Coined "mother nature's sport drink," coconut water is filled with potassium that is essential for proper functioning of the heart, kidneys, muscles, nerves and digestive system. However, new research has found the for people should stick to conventional sport drinks such as Gatorade if they participate in vigorous exercise that involves a lot of sweating..

With the average American diet low in potassium and high in sodium, many Americans are at twice the risk of death from heart disease and 50 percent higher risk of death from all causes.

According to Chhandashri Bhattacharya, PhD, of Indiana University Southeast, coconut water is a natural drink that offers the same health benefits as the average sports drink, but contains five times more potassium than Gatorade or Powerade. It also is high in healthful antioxidants.

"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," she said.

Bhattacharya and her research team analyzed coconut water, Gatorade and Powerade. It was discovered coconut water contained up 1,500 mg/liter of potassium, whereas Powerade and Gatorade only contain up to 300 mg/liter of potassium. Additionally, research found that coconut water only has 400 mg/liter of sodium, whereas sports drinks contain 600 mg/liter of sodium. There were comparable amounts of magnesium and carbohydrates among the three drinks.

Though excess sodium intake is related to high blood pressure and can increase the risks of other health hazards, it remains critical for the functioning of muscles and nerves. Bhattacharya believes coconut water falls short when it comes to the low sodium content. For people who participate in vigorous exercise that leads to a lot of sweating, they are more likely to lose more sodium than potassium. Coconut water alone is not enough to replenish the loss of sodium.

This study was presented at the 244th National Meeting & Exposition of the American Chemical Society.