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Home / News and Events / Health Tips / Water is best for most child athletes
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Water is best for most child athletes

Reviewed By: Kyle Brothers, M.D., a pediatrician in the Division of General Pediatrics at Monroe Carell Jr. Childrenīs Hospital at Vanderbilt, with an interest in childhood obesity. (Last Updated: June 14, 2011)

The American Academy of Pediatrics released a report that espoused what doctors have long known: sports drinks are unhealthy and unnecessary for most children and adolescents.

Water and a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables are sufficient for young athletes.

Sports drinks, which are often heavily marketed toward youth, make promises of optimal athletic performance by replacing fluids and electrolytes (such as salt and potassium) during and after exercise. They are also enticing to children who are casually consuming these drinks because of the variety of colors and flavors.

But these drinks are high in sugar and salt - much more than the average child athlete needs, says Kyle Brothers, M.D., a pediatrician at the Monroe Carell Jr. Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt who practices at the Pediatric Weight Management Clinic.

"Children playing sports mainly need to replenish with water," said Brothers. "Children may sometimes need to replenish some of the sugar they expend during sports, but it is best for them to get that through healthy foods like fruit."

The high sugar and salt content of sports drinks can cause health problems such as obesity and high blood pressure. Studies have shown that sugary beverages have been linked to obesity. Similarly, excessive salt consumption over time can lead to high blood pressure.

Children should also avoid the zero-calorie sports drinks because they still contain high sodium.

In his daily practice, Brothers sees children who report consuming sports drinks because they mistakenly believe they are healthier than Kool-Aid or soda.

Sports drinks may benefit some young athletes, however.

"For a small number of children, participation in sports is an intense activity. For example, teenagers participating in summer conditioning for a football team may be out in the heat for several hours during the day," said Brothers.

But for most children and adolescents, water will do just as well.

"The best approach is to provide both unrestricted water access and frequent reminders to ‘drink up,'" Brothers said. "The hotter it is the more frequently children need to take rest and drink breaks."

The American Academy of Pediatrics also offers these tips to prevent dehydration:

  • Never restrict fluids for any reason. Make sure that drinks are available at all times.
  • Plain water is the best drink for most athletes. Carbonated drinks should not be used.
  • Athletes need to drink 4 to 8 ounces of water every 15 to 20 minutes during activity.
  • Thirst is not a reliable guide for the need for water. An athlete may become dehydrated before he or she feels thirsty.
  • Body weight should be about the same before and after activity.

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