A common concern of young athletes and their parents is should athletes drink sports drinks or water? The Journal of Pediatrics 2011 clinical report titled Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks for Children and Adolescents: Are They Appropriate? defined sports drinks as “beverages that contain carbohydrates, minerals, electrolytes, and flavoring and are intended to replenish water and electrolytes lost through sweating during exercise (1).” In the report, the American Academy of Pediatrics states that most children and adolescents are able to meet their electrolyte needs through a healthy diet and water. Many people do not realize that electrolytes are found in the foods that we eat.
With that being said, many question when a sports drink is needed. Those playing intense sports for more than an hour at a time may benefit from sports drinks to replenish carbohydrates for fuel, and sodium and potassium that are lost through sweat. Sodium aids in re-hydration by helping the body to retain water and stimulating thirst. Recommendations from The Academy of Pediatrics Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness and Council on School Health state that “Although water is often sufficient to maintain adequate hydration, long duration (ex > 1 hour) or repeated same day sessions of strenuous exercise, sport participation or other physical activity might warrant including electrolyte supplemented beverages that emphasize sodium more effectively to optimize rehydration (2).” Those that are heavy sweaters could also benefit from sports drinks. Signs that someone is a heavy sweater include salty tasting sweat and a ring of salt on their skin when their sweat dries.
Although water is usually all that is needed for hydration for those playing sports for less than an hour, a lot of athletes do not like the taste of water. If young athletes do not enjoy the taste of water and prefer to hydrate with sports drinks, sports drinks are better than nothing at all to prevent dehydration. Eating pretzels and drinking water will also provide carbohydrates and electrolytes, but while playing sports for an extended time it is often easier to drink the sports drink to refuel than with a snack.
A few notes: Young athletes in this post refer to those 10 years old through college.However, the tips in this post are valuable for athletes of all ages.
- Committee on Nutrition and the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness. Sports drinks and energy drinks for children and adolescents: are the appropriate? Pediatrics. 2011; 127 (6): 1182-1189
Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness and Council on School Health. Policy statement- Climatic Heat Stress and Exercising Children and Adolescents. Pediatrics. 2011; 128 (3): e741-e747