I frequently gripe about sports drinks. I cringe when bottles of it are handed out to pee-wee players after less than an hour of light exercise. And I can’t stand the way sports drinks are marketed to kids (read: “Why I’m No Fan Of Sports Drinks“).
But the truth is, some young athletes may need what a sports drink provides, namely quick carbohydrates and electrolytes like sodium, especially if they’re exercising for long periods of time (like a high school football player at summer training camp or a soccer player at a tournament–NOT a five year old t-ball player who spent the last hour picking clover).
Here’s a good rule of thumb from fellow dietitian Jill Castle, author of the new book Eat Like a Champion: Performance Nutrition for Your Young Athlete:
Over an hour: Choose a sports drink to provide your young athlete’s body with a source of carbohydrate, salt, and potassium, and drink enough to stay hydrated.
Under an hour: Choose water. Kids aren’t burning enough calories or sweating enough to warrant using anything else.
But if you want to avoid all the synthetic food dyes, artificial flavors, stabilizers, and other junk in sports drinks, you can easily make your own. Here’s Castle’s recipe for a lemony homemade sports drink (choose a natural or organic lemonade that’s made without artificial colors and flavors):
Lemonade Sports Drink
- 1/4 cup 60 mL lemonade plus 2 tablespoons (30mL) of lemon juice
- 1/4 cup 48 g sugar
- 1/4 teaspoon 1 mL salt
- 1/4 cup 60 mL hot water
- 3 1/2 cups 830 mL cold water
- In a pitcher or quart-size water jug, add the sugar and salt to the hot water; stir until sugar and salt are dissolved.
- Add the lemonade, lemon juice, and cold water. Mix well.
If you’ve got a young athlete at home, you need Jill’s book. It’s a go-to resource created specifically for children ages of 8-18 that includes a nutrition plan for improving performance, fighting fatigue, and gaining strength. She offers:
- Ideas for meals
- Nourishing snack recipes
- The lowdown on supplements & performance aids
- Strategies for feeding vegetarian and vegan athletes
- Advice for handling overweight and underweight
- Practical tips from her own experience as a pediatric dietitian and a mom of four young athletes