Sports Drinks – Do our young athletes really need them?

Published: 05 Mar 2015

Sports Drinks – Do our young athletes really need them?

The question was asked recently do young basketballers need sports drinks? We asked Accredited Practising Dietitian and Health Coach Susan Williams. The short answer is:

in most cases probably not.
Basketball Guidelines from medical and nutrition bodies suggest that sports drinks may be beneficial for children and adolescents who participate in prolonged vigorous physical activity lasting longer than an hour (such as long-distance running and biking, or high-intensity exercise such as soccer, basketball, or hockey).

Sports drinks are not necessary for the casual athlete and should not be consumed on a regular basis.

Today you can’t blink without a new “sports drink”, “energy drink”, “and vitamin water or performance beverage popping up with a massive marketing budget aimed fairly and squarely at your child. So what’s the difference?

Sports drinks contain carbohydrates (sugar), which can provide an immediate source of energy at a time when the body’s stores are becoming depleted. Sports drinks also contain electrolytes like sodium and potassium, which the body loses through sweat, that are necessary to keep the body’s fluid levels in balance and for muscles to work properly.

Some research shows that children have a poor voluntary fluid intake during exercise and therefore are at greater risk of heat illness. They are more likely to drink sweet drinks than plain water so there may be hydration advantages to providing your child with sports drink.

Energy drinks contain a big hit of caffeine and other stimulants, which are unnecessary and potentially unsafe for children. They may also contain herbs and other additives. The effects of these on children are often untested and unknown. Importantly the American Academy of Pediatrics released a clinical paper on sports drinks and energy drinks that included this advice.

Energy drinks pose potential health risks because of the stimulants they contain, and should never be consumed by children or adolescents.

See what the American Academy of Paediatrics have to say on the matter.

“If you’re going to use sports drinks, it’s good practice to give your young basketballer two drink bottles, one with water the other with sports drink so they can alternate. Stick with the tried and true brands (the ones your dad used at cricket in the 80s) and don’t be swayed by fancy additives, they aren’t necessary.”