When it comes to keeping kids hydrated, particularly those who play sports, there's a dizzying array of sodas, juices, iced tea, and bottled waters to choose from. And another category of beverages is causing a buzz: sports and energy drinks.
Sports and energy drinks can include anything from sports beverages to vitamin waters to highly caffeinated drinks. What they all have in common is added ingredients that say they "do" something extra, whether it's increase energy and alertness, boost nutrition, or even enhance athletic performance. But are they good options for kids?
Everyone needs to stay hydrated to stay healthy, and you can't go wrong giving kids plain water. But what about kids who play sports? Do they need something extra to avoid dehydration?
Not necessarily. The average young athlete can and should get all the necessary nutrients and hydration by eating healthy foods and drinking plenty of water before, during, and after exercise. During games and competitive events, drinks should be available at all times and regular water breaks should be scheduled about every 15 or 20 minutes. The amount of water needed can vary depending on the child's age, weight, intensity of the activity, and weather conditions.
Soda is not recommended for hydration during sports and should be avoided because it contains excess sugar, which can lead to weight gain. What's more, the carbonation can cause an upset stomach. Soda also often contains caffeine, which should be limited in kids.
Many drink options are out there. Here's a closer look at the ingredients they contain and how they measure up:
Sports drinks may be beneficial for kids who participates in prolonged vigorous physical activity lasting longer than an hour (such as long-distance running and biking, or high-intensity exercise such as soccer, basketball, or hockey).
These drinks contain carbohydrates (sugar), which can provide an immediate source of energy at a time when the body's stores are becoming depleted. Sports drinks also contain electrolytes like sodium and potassium, which the body loses through sweat, that are necessary to keep the body's fluid levels in balance and for muscles to work properly.
Sports drinks are sweet, which may aid hydration in kids who otherwise wouldn't drink during periods of intense activity. Of course, these drinks contain calories, too, and can increase the risk of excess weight gain — if your child is active and drinks these in moderation, this shouldn't be a problem.
However, sports drinks are not necessary for the casual athlete and should not be consumed on a regular basis. If your sedentary child is a fan of sports beverages, consider sidelining these drinks in favor of plain water.
These drinks, also known as fitness waters or enhanced waters, come in many flavors and contain various combinations of supplemental vitamins and minerals. They also often contain extra calories, artificial sweeteners, caffeine, or herbal ingredients whose effects have not been studied in children (such as ginseng or St. John's wort).
Vitamin waters may look like a quick way to fill any nutrition gaps in your child's diet, but these nutrients should come from healthy meals and snacks. Also, they can provide too much of a good thing, particularly for kids who already take a daily multivitamin. Getting more than the recommended daily allowance of some vitamins and minerals can be harmful to a child's health. Keep in mind that the daily allowances listed on the label are recommendations for adults, not kids.
The best place for kids to get daily nutrients is from balanced meals. If you're concerned that your child isn't getting enough, talk to your doctor, who may recommend a daily multivitamin formulated for kids.
These are becoming increasingly popular with middle- and high-school students who are looking for a competitive edge. And while some energy drinks are clearly labeled as unsuitable for children, others are specifically marketed to kids as young as 4, promising boosts in energy and nutrition as well as enhanced athletic performance.
Most energy drinks deliver a stiff dose of sugar and caffeine — sometimes as much caffeine as in 1 to 3 cups of coffee. Too much sugar can put kids in the fast lane to the dentist's office and also contribute to weight gain. Excessive caffeine comes with its own set of problems — especially in younger kids, it can negatively affect attention and concentration.
Few studies have examined the effect of caffeine on children, but consider how you feel when you've had too much. Caffeine is indeed a stimulant — though a widely used and accepted one — and because kids are smaller than adults and its effects on them will be more pronounced.
Too much caffeine can cause:
Large amounts of caffeine can have even more serious side effects (including fast or irregular heartbeats, high blood pressure, hallucinations, and seizures), especially for kids with certain medical conditions or who take medications or supplements.
Many of these drinks also contain additional ingredients whose safety or effectiveness has never been tested in children — including herbal supplements, guarana (a source of caffeine), and taurine (an amino acid thought to enhance performance and caffeine's effects).
