I thought I was doing right by my kids. They love playing sports and when the weather gets warm and their faces get flushed from running with helmets and pads on, I would hand them a sports drink. I remember from my days as an athlete that a bottle of Gatorade after a hard run really hit the spot and helped with my recovery. So isn’t it right to assume it could do the same for my teenager?
Wrong. The American Academy of Pediatrics issued a report in 2011 (where have I been??? Oh yeah, raising children) warned that sports and energy drinks are not good for little bodies not-so-little anymore bodies and don’t come close to the benefits of pure, simple water.
First, let’s talk about sports drinks. They promise to replace the electrolytes and sodium the average athlete loses after about 90 minutes of exertion. Some of the more popular brands like Gatorade and Powerade promise to improve performance and endurance and to aid in recovery by replacing electrolytes lost through sweating. But many people drink them just because they taste good, too. And that’s where you run into trouble.
In the AAP’s report, entitled “Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks for Children and Adolescents: Are They Appropriate?”, researchers found that all too often, children turn to sports drinks for simple refreshment. The calories and sugar in the drinks create problems for smaller bodies, especially when kids are drinking them just for fun. A 20-ounce bottle of Gatorade, the smallest available in most convenience stores, contains 125 calories and 35 grams of sugar. A regular can of Coca-Cola has 140 calories and 39 grams of sugar. The American Heart Association advises children to limit their sugar intake to 12 grams. From tooth decay to obesity, the AAP also cautioned that most kids simply don’t need sports drinks, although they do say that if a young athlete is exercising vigorously for an extended
period of time they may benefit from them.
And then there are “energy drinks” like Monster Energy and Red Bull, which the AAP cautions is even worse for children and adolescents. They tend to be sugar-rich, poorly nutritive and actually harmful in higher doses. These drinks contain stimulants like caffeine, guarana and taurine that can raise blood pressure, heart rate, anxiety, and even cause insomnia. Caffeine can be addictive, as many of us can attest as we drink our morning coffees. But consider this – there is more than 100 milligrams of caffeine in the average 8-ounce cup of coffee, and that amount is considered unhealthy for teens. These “energy
drinks” often contain far greater quantities of caffeine than a cup of coffee!
So what can kids and teens drink when it’s hot outside and they’re playing sports? The AAP recommends good ‘ol water. It does everything a young body needs when exercising or playing. It’s healthy. And it’s free!