In the majority of cases, an exercising child needs to drink to rehydrate, and there is nothing better than water for that. Energy drinks contain a lot of caffeine, which if taken in large amounts can be dangerous for a child, experts have written in the journal Pediatrics.

Energy and sports drinks are aggressively marketed at children and teenagers.

According to a clinical report issued by AAP (American Academy of Pediatrics) which looks at the ingredients of sports and energy drinks, there is a great deal of confusion and misuse of these products.

Report co-author, Marcie Beth Schneider, MD, FAAP, a member of the AAP Committee on Nutrition, said:

“There is a lot of confusion about sports drinks and energy drinks, and adolescents are often unaware of the differences in these products. Some kids are drinking energy drinks – containing large amounts of caffeine – when their goal is simply to rehydrate after exercise. This means they are ingesting large amounts of caffeine and other stimulants, which can be dangerous.”

Holly J. Benjamin, MD, FAAP, explains that sports drinks and energy drinks are completely different products:

  • Sports Drinks – these contain carbohydrates, electrolytes, flavoring and minerals. They are supposed to replace electrolytes and water lost through sweating. Young athletes who are involved in vigorous and prolonged sports may benefit from sports drinks. However, in the majority of cases they are unnecessary.
  • Energy Drinks – these contain stimulants, such as taurine, guarana and caffeine. Caffeine has been associated with several damaging effects on children, effects which may harm the child’s cardiovascular and developing neurologic systems. Energy drinks are totally unsuitable for children and teenagers.

Dr. Benjamin is a member of the executive committee of the AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness.

There is a list of the following products and their ingredients in this latest report: All Sport Body Quencher (All Sport, Inc), All Sport Naturally Zero (All Sport, Inc), Gatorade (PepsiCo Inc), Gatorade Propel (PepsiCo Inc), Gatorade Endurance (PepsiCo Inc), Gatorade G2 (PepsiCo Inc), Powerade Zero (Coca-Cola Company), Powerade (Coca- Cola Company), Powerade Ion4 (Coca-Cola Company), and Accelerade (Pacific Health Laboratories, Inc).

Dr. Schneider said:

“In many cases, it’s hard to tell how much caffeine is in a product by looking at the label. Some cans or bottles of energy drinks can have more than 500 mg of caffeine, which is the equivalent of 14 cans of soda.”

The AAP has the following recommendations:

  • Education – pediatricians are encouraged to explain the difference between energy drinks and sports drinks to their child patients and their parents or caregivers. Health risks should be clearly explained.
  • Energy drinks – children and teenagers should never consume energy drinks. They contain stimulants and pose a real health risk for children. Patients and whoever care for them should be fully informed about this.
  • Sugar in sports drinks – in the majority of cases the exercising child needs rehydration, not extra calories. The carbohydrates in sports drinks may contribute to overweight and obesity risk. There is also the problem of dental erosion.
  • When to use sports drinks – patients and their parents/caregivers should be told that sports drinks should only be consumed by children and teenagers when they are engaged in prolonged, vigorous exercise – it is only then that there may be a need for carbohydrates and electrolytes as well as rehydration. In all other cases, they should be drinking water.
  • Water – in the vast majority of cases the main source of hydration for sporty children and adolescents should be water.

“Clinical Report – Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks for Children and Adolescents: Are They Appropriate?”
Pediatrics. Published onlin May 29, 2011. DOI: 10.1542/peds.2011-0965

Written by Christian Nordqvist