By: Nicholas Boon

Oh the wonderful world of sports drinks.  Gatorades and Powerades and other “ades” as far as the eye can see.  The healthy alternative to sugary soft drinks and juices.  And such a variety of enticing and delicious flavors, like Mountain Berry Blast or Mango Extremo.  Plus it gives that performance boost and recovery you need after a workout.

Except maybe not.


The sports drink industry is enormous – and growing.  And like many industries, sports drinks have been extremely successful marketing to youth.  Here’s some fun facts and figures illustrating the trend [1]:
  • Between 1989 and 2008 in the US, the number of children aged 6-11 consuming sports drinks at least once a day rose from 2% to 12%.
  • In 2010, Gatorade was ranked in the top 5 most advertised products by children and teenagers.
  • Powerade has developed the Powerade Play, a smaller version of the drink with a tagline of “The sports drink for the young athlete”.
  • 27% of parents in the US believe that sports drinks are a healthy option for kids.
  • When soft drinks were initially removed from schools in the US in 2004, sports drinks were pushed as the healthier option; within 2 years the market share increased by 6%.
A typical marketing campaign for a typical sports drink promotes an active lifestyle, physical fitness, and sport participation.  All good things, no doubt.

That same campaign will go on to claim that their sports drink is key to this lifestyle, improving performance and hydration thanks to a scientifically proven formula.  And when it comes to elite high performance athletes, this claim is totally valid.

But when it comes to the average recreational or youth athlete, this claim is questionable at best.


Though there is certainly a range in the market, sports drinks are typically variations of the same formula with same purpose.
Not surprisingly, water is the first ingredient in any sports drink.  Excessive sweating during exercise – especially in intense heat or humidity – will leave any athlete dehydrated.  Water replaces this fluid loss, providing muscles the replenishment they need to perform at their best.
A buzz word adored by the sports drink industry, electrolytes are really just salts (i.e. sodium) that are lost in sweat.  If you have ever noticed a white residue inside your baseball cap or jersey, this is evidence of lost salts from sweating.  Electrolytes aim to replenish this loss, improving hydration and reducing muscle cramping.
Finally, virtually all sports drinks feature carbohydrates – science code for sugar.  The idea is that added carbohydrates maintain glucose levels to fuel muscles during extended exercise.


Sugar content (up to 19g) can be as much as 5 teaspoons.  Sodium content (up to 200mg) is comparable to a serving of fries.  Caloric content (up to 150 calories) is identical to soft drinks [1].

These nutritional stats don’t exactly depict a “healthy lifestyle alternative”.

When it really comes down to it, sports drinks are designed for elite performance athletes recovering from long and intensive workouts.  And that’s pretty much it.  It would even take an elite triathlete 2 hours of intense cycling before benefiting from supplements provided by sports drinks [2].

For adult recreational athletes, the recommendation is to just skip the sports drinks.  Just ask Dr. Greg Wells, a researcher with the Human Physiology Research Unit at the University of Toronto [2]:

“An average person, during a workout, you need to be drinking a lot of water.  That’s pretty much all your body needs.  That’s what your body needs for your muscles to work really well.  That’s what your blood needs to circulate really well.”

To watch an investigation of sports drinks by CBC’s Marketplace, click here.  


So if the average adult doesn’t require a sports drink after exercise, you better believe kids don’t.

Not only do children not sweat as much as adults, but the exercise itself is often much less intense.  In addition, youth events are shorter than adult events – and certainly not long enough to require sports drinks for recovery.

It’s often best to leave the last words to the experts, and so with that in mind…

“For non-athletes, routine ingestion of carbohydrate-containing sports drinks can result in consumption of excessive calories, increasing the risks of overweight and obesity, as well as dental caries and, therefore, should be avoided.”
Canadian Paediatric Society [3]
[1] Consumption of Sports Drinks by Children and Adolescents (Research Review) – Robert Wood Johnson Foundation 
[2] Sports drinks unnecessary, counterproductive for most people  – CBC Marketplace
[3] Sport nutrition for young athletes – Canadian Paediatric Society

Source: Steve Nash Youth Basketball Blog
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