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Inova Children's Hospital
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Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks

What Are Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks?

Sports drinks and energy drinks can include anything from sports beverages to vitamin waters to highly caffeinated drinks. They all have added ingredients that say they "do" something extra, such as increase energy and alertness, boost nutrition, or even enhance athletic performance.

Most kids, even athletes, need only plain water to stay hydrated.

What Are the Kinds of Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks?

Sports Drinks

Sports drinks may be helpful for kids and teens who:

  • do vigorous physical activity lasting longer than an hour, such as long-distance running and biking
  • play high-intensity sports, such as soccer, basketball, or hockey

These drinks contain carbohydrates (sugar), which can provide an immediate source of energy at a time when the body's stores are used up. Sports drinks also have electrolytes like sodium and potassium, which the body loses through sweat. These keep the body's fluid levels in balance and help muscles work properly.

However, casual athletes don't need sports drinks. For most kids, plain water is all they need.

Vitamin Waters

These drinks, also known as fitness waters or enhanced waters, come in many flavors and with various combinations of supplemental vitamins and minerals. They may contain sugar, artificial sweeteners, caffeine, or herbal ingredients.

Vitamin waters may look like a quick way to fill any nutrition gaps in a child's diet. But it's best for kids to get these nutrients from healthy meals and snacks. Also, these drinks can provide too much of some vitamins and minerals, especially if kids already take a daily multivitamin. Getting more than the recommended daily allowance of some vitamins and minerals can be bad for kids' health.

Also, some vitamin waters contain herbal ingredients. The effects of many herbal ingredients (such as ginseng or St. John's wort) haven't been studied in children.

Energy Drinks

Energy drinks are very popular with middle- and high-school students. And while some are clearly labeled as unsuitable for children, others are marketed to kids as young as 4, promising boosts in energy and nutrition and enhanced athletic performance.

Most energy drinks have lots of sugar and caffeine — sometimes as much caffeine as in 1 to 3 cups of coffee. Too much sugar can put kids in the fast lane to the dentist's office and also contribute to weight gain. Excessive caffeine comes with its own set of problems — especially in younger kids.

Too much caffeine can cause:

  • jitteriness and nervousness
  • upset stomach
  • headaches
  • trouble concentrating
  • trouble sleeping
  • frequent peeing

In some kids, large amounts of caffeine can have even more serious side effects, including fast or irregular heartbeats, high blood pressure, hallucinations, and seizures.

Many of these drinks also have other ingredients whose safety and effectiveness haven't been tested in children, including herbal supplements, guarana (a source of caffeine), and taurine (an amino acid thought to enhance performance and caffeine's effects).

What Should Kids Drink?

For most kids, drinking water before, during, and after playing sports will keep them hydrated. Some athletes who exercise for long periods or in very hot weather can benefit from a sports drink that has sugar and electrolytes.

It's best for kids to skip the energy drinks. Many of the ingredients haven't been studied in children and could be harmful. Instead, kids and teens who play sports can improve their game through hard work and practice. These lessons and values will serve them well both on and off the field.

Date reviewed: March 2019