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Sports and Energy Drinks: Not Kids Stuff
The American Academy of Pediatrics recently came out with a statement and guidelines for pediatricians and parents regarding children and teens' use of sports and energy drinks. The AAP recommends specifically discussing these drinks at routine health care visits.(1)
Advertising claims about sports and energy drinks range from helping hydrate you after exercise or play to improving athletic performance. But both types of beverages deliver risks along with their refreshment. And the differences in the formulas making up these two types of beverages make it important to distinguish between the two.
Sports drinks, such as Gatorade and Powerade, usually contain carbohydrates, minerals, electrolytes and flavoring. Their purpose is to replace the water and electrolytes that are lost during sweating. But these drinks contain large amounts of sugar and contribute to childhood obesity just as soda does.
"For most children engaging in routine physical activity, plain water is best," Holly J. Benjamin, MD, FAAP, a member of the executive committee of the AAP Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, and a co-author of the report said. "Sports drinks contain extra calories that children don’t need, and could contribute to obesity and tooth decay. 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."
There is no reason at all for children and teens to consume energy drinks, according to the AAP report. These drinks, such as Monster Energy and Red Bull, typically contain stimulants including caffeine, guarana, taurine, ginseng, l-carnitine, creatinine and glucuronolactone. Their stated purpose is to enhance athletic performance, endurance and concentration. The dose of caffeine they deliver is both potentially dangerous and unnecessary for children and teens.
This danger of energy drinks is compounded by the fact that adolescents tend not to differentiate between them and sports drinks.(2) They see both has having the same benefits and are unaware of the potential risks from overuse and possible caffeine overdose.
Too Much CaffeineMarcie Beth Schneider, MD, FAAP, a member of the AAP Committee on Nutrition and co-author of the report described the problem: "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."
Caffeine and kids are not a good combination. Caffeine can increase heart rate, blood pressure, and cause restlessness and sleep disturbances. It can increase anxiety. There are concerns about the effect of caffeine on the developing nervous system of children as well as concerns about the development of addiction to the stimulant. Caffeine withdrawal can cause troubling symptoms including headache, fatigue, difficulty concentrating, irritability and other problems.(3)
Because energy drinks vary in the concentration and sources of caffeine in them, parents and children may have difficulty knowing how much they are getting. Guarana, a caffeine-containing plant extract, is a common stimulant ingredient in energy drinks. One gram of guarana equals about 40 mg of caffeine. For comparison, cola contains about 35 mg per 8 ounces (or about 55 mg per 12-ounce can); brewed coffee has 145 mg in 8 ounces. Crystal Light Energy drink has 120 mg caffeine in 16 ounces, and Red Bull 80 mg in 8 ounces.(4) Two hundred to 400 mg of caffeine is considered a lethal dose.(4)