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 good for the general public, right?
First, it is important to remember that sports drinks and energy drinks are not the same. Sports drinks are flavored beverages that 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, and experts recommend that parents prohibit energy drinks, even for athletes.
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. “It is important for athletes to replenish water, electrolytes and carbohydrates lost from sweat during intense physical activity,” says Olivia Munger, Registered Dietitian with the Get Up & Go program at Children’s Health℠. “Unfortunately, only a small portion of children and adults really need this replenishment.”
Sports drinks are only appropriate for people who participate in intense physical activity that lasts longer than one hour (running, biking, soccer, basketball). 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. “A main concern is that sports drinks contain a large amount of sugar, and drinking too many can lead to weight gain,” Munger adds.
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.
Interested in learning more about healthier habits for your family? Join one of our Get Up & Go weight management programs or a family cooking class.
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