Energy and sports drinks are aggressively marketed to kids and teens. Not only is engaging in a sports activity – however casually and briefly – a reason to “rehydrate” with a sports drink, kids are now encouraged to consume sports drinks before, during and after thinking of moving a muscle. Sports drinks are sold in many school’s vending machines, and judging by ads for energy drinks our young ones couldn’t stay alert or study were it not for shot after shot of energy in liquid form.
Are these drinks of any benefit?
The American Academy of Pediatrics' (AAP) committee on nutrition and council on sports medicine and fitness reviewed the scientific literature and consulted with many experts for its new clinical report on sports and energy drinks. In order to clear some of the confusion around these products the report starts with a few definitions and ingredient lists:
• Sports Drinks - these contain sugars (2-20 grams of sugar per 8 oz serving, or 30-200 calories per bottle), electrolytes (sodium, potassium), minerals (calcium, magnesium), flavoring and sometimes vitamins. They are supposed rehydrate and replace water and electrolytes lost during exercise.
• Energy Drinks - these contain sugars (0-31 grams of sugar per 8 oz serving, or 10-270 calories per container) stimulants, such as taurine, guarana and caffeine, vitamins and other supplements. Energy drinks deliver stimulants, which supposedly improve performance.
Sports drinks: For serious athletes playing prolonged, vigorous sports in a the heat
For all non-prolonged less exhausting occasions the AAP report warns that the extra calories in sports drinks may lead to extra body weight, and the combined sugar and acid in them causes dental erosion.
As for the heavily marketed beneficial and functional ingredients in sports drinks: electrolytes are plentiful in food, protein and amino acids as well as vitamins are plentiful in food, and the specific amino acids added to sports and energy drinks to enhance performance (glutamine, arginine, taurine) have not been proven beneficial by good clinical trials.
Energy drinks: Totally unsuitable for kids and teens
The report stresses that energy drinks “pose potential health risks primarily because of stimulant content; therefore, they are not appropriate for children and adolescents and should never be consumed.”
Eliminate sugary drinks: Drink water!
The expert panel concludes:
“Given the current epidemic of childhood overweight and obesity, we recommend the elimination of calorie containing beverages from a well balanced diet, with the exception of low-fat or fat-free milk, because it contains calcium and vitamin D, which are particularly important for young people.”
We're very far off from the AAP's target: A recent CDC survey found that one in four high school kids drink soda every day and two in three drink a sugary drink every day. This is actually an improvement -- in previous surveys three-quarters of kids reported drinking a sugary drink each day.
When celebrity athletes drink sugary drinks in ads they do it because they’re paid handsomely to do just that. In real life star athletes usually treat their bodies like a temple. I’m pretty sure they watch what they eat quite carefully, and maximize their potential by eating well. An image that better reflects an athlete’s genuine eating habits is Rafael Nadal’s on-court water and banana combo (Nadal’s often seen snacking on a ripe banana between sets).
A sports drink with breakfast and lunch doesn’t make an athlete – it just makes kids poorly nourished and fat.
Full disclosure: I’m vice president of product development for Herbal Water, where we make organic herb-infused waters that have zero calories and no sugar or artificial ingredients. I’m also a pediatrician and have been promoting good nutrition and healthy lifestyle for many years.