I have been to many children’s sporting events over the years. I think my children have played about 10 different sports between them – but the one thing that every one of their sports have in common is the ubiquity of sports drinks like Gatorade, Powerade, etc..
While I know that our kids work hard at these events, I think that there is a mistaken belief that a little bit of running around requires carbohydrate and electrolyte replenishment. The truth is, for the overwhelming majority of kids’ sporting events (especially those for kids in middle school and younger) plain water is all they really need. Advertisements lead us to believe that sports drinks are a beneficial, even necessary part of game day, but in reality, the average sports drink bottle contains 30+ grams of sugar, which is just about the same amount as a can of soda -- and has the same effect on the body, which is to create a huge spike in blood sugar, followed by an inevitable crash. Water will most assuredly cover whatever liquids they sweat out and won’t send them on a blood sugar roller coaster ride which may last the rest of the day. And as far as electrolytes go, the trivial amount that is lost in sweat is easily replaced with a well-balanced diet.
This belief in “replenishment” is so pervasive that I have even seen parents give their children sports drinks (and sometimes even candy) BEFORE their game to prep them for the upcoming workout. But preemptive sugar-loading actually has a detrimental effect – as described earlier, it causes a temporary rise in blood sugar and then, about 30 minutes later, that same blood sugar will crash – and that crash will be right in the middle of the soccer game. Blood sugar crashes can cause children to feel sluggish, light-headed, grouchy and even nauseous. Some children are more sensitive to this blood sugar shift than others, but even those who are seemingly unaffected will still be perpetuating another distressing cycle: teaching their bodies to rely on sugar for energy, rather than their own glycogen stores.
Before your child’s next game, discuss how your family has made the choice to switch to water. Or start slow and say they can have one Gatorade per week, for the game of their choice (that can even be a little experiment -- see if you notice a difference in your child’s energy).