June 14th, 2011
Sports drinks are usually unnecessary for kids playing sports
Cleveland Plain Dealer
Maybe you’ve noticed it at kids’ soccer games—at the first break in the action, parents surge forward offering their tykes the kind of sports drinks you would guzzle after a 10K. Do kids really need a sports drink at that point?
No, say doctors and dietary experts. To think otherwise is to have been influenced by advertising and marketing.
“People say they need to ‘replenish’ their children’s electrolytes, but when I ask them about it, they don’t even know what electrolytes are,” says Tara Harwood, a pediatric nutritionist at the Cleveland Clinic. “So I’ll say to them, ‘Why are you putting them back, when you don’t even know what they are?’ “
The electrolytes in question are mainly sodium and potassium, and kids, she says, get plenty of them through food: potatoes, bananas and fortified cereals, for example.
Harwood says the only time children would need to replace sodium and potassium is if they were engaged in a solid hour of activity—that doesn’t mean an hour of softball, but nonstop action, such as cross-country running—and it’s hot and they’ve been sweating.
Gatorade, now owned by Pepsi-Cola, has about a 75 percent market share in the sports drink category, so a lot of people—adults and kids—are drinking it.
New research shows that it is also a good idea for kids to have a sports drink if they have been playing a high-intensity start-stop game, like basketball, in the summer heat for 30 minutes.
“If they’re sweating a lot, and it’s a hard, strenuous activity, then they should,” Harwood says. “Otherwise, water is what I recommend.”
Besides electrolytes, of course, Gatorade and other such sports drinks contain sugar and, depending on how much kids are drinking, these beverages could become a significant source of calories. A 24-ounce bottle of Gatorade has 150 calories, 330 milligrams of sodium and 42 grams of sugar. That’s 10 1/2 teaspoons of sugar in one bottle. (Gatorade also makes a less-caloric version called G2. That smaller, 20-ounce bottle has 45 calories, 270 milligrams of sodium and 12 grams of sugar.)
Water is what Dr. Amanda Weiss Kelly, a pediatric specialist in sports medicine, recommends, too. She also recommends they get some salt with their meals. “If they’re out in the heat and sweating, then when kids eat, they can moderately salt their food,” says Kelly, who is with Rainbow Babies & Children’s Hospital. “Kids don’t have to avoid salt unless they have hypertension or other contraindications.”
Another issue parents need to consider, Kelly says, is that drinks like Gatorade are acidic. If kids drink enough of it, or their stomachs are sensitive, they can feel discomfort.
“I’ve seen kids with abdominal pain, and it turns out they were drinking a lot of Gatorade,” she says. “The acidity can also affect their tooth enamel.”
Also, she says it’s important for parents to remember the difference between sports drinks and energy drinks, both of which have become a bigger and bigger part of the beverage market, as people and their children switch away from carbonated soft drinks.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently came out with a reminder to parents that energy drinks—such as Red Bull, 5-Hour Energy and the like—have sugar as a main ingredient and often contain caffeine and herbal supplements or other stimulants.
“It’s a natural mistake [to confuse energy drinks and sports drinks] because energy drinks are promoting themselves in the sports arena, and kids think they will improve their performance,” says Kelly. “But because of children’s and teens’ developing cardiovascular and neurological systems, we strongly recommend against it.
“It’s important for parents to know if their kids are consuming energy drinks.”