Energy drinks are some of the fastest growing beverages on the market, and producers of the beverages appear to be increasingly marketing them to children and adolescents. But are these drinks appropriate for kids?
Unlike sports drinks, which are the flavored ones with variable amounts of carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes, energy drinks are those beverages filled with stimulant substances, like caffeine and guarana. While they may contain carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, their main benefits are the perceived or real stimulant effects.
Some people assume that the “energy” that comes from drinking these beverages comes from the carbohydrates, like it would from the sports drinks. However, the term “energy drink” specifically refers to those that contain stimulants. These drinks contain large amounts of caffeine. Many of them also contain guarana, a stimulant that increases the caffeine content even more.
There are conflicting data on the effects of caffeine on athletic performance. Some studies show that moderate caffeine can improve endurance and strength. It has never been studied specifically in children, though. Plus it has significant side effects, such as increased blood pressure, faster heart rate, and elevated body temperature. It can affect mood, sleep, and has been associated with anxiety and irregular heart rhythms.
Due to the potentially harmful effects on children and adolescents, we should discourage the intake of all forms of caffeine, especially through energy drinks. Ingesting energy drinks with high levels of stimulants in the setting of dehydration from sports and exercise can be particularly dangerous for young athletes. Encourage them to drink water or healthier beverages instead.