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Should Kids Drink Sports and Energy Drinks?

Oct 18, 2016

David Geier, M.D., Orthopedic Surgeon at East Cooper Medical Center

Sports drinks and energy drinks are some of the fastest growing beverages on the market. Producers of these beverages have frequently marketed them to children and adolescents.

But are these drinks appropriate for kids, especially young athletes?

First, it’s important to realize that sports drinks and energy drinks are not the same. Sports drinks are the flavored beverages with added carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes. Energy drinks are those filled with stimulant substances, like caffeine and guarana. While energy drinks may contain carbohydrates, vitamins, and minerals, their main benefits are the perceived or real stimulant effects. Since they really have different purposes, we should discuss them separately.

When it comes to recommendations for kids, let’s start with sports drinks.

For most children and adolescents, water should be the main drink for regular activities. As long as they are eating well-balanced diets to provide appropriate vitamins and minerals, obtaining those nutrients with sports drinks is unnecessary. Milk and fruit juice can also be adequate beverages in the diets of young athletes.

Sports drinks are usually unnecessary for children and adolescents in most sports settings. Water should also be the preferred beverage for short periods of practice or competition. For short training sessions at moderate intensity, supplemental carbohydrates or electrolytes, such as sodium or potassium, is probably unnecessary. With prolonged vigorous activity, carbohydrates can help to maintain blood glucose levels as muscle glycogen stores are depleted. Also with prolonged intense training, electrolyte replacement can become more important. In these settings, sports drinks can be an acceptable choice.

Now let’s talk about energy drinks.

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 contain large amounts of caffeine and often guarana, a stimulant which increases the caffeine content even more.

Caffeine has been shown improve performance with enhanced endurance and strength for some athletes, 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 swimming can be particularly dangerous.

Here are some simple recommendations for parents and coaches about hydration strategies for young athletes, especially when it comes to using sports and energy drinks:

  • We must educate kids about sports drinks and if and when they should consume them.
  • We should also discuss the risks of the stimulants in energy drinks with kids.
  • We should discourage the consumption of energy drinks by children and adolescents due to the stimulants they contain.

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