coconut water
Coconut water's high potassium content is a health positive, but it has relatively lower sodium as compared to sports drinks -- meaning it doesn't easily replace the salts that hardcore athletes lose though sweat. Flickr via Creative Commons

If you're not already drinking coconut water, one of your more earthy friends may have already talked your ear off about the health benefits of this trendy tropical beverage.

Some people are even swapping their sports drinks for coconut water, but Indiana University Southeast chemist Chhandashri Bhattacharya says that while coconut water is fine after light exercise, the marathon runners and heavy lifters among us may want to stick with Gatorade. Bhattacharya and her colleagues presented a chemical analysis of coconut water and how it measures up to sports drinks on Monday at a meeting of the American Chemical Society in Philadelphia.

"Coconut water is a natural drink that has everything your average sports drink has and more," Bhattacharya said in a statement Monday. "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. It's a healthy drink that replenishes the nutrients that your body has lost during a moderate workout."

But coconut water has relatively low sodium compared to traditional sports drinks, meaning it doesn't measure up in replacing the salt that hardcore athletes lose through sweating through an intense workout.

Still, all the potassium from coconut water could be very beneficial, especially to people that eat a typical unhealthy American diet that's heavy on the salt but light on potassium, according to Bhattacharya.

Coconut water comes from young, often green coconuts - not the mature ones that look like hairy brown bowling balls. The water's the precursor of the coconut's white, spongy meat, which is often processed to make coconut milk or coconut oil.

A separate study of 12 male athletes published in January in the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition -- and funded by coconut water company VitaCoco -- found that coconut water had about the same rehydration benefits as sports drinks or pure water after the subjects ran on treadmills for an hour.

Aside from its health benefits for gym rats, coconut water is also a useful ingredient in a chemical cocktail used by scientists to preserve frozen animal sperm, for the purposes of artificial insemination.