What to look for in your kids’ sports drink

By Janis Meredith | Posted 1/22/2018

What’s the best kids’ sports drink for your child to consume? There are so many that claim to be the best, how’s a parent to know?

A while back, I was one of the speakers at the Elite Soccer Summit, and one of the other speakers was Nancy Clark, author of “Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook.” Nancy confirmed what I’d already heard from other experts: Sports drinks are designed for endurance exercises because they replenish electrolytes and carbohydrates.

They make sense if your child is working out for more than an hour and-a-half, if it’s really hot or humid, or if your child is doing high-intensity workouts.

“More than 60 minutes of sports activity may require a sports drink containing 6 percent to 8 percent carbohydrates,” says Jim White, a spokesperson for the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. “Hydration is dependent on how long the young athlete is involved in strenuous activity; endurance sports like swimming and soccer will require more hydration.”

During a high-intensity workout, the average body loses around .8 to 1.4 liters of sweat per hour, which is one to two 24-ounce water bottles! Sports drinks supposedly fill each bottle with sodium and electrolytes to address sweat loss, and carbohydrates and sugar to help refuel muscles.

When children sweat a lot over a long period of time, their bodies lose water and some amounts of potassium, calcium, and magnesium. Stacy Sims, PhD, research scientist and hydration expert for the University of Waikato, ways the idea that you can replace electrolytes is somewhat inaccurate. What your athlete needs is just enough sodium and other electrolytes to help absorb and retain fluids.

Which sports drink to choose?

When looking for the best sports drink, the first step is to read the label. Most sports drinks contain water, sugar (which provides carbs for quick energy, but too much of it means more calories), and a few electrolytes (which help your body absorb and retain fluids), sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium and artificial colors and flavors, which you really don’t need. Keep in mind that sports drinks should also follow the 6 percent to 8 percent carbohydrate guideline to minimize weight gain and side effects from high-sugar content.

Since I’m not a nutritionist, I consulted with my friend Cassie from Nutrition Nibbles Consulting about what parents should look for in a sports drink for their young athletes. Cassie suggests you look for drinks with the lowest possible sugar content. It’s recommended that children consume no more than 25 to 30 grams of added sugar per day, so if your children drink one sports drink, they may use up a good portion of that (and no artificial sweeteners). The sad fact is that 50 percent of the added sugars in children’s diets comes from sugar-sweetened beverages like soda, sports drinks, and fruit juices (taken from the National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey).

Because sports drinks often contain high amounts of sugar, children could experience nausea, cramps, and diarrhea when they’re dehydrated. Water for rehydrating, in conjunction with a balanced diet that includes sodium, allows child athletes to function optimally without added sports drinks.

So, if you don’t feel comfortable about sports drinks, what’s an alternative?

My friend, Mike Guevara, fitness trainer for the New Orleans Pelicans, suggests making your own with this recipe:

To make 20 ounces:

1/2 parts coconut water

1/2 parts filtered water

1 tablespoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon Matcha Green Tea Powder

1 tablespoon local organic honey

Over the years, experts have learned that athletes need a small percentage of carbohydrate solution and trace amounts of electrolytes, in the form of sodium and potassium, to keep the body hydrated and functioning efficiently. Extra sugar, colorings and flavorings are not needed and should be avoided as much as possible.

Parents, here’s the bottom line:

The average American child or adolescent does not engage in enough physical activity to warrant consumption of sports drinks.

Remember, for sports that have less than 60 minutes of exertion, your main concern should not be a loss of electrolytes like sodium, chloride, and potassium because in shorter periods, your child will sweat less. The electrolytes lost can be replaced by eating fruits and vegetables rich in potassium like tomatoes, oranges, and potatoes and also pickles, ham, and cheese.

Children who are merely playing outside, or even only playing for an hour, are probably fine with water. Save the sports drinks – with as low sugar as possible – (or homemade one) for endurance activities.

Get your children used to drinking water when they are thirsty. Real hydration starts way before the sports event. Your child should make a habit of drinking lots of water to be properly hydrated when it comes to game time.

Janis B. Meredith is a life coach for sports parents. She provides resources to help parents give their children a positive and growing youth sports experience. Learn more about how she can help parents have Less Stress and More Fun in Youth Sports.