What Are Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks?

Sports and energy drinks can include anything from sports beverages to vitamin waters to highly caffeinated drinks. They all have added ingredients that say they "do" something extra, such as increase energy and alertness, boost nutrition, or even enhance athletic performance.

Sports and energy drinks are everywhere, so you need to decide if they're right for you. But most teens, even athletes, need only plain water to stay hydrated.

What Are the Kinds of Sports Drinks and Energy Drinks?

Sports Drinks

Sports drinks may be helpful for teens who:

  • do vigorous physical activity lasting longer than an hour, such as long-distance running and biking
  • play high-intensity sports, such as soccer, basketball, or hockey

These drinks contain carbohydrates (sugar), which can provide an immediate source of energy at a time when the body's stores are used up. Sports drinks also have electrolytes like sodium and potassium, which the body loses through sweat. These keep the body's fluid levels in balance and help muscles work properly.

However, casual athletes don't need sports drinks. For most people, plain water is all they need.

Vitamin Waters

These drinks, also known as fitness waters or enhanced waters, come in many flavors and with various combinations of supplemental vitamins and minerals. They may have sugar, artificial sweeteners, caffeine, or herbal ingredients.

Vitamin waters may look like a quick way to fill any nutrition gaps in your diet. But it's best to get these nutrients from healthy meals and snacks. Also, these drinks can provide too much of some vitamins and minerals, especially if you already take a daily multivitamin. Getting more than the recommended daily allowance of some vitamins and minerals can be harmful.

Also, some vitamin waters have herbal ingredients. The effects of many herbal ingredients (such as ginseng or St. John's wort) haven't been studied in kids and teens.

Energy Drinks

Energy drinks promise boosts in energy and nutrition and enhanced athletic performance. Most have lots of sugar and caffeine — sometimes as much caffeine as in 1 to 3 cups of coffee.

Both sugar and caffeine can have bad effects on your health. Too much sugar isn't good for your teeth and can lead to weight gain. Too much caffeine can cause:

  • jitteriness and nervousness
  • upset stomach
  • headaches
  • trouble concentrating
  • trouble sleeping
  • frequent peeing

In some people, large amounts of caffeine can have even more serious side effects, including fast or irregular heartbeats, high blood pressure, hallucinations, and seizures.

Many of these drinks also have other ingredients whose safety and effectiveness haven't been tested in kids and teens, including herbal supplements, guarana (a source of caffeine), and taurine (an amino acid thought to enhance performance and caffeine's effects).

What Should I Drink?

For most teens, drinking water before, during, and after playing sports will keep them hydrated. Some athletes who exercise for long periods or in very hot weather can benefit from a sports drink that has sugar and electrolytes.

It's best to skip the energy drinks. Many of the ingredients have not been studied in kids and teens and could be harmful. To improve your game, choose hard work and practice — not an energy drink.

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Note: All information is for educational purposes only. For specific medical advice, diagnoses, and treatment, consult your doctor. © 1995-2020 KidsHealth®. All rights reserved. Images provided by The Nemours Foundation, iStock, Getty Images, Veer, Shutterstock, and Clipart.com.

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