Written collaboratively by Norman Spencer and Paul Smolen M.D.
Whether they play formal sports or just run around the school yard at recess, most children are active enough to need fluid replacement. Till recently, children drank water to rehydrate; in today’s world, however, active children commonly consume sports and energy drinks to rehydrate. These drinks were designed for athletes who endure extremes in physical and environmental stress, not for children playing little league baseball or a Saturday morning soccer game. Unfortunately children are consuming too many of these sports and energy drinks, and they are not drinking enough water.
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) together with the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness (COSMF) completed a major review of sports and energy drinks literature from 2000 to 2009. This review sought to differentiate sports drinks from energy drinks, identify common ingredients, and discuss harmful effects of these drinks. This report identified that “sports drinks” contain carbohydrates (sugars), minerals, artificial flavors and colors to replace lost water during exercise; “energy drinks” contain all the above plus stimulants such as caffeine and taurine for performance enhancement.
Do we really want our little ones drinking sports and energy drinks when all they need is water? Well-balanced diets containing carbohydrates, fats, and proteins can more than adequately replace nutrients lost during active play. Overconsumption of sports and energy drinks can cause serious problems, such as obesity, for growing children. In addition, consuming caffeine or other stimulants can increase a child’s heart rate, disturb his or her sleep, create a physical dependence, and trigger withdrawal headaches. In 2005, the American Association of Poison Control Centers received 2600 calls related to caffeine abuse in patients younger than 19 years. Remember, the majority of the energy drinks available to young athletes contain some form of caffeine in abundance.
As children grow up, parents should encourage children to drink plenty of water. Water truly is the perfect “sports drink” since the body is made of it and can’t run without it. Professional athletes may benefit from the consumption of sports drinks, but child athletes will best benefit from drinking water on and off the the playing field. Let them enjoy the sweet taste of victory instead of an artificially flavored and colored bottle of salty sugar water!
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