Sports and energy drinks are allegedly the beverages of choice for active people and for those who want to appear as if they are active. They choose such drinks for various reasons: in part to look cool, in part to replenish those salts and electrolytes they lost in action, and in part because advertising told them it was the thing to do.
But drinking those beverages comes with a risk, especially for adolescents and teens. And those risks far outweigh the virtual lack of positive effects of consuming such drinks.
Sugar consumption is always an issue when it comes to adolescents. Sugary cereals advertised by cool mascots and sugary drinks pushed by celebrities are huge problems.
Among children who consume sugar-laden drinks (colas, iced teas, fruit drinks, fruit juice and sports drinks), there is increased risk of dental issues, obesity and diabetes. And drinks flavored with high-fructose corn syrup make these issues worse.
According to a recent study published in the Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics, the consumption of soft drinks and fruit drinks declined among U.S. adolescents from 1999-2008, but the rate of sports and energy drink consumption tripled.
A matter of definition
While it may seem like splitting hairs, there is a difference between sports and energy drinks. And this is important for parents of adolescents in terms of leading them to better choices.
Basically, sports drinks are flavored beverages that contain high amounts of sugar, minerals and electrolytes. They are marketed as drinks that help the body replenish itself after a tough workout.
Energy drinks, on the other hand, contain high doses of caffeine and additional “natural stimulants” that increase caffeine’s effects. They also tend to contain high amounts of sugar in addition to protein, vitamins and minerals. And they are marketed as aiding concentration in addition to physical performance.
What kid wouldn’t want these? Yes, adults consume these drinks, too. But their bodies are better equipped to process them, and older people are more moderate in their consumption.
Adolescents, on the other hand, should not be consuming sports drinks or energy drinks. Period.
The problem is they do because marketing tells them it is healthy and cool. And since the Food and Drug Administration considers such drinks “dietary supplements,” they are mostly unregulated. This means the average energy drink can contain almost 10 mg of caffeine as compared to the average soft drink, which contains less than 4 mg.
Children at risk
A 2014 report for nurses about these drinks warns
“… “these drinks create a risk for overstimulation of the nervous system, they should not be consumed by adolescents. Consumption of energy drinks by young people has resulted in cases of seizure, myocardial arrhythmia, and even death.”
Lifestyles affected, too
A study published in the May 2014 issue of the Journal of Nutrition Education and Behavior examined the “patterns of adolescent sports and energy drink (SED) and their behavioral correlates.
For the study, 2,793 adolescents (53.2 percent girls) in grades 6–12, from 20 middle and high school in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, completed classroom-administered surveys. Here are some points of findings:
More than 33 percent of adolescents consumed sports drinks.
About 15 percent consumed energy drinks at least once per week.
Both types of drink consumption were related to higher video game use.
“Weekly consumption of both sports and energy drinks among adolescents is significantly associated with higher consumption of other sugar-sweetened beverages, cigarette smoking, and screen media use.”
The issue really is how to stay energized and hydrated during physical activity. The best way is to provide nutrient-dense meals and snacks to children so that their bodies are strong and healthy and can withstand the prolonged physical activity they need. This includes plenty of organic green leafy vegetables, sweet potatoes, nuts, proteins and the like. Of course, skipping sugar-crashing sweets and high-caloric fruit juices is important.
In terms of hydrating foods, the best are cucumbers, watermelon and celery. They are nutritious and are full of water to hydrate the body.
Where drinks are concerned, water is the best option. You don’t need a drink to replace salt, sugars and other minerals lost during exercise. That’s what a balanced diet is for. Beverages are needed to hydrate and keep the body hydrated.
But if you’re looking for a drink to work better than a sports drink, try coconut water or low-fat chocolate milk. Both are proven to be better at replenishing the body after exercise than the unhealthy sports and energy drinks marketing companies love to push on our kids.