Sport drinks do more harm than good in youth, push water

Posted on: November 24, 2017

Submitted by Dr. Mark Czubak

Every year our local coaches and schools educate our young people to hydrate themselves during the school day and in preparation for sporting events. After recently reading an article published by the Canadian Pediatric Society about its findings on the use of sport drinks and caffeine energy drinks as consumed by youth, I felt water and hydration was an important idea to discuss.  

Though we have a relatively small population, we produce per capita, some tremendous athletes. The dedication of our young people and parents should be a tremendous a source of pride. Athletics and the science of optimal performance should always go hand in hand.

What caught my eye about the Canadian Pediatrician’s review paper was the urgency with which they discuss the drinks that kids and teenagers very commonly consume as a significant medical and social problem. They do not mince words. As the article into states, “Both sports drinks and caffeinated energy drinks (CEDs) pose potential risks for the health of children and adolescents and may contribute to obesity. Sports drinks are generally unnecessary for children engaged in routine or play-based activity. CEDS affect children and adolescents more than adults because they weigh less, and therefore experience greater exposure to stimulants per kilogram of body weight”.

The review paper then continues to say “although sports drinks are marketed to optimize athletic performance, studies showing the benefits for children are sparse.” The doctors specify that sports drinks are, “…generally unnecessary for the average child in daily play-based sports.”

The first choice for any young athlete should always be water for hydration. The excess carbohydrates and electrolytes that are present in sports drinks contribute only to obesity and dental caries. In fact, all claims for improved hydration and improved performance with sports drinks or coconut water or other water replacements are not based on scientific fact.

It is important to emphasize that 95 per cent of our local kids and teens are playing sports for fitness, good character development and good team-building social connections. Few of our young people require electrolyte replenishment from excessive sweating, nor do they require a caffeine energy boost.

To gain some perspective, let’s look at the real reasons that sports drinks were developed.

It was 1965, the Beatles had just released “Rubber Soul” and the football players at the University of Florida were suffering from dehydration and heat stroke. It was hot in Florida and they had a crisis. Players were passing out during games. To speed their recovery a local kidney specialist named Dr. Cade developed a drink made with sugar, salt and electrolytes.

Football fans will know that the University of Florida team is called the Gators. Ultimately the drink worked, fewer ball players were hospitalized for heat exhaustion. Voila, Gator-ade.  

When we fast forward to 2001, a company called Pepsi acquired the rights for the sports drink Gatorade and with their marketing and sales muscle, now brings in $1.3 billion in sales annually.  Powerade, Coke’s version, is largely the same.

Companies that market sports drinks have successfully positioned their product, by name and high media exposure as a vital part of a sports event. The logic does seem flawless. Sports practice, sports gear, sports drinks, right?

The Canadian Pediatricians position article tries to raise our awareness of this marketing ploy, and they simply recommend water.

So, which kind of water should we drink?

Filtered water dispensers (such as a Brita) are widely available, and are good at removing chlorine and unpleasant odors from town tap water. As long at the filter is changed monthly, a water filter on a tap is a good first line effort at cleaner drinking water. A water filter has a number of disadvantages however. The filter does not remove lead or fluoride in the water, nor does it remove residue from pharmaceuticals that are typically found in town water.

The Elkay EZH20 system is the water bottle fill station that you see in schools and hockey rinks.  The principal here is simple – they reduce the enormous waste associated with thrown away plastic water bottle, and they provide kids and adolescents with quality clean water for hydration where they need it most, at the rink and at school.  The EZH20 is a filtration system that removes chlorine, lead and larger particle matter, and bacteria. The system has proven popular and has been shown to encourage hydration with water instead of sports drinks.

Finally, reverse osmosis (RO) water and their dispensers can be purchased at local grocery stores like The Independent and The Garden Market. The advantages of RO water are many, as they effectively remove all chemical, pharma and bacterial contaminants. RO water is recommended for home use, and the actual cost of a dispenser and weekly refills at the grocery store and still far less than purchasing regular bottled water or sports drinks.

For anyone needing the specifics of the article I am quoting, the link is:

www.cps.ca/en/documents/position/energy-and-sports-drinks

Dr. Mark Czubak has practiced at Smiths Falls Family Chiropractic and Wellness for 20 years.