The Truth About Sports Drinks


Does your child consume Gatorade or other “sports” drinks at practices and games due to the belief that drinking them will give them energy and replace the electrolytes and fluids that are lost during vigorous exercise?

What Sugar Means to Your Brain
Humans love sugary foods—in fact, we’re biologically programmed to like sweet foods because our brains release serotonin and beta-endorphins when we eat them, causing us to feel relaxed and less stressed. Notwithstanding this, the parents of our NYC pediatric dental patients understand the need to keep sugary foods and beverages to a minimum in order to decrease the risk for dental cavities.
What our parents might not realize, however, is that the sugar in sports and energy drinks isn’t the sole reason to avoid them: it’s also the acid.

The Dangers of Acid in Sports Drinks
All sports drinks literally bathe the teeth in acid, which can lead to irreversible enamel damage, increased tooth sensitivity and a higher risk for cavities.

Do Children Need Sports Drinks?
It’s important for everyone—including children—to stay hydrated during and after vigorous exercise. When engaging in forceful physical activity, we do lose fluids and electrolytes. Logically, water is the go-to method of hydration, as it has no sugar. But what about the need to replace the lost electrolytes?

What Are Electrolytes?
Minerals that maintain our body’s brain, muscle and nerve functions are called electrolytes. These include the minerals calcium, potassium, sodium, chloride, magnesium and phosphate. Combined with water and a carbohydrate, such as sugar, energy or sports drinks help the body’s fluid and electrolytes balance recover from depletion while the carbs provide energy.
However, the average healthy individual, including children, must exercise vigorously for at least an hour to deplete the body’s store of glucose, electrolytes and fluids to the level that replenishment is needed.

More Reasons to Avoid Sports Drinks
Sports drinks come in a nearly endless rainbow of pretty colors: pink, yellow, green, robin’s egg blue, purple and more. What provides this array of pigmented options are food dyes, such as Blue No. 1, Yellow No. 5 and Red No. 40. These petroleum products are linked to increased hyperactivity in children, as well as some cancers. The colors may be pretty, but their connections to hyperactivity and cancer are not.

Is There an Alternative to Sports Drinks?
For most kids, water is an effective replacement for the amount of fluids lost in sports. Few children will lose a significant number of electrolytes in a normal sporting practice or even a game, unless they play continuously for an hour or longer and/or temps are high. Providing fresh water, with or without electrolyte supplementation, is usually enough. Check Amazon for “electrolyte drops,” which are flavorless and easily added to a water bottle. If you’d like to make a healthy sports drink at home, check out this recipe.

If your sports-minded kiddos are already “hooked” on sports drinks, here are some ideas to mitigate the damage of consuming them:

  1. Instruct your child to rinse the mouth with water after drinking a sports drink;
  2. An alternative is to chew sugarless gum after consumption to increase saliva flow, which lowers acid levels in the mouth;
  3. Offer water as an alternative, including water with electrolyte drops if you have concerns that the level of exertion may warrant electrolyte replacement.
  4. Provide a sports drink only when warranted, i.e., not as a beverage with meals, snacks or non-sporting activities.
  5. Be sure your children understand the issues involved with sports drinks, such as tooth decay, food dyes, etc. Doing so helps them become aware of their choices.