It is important that children are well hydrated and properly fuelled for sports, but they don’t need to be drinking sports drinks to achieve this, and more importantly, sports drinks are not the healthy option they claim to be. They are full of sugar, additives, preservatives, chemicals, and often stimulants which are not suitable for children.

Who are sports drinks designed for?

Sports drinks are designed to replenish glucose, fluids, and electrolytes – sodium, potassium, magnesium, calcium – which are lost during sweating and strenuous exercise or physical work. This level of nutrient depletion occurs with high-intensity exercise or physical work that lasts an hour or more.

The problem with sports drinks.

There are many problems with sports drinks. Firstly, if you are not doing strenuous activity for a prolonged period, a sports drink is just a sugary drink, very high in sugar. Secondly, sports drinks contain additives including flavourings, acidulants, and even caffeine and other stimulants. Let’s look at the ingredients.

Sugar

Sports drinks contain refined processed sugars which are void of nutrition. For children, the amount of sugar in one bottle can easily exceed any calories expended during activity. This high sugar intake can lead to a spike in your blood sugar.  Also, excess sugar depletes other important nutrients such as zinc, magnesium, and Vitamin D.

Looking at the nutrition panel, most sports drinks contain 2 or 3 serves in one bottle. 

Sports drinks should replace utilized glucose, but if you have too much sugar, it is simply stored as fat. A study by Harvard University demonstrated that drinking sports drinks can lead to weight gain despite increased fitness and exercise.

Additives

Artificial or natural flavourings are added to improve the taste and palatability. These may include Red 40, Yellow 5, and Yellow 6 which contain Benzedrine, 4-aminobiphenyl, and 4-aminoazobenzene known to cause an allergic response in some children. Also, these chemicals deplete important nutrients such as zinc and iron, and research suggests they are potential carcinogens. 

Acidulants such as citric acid, malic acid, and other acids may be added to enhance flavour and act as preservatives. They change the pH of the liquid to improve taste. Unfortunately, they also increase urination and excess consumption can place stress on the kidneys. 

Preservatives such as sodium benzoate or potassium sorbate may be added to prolong the shelf life of the drink and, ironically, these chemicals increase thirst.

Caffeine and other stimulants

Some sports drinks contain caffeine and other stimulants like guarana, taurine, and herbal extracts like ginseng. Some sports drinks contain the equivalent of 4 espresso coffees per serve. 

Caffeine has been shown to improve sports performance but this amount can impact your blood pressure and heart health. Also, caffeine is dehydrating thereby defeating the purpose of sports drinks.

Artificial sweeteners

Some sports drinks contain artificial sweeteners, therefore they do not replace the lost glucose. These may be labelled as no sugar or diet. Research shows us that artificial sweeteners do not support weight loss, in fact, they contribute to blood sugar dysregulation and insulin sensitivity. Furthermore, long-term consumption of artificial sweeteners is linked with weight gain, some tumours, bladder cancer, and many other health issues. Some sports drinks contain a combination of sugar and artificial sweeteners for flavour enhancement.  Children should not consumer artificial sweeteners of any kind.

How are sports drinks marketed?

The sports drink industry is unregulated which means the ingredients in these drinks do not need to be assessed for the claims they make. As sports drinks are targeted at children, teens and athletes and promoted by athletes, we are led to believe these drinks are a healthy choice. This is not the case and I believe it is important to understand what you, and your kids, are consuming.

What should your kids drink?

It is important to replenish lost fluids and electrolytes if your children are participating in high-intensity sports for an hour or more, but for most children, an orange and a drink of water at halftime is sufficient. If your child is doing more intensive activity then try this home-made electrolyte drink. It is simple, economical, tastes fantastic, and replaces the nutrients your children need after sport. It is also important to ensure they have adequate minerals and protein in their diet to help sustain their energy during these important years of growth and development.

Home-made electrolyte drink

Ingredients

  • 2 cups of filtered water
  • The juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • 1/8 of a teaspoon of salt – Himalayan salt or Celtic Sea salt (not table salt)
  • 2 teaspoons of raw honey local or maple syrup

Instructions

Put all of the ingredients into a jar with a lid and shake well to combine. This recipe fits perfectly in a pint mason jar. It is that simple. Store in the fridge for up to a week. Can also be frozen.

Remember, every child is unique, so finding the right solutions may require some experimentation. If you need support for your child’s nutrition and gut health book an appointment and we help your family thrive.

Enjoy!