Do sports drinks that contain electrolytes hydrate better than water? As summer approaches, more parents are concerned about ensuring proper hydration for their family.
Sports drinks are best for elite athletes and those performing high-intensity exercise for a prolonged period of time. During intense sessions exceeding one hour, the body begins to lose essential nutrients through sweat, such as sodium and potassium. Sports drinks are designed to replace these minerals and provide carbohydrates, a required source of fuel.
For example, having a sports drink instead of water before a marathon may improve performance because it provides a quick burst of energy that allows the athlete to keep pushing. Studies show that, thanks to their electrolyte content, sports drinks cause fluids to be absorbed more quickly by the body. The added sodium (salt) also helps fluid retention, so the short answer is yes, sports drinks do hydrate better.
But here’s another question to consider: Should you give your child sports drinks? For most kids, this isn’t necessary. Sports drink companies target kids and teens through flashy ads and celebrity endorsements, but they contain sugar, which isn’t required for performance. The consumption of sweetened beverages, including sports drinks, has been linked with childhood obesity and a higher risk of developing diabetes.
Sugar can show up on nutritional labels as high-fructose corn syrup, glucose-fructose, dextrose, maltose, maltodextrose, malt syrup, honey, molasses, and other names. Though honey and molasses are natural sources of simple carbs, their effect on blood sugar is essentially the same as sugar. The amount of sweeteners in sports drinks are far too high. Some contain artificial sweeteners, which should be avoided by children and adults alike. They also often contain artificial colors like yellow 5 or red 40 – definitely not something that kids need. Water is enough to satisfy most kids’ hydration needs.
However, not all children like drinking plain water. In this case, try infusing water with fruits, like berries or orange slices. For more a refreshing drink, combine lemon and mint. Flower teas like rose and chrysanthemum can also add flavor to water; these taste great chilled. When kids are exercising, I’m also not opposed to adding a tiny bit of honey – just enough to give the tea a hint of sweetness. It’s better than any iced tea you can buy in the store.
Another option is chilled coconut water. My kids love it and lately it’s been easy to find in Beijing. Coconut water is naturally sweet and contains electrolytes; just be sure not to overdo it.
For children, the main source of hydration should be water. If they need extra encouragement to hydrate during sports or when running around outside, consider the natural, healthy alternatives listed above.
This article originally appeared on p26 of the beijingkids June 2015 issue. Click here to read the issue for free on Issuu.com. To find out how you can get your own copy, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo: Geronimo De Francesco (Flickr)