Are sports drinks good or bad for you?
Sports drinks are electrolyte-enhanced beverages. Their main purpose is to restore water and electrolytes that are lost during heavy exercise and sweating. They will contain electrolytes like sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium. Many are carbohydrate-based, with added sugars like fructose, glucose and sucrose. Sometimes they contain caffeine.
There are also energy drinks that are often, and unfortunately, confused with sports drinks. Energy drinks typically contain large amounts of caffeine. Many contain other legal stimulants like taurine, guarana and L-carnitine. These energy drinks could reduce fatigue and enhance performance in the short term. However, they are not sports drinks and should not be used when the purpose is to replenish electrolytes and fluids.
Energy drinks can be dangerous when consumed in large quantities. According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1,499 adolescents ages 12 to 17 went to the emergency room for an energy-drink related emergency in 2011. High amounts of caffeine can induce irregular and rapid heartbeats. Individuals may become anxious and develop sleeping problems. Those consuming energy drinks instead of sports drinks or water may become dehydrated. Also, although many ingredients in these energy drinks are marketed as being “natural,” they may be present in much larger quantities than people normally consume.
Parents should keep in mind that there are other beverages that contain caffeine, including coffee and many sodas, and that many sports drinks contain very high levels of caffeine that would far exceed the daily recommended amount. Given that sports drinks really are intended to replace electrolytes and not to be used as a stimulant, it’s best for children to avoid sports drinks with added caffeine.