Sep 8, 2017, 11:57:10 AM CDT Feb 22, 2023, 4:16:42 PM CST

Sports drinks: Are they actually healthy? 

The truth about sports and energy drinks and who should be drinking them

female teen athlete drinking sports drink on track female teen athlete drinking sports drink on track

Over the last few years, many people have gotten the message that sugar-containing sodas are not a healthy choice for their family and have started to buy less of these drinks. However, as soda drinking declines, more people are buying sports and energy drinks thinking they are healthier alternatives.

Marketing for these drinks features professional athletes and promises increased energy and athletic performance. If a drink is good enough for top athletes, it must be healthy for the general public, right? Not necessarily, says Ashley Kim, Registered Dietitian with Get Up & Go by Children's Health℠. "Most of the sports drinks and energy drinks our children are consuming contain as much sugar as a can of regular soda, and excessive sugar intake can lead to weight gain and tooth decay," she says. Below, Ashley explains who and when should be drinking sports drinks.

Sports drinks vs. energy drinks

To begin, sports drinks and energy drinks vary significantly and therefore should not be used interchangeably. Sports drinks are flavored beverages that generally contain electrolytes, vitamins, minerals and carbohydrates in the form of sugar. They replenish athletes with water and electrolytes lost from sweat and provide energy from the sugar they contain.

Energy drinks, on the other hand, contain a stimulant such as caffeine to give an energy boost. Doctors are concerned about how caffeine affects the hearts of growing children and warn that children who drink too much caffeine may experience sleeping problems and increased anxiety. No safe limit of caffeine intake has been set for children. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) warns parents against the consumption of energy drinks for children and adolescents.

Should my child be drinking sports drinks?

When appropriately consumed, sports drinks are not necessarily a bad choice for children. In fact, many of the claims advertisers make about their benefits are true. "Sports drinks are beneficial for children who need a rapid replenishment of carbohydrates and electrolytes following an hour or more of vigorous physical activity," says Ashley. "However, if they are not exercising for this long, water remains the gold standard for rehydration."

Sports drinks are only appropriate for people who participate in intense physical activity that lasts longer than one hour. For the casual athlete and everyone else, water is the best option.

By making sure water is available before, during and after athletic events, most athletes can stay properly hydrated without the extra sugar from sports drinks. A well-balanced diet naturally provides them with electrolytes, vitamins and minerals.

While sports drinks and energy drinks are sold as energy-boosting beverages for active people, remember that these drinks are still just different forms of sugar water. It is best to avoid energy drinks because children should drink little or no caffeine. Unless your child is an athlete, treat sports drinks like any other sugar-sweetened beverage and limit your child's intake. If your child gets enough sleep and eats a well-balanced diet, he or she should have all the energy needed for an active lifestyle.

Learn More 

Interested in learning more about healthier habits for your family? Read more about pediatric weight management programs that include Get Up & Go, COACH, bariatrics and nutrition clinics.

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caffeine, diet, dehydration, determinants of health, exercise, food and drink, hydration, physical fitness, sports

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