The bottom line is this: Energy drinks pose a real health risk for kids and teens and should be avoided. Kids who participate in sports should learn that they can improve their game through hard work and practice — values that will serve them well both on and off the field.
Encouraging kids to believe that they need something "extra" to perform at their best is a slippery slope that may lead to the use of other performance-enhancing substances.
Remember that if it sounds too good to be true, it probably is. Be critical when reading labels, and talk to your doctor if you have any questions or concerns. And teach your kids not to be so quick to believe the hype when it comes to sports and energy drinks.
For athletes and non-athletes alike, nothing beats a well-balanced diet. Most kids who eat well, stay hydrated, and get enough physical activity and rest will have plenty of energy — naturally.
Reviewed by: Mary L. Gavin, MD
Date reviewed: October 2014
|U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) The FDA is responsible for protecting the public health by ensuring the safety, efficacy, and security of human and veterinary drugs, biological products, medical devices, our nation's food supply, cosmetics, and products that emit radiation.|
|American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) The AAP is committed to the health and well-being of infants, adolescents, and young adults. The website offers news articles and tips on health for families.|
|ChooseMyPlate.gov ChooseMyPlate.gov provides practical information on how to follow the U.S. government's Dietary Guidelines for Americans. It includes resources and tools to help families lead healthier lives.|
|American College of Sports Medicine This site has tips on staying safe while playing sports and exercising.|
|Food Guide Pyramid Becomes a Plate Goodbye, Food Guide Pyramid! Hello, MyPlate! The USDA's divided plate is designed to make it easier to understand healthy eating.|
|Food Labels Look at any packaged food and you'll see the food label. This nutrition facts label gives the lowdown on everything from calories to cholesterol. Read more about food labels.|
|Feeding Your Child Athlete All kids need to eat balanced meals and have a healthy diet. But should that balance change for kids who play on a sports team or work out?|
|Energy Drinks and Food Bars: Power or Hype? Energy drinks and nutrition bars often make big promises. But when you cut through the hype, what are you really getting? Find out here.|
|What Should Preschoolers Drink? The best drinks for preschoolers - and indeed for kids of all ages - are milk and water.|
|Healthy Breakfast Planner Use our printable breakfast planning sheet to select healthy foods that satisfy your taste buds and meet your time constraints.|
|Sports Physicals Just as professional sports stars need medical care to keep them playing their best, so do student athletes. That's why it's important to make sure that kids get a sports physical.|
|Sports Physicals Just as professional sports stars need medical care to keep them playing their best, so do teenage athletes. You can give yourself the same edge as the pros by making sure you have your sports physical.|
|What's the Big Sweat About Dehydration? Our bodies need water to work properly. Find out more in this article for kids.|
|What's a Healthy Alternative to Water? Find out what the experts have to say|
|Caffeine Confusion Should kids have caffeine? And what is it exactly? Find out in this article for kids.|
|Which Foods Will Give Me Energy? Find out what the experts have to say.|
|MyPlate Food Guide The MyPlate symbol is designed to help people make smart food choices. The plate graphic, with its different food groups, is a reminder of what – and how much – we should be putting on our plates to stay healthy.|
|Eating for Sports Eating nutritious foods and the right drinks can help you perform better on the playing field. Learn how to eat for sports by reading this article for kids.|
|Figuring Out Food Labels The food label on a food package is a lot like the table of contents in a book - it tells you exactly what the food contains. Read our article for kids for more about food labels.|
|Healthy Drinks for Kids What kids drink can drastically affect the amount of calories consumed, as well as the amount of calcium needed to build strong bones.|
|Healthy Eating Good nutrition and a balanced diet help kids grow up healthy. Here's how to improve nutrition and encourage smart eating habits.|
|Learning About Calories You've probably heard about calories. Are they good or bad for you? Find out in this article for kids.|
|A Guide to Eating for Sports You've prepared for the game in almost every way possible: but now what should you eat? Read about performance foods, nutritional supplements, and more.|
|Dehydration Sometimes kids lose fluids and salts through fever, diarrhea, vomiting, or long periods of exercise with excessive sweating. Here are some tips on preventing or treating dehydration.|
What to expect when coming to Akron Children's
For healthcare providers and nurses
Residency & Fellowships, Medical Students, Nursing and Allied Health
For prospective employees and career-seekers
Our online community that provides inspirational stories and helpful information.