If you've ever spent much time at a kids' soccer game — much less a middle school basketball jam session at Staples Center sponsored by Gatorade — you'd think that kids required sports drinks as much as adults training for triathalons or the NBA finals (go Mavs!). They do not, of course. According to a new clinical report by the American Academy of Pediatrics published in the June 2011 issue of Pediatrics, kids don't need them, and some of these products contain substances that could be actually be harmful to children.
This should not come as a surprise if you've ever read the labels. Or checked out the suspiciously neon colors of many of these drinks. Here's a novel idea: How about hydrating your kid with some actual water. Water is also a lot better to douse your kid's head with after a game. And the coach, given that at the last 4th grade soccer game we attended, the kids spent more time plotting how to dump the contents of all the sports drinks over their coach than they did how to run the offense.
The issue, again unsurprisingly, is that many of these drinks contain extra calories or caffeine, as well as all that coloring. Sports and energy drinks, which are different, are also often confusingly labeled for adolescents. (Assuming your adolescent reads the label anyway.) Some energy drinks contain caffeine, often in large amounts, and other stimulants. Sports drinks contain carbohydrates, minerals, electrolytes and flavoring, and are intended to replace water and electrolytes lost through sweating during exercise. But unless your kid is training for an actual triathalon, or is currently being recruited by the Lakers, then most likely water is sufficient. And if your kid is drinking sports or energy drinks with lunch or while playing video games instead of real ones, then, well, think about it.
“For most children engaging in routine physical activity, plain water is best,” says Dr. Holly J. Benjamin, a member of the executive committee of the AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, and a co-author of the report. “Sports drinks contain extra calories that children don't need, and could contribute to obesity and tooth decay. It's better for children to drink water during and after exercise, and to have the recommended intake of juice and low-fat milk with meals. Sports drinks are not recommended as beverages to have with meals.”