The dog days of summer are here, which means your kids will probably be spending a lot more time outdoors, running around, exercising, or gearing up to play sports for the upcoming school year. While they're busy breaking a sweat, you may be tempted to curb dehydration and replenish electrolytes lost with energy or sports drinks and vitamin-enhanced waters. If these drinks work for performance athletes during practice and at games (and they're certainly marketed that way in television advertisements and in athlete and celebrity endorsements), then they should be perfectly healthy for adolescents, right? Well, not exactly.
According to a study published in 2011 by the American Academy of Pediatrics, parents should take caution when choosing a beverage for their children before, during, or after exercise. In fact, the AAP suggests only small amounts of energy and sports drinks may be appropriate for children who participate in high-intensity physical activity in hot weather for more than one hour. However, for kids who engage in routine or moderate physical activity for less than three hours in normal conditions, these beverages aren't suitable.
Not only do energy and sports drinks provide very little nutritional benefit, they also leave less room in your kids' diets for the good stuff, like water, fruits, protein, and vegetables. These drinks also cause tooth decay and erosion, which means your child might as well eat a Snickers bar or drink sugar water during Little League practice or while running around in the park. Yikes!
Minus the pretty colors and sweet taste, quite simply, these sports drinks aren't beneficial for school-age children, unless they're engaging in prolonged, strenuous activities or exercise for more than an hour (such as basketball, soccer, or long-distance running).
While the brands vary under each category, the thing sports and energy drinks and vitamin-enhanced waters all have in common is that extra little something incorporated to boost performance or increase energy. Those added ingredients are basically artificial coloring and additives that don't offer much by way of vitamins and nutrients to replenish fluid lost during intense sweat sessions. Now that we've uncovered what makes these drinks unhealthy for young kids, it's important to note what energy and sports drinks actually are and what's in them. Here's the lowdown on the brightly-colored drinks your kids may be gulping down:
Sports drinks contain carbohydrates, which is a quick source of energy when your body is depleted of stored and usable energy. Although they do contain electrolytes like sodium and potassium which are lost through sweat, they're often high in sugar and calories, which could lead to weight gain.
Don't be fooled by the word "water" in its title. These drinks are enhanced waters that contain supplemental vitamins or minerals and are available in different flavors. But what's often not mentioned is that vitamin waters often contain extra calories, sodium, artificial sweeteners, and caffeine. Instead of drinking vitamin-enhanced water to accommodate nutrition gaps, it's best to provide healthy meals, beverages, and snacks for your children or doctor-recommended multivitamin supplements created for kids.
Most of these drinks guaranteeing improved performance and lasting energy are labeled as unsuitable for children, but some have slipped through the cracks. The silent, dangerous culprits in energy drinks are the high doses of sugar and caffeine. Similar to sports drinks, energy drinks can contribute to weight gain and dental problems. And this study conducted in 2014 demonstrates that the effects of caffeine may differ between boys and girls, but the stimulant does decrease heart rate and increases blood pressure in young children.
Even though your kids may be playing hard outside and sweating, they can stay hydrated with healthier alternatives like infused water combinations, watermelon juice, and coconut water. Not only is coconut water a natural source of electrolytes, it's also refreshing and low in calories. Of course, you can't go wrong with plain old H2O. When in doubt, water is the healthiest form of hydration for adolescents and teenagers (adults, too). The amount your child needs to consume will vary depending on their age and weight, as well as the level of intensity during physical activity and weather conditions.
The bottom line: For elite athletes and kids alike, nothing beats a healthy, balanced diet and staying hydrated with water to increase natural physical energy and achieve success both on and off the field.