Teens Don’t Need Sports and Energy Drinks, Pediatricians Say

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If the empties are any indication, teens are drinking a lot of sports and energy drinks. Recycling bins at schools and other places adolescents hang out are overflowing with the evidence and, indeed, trade groups representing beverage manufacturers report that sports drinks have increased market share in schools 5% between 2004 and 2006-07.

That’s not a good thing. In a new report, the nation’s pediatricians are advising teens not to down sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade unless they’re actually playing sports and to forgo energy drinks like Java Monster, Red Bull and Full Throttle altogether. The report was published in the in the journal Pediatrics by the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition and its Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness.

The Academy decided to investigate sports and energy drinks after it became obvious that kids were drinking more of them as sodas were increasingly removed from many school vending machines. “The question was, are there appropriate times when kids should be drinking these, and times when they shouldn’t be drinking them?” says Dr. Marcie Schneider, a member of the nutrition committee and an adolescent medicine physician in Greenwich, Conn.

Many teens drink sports drinks in the lunch room. But these beverages are technically designed to give the body a carbohydrate and electrolyte boost, Schneider says, which is great for athletes after a grueling practice or a marathon workout session. “But outside that setting — and honestly most of our teens and children are way outside that setting — they don’t need sports drinks,” she says. “Water, not sports drinks, should be the major source of hydration for adolescents.”

The carbohydrates in the beverages just amount to extra calories, since most teens get sufficient carbs from their diet, the committee reports. If the body isn’t depleted of carbs from intense physical activity, there really isn’t any need to replenish them with sports drinks. In addition, these products tend to be acidic, which can erode enamel from teeth and lead to dental problems.

Energy drinks are often lumped together with sports drinks, but, as the Academy notes, they differ in one significant ingredient: caffeine. Because energy drinks are made to perk you up, they often contain stimulants in various forms. Most include caffeine as their primary ingredient, often combined with other compounds like guarana and taurine, which enhance caffeine’s effects. But teens don’t need any extra stimulation from caffeine, the committee says. “We know that caffeine raises heart rate, blood pressure, speech rates and motor activity, and affects how much acid your stomach secretes, your body temperature and how much you sleep or don’t sleep,” says Schneider.

Children with anxiety who drink too much caffeine become more anxious, and many youngsters are already taking drugs for attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, most of which are stimulants. “Do these kids really need caffeine as part of their lives? The answer is no,” she says.

The report provides some guidance for pediatricians and parents to help educate them about the difference between sports and energy drinks and about their appropriate use in teens. Pediatricians are advised to ask their patients how often they consume sports and energy drinks and to relay the committee’s recommendations. Teens are exhausted and overstretched, yes, but “giving them caffeine isn’t the solution,” says Schneider. The more doctors and parents are aware of the differences between sports and energy drinks, the more likely that kids will stop using them inappropriately.