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Are Sports Drinks Helping or Hurting America’s Youth?

By August 15, 2016 December 28th, 2018 No Comments

The consumption of sports drinks, like Gatorade and Powerade, has become increasingly popular in children and teens over the last several years.  Because of increased intakes of sugar-sweetened beverages overall, health professionals and parents have been asking whether sports drinks are helping or hurting America’s youth.  Although, obesity rates in children have decreased slightly in recent years, childhood obesity is still considered an epidemic, and sugar-sweetened beverages have been deemed one of the culprits. 

Let’s take a look at how sports drinks stack up against other popular beverages amongst children and teens:

  • Sports Drink (8 fluid ounces) – 50 calories, 4 g sugar
  • Mountain Dew (8 fluid ounces) 110 calories, 31 g sugar
  • Fruit Punch (8 fluid ounces) – 117 calories, 25 g sugar
  • V8 Vegetable Juice (8 fluid ounces) – 45 calories, 7 g sugar
  • Coca Cola (8 fluid ounces) – 100 calories, 27 g sugar
  • Apple Juice (8 fluid ounces) – 120 calories, 24 g sugar
  • Orange Juice (8 fluid ounces) 140 calories, 30 g sugar
  • Energy Drink (8 fluid ounces) – 100 calories, 25 g sugar

Based on this information, sports drinks do have the lowest amount of sugar per 8 fluid ounces compared to other popular beverages.  However, most sports drinks come in 32 fluid ounce containers or more, which would include approximately 16 or more grams of sugar.  So, yes it may be smart to look for an alternative beverage choice for your children to avoid unnecessary amounts of added sugar and calories in their diets.  Dental professionals are particularly leery of children consuming sports drinks on a regular basis because of the high sugar and high acidity in these drinks, which can lead to an increased risk of dental cavities, enamel erosion, and childhood obesity.  Some healthy alternatives to these beverages include plain water, milk, or diluted flavored water and 100% juice.    

So, what is the purpose of these beverages to begin with?  Sports drinks contain carbohydrates (sugar) and electrolytes (sodium and potassium) and were designed to be used for physical activity that lasts longer than one hour to aid in hydration and recovery.  Sports drinks are typically unnecessary if workouts are less than 60 minutes; however, research has found that sports drinks are beneficial when exercise lasts more than 60-90 minutes.  Proper hydration is vital for young athletes and sports drinks may play a key role in this due to:

  • Children absorb heat from the environment more readily than adults
  • Children are more at risk of heat stress when exercising in a hot environment
  • As children mature their sweat rate and electrolyte loss increases

Because of these reasons, the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics encourages young athletes to drink sports drinks in order to replenish electrolytes, fluids, and carbohydrates lost during exercise lasting more than one hour.  In addition, research has shown that when young athletes are provided plain water to drink after exercise they do not replace their fluid losses as well as when they are offered a flavored drink or a sports drink.   The American College of Sports Medicine position stand on exercise and fluid replacement also encourages young athletes to consume sports drinks after vigorous exercise because the sodium present in these beverages replaces losses and heightens the desire to drink more, which aids in better recovery and hydration status. 

In summary, if children are consistently drinking sports drinks socially, making the switch to a healthier beverage is warranted.  In order to decrease the amount of added sugar and calories in children’s diets, the consumption of sugar-sweetened beverages should be limited.  However, for young athletes participating in exercise that lasts longer than 60 minutes, the consumption of a sports drink during and after exercise can help to replenish electrolyte, fluid, and carbohydrate losses.  Ultimately this leads to better recovery and ability to perform at their best during other activities.

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