Sports drinks have become increasingly popular with children and adolescents, especially those who play sports. While there can be appropriate uses for these beverages among children, are they necessary for daily activities or simple sports and exercise? What is the best hydration for young athletes?
First, the term “sports drink” refers to those flavored beverages with variable amounts of carbohydrates, vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes. This term differs from “energy drink,” or a beverage filled with stimulant substances, like caffeine and guarana.
Sports drinks do contain small amounts of vitamins, minerals, and electrolytes. It is probably unnecessary for children to consume them simply for school or regular activities, assuming they are eating well balanced diets with fruits and vegetables. Plus the regular consumption of sports drinks without enough exercise through sports and other activities could lead to obesity, as these drinks often contain large numbers of calories.
When it comes to hydration for young athletes, water should be the preferred beverage for short periods of practice or competitions. Additional carbohydrates or electrolytes, such as sodium or potassium, are usually unnecessary for training sessions or games at moderate intensity that last an hour or less.
With prolonged, intense activity, carbohydrates can help to maintain blood glucose levels as muscle glycogen stores are depleted. Also with prolonged intense exercise or very hot or humid conditions, electrolyte replacement can become more important. In these settings, sports drinks can be an acceptable choice. Plus, the composition of the drinks can help young athletes rapidly absorb the fluids, carbohydrates, and electrolytes in the setting of dehydration and prolonged exertion.