The beginning of a new school year is full of fresh starts.
It’s also a time when many school teams begin to kick into high gear — creating lots of opportunities to work up a sweat and get thirsty.
There are team tryouts, practices and, of course, games and tournaments.
Sports drinks are a popular way to slake a thirst, and they do serve an important purpose. But most recreational athletes and exercisers don’t lose the level of electrolytes that warrant drinking a sports drink.
Most of us are better off with water.
Sports drinks were designed primarily to help elite athletes to stay hydrated and to improve their performance.
Of course, cool packaging, notable flavor names and bright colors do make them appealing to youths.
Just remember, the purpose of sports drinks is to replenish electrolytes as they are lost through perspiration, and this electrolyte depletion happens at an extreme level.
In some circumstances, sports drinks are the better choice.
For instance, if your child is outside in intense heat for an hour or more while doing vigorous activity, such as long-distance running or soccer, sports drinks will provide hydration faster because the glucose and sodium they contain help the body absorb water faster than just the water on its own.
But, if your child is active outside for less than an hour and is doing intermittent physical activity, or is simply riding a bike, they are better off with water.
Sports drinks are mostly water, with the addition of carbohydrates, sodium and potassium.
Food sources have these, too.
So, to replace carbohydrates after an intense workout, you can eat a piece of fruit instead, such as a banana or orange, which gives additional nutrients as well, and doesn’t have added sugar.
A Yale study found that more than one in four American parents considered sports drinks to be healthy for kids. But they actually are considered a sugar-sweetened beverage, a category that is shared with soda, energy drinks and flavored coffees.
A 20-ounce bottle of a sports drink has about 34 grams of added sugar.
Therefore, sports drinks are not meant to be a substitute for water unless the circumstances call for it — again, consider the intensity of the exercise and the time in the heat.
Remember, healthy snacks, without so much added sugar, can replace electrolytes, too.
By Shari Bresin
Shari Bresin is the Family & Consumer Science Agent for the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences Cooperative Extension Pasco County.
Published August 24, 2022