Are Coconut Food Items Useful For Female Runners?
You can’t escape coconut-related foods! But are they all they’re cracked up to be, and do they benefit women runners? Our take on coconut for health and fat loss.
Coconut seems to be the next big thing for diets, super foods and nutritional supplements. Coconut oil, coconut water, even coconut “yoghurt” as a dairy replacement. What’s the deal with coconut and is it worth the bother? Coconut flesh is pretty high in saturated fat, but around 60% of coconut fat is medium-chain triglycerides (MCTs), meaning it is better used by athletic bodies as a form of fuel. Most other high saturated fat foods (butter, lard, dripping) is LCT (long-chain) and turned into cholesterol in the body. MCTs are digested differently (which makes them harder for the body to store as body fat) and stored in the liver where they can be used as energy.
What About All Those Coconut Products?
Are they any use for runners or not worth the cost?
Coconut water is the “juice” found inside the coconut when it’s cracked. This is heavily marketed as a great hydration fluid, full of electrolytes and energy, ideal for runners. What are the facts? It has less sugar than fruit juices, but does still contain natural sugars. It’s a good source of minerals which runners may be deficient in: potassium, sodium, magnesium and calcium. But it doesn’t contain enough carbohydrates or protein to act as a legitimate post-run fuel source by itself. And coconut water does contain significant calories, which are easily consumed in a flash when you’re thirsty after a run.
Our verdict: it might be better to stick to water for hydration, adding electrolyte drops or tablets for the minerals. You can then focus on real food for energy and replenishment.
Coconut milk – the stuff in the carton, not the thick stuff in cans – is used as a dairy alternative on cereal, in porridge and even in tea and coffee. If you choose to use it, be aware of exactly what you’re getting. Some cartoned coconut milk is a base of coconut cream, with added sugar and preservatives, thinned out with lots of water. Some is mixed with rice milk (another popular dairy-alternative) and has much fewer preservatives. Coconut milk is lower in calories than semi-skimmed cows milk, but also has less protein.
Our Verdict: a useful alternative if you can’t drink cow’s milk. Just be aware of the extra ingredients – sugar and preservatives – and choose the lowest sugar type you can find.
Coconut oil is the white solid substance which can be used for cooking, frying, baking, roasting and even spreading like butter. It’s promoted as a healthier fat in the kitchen because of that medium-chain triglyceride profile. Whilst it’s high in saturated fat, research now shows that saturated fat shouldn’t be feared (in moderation). Coconut oil contains lauric acid and myristic acid, two types of saturated fat hard to find in other fat sources, and also contains some poly-and mono-unsaturated fats to balance out the health benefits.
Our verdict: coconut oil is a decent oil/fat to cook and bake with but it’s not a wonder food, it’s still a fat, so don’t over-indulge in it just because it’s trendy.
Coconut yoghurt alternatives are promoted as a dairy-free alternative to regular yoghurt for anyone who wants to or needs to avoid lactose. But be careful: the nutritional profile of coconut yoghurt is pretty different to normal yoghurt. It’s your call as to whether or not that’s a good thing for you and your family. Coconut yoghurt is higher in fat than dairy yoghurt, and lower in carbohydrates. If you follow a lower-carb, higher-fat dietary approach, this might suit you well. Just be aware, read the label, and know what you’re eating (and how much). And always keep an eye on how much extra sugar is in the chocolate or flavoured versions!
Our verdict: a good alternative to dairy if you need to avoid lactose, but get to know the nutritional profile of coconut yoghurts.
Coconut sugar is promoted as an alternative to granulated/table sugar for baking. It has a similar calorie profile to regular sugar but is slightly lower on the GI (glycaemic index).
Our verdict: again, it’s no superfood as such. It’s still sugar. So by all means swap it for regular sugar but just be aware that it still packs a calorific punch.
The best use of coconut for female runners? Why over-complicate things. We like using fresh, chopped coconut flesh as an occasional snack. Like most all-natural foods, it’s packed with vitamins and minerals and can help ensure you are getting a well-rounded diet. Just watch the portion sizes: just 100g of coconut flesh (not much!) contains nearly 300 calories. Active female runners shouldn’t shy away from calories, of course. Just be aware of what you’re eating so you can control your own results.