Is it OK for my 10-year-old to have a sports drink after a hockey game?
The reason to drink post-exercise is rehydration. So the answer depends on what kind of workout intensity is being undertaken and on what your 10-year-old son means by a sports drink. Not all so-called sport drinks are the same. Often with a light intensity workout, water is all you need, although it may lack the packaging and claims that many so-called sports drinks offer. For most 10-year-olds playing hockey for an hour, I really do not see the need for a sports drink, no matter how sweaty they get.
The main ingredients in sports drinks are water, sugar, sodium and sometimes, caffeine. If the drink is an ‘energy drink’ containing caffeine then the answer, from my point of view, is always no. There can be risks from caffeine and related stimulants in children. Further, if the child is overweight then the sports drink can contribute to that problem with calories that are not needed.
A rehydration sports drink without caffeine is not necessarily harmful. However, there is limited and questionable evidence for any benefit to these drinks. Generally speaking, a child doing typical activity needs a healthy balanced diet and to drink water for rehydration purposes. Water lacks electrolytes and carbohydrate energy that high performance athletes need to compete at their best and in these cases a properly formulated sports drink can be useful.
On the other hand, a well formulated sports drink is better than fruit juice. Ounce for ounce, sports drinks have about half the calories and sugar of fruit juice or regular soft drinks. Dr. Bob Murray of the Gatorade Sports Science Center points out that Gatorade has only 50 calories and 14 grams carbohydrates per 8-oz serving versus fruit juice or regular soda, which have 100 to 110 calories and 27 grams of carbohydrates per 8 oz serving.
I often tell my young athletic patients to try chocolate milk. Research shows that chocolate milk supplies the right balance of carbs and protein muscles need for quick recovery. Go for a low-fat version or make your own using fat-free milk and Nesquik powder, which has 33 percent less sugar than other powders and syrups.
Save sports drinks for exercise in extreme conditions, such as running a marathon, or exercise lasting three to five hours.
Got a health question? Submit it to Dr. Marla.
Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, December 2012.