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Are sports and energy drinks healthy for children?

There may be a time and place for sports drinks. Energy drinks? Not so fast, our experts say.
There may be a time and place for sports drinks. Energy drinks? Not so fast, our expert says.

Gatorade. Red Bull. Vitamin Water.

Ask Michelle Draxten, MPH, RD, LD, a nutrition expert with the University of Minnesota Health Weight Loss Management program, about the avalanche of sports drinks that have become a common sight at many athletic events, and she raises an eyebrow.

Sports drinks are designed to hydrate athletes with fluid and electrolytes lost during activity, but the high-calorie drinks typically contain a hefty amount of sugar. Children should avoid them in most circumstances.

What is the best way to keep children hydrated before, during or after a sporting event? Do children need something more than water?
The best way to keep children hydrated is with plain water. Kids should drink plenty of water before an athletic event and about five to nine ounces of water (slightly more than a regular-sized drinking glass) every 15-20 minutes during the event. Three or so glasses of water after the event is a good idea, too.

Are there any times when a sports drink is a good idea?
If a child is very active for at least an hour or has been playing in hot temperatures, and if he or she is sweating quite a bit, sports drinks can help provide energy and replenish fluid and electrolytes. If sports drinks are needed, drinking them during an event—every 15-20 minutes—and after the event would be best.

While sports drinks are designed to hydrate active individuals with fluid and electrolytes that are lost through sweat, they also contain a lot of sugar and calories. Kids who drink them during an event can end up drinking more calories than they burn off.

What about energy drinks?
Energy drinks contain caffeine or other stimulants, Family and Sports Medicine Physician Steven Stovitz, MD, said. While these are part of many diets in adults (e.g. with coffee), it is not recommended that children use stimulants unless prescribed for medical conditions such as Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD). Better ways to help youth sport participants with low energy would be to focus on a healthy amount of sleep and improved nutrition.

The Institute of Medicine has stated that there is no place in a child's diet for energy drinks.

What negative effects, if any, can energy drinks have on children?
While energy drinks are highly marketed to kids to increase energy and performance, their high caffeine and sugar content—and the frequent addition other herbal supplements—can have many negative effects. For children, these effects can include rapid heart rate, anxiousness and irritability.