the dangers lurking within
There are several components to sports and energy drinks: water, which is clearly an essential part of our daily diet and needed for hydration; carbohydrates, an important energy source; and caffeine, in addition to other stimulants. Consuming too much caffeine can lead to negative side effects, such as headaches and sleep disturbances, which can be especially detrimental in a child’s development. “Effects of caffeine include increased heart rate and blood pressure, and increased diuresis which can lead to more rapid dehydration and poor performance,” says Dr. Brett Christiansen, pediatrician at Marshall Medical Center. “The use of caffeine by children and adolescents also raises concern regarding its effects on the developing neurological and cardiovascular systems and potential for dependence,” he explains.
Guarana, another ingredient in sports and energy drinks, contains caffeine and helps to increase energy as well as weight loss. But according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, “one gram of guarana contains 40 milligrams of caffeine.” This amount increases the amount of total caffeine in a drink by a significant amount and is a cause of concern for many. The majority of ingredients found in these drinks – electrolytes (mostly potassium and sodium), amino acids, protein, and vitamins B and C – are just not needed regularly, especially in children getting a healthy balanced diet.
Sky Baucom-Pro, a registered dietician at U.C. Davis Medical Center, has several major trepidations regarding sports and energy drinks – the first being the amount of sugar in the drinks. Not only is she concerned about the added calories this sugar brings, but also is concerned that this additional sugar can lead to tooth decay and further dental problems. In addition, since sports drinks contain so many extra calories, another worry of Baucom-Pro is obesity. “People are replacing milk and water with sports and energy drinks. Because they contain a lot of caffeine, it’s leading to not enough calcium consumption. And with the amount of caffeine that is in these drinks, it is similar to drinking five sodas in one day,” she explains. Further, “It is an added expense to buy sports and energy drinks.”
Margaret Scheller, a registered dietician with Sutter Health, has her own set of concerns and believes that sports and energy drinks have little, if any, nutritional value, and agrees with the concerns of Baucom-Pro, saying, “Filling up on sports drinks may interfere with the consumption of healthy beverages, such as milk, and also healthy foods.”
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, sports drinks are only beneficial for those who engage in prolonged, vigorous physical activities and are unnecessary on the sports field or in the school lunchroom. It is not recommended that kids drink sports and energy drinks unless it is absolutely needed. “Hydration during exercise is important. Some kids don’t pay attention to their thirst and can get dehydrated. Kids need frequent breaks to drink fluids, such as water, and coaches/parents can help schedule these breaks,” adds Scheller.
There are many ways that we can keep these drinks away from kids, starting with parents acting as a role model. “Parents should not purchase these drinks if they don’t want their kids to have them,” explains Scheller. And Baucom-Pro agrees. “Parents need to educate their kids on the potential health risks that could occur; instead, water should be encouraged as the main source of hydration,” she adds.
“Parents need to be aware of the potential risks of increased caloric intake with regards to sports drinks,” says Christiansen.
Scheller also suggests more nutritious alternatives, including water with a splash of real fruit for flavor, such as lemon; fruits with lots of fluid, like watermelon; and orange juice. “It is OK to dilute Gatorade with water, because there isn’t as much sugar,” suggests Baucom-Pro. “Eating a healthy snack or meal to get a quick boost of energy are also better options than a sports or energy drink.”
Additionally, experts suggest that these drinks should not be available on school campuses. Children believe that the beverages are socially acceptable, and having them available so readily on campuses is one way that they can become habit-forming.
By offering alternatives, talking to children about the dangers of sports and energy drinks and not buying them in the first place, parents can be the good influence that kids need when faced with the choice of how to get hydrated.
Article by Dana Lee © Style Media Group.