May 30th, 2011
11:34 AM ET

Pediatricians: no energy drinks for kids; greatly limit use of sports drinks

Most children and adolescents do not need sports drinks according to a clinical report published in the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). The report also finds that energy drinks are never appropriate for children or teenagers– water should be the primary beverage choice.

"There is a lot of confusion about sports drinks and energy drinks, and adolescents are often unaware of the differences in these products," said Dr. Marcie Beth Schneider, a member of the AAP Committee on Nutrition and co-author of the report.

"Some kids are drinking energy drinks – containing large amounts of caffeine – when their goal is simply to rehydrate after exercise,” she said. “This means they are ingesting large amounts of caffeine and other stimulants, which can be dangerous.”

Sports drinks often suggest optimization of athletic performance, as well as replacement of fluid and electrolytes lost from exercise. They often contain carbohydrates, vitamins and electrolytes such as sodium, potassium, calcium and magnesium.

Energy drinks suggest enhanced concentration and mental alertness. Aside from caffeine, these often contain stimulants like guarana, ginseng, taurine, with varying amounts of carbohydrates, vitamins, proteins and amino acids.

Researchers have linked energy drinks to an increase in heart rate and blood pressure as well as some sleep disturbances and anxiety.

"In many cases, it's hard to tell how much caffeine is in a product by looking at the label," Schneider said. "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 report says that young athletes who participate in vigorous exercise or who are involved in exercise for a prolonged period of time can benefit from the use of sports drinks.

Everyone else, the authors say, should obtain the vitamins and minerals through a well-balanced diet.

"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, said.

"Sports drinks contain extra calories that children don't need, and could contribute to obesity and tooth decay,” she said. “It's better for children to drink water during and after exercise, and to have the recommended intake of juice and low-fat milk with meals. Sports drinks are not recommended as beverages to have with meals.”

A 2007 report by the Institute of Medicine recommended schools limit sugars in food and drinks, restrict sports drinks to use by athletes only during prolonged, vigorous sports activities, prohibit energy drink use, restrict carbonated, fortified or flavored waters and have water available at no cost in schools.

The authors advise pediatricians to discuss sports and energy drinks with patients and their parents.

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