Rethink Your Drink: Why Sports Drinks Shouldn't Be Offered to Young Athletes

12/13/2012


The popularity and consumption of sports drinks is on the rise in children and teens, whether they are athletes or not. This often brightly colored fluid, loaded with electrolytes and carbohydrate, can be found on the playing fields of nearly every sport, from mini soccer fields to large natatoriums. Yet, most American children are not physically active enough to reap the benefits of a sports drink.

If you’ve gotten into the habit of offering a sports drink each time your child or teen heads off to practice or a game, you may want to rethink your drink.


Why?

  • Most American children and teens are not physically active for over an hour at a time. Elite and high school athletes likely exceed this time frame.
  • Children and teens engaged in prolonged exercise (greater than one hour), in high temperatures and/or humidity, benefit from the use of small amounts of sports drinks.  Examples of intense physical activity are: football training during the summer, marathon training and races, competitive soccer and tennis matches, swimming, and long cycling races.
  • Consuming sports drinks may result in extra calories, sodium and sugar. Used inappropriately, sports drinks may negatively influence weight status and health.
  • Sports drinks place children at higher risk for tooth decay.
  • Sports drinks may displace and crowd out essential nutrients for growth and health.
  • Marketing and advertising efforts directed at children and teens entice them to purchase and consume sports drinks. Some common messages kids hear include: sports drinks are a healthy alternative to soda; they help improve athletic performance; they increase energy levels; and are a healthy thirst quencher.

What should athletic kids and teens be drinking?
 
The most basic, fundamental thirst quencher and dehydration preventer on the planet: water.
 
In the presence of a balanced diet, drinking water before, during and after exercise may be enough to prevent dehydration, even with prolonged exercise. The American Academy of Pediatrics states that if children and teens are engaged in normal physical activity for three hours or less a day, plain water is adequate.

So, if plain water can cover hydration needs without the potential negative side effects, doesn’t it make sense to rethink the sports drink?


Reference: Story, M. and Klein, L. Consumption of sports drinks by children and adolescents. A research review. Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, June 2012.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the National Alliance for Youth Sports.

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