No matter the sporting event, grade school parents are sure to spot the squat plastic bottle in an unworldly assortment of bright rainbow colors from neon yellow to crystal purple: manufactured sports drinks. Previously exclusively marketed to adult amateur athletes, the industry saw a wide-open market in children’s sports and went in full-throttle, offering kid-friendly flavors and bright colors that appeal to the grade-school set.
It’s true that after rigorous exercise — especially in hot weather — you need to replenish lost fluids, electrolytes and sodium lost through sweating, but are these highly marketed sports drinks the right way to go, especially for little ones?
Weird Science: Ingredients in Gatorade & Co.
Reading the ingredients label on a bottle of Gatorade might make you wish you paid more attention in chemistry class. Aside from filtered water, depending on the formula, you can find brominated vegetable oil, sucralose, HFCS, citric acid, sodium citrate, monopotassium phosphate, glycerol ester of wood rosin and artificial colors and flavors.
I don’t know about you, but I don’t think I’d like to give my son a bottle of glycerol ester of wood rosin, even if it does help keep all those ingredients nicely emulsified and stabilized.
Keep It Straight: Sports drinks vs. energy drinks
The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) is especially concerned about the confusion between sports drinks and energy drinks. Energy drinks, which contain high levels of stimulants such as caffeine, taurine and guarana, have been linked to a number of harmful health effects in children, including effecting developing neurological and cardiovascular systems.
Sports drinks and energy drinks should never be used interchangeably. Parents need to pay attention to labels, especially when drinks are provided by other families and handed out freely at sporting events.
The AAP notes that sports drinks can be helpful for young athletes engaged in prolonged vigorous activities to replace lost water and electrolytes. ZisBoomBah nutritionist LisaLanzano, MS, RD, agrees.
“For activities over 45 minutes in duration, kids need more than water. Especially on hot days, when kids may be outside for hours on a field in the sun, they will need more energy. A little sugar and a little salt actually help the body absorb fluids more efficiently.”
Lisa recommends making your own sports drinks by diluting regular fruit juice by 50% and adding a pinch of salt. “For each 8-ounce serving, you are talking about 1/16 of a teaspoon of salt. That’s all you need to replace sodium lost through sweat,” Lisa advises.
Following are some delicious and healthy sports drinks recipes you can feel good about giving to your special little athlete.
Subtly sweet with a hint of spice, this refreshing drink is a great thirst quencher on family hikes.
A recipe based on the classic yellow sports drink, with electrolyte and sodium replenishment.