Sports And Energy Drinks

by Keith-Thomas Ayoob, EdD, RD, FADA


Sports Drinks? Energy Drinks? You Need To Know The Difference And So Do Your Kids


You’ve seen both of these beverages advertised to oblivion: sports drinks that help you replace needed electrolytes lost during sweating when you workout or play hard.  Energy drinks for when you need to get through the day but haven’t had enough sleep and don’t have time for coffee.  Take a shot and WHAM!  Energy for 5 more hours!


How “sports” and “energy” drinks differ

Sports drinks are primarily a combination of water, some carbohydrate (usually glucose or sucrose, but basically sugar), and a dash of sodium and potassium – two electrolytes you lose when you sweat a lot.  This loss of electrolytes is totally normal and nothing to fear.  Moreover, your diet usually has more than enough sodium to accommodate this loss.  Potassium is in somewhat shorter supply in the diet, not because it’s hard to get, but because some primary sources are fruits and vegetables and almost no one gets enough of them to meet requirements, but most people do get enough potassium to handle losses from sweating.


“Energy” drinks, on the other hand, are different.  They don’t really give you energy, they give you “stimulation” because they’re usually loaded with caffeine, of with guarana, a plant substance that has the same effect as caffeine.  These drinks can come in 8-oz. servings or more, but they can also come in 2-oz. “shots” and can have up to 500 mg of caffeine in a single serving.  That’s the amount of caffeine you’d get in about 14 cans of cola soda or about 5 cups of really strong coffee – all in about a ¼-cup “shot.”


NO ONE needs this kind of “energy” or stimulation in one gulp.  Even worse, kids have access to these drinks and it can wreak havoc on young bodies and minds, causing rapid heartbeat, high blood pressure, headaches, and then the inevitable crash when it wears off.  The small shot-size bottle can be very appealing to teens and the free access is tempting.  A caffeine addiction can follow.


Not playing sports? You don’t need a sports drink

All you’ll need is plenty of water.  If you’re exercising or playing hard for at least an hour, then they may be useful but even then, the best sports drink is 1% milk.  Not kidding here.  It’s got some sodium and loads of potassium – even more than a banana, also some carbohydrate, and it’s often a whole lot cheaper than sports drinks. 


Plus, 1% milk has something most sports drinks don’t have – protein, and the best quality protein at that. There’s also solid research on low-fat milk – and low-fat chocolate milk at that – as a post-workout drink.  College athletes had better recovery and better endurance at subsequent workouts with 1% chocolate milk than with the most popular “sports” drink. 


The bottom line

It’s simple – avoid them like the plague, and advise your kids the same.  If either of you need “energy” then you need more sleep.  There’s no substitute for getting enough sleep and consider it one of the most important “nutrients” you can have.  Go to bed earlier.  Kids need a good 9 hours nightly and adults need 8 hours, and most people don’t get this much. 


If you need more energy, make sleep a priority – and let go of something else if you have to.  You and your family will feel better, function better and be healthier (as in have a better immune system) with enough sleep.


Think about it: Did you ever regret getting enough sleep?   OK, case closed.



Reference: Clinical Report – Sports Drinks And Energy Drinks For Children And Adolescents: Are They Appropriate?  Pediatrics (2011), 127:1182-1189. Available at: