Kirsty Sheehan (nee Shaw)
Is an Acc Practising Sports dietitian specialising in endurance sports nutrition and plant based eating. Kirsty walks the walk, competing locally and overseas in long course triathlons, Ironman events, Ultra Endurance and Ultra Marathon events. Kirsty’s practice, Shaw Nutrition, is based in Brisbane.
A few weeks back I was contacted by David from Coconut Groove about trialling his new product “Clean Energy”. David pitched it as a natural alternative to Red Bull, V, and other energy drinks. He explained that it could be used before, during, or after physical activity, or before a mental task, to help you complete it. Whilst I consider myself open-minded and am very willing to try new products, I had some initial reservations about Clean Energy. How could a drink without caffeine be marketed against caffeine-containing competitors? The second hurdle for me was that I generally am not a big coconut water lover, and definitely wouldn’t be a connoisseur of these products.
Presentation in a 330ml can lives up to the energy drink image, however the design is a lot ‘cleaner’ and fresher-looking, lending to the ‘natural’ ethos of the product. A read through the ingredients certainly comes up with zero stimulants. In fact, true to word, there are no added preservatives, colours, or emulsifiers of any sort. A bone of contention for me is the allowed wording “no artificial or refined sugars”. Maltodextrin from tapioca IS a type of sugar, and you most certainly have to do some ‘refining’ of the extracted starch to produce it. There is a loophole in labeling regulations, which allows it to be defined as a polysaccharide, rather than a sugar, because the individual glucose units are linked together in a chain or polymer. Maltodextrin is generally absorbed into the bloodstream at a rate similar to glucose (high glycaemic index). Incidentally this is perfect for a sports drink formulation where the purpose is rapid energy delivery. In terms of natural or artificial, well, where does one draw the line? You could argue sucrose extracted from sugar cane is just as natural as starch extracted from tapioca. Don’t get me wrong; I have no problems with the sugar being in this product if its intended use is for sports activity, but I do take issue with the labeling regulations that permitt this grey area. Apart from the maltodextrin, the ingredients in the product are fairly minimal and all easy to understand; coconut water, salt and fresh lime juice. Yup organic, and yes, Himalayan salt (no huge difference here to standard salt).
What about the electrolyte profile? For those not so familiar with the term; electrolytes can be thought of as salts that carry electrical charge in the body (sodium, magnesium, calcium, chloride). You may have seen sports drinks marketing themselves as high in electrolytes. We certainly need to pay attention to these, particularly sodium, whilst exercising because we lose salts through sweat, and sodium can help with absorption of glucose. Clean Energy is somewhat comparable in sodium per serve to leading sports drinks (Endura Rehydration Performance Fuel, Pro4mance) but generally on the lower end of the spectrum, and much lower than other sports drinks (Infinit, Skratch Labs). This isn’t necessarily an issue unless you have proven to have particularly salty sweat and/or are doing an Ultra-endurance event. It does contain about five times the amount of potassium as other sports drinks, although the relevance of this if using it as a sports drink is debatable. For general health, potassium is mostly a winner.
The overall amount of carbohydrate per 330ml serve is right up there at 51.8g, higher than most sports drinks for an equivalent serve. This is definitely a positive if you’re looking to get carbs in during sports in a more compact fashion. In terms of the types of carbohydrate, it again ticks the boxes for endurance sports where multiple transportable sugars are required (glucose and fructose).
I tried Clean Energy for the first time just after completing a long swim, ride, run brick on a Sunday (I would have tried it during, only I forgot to decant the can into my drink bottle). Instant taste approval! I was so surprised that I could only lightly taste the coconut water and the main flavour was fresh, limey goodness. This is coming from someone who in summer has a recovery drink including three fresh limes blitzed with frozen berries and some salt. I thought I may only have a few sips but drained the can. As a recovery drink it is great for fluid and carb replacement but could not be stand-alone without the inclusion of protein for repair.
Over the next few occasions using Clean Energy I have given it a fair seeing-to on 100+km rides and another long Sunday brick. I have loved it more and more, and actually look forward to being able to drink it. On that note, I wouldn’t consider it as an everyday drink – it’s too high in sugar. Perhaps if you had a number of long hours in the garden you could consider it, but pumping in close to 10tsp of sugar for a mental task then sitting at a desk is generally not a great move for health. Having a cup of tea (black or green) first and foremost, or a coffee as second choice, with some ‘natural’ caffeine in it would be the preferable answer for a “non-active” mental task. And that brings us to the missing ingredient, caffeine. I wouldn’t necessarily have highlighted this except for the comparison drawn to energy drinks. As suspected, if there is any kick from the drink it is due to having a sugar hit and getting a lift in energy, which is what you generally want during activity. None of the other benefits of caffeine are present.
Despite myself I am now a Clean Energy fan and will be using it as part of my multifaceted sports nutrition armoury during training and events.