The temperatures across the country have hit triple digits and while your kids are outside playing and maybe sweating a bit they need to make sure to stay hydrated. But, do you really know when it is appropriate for them to have water? What about a sports drink?  Who picks?

While pediatricians have been effective in discouraging families from drinking full calorie carbonated beverages, and schools have phased out full-calorie soft drinks in cafeterias and vending machines, there has been huge growth in the sports drink market.   It seems that these sports drinks are now the third fastest growing beverage category in the US, after energy drinks and bottled water. Many of these beverages are being marketed towards children and teens and are not always the best beverage of choice.

Sports drinks are flavored beverages that contain carbohydrates, along with minerals and electrolytes, and they should be used specifically for hydration in athletes. Advertisements would suggest that these products may optimize athletic performance and replace fluid and electrolytes lost in sweat during exercise. For the average child who is just outside playing and participating in routine physical activities, the use of a sports drink is really unnecessary, good old water will do the trick.

It is important to teach children to hydrate with plenty of water before, during and after regular exercise.  If we doctors and parents are encouraging exercise as a means of improving overall health and wellness, providing sugary sports drinks seems counter intuitive. Some kids may not even burn as many calories with their exercise as they may receive from one bottle of a sports drink. In other words a child’s overall daily caloric intake may increase without any real nutritional value provided by a sports drink. Back to reading labels!!

For athletes who are participating in vigorous exercise, or in conditions of prolonged physical activity, blood glucose is an important energy source and may need to be replenished; in which case sports drink providing additional carbohydrate may be appropriate.  But, different sports drinks contain differing amounts of carbs, anywhere from 2-19 grams of carbohydrate per 8 oz serving. The caloric content of sports drinks is 10 – 70 calories per serving.  You must look at the labels and judge the intensity and duration of exercise to decide which drink to use. Children are not looking at calories, but rather the labels they recognize from ads, so pay attention.

With summer here it is good to know that sports drinks really are not indicated for use during meals or snacks, and are not a replacement for low fat milk or water. Turn on the faucet and cut down on calories and cavities!

That’s’ your daily dose for today.  We’ll chat again tomorrow.