Sports drinks. They show up every Saturday on the sidelines of soccer games: the six-packs of Gatorade and Powerade in neon colors. And they make me crazy. Because the truth is, most kids don’t need them. Even if they just played a hard game. And even if they were sweating.
Sports drinks were originally created for serious athletes who needed fast, convenient refueling. And they definitely have a place, especially for people in training for endurance events. Some youth athletes can benefit from a sports drink too, but only if they’re in an all-day tournament or exercising intensely for more than an hour and needing quick replenishment (though it’s better to make your own—here’s an easy recipe).
But the truth is, most of the kids drinking Gatorade and Powerade after sports aren’t these kinds of athletes. They’re kids playing a 45-minute soccer game. They’re t-ball players who may spend more time staring into space in the outfield than actually moving. My kids have been handed a 20-ounce bottle of Powerade after trotting around the field for a total of maybe 30 minutes. The activity most kids do for sports doesn’t justify a drink laden with sugar, not to mention artificial flavors, synthetic dyes, and other additives.
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Here’s the truth:
Water is enough.
In their 2011 clinical report, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that water is “the appropriate first choice for hydration before, during, and after most exercise regimens”. According to the report, “For most children and adolescents, daily electrolyte requirements are met sufficiently by a healthy balanced diet; therefore, sports drinks offer little to no advantage over plain water.”
Electrolytes aren’t hard to get.
The electrolytes in sports drinks are typically sodium and potassium, which can be lost through sweat if you’re working really hard. But you can easily get those nutrients from food. For instance, you can get potassium and sodium in a banana and a handful of crackers.
Most sports drinks are full of junk.
A 20-ounce bottle of sports drink packs as much as eight teaspoons of added sugar. Other typical ingredients include citric acid that can erode tooth enamel, artificial flavors, synthetic food dyes, and additives like thickeners and stabilizers.
Marketing has fooled parents.
In one survey, more than a quarter of parents rated sports drinks as “somewhat healthy” or “very healthy”. Many parents think sports drinks are essential for sports, and, thanks to celebrity athlete endorsements, kids think they’ll be better athletes if they drink them.
Many youth athletes aren’t as active as you think.
In one study, researchers found that more than half of youth sport time is spent either in sedentary or light-intensity activity. That means they don’t need to chug down a bottle of sugary sports drink afterwards (much less the chips, donuts, and cookies that often appear on the sidelines after games too!).
The Snacktivist’s Handbook Has Best Options for Sports Games
If you’d like to see fewer sports drinks on the sidelines of youth sports (and healthier team snacks!), talk to your child’s coach and other team parents. In my new e-book, The Snacktivist’s Handbook, I provide email templates to customize and send to coaches and parents to start the conversation, a fact sheet about sports drinks, a list of healthy team snacks, and the stats and facts to help you make your case. The e-book also includes ideas, resources, and printables for making changes in the junk food snack culture at school, preschool, and camp — plus tips for raising healthier snackers at home.
This post was written by Sally Kuzemchak. Sally Kuzemchak, MS, RD, is a registered dietitian, educator, and mom of two who blogs at Real Mom Nutrition. She is the author of The Snacktivist’s Handbook: How to Change the Junk Food Snack Culture at School, in Sports, and at Camp—and Raise Healthier Snackers at Home. She also collaborated with Cooking Light on Dinnertime Survival Guide, a cookbook for busy families. You can follow her on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram.