Sports drink vs. water and a banana: The choice is clear
Do children need Gatorade, Powerade and all of those other brightly colored sports drinks?
Even when kids are playing hard and sweating, what they need immediately after a game is water. Could they use some electrolytes with their water? Of course. What exactly are electrolytes? In layman’s terms, they are minerals such as potassium, calcium and sodium that help water flow into cells.
If children require water and a few minerals after a game, why not give them a bottle of water and a piece of fruit?
A 20-ounce bottle of Gatorade has 75 milligrams of potassium, while a small clementine has 131 and a banana has 422. A banana also has vitamins B and C, 16 percent of the daily requirement of manganese, which is great for bones, and 8 percent of magnesium, which prevents cramping. There is even a gram or two of protein in a banana. A clementine has calcium, magnesium, vitamin C and folate.
Besides the small amount of potassium, what else does the sports drink offer? Thirty-four grams of sugar. If a child with an empty stomach is given 34 grams of processed sugar, the sugar will flow into the bloodstream quickly.
A banana and a clementine both have fiber, which slows any natural sugars from entering the bloodstream. There is no fiber in the average sports drink. This rush of glucose will raise a child’s insulin levels, and this elevated insulin triggers his or her body to store fat and to hold onto existing fat stores. When the sugars hit the liver, they can be deposited there. So even when a kid isn’t “fat” on the outside, there is unnecessary fat storage happening on the inside, which, along with confused insulin responses, predisposes a child to all kinds of disease.
Obviously, one sports drink isn’t going to doom a child forever. But setting the expectation that child athletes “need” a sports drink to replenish after a game or practice creates a long-term habit that can become dangerous when you think ahead to the number of practices and games they are going to play throughout their school years.
Some people point out that sodium is lost through sweat in higher concentrations than other electrolytes, and that fruit and water don’t provide sodium. But the American diet contains enough, if not too much, sodium, so chances are that a child is just fine without the 270 milligrams of sodium in that same container of Gatorade. Remember that these drinks were originally designed for performance athletes, not growing children.