Stacked image of various sports drinks on table and kids playing soccer

Sports drinks all over the sidelines at kid sports events, and even on playgrounds and in backyards on hot summer days. But are they something kids even need? Here are some facts you should know.

Water is enough for most kids

In their clinical report, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says that water is “the appropriate first choice for hydration before, during, and after most exercise regimens.” That’s because most kids aren’t engaged in the kind of strenuous activity that sports drinks were originally designed for.

In fact, in one study of 6-12 year old boys, researchers found that more than half of their sport time was spent either in sedentary or light-intensity activity. Whether it’s playing in the yard in the summer, participating in a 1-hour soccer game, or standing in the outfield for a t-ball game in the heat, they all require hydration for sure, but not necessarily sports drinks.

For more on hydration, plus fun ways to infuse water with fresh fruit, veggies and herbs, check out this month’s Food Rx video: All About Hydration.

Mason jars filled with fruit and water on blue background

Food contains electrolytes too

Electrolytes aren’t special ingredients found only in sports drinks–they’re minerals, which are in food too. Sports drinks and electrolyte powders typically contain the electrolytes sodium and potassium. But kids can easily get those easily in a snack or meal after sports, like a banana (potassium) or crackers (sodium).

According to the AAP, “for most children and adolescents, daily electrolyte requirements are met sufficiently by a healthy balanced diet; therefore, sports drinks offer little to no advantage over plain water.”

Sports drinks contain a lot of ingredients

If you look for simpler ingredient lists on food packages, sports drinks don’t fit the bill. Many contain citric acid, a flavoring that can be tough on tooth enamel. Many are colored with synthetic food dyes, which have been linked in some research to worsening attention problems in some children. A 20-ounce bottle of sports drink also packs as much as eight teaspoons of added sugar.

So are sports drinks ever right for kids?

Yes, sports drinks can be helpful for some children and teens in sports, especially for endurance events, all-day tournaments, or times when they’re exercising intensely for more than an hour and need quick refueling.

Want to make your own version? Here’s a recipe for a homemade sports drink. If you’re looking for an alternative post-workout recovery drink, consider chocolate milk, which contains potassium and a little bit of sodium, plus carbs for energy and protein to help rebuild muscles.