Sports drinks and energy drinks are some of the fastest growing beverages on the market, and producers of the beverages have marketed them to children and adolescents. But are these drinks appropriate for kids? A new report published by the Committee on Nutrition and the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness of the American Academy of Pediatrics in the June 2011 issue of Pediatrics explains the concerns about these drinks and offers recommendations for hydration and beverage choices.
Sports drinks and energy drinks are not the same
Sports drinks are the flavored ones with variable amounts of carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes. Energy drinks are those 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. For purposes of the post, I will discuss them separately.
For most children and adolescents, water should be the main drink for school and regular activities. As long as they are eating well-balanced diets to provide appropriate vitamins and minerals, obtaining those elements with sports drinks is unnecessary. Milk and fruit juice can also be adequate beverages in the diets of young athletes.
When it comes to sports and exercise, water should also be the preferred beverage for short periods of practice or competition. For short training or competition sessions at moderate intensity, supplemental carbohydrates or electrolytes, such as sodium or potassium, are unnecessary. With prolonged vigorous activity, carbohydrates can help to maintain blood glucose levels as muscle glycogen stores are depleted. Also with prolonged intense exercise or very hot or humid conditions, electrolyte replacement can become more important. In these settings, sports drinks can be an acceptable choice.
Many people mistake energy drinks as the “energy” that comes from the carbohydrates in sports drinks, but the term energy drink really refers to those that contain stimulants. These drinks contains large amounts of caffeine and often guarana, a stimulant which increases the caffeine content even more.
Caffeine can improve performance with enhanced endurance and strength, but it has never been studied specifically in children. It has significant side effects, such as increased blood pressure, heart rate, and 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, intake of all forms of caffeine should be discouraged, especially in energy drinks. Ingesting energy drinks with high levels of stimulants in the setting of dehydration from sports and exercise can be particularly dangerous.
Therefore, the Committee on Nutrition and the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness offers the following recommendations:
Educate kids and parents about sports drinks and energy drinks.
Discourage consumption of energy drinks by children and adolescents due to the stimulants in them.
Discourage routine use of sports drinks as they lead to excessive calorie consumption and possible obesity.
Promote the appropriate use of sports drinks – namely for rapid ingestion of fluids, carbohydrates, and electrolytes during or after prolonged vigorous exercise.
Promote water as the preferred beverage for daily activities and regular sports and exercise.