Try water and a banana: Why you, or your kids, probably don’t need a sports drink

Published 12:00 am Thursday, June 21, 2018

While staying hydrated during outdoor activities is always a high priority as the weather heats up, most of us should just stick with water in most cases, according to Novant Health doctors.

 Dr. Caroline Brown, a pediatrician with Novant Health Twin City Pediatrics in Clemmons, offers her guidance here. And the advice applies to adults, as well.

Are sports drinks good for you?  

Sports drinks such as Gatorade or Powerade are flavored beverages that contain carbohydrates and electrolytes, including sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium, along with lots of extra calories intended to replace fluids and electrolytes lost through sweat during intense exercise. These drinks were originally designed for elite college and professional athletes exercising for hours at a time, not for a child playing youth sports (or adults in most situations) and certainly not for a pickup game of basketball in the driveway.

The American Academy of Pediatrics released a clinical report in 2011 addressing kids’ consumption of energy and sports drinks, titled “Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks for Children and Adolescents: Are They Appropriate?” And the short answer is no, or at least not in most cases.

Extra weight and tooth decay     

Extra carbohydrates and calories in these drinks can prove quite harmful, if consumed regularly. Many sports drinks contain as much sugar as soda! Those extra calories contribute to excessive weight gain and tooth decay.

It’s also worth noting that children don’t lose vitamins during exercise, so vitamin water beverages are not necessary, either. Even worse than sports drinks are energy drinks that contain stimulants such as caffeine and guarana. Energy drinks can be harmful when consumed regularly by young children and can increase their blood pressure, heart rate and cause anxiety.

The ideal drink 

The drink of choice is almost always water. And water paired with a banana or a few orange slices is the best choice out there — way healthier than any sports drink.

How much water does a child need? The exact answer depends on their age and weight, but here are some good guidelines: On a regular day, a toddler needs 16 to 32 ounces; a child 4 to 8 years old needs 36 to 60 ounces; and children 9 and older need 64 ounces or more.

And for your athletes, children should have access to a water bottle to drink every 15 to 20 minutes while exercising, especially in the heat of the summer. Guidelines suggest children should drink 3 to 8 ounces every 20 minutes for kids 9 to 12 years of age, and teens should drink 9 to 12 ounces every 20 minutes while vigorously exercising.

Not just kids… 

Hydration is a topic everyone should keep in mind this time of year, said Dr. James Jewell, an internal medicine physician and pediatrician at Novant Health Mountainview Medical, who sees both children and adult patients at his clinic in King.

“I can’t emphasize this point enough: Most of us just don’t take in enough fluids,” Jewell said. “For athletes the requirement is significantly higher, especially with outdoor sports during the summer months. But things that people of all ages should remember include doing outdoor activities during lower heat times of the day, getting plenty of fluids and breaks and being vigilant about watching for the early signs of heat stress.”

A how-to guide to beat the heat

  • Drink water before, during and after practice.
  • Acclimate. Gradually increase activity frequency and duration when starting a new sport (especially in the heat).
  • Dress appropriately: Wear light-colored, lightweight and loose-fitting clothing.
  • Practice sports at cooler times: Limit practice at midday when temperatures are highest.
  • Know warning signs of dehydration, which include dry/sticky mouth, headache, dizziness, muscle cramping, excessive fatigue and confusion.