Sports Drinks, Kids, and Electrolytes

RECENTLY AT MY THREE YEAR OLD SON’S SOCCER PRACTICE I noticed something that, quite frankly, made me cringe: parents giving their kids sports drinks.

The sports drink industry has done a great job of making us all think that if we sweat a little (or in the case of most three-year-olds playing soccer, not at all) we need to replenish our electrolytes. But that isn’t quite the whole truth.*

Do kids need electrolyte replacement after playing sports?

The answer is: probably not, at least in the case of young kids playing casual sports.

According to the the President’s Council on Fitness and Sports:  “Generally, electrolyte replacement is not needed during short bursts of exercise since sweat is approximately 99% water and less than 1% electrolytes.”

And Running Times Magazine explains that you might need to worry about electrolyte replacement  “[i]f you sweat a lot and/or you seem to be caked with salt after [long] runs.”

Why not sports drinks?

Sports drinks taste good. They’re colorful. Kids like them. So why not let them drink it, the extra electrolytes can’t hurt, right?

True, the extra unneeded electrolytes won’t hurt your kids, but the extra calories, excess sugar, dyes, non-electrolyte chemical additives, and, in some cases, artificial sweeteners might.

If kids are getting exercise, moving their bodies, and being healthy, giving them unneeded sports drinks is undoing all the great healthiness of it all. It’s just one more source of sugar and calories that, as a society, we’ve added to our diets and accepted as “normal”. Not to mention that sports drinks are expensive — remove them from your food bill and you can add some organic fruit, vegetables, or meats.

What if my kids really do sweat so much they need electrolyte replacement?

If you do find your kids sweating profusely or caked with salt after their activities, it’s good to remember that the regular food we eat also contains electrolytes, as Running Times Magazine points out:

“[T]he usual foods we eat contain far more electrolytes than sports drinks. For example, a medium banana contains about 450mg of potassium, whereas Gatorade provides 30mg per 8-ounce serving…. After a long run, a meal consisting of 8 ounces of yogurt and a can of chicken noodle soup would adequately replace lost electrolytes (potassium and sodium)…”

And of course, have kids drink a lot of water during sports or active play.

The bottom line:

When it comes to kids and sports or active play, nothing hydrates like good old water — and lots of it. If your kids do seem to need electrolyte replacement, a banana, yogurt, or chicken noodle soup is much healthier (and better source of electrolytes. Sports drinks, for the general public, are unnecessary, expensive, and full of calories, sugar, and chemicals we don’t need in our — or our kid’s — bodies.

*I’m not talking about illnesses involving diarrhea and vomiting, which may deplete electrolytes.