It is very common at youth sporting events to see kids drinking sports drinks. Children need to stay hydrated, and if they are playing a sport, it seems to make sense to most people. Sports drinks come in a variety of brands and a wide array of flavors so kids enjoy drinking them. However, most kids who eat well and drink plenty of water have no need for sports drinks.
We all need to stay hydrated in order to stay healthy. Hydration is especially important during times of physical activity. Many parents are concerned that their kids need something extra to avoid dehydration when playing sports. The plain and simple truth is that plain water is the best way to stay hydrated for most kids and adults alike.
The average young athlete can get all of the necessary nutrients and hydration needed by eating healthful foods and drinking plenty of water before, during, and after exercise. During games and competitive events, drinks should be readily available at all times. Regular water breaks should be offered about every 20 minutes.
Sports drinks contain calories and excess sugars which can increase the risk of weight gain and tooth decay. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends that children and adolescents should decrease or eliminate consumption of sports drinks. The AAP states, “It’s better for children to drink water during and after exercise, and to have the recommended intake of juice and low-fat milk with meals. Sports drinks are not recommended as beverages to have with meals.”
Sodas and energy drinks should also be avoided. Soda is not recommended for hydration during sports. Sodas contain excess sugar which can lead to weight gain, and the carbonation may cause an upset stomach. They also often contain caffeine, which should be limited for children. According to the AAP, “Energy drinks are never appropriate for children or adolescents.” Some cans or bottles of energy drinks can have more than 500 mg of caffeine, which equals the amount in 14 cans of soda.
Sports drinks contain carbohydrates, minerals, flavoring, and electrolytes like sodium and potassium. The sugar can be used as an immediate source of energy for the body during exertion. The electrolytes in the drinks can replace those which the body loses through sweat. Electrolytes are necessary to keep the body’s fluid levels in balance and for muscles to work properly. Sports drinks may be beneficial for kids if they are participating in prolonged vigorous physical activity that lasts longer than an hour. One example would be long-distance running or biking. Other than those situations, they are really not necessary and should not be consumed on a regular basis. When the goal is to simply rehydrate after exercise, encourage your kids to reach for plain water.