Are sports drinks the best beverage choice for your children?

Clinical dietitian offers tips to get your child to drink more water

Grabbing a sports drink for your child after a competitive game or an afternoon playing in the hot sun is a good idea. Sports drinks replace lost electrolytes and provide one with energy.

But is it OK for children to drink sports drinks, such as Gatorade or Powerade, for an afternoon snack or with a meal?

Haley Cox
Haley Cox, MS, RD, LD, clinical dietitian at St. Joseph’s Hospital

There are benefits to sports drinks for kids who participate in prolonged, vigorous physical activity lasting longer than an hour, says Haley Cox, MS, RD, LD, clinical dietitian at St. Joseph’s Hospital.

Sports drinks contain carbohydrates which provide an immediate source of energy when the body’s stores become depleted. Sports drinks also contain electrolytes – sodium and potassium – that are crucial in keeping the body’s fluid levels in balance and muscles working properly. These electrolytes are lost during sweat.

While there are benefits to sports drinks, parents should moderate how many Gatorades or Powerades their child drinks. Sports drink consumption should be based on activity level and duration of the activity, Cox says.

“Sports drinks are not necessary for the casual athlete and should not be consumed on a regular basis,” Cox says. “It is OK to have one occasionally but plain water would be the better option unless your child participates in vigorous activity for longer than an hour.”

Sports drinks contain calories that can increase the risk of excess weight gain. Parents also should be weary of other ingredients in sports drinks including sugar and caffeine. Additionally, energy drinks should be avoided because the amount of caffeine and other potentially dangerous stimulants can be harmful in large quantities.

Related Article: What is caffeine’s effect on your heart?

Water is the best option

Cox says water is the best drinking beverage for children (as well as adults). It also is important that children consume milk – 2/3 cups per day. Juice mixed with water to decrease the sugar content is an OK option occasionally, Cox adds.

“Any beverage besides water should be consumed in moderation,” Cox says. “Children should be consuming their calories from nutrient dense foods instead of beverages, which often contain empty calories and sugar.”

Water is one of the body’s essential nutrients and is the cornerstone for all body functions, says Cox. It is the most abundant substance in the body, average 60 percent of body weight. Water keeps the body temperature constant, transports nutrients and oxygen to cells, carries waste products away, maintains blood volume and helps lubricate joints and body tissues, such as the mouth, eyes and nose.

How much water does my child need?

According to the Institute of Medicine of the National Academies, the recommended amount of water consumption for children is as follows:

  • 4- to 8-year-old girls and boys: 5, eight-ounce glasses a day
  • 9- to 13-year-old girls: 7, eight-ounce glasses a day
  • 9- to 13-year-old boys: 8, eight-ounce glasses a day
  • 14- to 18-year-old girls: 8, eight-ounce glasses a day
  • 14- to 18-year-old boys: 11, eight-ounce glasses a day

To get your child to drink more water, Cox recommends drinking water with all meals. If your child finds water “boring,” try adding sliced fruit to it. Cox suggests lemon, lime or cucumber to change the flavor.

Related Article: Know the signs of dehydration as we face the dog days of summer

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