Ask Dr.Paul-Sports and Energy Drinks in Children
DEAR DR.PAUL: Is there a problem with giving sports drinks and energy drinks to children?
PEDIATRICIAN DR.PAUL Answers: Thanks for the question. In previous articles, I have written that the consumption of sugary drinks like soft drinks and fruit juice has been linked to obesity and related health problems. However, there are also two other popular drinks which are potentially harmful to children and adolescents. These are sports drinks and energy drinks which many people may think are the same. So I want to explain the differences in order to clarify any confusion and explain why they can be unhealthy.
Flavored sports drinks contain carbohydrates (sugar), minerals and electrolytes and are designed to replace water and electrolytes lost through sweating. These drinks can help athletes who participate in strenuous physical activities, but in most situations are not necessary in the gym, sports field or school cafeteria. Sports drinks should only be used when young athletes undergo prolonged periods of vigorous-intensity exercise. Under this situation, these drinks can help maintain the blood sugar levels which are usually are low due to exercise and to replace water and electrolytes lost in the sweat. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics(AAP) states that sports drinks should not be used for meals or snacks as a water or low-fat milk replacements. Regular use of these sugary sports drinks can, just like soft drink and fruit juice consumption, increase the risk of obesity and dental decay in children and adolescents. As a result, the AAP has made the following recommendations:
- Routine ingestion of sugar containing sports drinks should be avoided.
- Sports drinks have a limited role for child/youth athletes and should only be used when there is a need for rapid replenishment of sugar and/or electrolytes and water during prolonged vigorous physical activity.
- Water, and not sports drinks should be the main source of hydration for children and adolescents.
It is important to understand that energy drinks are not the same as sports drinks. They contain ingredients not found in sports drinks that are not suitable for children and adolescents. These include stimulants like caffeine, guarna and taurine. Although energy drinks contain sugar, it is these stimulants that provide the “energy”. Caffeine, the most commonly found ingredient has been linked to harmful effects in children including increased heart rate and blood pressure, sleep disturbances and potential harmful effects to the developing neurologic (nervous) system. Guarna is a plant extract that contains caffeine and in many cases is found in energy drinks along with caffeine. This means that energy drinks with both ingredients have more total caffeine than listed on the label. Another potential problem is that many assume that energy drinks can be used for rehydration after vigorous physical activity. However, energy drinks should not be used for rehydration. In fact, caffeine may make the dehydration worse and increase an already elevated heart rate. For these reasons energy drinks are not appropriate for children and adolescents and should never be consumed.