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Are sports drinks good for you or your kids? The answer is, sometimes we need sports drinks and sometimes we don’t.

Unfortunately, due to marketing, they are often used more than they should be. Sports drinks are only needed if you are working out very hard (full-court basketball, competitive running) for sustained periods (an hour or more), and dripping with sweat (hot days or high-intensity exertion).

For most of us during our average workouts, water is just fine. There is no need for sports drinks for pick-up basketball games in the morning, a 2-to-3-mile jog, or most YMCA youth sporting events. The downside to the overuse of sports drinks is a lot of unnecessary calories that likely exceed the amount that was burned off.

For kids, the classic example of this misuse is the “after-game snack” brought by parents – 80 calories of Gatorade and a 150-calorie cupcake or cookie – when their kids have only burned off about 100 calories playing youth sports. Unfortunately, this pretty much negates the health benefit of your kid being involved in youth sports! In fact, the American Academy of Pediatrics advises against distributing sports drinks at youth sporting events, saying the average young athlete can and should get all the necessary nutrients and hydration by eating healthy foods and drinking plenty of water before, during, and after exercise.

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Sports drinks were designed for a specific purpose. For athletes like professional and college football players who expend major energy and calories in extreme weather conditions for an hour or more, sports drinks are appropriate. Other athletes have found sports drinks to be helpful for their sports as well (e.g., soccer on a very hot day) and sometimes even life-saving (e.g., marathon runners). At times at the high school level or below, when a player passes out from heat exhaustion on a very hot day, the prevention and treatment for the problem can be a sports drink. For the rest of us, water is the better choice.

So in short, sports drinks are good when they’re needed, but otherwise, they’re just excess calories that can add to our obesity problem when they’re overused.

Rethink your drink and make wise beverage choices. To learn more about making healthy beverage choices, visit HealthyLincoln.org and click on “Beverage Facts”.

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