Student Well-Being

Give Student-Athletes Water, Not Sports Drinks, Study Says

By Bryan Toporek — May 31, 2011 2 min read
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Virtually all student-athletes should be turning to water instead of energy drinks (containing caffeine) or sports drinks (such as Gatorade) during and after exercise, according to a new study

from the American Academy of Pediatrics.

“For most children engaging in routine physical activity, plain water is best,” Dr. Holly Benjamin, from the AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, and co-author of the report, told CNN.

The exception, at least for sports drinks, comes for athletes who engage in prolonged vigorous activity, says the study. Or, as Dr. Benjamin told NPR,"That’s for my high-level athlete, who’s exercising like crazy, sweating intensely, for more than an hour at a time.”

The report clarifies sports drinks to be “beverages that may contain carbohydrates, minerals, electrolytes, and flavoring and are intended to replenish water and electrolytes lost through sweating during exercise.” Energy drinks, on the other hand, include “substances that act as nonnutritive stimulants, such as caffeine, guarana ...”

The authors conclude that energy drinks have no place in a student-athlete’s diet, citing dental erosion, obesity, and caffeine addiction as three possible side effects. The report continually stresses the importance of teaching children and parents the substantial difference between sports and energy drinks, as both are often targeted toward the same audience.

Sports drinks don’t fare much better, though. The authors note that the carbohydrates in sports drinks can also lead to dental erosion and obesity in youths, and recommend that “children and adolescents should be taught to drink water routinely as an initial beverage of choice as long as daily dietary caloric and other nutrient needs are being met.” (Again, it’s worth noting that they do suggest sports drinks for athletes engaging in more than one hour of vigorous activity at a time, so Derrick Rose can feel free to continue promoting Gatorade.)

One part of the report that shocked this sports-drink-loving author: Children and adolescents often meet their daily electrolyte requirements through their normal diet. So, those claims about sports drinks replacing lost electrolyes really only apply to those vigorous exercisers.

The authors also note that since beverage-makers had agreed

to phase out carbonated beverages in schools by the 2009-10 school year, they’ve upped their promotion of sports drinks as a healthier alternative. A 2007 study by the Institute of Medicine cited in the report recommended that schools prohibit energy-drink use (even for athletes), ban the sale of carbonated beverages in school, and restrict the use of sports drinks to only student-athletes engaged in intense, prolonged physical activities.

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A version of this news article first appeared in the Schooled in Sports blog.