Are sports drinks safe for kids?

“If my child is playing sport, do they need a sports drink?”

This is such a common question, and one which parents ask me regularly.  Most parents have been warned about the health risks of soft drinks and energy drinks such as excess calorie consumption, dental decay and added stimulants. 

But when it comes to the so called ‘healthier’ option of sports drink, there are some important considerations to help you decide whether they really are okay for your child.

1. If kids don’t play sport, they don’t need sports drink: For kids just hanging out with friends, sports drink is an absolute no-no (just as much as soft drink should be). They are full of empty calories and contain few of the vital nutrients that growing bodies require.

2. If kids play recreational sport, they probably don’t need a sports drink: For kids playing a weekend soccer game, water and a snack are usually enough. The same goes for training during the week which often lasts for around an hour. Make sure they are well hydrated prior to starting and have a healthy snack ready for when they finish which includes some protein and carbohydrates.

3. If they play competitive sport, they may benefit from a sports drink: Once children reach adolescence they may be training and competing for long hours and at higher intensity. For these adolescent athletes that are engaging in high energy physical activity, a sports drink may be beneficial.  We know that without an energy source such as a sports drink that their performance will start to decline for sessions over about 60-90 minutes.  So, for this group using a lower sugar and natural sports drink such as BINDI may be beneficial to their performance in both training and competitions.

4. Some sports drinks contain as much sugar as a soft drink: Buyer beware! The ‘traditional’ and well-known brands of premixed and coloured sports drinks that are readily available at gyms etc are just a soft drink disguised with some clever branding and marketing to make you think they are healthy. Steer clear of these if you want your kids to be the healthiest, fittest athlete they can be.

5. Sports drinks contain salt: Once again, for competitive athletes, the salt is important to replace what they are sweating out when exercising.  But if kids aren’t doing intense exercise the extra salt is more than their small bodies need. 

6. Energy drinks are not okay to give to a child (or adults for that matter): Just in case this isn’t clear, energy drinks contain all the sugar of soft drinks PLUS added chemical stimulants such as caffeine. Drinking energy drinks has been linked to behaviour problems, depression, substance use, heart and kidney failure, seizures and even death. Just in case you weren’t sure…

7. Kids don’t need added chemicals: Artificial colours and flavours commonly found in traditional sports drinks are associated with potential health risks such as cancers, allergies and hypersensitivities, and so should be avoided in our kids.

So; the final verdict is that up until the teenage years when kids enter highly competitive sport, they most likely don’t need a sports drink.  And when you do use one, make sure it is lower sugar and free from artificial colours, flavours and chemical stimulants, like our BINDI Natural Sports Hydration.

Always make sure kids look after their dental hygiene but flushing their mouth out with water and cleaning teeth regularly, and consider using a sports drink powder at half strength for their smaller bodies. And, remember to talk to your kids about their options around exercise and nutrition, so they understand how to make healthy lifestyle choices for themselves as they grow.

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