I frequently get questions from athletes and parents alike about energy and sports drinks: are they good for you? Do they work? Will they help me perform better? Are energy and sports drinks the same?
All are excellent questions and I am here to help debunk the myths!
Many children and adolescents confuse these two types of drinks, which can have serious health consequences. Sports drinks contain mostly carbohydrates, minerals, and electrolytes. Their job is to help replace fluid and electrolytes lost when sweating heavily.
Energy drinks may list similar ingredients, but they typically also contain stimulants like caffeine or guarana, and other substances. Monitoring both sports and energy drinks is important because they are heavily marketed toward children and adolescents.
Generally, children and adolescents should drink water to replace fluid lost during exercise lasting less than an hour. If exercise lasts longer than an hour, or occurs in a hot and humid environment, then sports drinks may be used to replace both fluid and electrolyte losses. Sports drinks should not be consumed at meals as a casual beverage. Water is likely adequate before and during exercise for fluid replacement. At meal times, stick with the recommended amount of 100% fruit juice, low fat milk, or water.
Coaches will often say to me, “My players walk on the field before a game with an energy drink instead of eating a well-balanced meal, and then they wonder why they are crashing by halftime!” The bottom line is this: energy drinks have not been proven to be safe or effective and are in no way recommended for use among children and adolescents. The stimulants in energy drinks can cause sleep disturbance, mood alteration, GI upset, and anxiety which have the potential to negatively affect athletic performance. In worst cases, arrhythmias or interactions with medications can occur.
Water should be your main source of hydration and sports drinks can be used in certain situations.
Want more information? Check out this video from Sports Medicine at Nationwide Children's Hospital with your kids.
Have a healthy, hydrated, and active summer!
Jessica Buschmann, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian with Nationwide Children’s Sports Medicine. As part of her role at Nationwide Children’s, she provides nutrition services to Ohio Dominican University’s athletic teams and the general student population.
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