Are Sports Drinks Healthy for Kids?

Are Sports Drinks Healthy for Kids?


All kids rely on good nutrition to be healthy and strong, and budding athletes are no different. In fact, better nutrition will help them perform better, allowing them to enjoy sports more, building a lifelong love of competition and exercise1.

Girls Sports TeamFor kids involved in sports, meals and snacks should provide carbohydrates for quick fuel and protein to keep them satisfied and help repair and build muscle after activity1.

Many parents wonder if sports drinks are healthy for kids. There are definitely some better options.

Good sports nutrition, like all good nutrition for kids, starts with a balanced diet that includes food from all the food groups -- Dairy, Vegetables, Fruits, Grains and Protein.

What Should My Kids Eat to Refuel After Sports?

After playing sports or just spending a long, rewarding session on the playground, kids should have a meal or a snack within 30 minutes1. If it isn't mealtime, a light snack should do the trick. Some quick and easy ideas for snacks include:

  • Chocolate milk
  • Whole-grain crackers and cheese
  • String cheese and a piece of fruit
  • A milk and frozen fruit smoothie
  • A granola bar dipped in yogurt
  • Pita chips or veggies dipped in hummus 
  • Fruit slices dipped in yogurt.

Should My Child Drink Sports or Recovery Drinks?

Unless your child is running half-marathons, they probably don't need sports or energy drinks2,3. These drinks offer a lot of sugar with few nutrients. The sodium and potassium they offer are intended to replace lost electrolytes in sweat, but the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) concluded that children don't need sports and energy drinks2. Unless your child or teenager is doing hard physical activity for more than an hour, chances are water is more than adequate for re-hydration.

Since they are high in sugar, sports drinks give kids and teenagers extra calories which can put them at risk for becoming overweight, even if they're active. The vitamins and minerals that sports drinks provide are abundant in a healthy diet, so as long as your child eats from all five food groups every day, getting plenty of milk, cheese and yogurt, meat or beans, whole grains, fruit and vegetables, they won't miss what sports drinks have to offer.

The AAP came out even more strongly against energy drinks3 which, unlike most sports drinks, contain caffeine and other stimulating substances. The AAP reported that energy drinks "have no place in the diet of children and adolescents2. Energy drinks, too, have a lot of extra calories from sugar, and their stimulating ingredients can cause heart rhythm irregularities.

Better Options for Sports Recovery Than Energy Drinks

Unless your child is drenched after actively playing for more than an hour, the better options for hydration and sports recovery are: water or chocolate milk. Water is nature's perfect refresher and re-hydrater. But if you want to give your child an extra boost of nutrition, chocolate milk is a fun, nutrient-rich way to go. 

Chocolate milk offers carbohydrates, vitamin D, protein, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin A and other nutrients. Scientists have evaluated chocolate milk as a post-exercise sports nutrition drink and have identified the combination of carbohydrates and protein as a good way to replenish exhausted muscles4. Chocolate milk also provides fluids and electrolytes such as potassium to assist with rehydration.

Additionally, the protein in chocolate milk can be used by the body to build lean muscle when combined with exercise.

Each eight-ounce serving of milk – plain or flavored – provides 300 milligrams of calcium, about one-third of the recommended daily amount, which is important for strong bones5.

Calcium and vitamin D are very important to all growing children and especially to athletes because they promote strong bones and healthy muscles1,5

Whatever sport your athlete plays, a healthy overall diet and readily available snacks with a good ratio of carbohydrates and protein will help your child play hard, giving them a good understanding of nutrition as they start high school sports and continue being active into adulthood. 

 

References

1. Purcell LK. Sport nutrition for young athletes. Paediatr Child Health. 2013 Apr;18(4):200-5.

2. Committee on Nutrition and the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. Sports drinks and energy drinks for children and adolescents: are they appropriate? Pediatrics. 2011 Jun;127(6):1182-9. 

3. Campbell B, Wilborn C, La Bounty P, Taylor L, et al. International Society of Sports Nutrition position stand: energy drinks. J Int Soc Sports Nutr. 2013 Jan3;10(1):1

4. Karp JR, Johnston JD, Tecklenburg S, Mickleborough TD, Fly AD, Stager JM. Chocolate milk as a post-exercise recovery aid. Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2006 Feb;16(1):78-91.

5. Golden NH, Abrams SA. Optimizing bone health in children and adolescents. Pediatrics. 2014 oct;134(4):e1229-43.

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Balanced Nurition for Your Child