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Are Sports & Energy Drinks Healthy for Kids?

If you’ve ever been in the position of being worn down by your child or grandchild to buy a fancy sports or energy drink, you are not alone. 

“Sports drinks and energy drinks are aggressively marketed to kids as the way to improve their performance at sports or school,” said Nancy Nelson, MD, of Samaritan Pediatrics. “But the reality is that these drinks aren’t needed in most cases and can even be harmful.”

Sports Drinks

“Water is the preferred way to stay hydrated during most sports and exercise,” said Nelson. “Unless your child is performing at a high intensity for more than an hour, they do not need to use sports drinks.”

For sports like soccer, basketball or long distance running, a sports drink is appropriate to help give the body a source of energy and restore electrolytes lost through sweat. Just remember that sports drinks contain added sweeteners and calories and too many can be trouble for their waistlines and teeth.

Energy Drinks

Energy drinks are another tempting option, with claims of alertness needed for studying or increased sports performance. But the high levels of caffeine in energy drinks can be dangerous. Research published by the American Academy of Pediatrics states that energy drinks are not recommended for children or adolescents because of concerns about the effects of caffeine on the child’s developing neurologic and cardiovascular systems.

According to Nelson, even teenagers should consume energy drinks with caution as the caffeine may make it difficult to concentrate and can promote anxiety, trouble sleeping and even heart problems. The presence of sugar or artificial sweeteners are also concerning.

“Most energy drinks have the equivalent of about three cups of coffee,” said Nelson. “Because stimulants can damage growing bodies it’s best for kids to have no caffeine while they’re young, and then to limit it in the teenage years.”

Other Drink Options

Nelson reports that while vitamin water, coconut water or other supplemented beverages with a nutritional angle may seem like a healthier option, added sugars or artificial sweeteners may still be present, and you may be overdoing the vitamins in some cases.

“Well balanced meals are the best source of nutrients for a child,” said Nelson. “If you are worried that your child is not getting enough nutrients from food, talk to your pediatrician about whether or not they need a daily multi-vitamin.”

Read the Label

To help kids pick a healthy beverage, Nelson recommends checking labels to find drinks that don’t contain sugar or artificial sweetener, or caffeine. At home, fruit or other natural flavors can make water more interesting. Milk or similar non-dairy alternatives are also a good choice to drink regularly. Occasionally drinking natural fruit juice or sparkling water with natural flavors can add a little variety. 

“It’s important to remember that having a fun drink once in a while is fine, the problem is when it turns into a regular habit or when it begins to interfere in their lives, like with caffeine,” said Nelson. “Drinks are a place where empty calories can add up. When you introduce other additives like caffeine or artificial sweetener there isn’t much value to sports drinks, soda or energy drinks. Water really is best.”

Looking for ways to get out and about with kids this summer? See our hiking ideas.