Parents have been thirsty to ask me whether or not high-energy drinks or sports drinks are good for their children. Let me quench everyone’s thirst and provide some information on this topic.

Sports drinks may be beneficial to children who participate in prolonged vigorous physical activity. Examples include long-distance running, biking or high intensity exercise like soccer or basketball. Sports drinks are not necessary for the casual athlete, who should turn to water instead.

While these drinks contain vitamins and minerals, they’re also full of carbohydrates or sugars. Carbs and sugars can be an immediate source of energy when the body’s stores are becoming depleted from physical activity. But if your child drinks them as part of a meal or not after exercise, they could cause weight gain.

High energy drinks, on the other hand, are full of sugar and caffeine. Some have as much caffeine as one-to-three cups of coffee. That much caffeine can lead to jitteriness, nervousness, headaches, difficulty sleeping and frequent urination. Paired with sugar, that much caffeine can also increase the potential for dental cavities and weight gain. Large amounts of caffeine can increase heart rate, blood pressure and even result in hallucinations and seizures. 

While you might think high energy drinks would improve sports performance, they actually do just the opposite. Caffeine can make someone urinate more and become dehydrated rather than hydrated. 

So what do I recommend? Sport drinks should be used only during physical activity and high-energy drinks should be avoided entirely for children and teens. But that is easier said than done. At most, a teen should consume no more than one high-energy drink a day. They should avoid drinking these at night or they will have trouble sleeping.

Do you want to know the best way for a teen to excel on the field and in the classroom? Make sure they get enough sleep, eat a well-balanced diet, and stay hydrated – with water.

Hopefully these tips will energize you to talk with your children about the pros and cons of sport and high-energy drinks.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.  You can also catch “First with Kids” weekly on WOKO 98.9FM and MyNBC 5, or visit the “First with Kids” video archives at www.UVMHealth.org/MedCenterFirstWithKids.

Lewis First, MD, is chief of Pediatrics at The University of Vermont Children’s Hospital and chair of the Department of Pediatrics at the Robert Larner, M.D. College of Medicine at the University of Vermont.

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