Sports season is in full swing, which means so is the begging for brightly colored sports drinks. I get it: If the parent on snack duty failed to supply me and the rest of the Purple Ponies (yes, real name) with Gatorade after a game, I begged for it on the way home. But now that I’m a mom, and more aware of food additives, I’m taking a closer look at what makes sports drinks so tasty — and so, so orange.
I’ve tackled (heh) some of the most common ingredients in sports drinks here so that parents can make their own call about whether or not they’re right for their kids. I’ve even made a few suggestions that will help you avoid some of the ingredients if that’s what you decide. Because staying informed is half the battle — or maybe even the entire win.
I’m not a fan of the over-salting of processed food in America. While I’ll refrain from jumping on that soapbox today, I will say that it turns out sodium in sports drinks may not be such a bad thing, depending on how strenuous your kid’s level of activity is. Sodium is one of several electrolytes that our bodies need to stay balanced and to support healthy muscle and nerve functioning. We lose salt when we sweat, so if you or your kids are playing hard in the hot sun for hours on end (soccer tournaments, anyone?), a drink with added sodium may actually be beneficial. However, if they’re just bouncing on the trampoline or playing inside, extra salt probably isn’t necessary.
Manufacturers add citric acid as a preservative and flavor enhancer, and it’s found in many sports drinks, plus loads of other food products like candy and jam. Since it’s usually found in trace amounts and is derived from citrus fruits, it’s considered safe for consumption. But it’s still a good idea to limit intake since too much acid of any kind can affect tooth enamel, especially if kids start at a young age.
It’s no surprise that several popular sports drinks, like Gatorade and Powerade, contain high amounts of corn syrup. It’s even listed as the second ingredient on many labels (meaning it’s the second most plentiful ingredient found in the beverage). Not great. The upside? For kids competing in strenuous or endurance activities, for instance, some amount of sugar is okay to help replenish their supply of carbohydrates. And, of course, some kids are more likely to stay hydrated if they’re drinking something they enjoy, as opposed to pure water.
Sucralose is an artificial sweetener, and one you may find in your Powerade Zero or G2, Gatorade’s low-calorie option. Experts are still debating whether artificial sweeteners are an acceptable substitute for sugar that can help kids avoid tooth decay and obesity. Others say that artificial sweeteners may actually confuse the body into craving more carbohydrates and sugars. Either way, it’s worthwhile to check the labels to see what, exactly, is making your kid’s sports drink sweet.
So that neon color in your Mountain Blast Powerade? Not derived from plants. Shocker, right? Food dyes are present in many of the available sports drinks, just like they’re present in kids’ favorite candies. There has been some controversy over whether food dye may be related to adverse behavior in children, but it’s far from a widely accepted claim. I for one appreciate a beautifully colored icing or some fun color play with candy melts, but as with any additive, moderations a good approach.
If you’re concerned with food dyes and how they maybe impact your child’s health and behavior, BodyArmor is made without artificial ingredients and regular, all-natural, non-flavored coconut water is said to be super hydrating as well.
It may sound scary, but monopotassium phosphate is just the soluble form of potassium, another electrolyte that can be helpful after a hard work out. Potassium is necessary in every diet and can help fend off the gnarly cramps that can occur after endurance exercise, but it isn’t found in all that many foods. If you want potassium without all the artificial ingredients, coconut water is a great options, again, since it’s naturally high in potassium and slightly sweeter than plain water.