid ounces) boasts 76 calories, 42 milligrams sodium, 19 grams carbohydrate, 10 grams sugar, 290 milligrams potassium and 6 percent of your daily recommendation for iron. You get 2 servings per Blue Monkey container.
C20 (per 8 fluid ounces) delivers 50 calories, 66 milligrams sodium, 13 grams carbohydrate, 11 grams sugar, 293 milligrams potassium. In each bottle, you get 2 8-ounce servings.
CocoWater (per 8 fluid ounces) packs in 90 calories, 45 milligrams sodium, 13 grams carbohydrate, 13 grams sugar, 475 milligrams potassium. Per container of CocoWater, you get 2 8-ounce servings, which makes this coconut water the highest in terms of calories than any other brands compared here. There are 2 ingredients in CocoWater: the first is coconut water and the second is vitamin C, which explains why the bottle delivers 150 percent of your daily recommendation for C.
Do you drink coconut water? If so, which one is your favorite? Tell us what you think below.