Approximately 25% of South African children and adolescents are currently either overweight or obese. One factor driving this is the excessive consumption of sugar and other refined carbohydrates. A common source of refined carbohydrate in our children’s diets comes in the form of sports drinks that may also contain minerals, electrolytes and sometimes vitamins. These drinks are aggressively marketed to children and adolescents – they claim to enhance performance, and to replace fluid and electrolytes during and after exercise. Incidentally, sports drinks are not necessarily healthier than carbonated soft drinks, as often promoted.
Careful consideration is needed when choosing what and how much to give your child during and after physical activity in order to prevent excessive sugar and calorie intake that could contribute to the problem of overweight and obesity. The South African Institute for Drug Free Sport offers some useful advice. For the average child or adolescent involved in routine physical activity, a sports drink is typically unnecessary and water only should be encouraged for optimal hydration. Only those young people engaged in vigorous, long-duration and/or high-volume training could benefit from a sports drink that is carefully considered and planned within a well-balanced dietary intake.
Only where exercise levels are high and prolonged (typically more than 60-90 minutes) could a sports drink be beneficial to help meet the energy requirement needed to sustain exercise capacity and performance in both youth and adults. As far as electrolyte replenishment goes, sports drinks typically do not contain very high amounts of these, but replenishment can be achieved by eating natural, unprocessed food before or after exercise. The same applies to the vitamin and mineral content of sports drinks.
Similar to regular cool drinks, excessive sports drink ingestion adds significant calories without adding any other nutritional value. This could compromise optimal growth, development, body composition and health, especially in those who do not exercise sufficiently to warrant sports drink ingestion. A well-balanced dietary intake is encouraged as the best and safest way to get the full range of nutrients the body needs for energy, growth and development. Children and adolescents should have free access to water throughout the day and during exercise, and should drink water routinely as the first beverage of choice.
Let’s get back to basics and encourage our children to drink simple, old fashioned tap water.
Dr Glenn Hagemann
MBChB. Dip Anaes. MedSci
031 312 1136