Sports drinks for children: Do they need it?
These days, children, especially those who are physically active or sporty, resort to sports and energy drinks when they are thirsty, sweaty or tired. These drinks are easy to access in both local stores and supermarkets, and are generally believed to replenish lost electrolytes and offer ample hydration. However, the sugar, calorie and caffeine contents in these drinks are usually high, and hence, parents need to monitor their consumption. Also, it is essential to be aware of differences between a sports drink and an energy drink. So, read on to find out how these beverages can impact the health of your child and if they need these.
What are sports drinks?
As the name suggests, sports drinks for children are meant for those kids who indulge in games and rigorous physical activities. They are flavoured drinks composed of sugar, carbohydrates, electrolytes, and minerals. The role of a sports drink is to restore the lost salt and water during heavy workouts, for maintaining optimal performance and ensuring quick recovery.
What are energy drinks?
Energy drinks are just like sports drinks, but they contain stimulants or ingredients like caffeine, guarana, taurine (an amino acid), herbs, and vitamins. These drinks act as a temporary energy booster and increase concentration, and make you feel less fatigued. It might seem that they are a healthy replacement for sodas, but they are actually not. Energy drinks are often wrongly perceived as dietary supplements, and so, it is mandatory to check the nutrition label to find out what the caffeine content is, before you buy one.
For toddlers and pre-teens, energy drinks can be quite addictive. To get energy and a certain “kick”, they might end up consuming more than is healthy for them.
Why is moderation necessary for sugary drinks?
Most sports and energy drinks contain added sugars and empty calories, which can lead to childhood obesity if not consumed in moderation. And as they come in many exciting flavours, it is easy to for kids to drink more than is good for them. Such sugary drinks can also cause tooth decay or cavities, especially if your child doesn’t follow a proper oral hygiene regime.
While sports drinks are often provided to a child who is an athlete and sweats hard, these should not be used as a replacement for plain water. If you check the nutrition label on a ½ litre bottle of sports drink, you will see that usually two and a half servings are recommended for kids. However, a thirsty child might end up drinking more than that.
Also, kids require a proper balance of carbohydrates, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals, for optimal growth and development. So, if they are not exercising enough to burn the calories, then having sports drink is as harmful as consuming soda.
Parents also need to remember that the caffeine content in energy drinks is usually thrice of that in soda. So, over-indulgence can lead to trouble with sleeping, concentration issues, and increased urination. Hence, plain water or coconut water is a better choice. You can also try and give unsweetened lassi, low-fat buttermilk, or plain water infused with fruits and herbs.
Do sports drinks have any benefits?
As you know, hydration is essential during exercises or any form of sport. And water is the best source of hydration.
However, sports drinks might be beneficial for kids and pre-teens who are involved in:
- Heavy or intense workouts like biking and running
- Intense sports such as basketball, soccer, and hockey
These drinks contain carbohydrates (sugars) which contribute to instant energy. The presence of electrolytes also rehydrates, refreshes, and refuels athletes. Sports drinks contain electrolytes such as sodium and potassium that your child can lose via sweat. Hence, these drinks help balance the body's electrolytes and ensure proper muscle movement.
According to doctors and nutritionists, sports and energy drinks should always be consumed in moderation due to the sugar and calorie content. Water is always the best source of hydration. However, if your child is running a half-marathon or going for an extended practice for 2-3 days, consuming sports drinks moderately might be alright.
Lastly, when you are out shopping, do read the label carefully before buying any sports drink. Check how many calories it contains and consult a nutritionist for guidance if required. Always pack water in your child’s sports kit so that they depend less on sports or energy drinks. Making fresh fruit juices at home or offering whole juicy fruits is also a better idea.