Expert Profile: Nancy Clark is a registered dietitian (RD), a board-certified specialist in sports dietetics (CSSD), and author of several books including Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook
and Food Guide for Soccer: Tips & Recipes from the Pros. She is an internationally known sports nutritionist who offers personalized, one-on-one nutrition counseling to casual exercisers and competitive athletes in the Boston area.
Q: Do young children really need to drink sport’s drinks with lunch, sports games, and birthday parties? I realize that replacement of electrolytes and sodium is important however the level of activity of young kids doesn’t appear to warrant the use of these drinks.
A: As a sports nutritionist, I often get questioned about sports drinks for young children. My response: Most kids really do not need sports drinks, especially in their lunch boxes! A sports drink is little more than sugar water with a dash of salt. They are a nutrient-poor alternative milk or orange juice.
Sports drinks can be appropriate for certain occasions, for example when young kids are exercising in very hot weather. For instance, I let my young son have a sports drink when he was baking in the summer heat on the baseball field. I wanted him to drink a lot of fluid, and I knew he’d drink more Gatorade than plain water.
But other than that, I encourage parents to fuel their young athletes with more watermelon, orange slices, grapes, and watery fruits … foods that contribute to overall health. If the weather is hot, the kids might enjoy some salted pretzels, crackers, or baked chips. The sodium (a part of salt) helps retain water and slows the rate of becoming dehydrated.
Real foods contain far more electrolytes (more commonly known as sodium and potassium) than most engineered foods. In general, the American diet has more than enough sodium and young kids are unlikely to become sodium depleted.
I’m concerned that marketing “electrolytes” somehow seems to be “politically correct” at a time when most health professionals encourage us to reduce our sodium intake … No wonder so many people are confused!