Dr. Charles Ison: Best Drink for Active Kids? Water

When kids play sports, they sweat. They become thirsty. Since they are mostly made of water, they need to replace any water lost with more water.

The word “hydration” literally means “the adding of water.” Nowadays, there are sports and energy drinks that are touted for athletes. Children and parents are increasingly aware of these, but are they necessary or even safe to use?

All sports drinks, vitamin waters and energy drinks have one common feature: they purport to do something “extra” for the athlete who drinks them. All have ingredients added to them that supposedly improve upon water.

Sports drinks generally have some form of carbohydrate (usually sugar) combined with electrolytes. These are supposed to give an athlete energy and replace the electrolytes (such as sodium and potassium) that they lose in sweat. This is supposed to improve muscle function.

They are not usually needed by children, but they can be beneficial for those doing vigorous activity for over an hour. For children, the carbohydrates can make them gain weight.

Vitamin waters usually have vitamins, minerals, and some type of sweetener in them (natural or artificial). Sometimes they may contain herbal supplements or caffeine.

These drinks are geared toward adults. As a result, children drinking them may get more vitamins and minerals from them than their bodies need. They are not necessary for athletics.

Energy drinks usually contain sugar and caffeine. Sometimes they have huge amounts of caffeine in them.

They can also contain other substances with unknown effects on children. This can lead to weight gain from the sugar in them.

The caffeine in them can lead to multiple problems for children: nervousness, upset stomach, insomnia, frequent urination and difficulty concentrating. In larger doses, caffeine can cause irregular heartbeats, high blood pressure, hallucinations and even seizures.

These drinks are not good for children.

Soft drinks contain sugar, carbonation and sometimes caffeine. They do not contribute much of anything to athletes and should be avoided in sports. The carbonation can sometimes cause an upset stomach.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children hydrate with water. Humans have used it for many thousands of years for this purpose.

During sports, water breaks should be allowed every 15-20 minutes. Children should drink water before activities as well as afterwards. Nutritious food will usually supply all the other substances an athlete’s body needs.