Sports drinks and energy drinks are quite different products; Sports drinks are beverages that contain carbohydrates (sugar), minerals, electrolytes and flavoring and are intended to replace water and electrolytes lost through sweating during exercise.
In contrast, the term “energy drink” refers to a very different type of beverage containing substances that are nonnutritive stimulants; caffeine, guarana, taurine, ginseng, L-carnitine, creatine and/or glucuronalctone with reported enhanced ergogenic or enhanced performance effects. Caffeine by far is the most popular stimulant and for children is harmful to their developing neurologic and cardiovascular systems (1). These energy drinks are never appropriate for children or adolescents and this includes soda.
Sports drinks should be used with prolonged, high intensity exercise and at sports tournaments and marathons or with any significant play time or intense sweating. A parent will need to decide for themselves if a child athlete who has just finished a practice or game warrants a sports drink or two based on the intensity of the work out. Things to consider would be prolonged duration, amount of sweat and fatigue and any muscle cramping that may occur.
G-natural and G2 Low Calorie are both Gatorade products also Powerade-Zero and Clif’s Quench all contain sodium and low sugar content-each around 15gms. per serving. This is an amount that won’t create gastrointestinal distress but gives back an adequate amount of energy. No other Gatorade products are this low in sugar but it is important to know that these are not efficient re-hydrators. These products are sold widely so they are attainable but these commercial products are at the bottom of the sports drink list.
As noted, these drinks are supposed to contain electrolytes/minerals; chloride, phosphorus, potassium, magnesium, calcium etc. and not just the main one, sodium which is the only electrolyte in most all of these commercial products with also just a little potassium as we see with Gatorade products.
So, what’s the best way to rehydrate? The research conveys that off the field, rehydrating is very important too with of course, good old H2O at optimal intakes and a balanced diet with pre determined protein and carbohydrate intake unique to each athlete and the type of sport they engage in and with recovery nutrients for each athlete too, especially kids.
An extra 8 oz. or more of water for kids and up to 20 oz. or more for adults the night before AND on game day is optimal protocol (2).
Daily consumption of these sports drinks does not enhance our physiology either. I see many kids drinking them instead of soda as a better alternative. But there is a deep misconception that these sports drinks are superior to soda when in fact, the sugar content of soda is, on average, 47.4 grams and Gatorade-orange flavored powder mix is 166.6 grams of sugar per serving. This is not what most people expect about what they’ve been told by Lance Armstrong is a good thing. It may also take away from our target water intake and it adds too much daily sugar. These drinks are never a good re hydrator when sick with diarrhea or vomiting as they are specific for electrolyte loss through sweating (3).
Young, pure, coconut water is truly a “sports drink” of unsuspected performance. Testing has shown less fullness and nausea with no stomach upset and easier consumption with adequate rehydration (4). It contains the full spectrum of all the electrolytes noted and low, natural sugar content.
For intense recovery, when therapeutic rehydration is warranted the #1 product used in our clinic is Endura by Metagenics. This product is used by a few professional sports team.
When it comes to choosing any food or beverage product, athletes must be skeptical consumers and ask questions before making them a part of their training.