How Should Athletes Rehydrate?

I frequently get questions from athletes and parents alike about energy and sports drinks: are they good for you? Do they work? Will they help me perform better? Are energy and sports drinks the same?

All are excellent questions and I am here to help debunk the myths! Many children and adolescents confuse these two types of drinks, which can have serious health consequences.

Sports drinks like Gatorade and Powerade contain mostly carbohydrates, minerals, and electrolytes. Their job is to help replace fluid and electrolytes lost when sweating heavily.  Energy drinks may list similar ingredients, but they typically also contain stimulants like caffeine or guarana, and other potentially dangerous substances.  Monitoring both sports and energy drinks is important because they are heavily marketed toward children and adolescents.

Generally, children and adolescents should drink water to replace fluid lost during exercise lasting less than an hour.  If exercise lasts longer than an hour, or occurs in a hot and humid environment, then sports drinks may be used to replace both fluid and electrolyte losses.  Sports drinks should not be consumed at meals as a casual beverage. Water is likely adequate before and during exercise for fluid replacement. At meal times, stick with the recommended amount of 100% fruit juice, low fat milk, or water.

Coaches will often say to me, “my players walk on the field before a game with an energy drink instead of eating a well-balanced meal, and then they wonder why they are crashing by halftime!” The bottom line is this: energy drinks have not been proven to be safe or effective and are in no way recommended for use among children and adolescents. The stimulants in energy drinks can cause sleep disturbance, mood alteration, GI upset, and anxiety which have the potential to negatively affect athletic performance. In worst cases, arrhythmias or interactions with medications can occur. Water should be your main source of hydration and sports drinks such as Gatorade and Powerade can be used in certain situations.

Want more information? Check out this report from the American Academy of Pediatrics and consider sharing this video from Sports Medicine at Nationwide Children’s Hospital with your kids.

Have a healthy, hydrated, and active summer!

Jessica Buschmann, RD
Jessica Buschmann, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian with Nationwide Children’s Sports Medicine. As part of her role at Nationwide Children’s, she provides nutrition services to Ohio Dominican University’s athletic teams and the general student population. She is registered by the Commission on Dietetic Registration and licensed by the Ohio Board of Dietetics. Before joining the NCH Sports Medicine team, Jessica completed her Master’s degree at Marywood University in Sports Nutrition and Exercise Science. Jessica’s professional interests include Female Athlete Triad management and prevention, employee wellness, and meal planning for optimal sports performance. Jessica’s personal interests include anything outdoors, running, cooking with friends and family, grocery shopping (especially at Farmer’s Markets!), trying new restaurants around Columbus, spontaneous and planned traveling adventures, skydiving, and reading with a good cup of java in local coffee shops.

4 thoughts on “How Should Athletes Rehydrate?

  1. Chris Ann Garbrandt on said:

    Thanks for posting this today. I honestly just had this subject come up during a discussion with my 11 yo daughter on our way to soccer practice late yesterday afternoon. She is 11 so it turned into an arguement – LOL! She said “My coach said Gatorade is what I need to bring to practice!”. No, I disagree. She brings three water bottles to each of her practice sessions and usually she doesn’t finish all three.

    I checked the ingredients in Powerade. The first one listed is High Fructose Corn Syrup. I realize there is a lot of debate with this ingredient. However, I sure as heck would not want a syrupy stomach while running drills for an hour!

    Water is best especially for children who are not high performing athletes. Period.

    1. Jessica Buschmann on said:

      Hi Chris! My pleasure for the post. Happy to hear about your hydration choices for your daughter especially in the summer months for soccer. Best of luck to you!

  2. Kelly Abrams on said:

    Hi there, I’ve heard that low-fat milk has additives like powdered milk, and the vitamins that might be in skim milk are fat-soluble so they aren’t really absorbed because the milk fat has been removed – along with other reasons that low-fat milk should be avoided. I’m just wondering what the benefit is of drinking skim as opposed to whole milk (in small amounts).


    1. Jessica Buschmann on said:

      Hello! Great question! This is a “hot topic” right now in the literature based on recent studies. It is true that fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E, and K) are best absorbed when consumed with small amounts of fat. However, they are stored in the body and it is not necessary to eat them every day depending on the quality of your diet. With this being said, the fat soluble vitamins can be found in a variety of other food items besides milk including egg yolk, green leafy vegetables, tuna, salmon, oil, and nuts.

      Skim milk is technically the same from a nutritional standpoint as whole milk minus the fat content. According to the Center for Disease Control (CDC), milk does go through a number of processes before hitting store shelves which result in the loss of some enzymes and other vitamins. The CDC offers that “many studies have shown that pasteurization does not significantly change the nutritional value of milk and dairy products”. On the flip side, milk is not a significant source of these vitamins (an example is vitamin C). It is true that vitamins A and D are added (fortified) back into skim and reduced fat 2% milk because they are lost when the fat is removed from whole milk. I am not aware or able to find resources that state powdered milk is added to milk at any point. If I locate something in the future, I can most certainly post it here.

      The current recommendation to primarily consume low or non-fat dairy products is partially in response to the obesity trend in America. However, one theory from a recent article published in JAMA found that replacing non or low fat milk in place of whole milk for weight management may not be necessary. Instead, milk consumption should be different for each person depending on the quality of their diet. The article offers that “for those with poor diet quality, calories removed by reducing the fat content of milk will likely be replaced by foods that increase the risk for obesity, diabetes, and heart disease”. Whole milk is said to make you feel full (increase satiety) more quickly than skim milk, and therefore you would drink less of it. All in all, it comes down to a personal choice for you and your family’s preferences. I would recommend whole milk in moderation if your children are above the age of 2 years old, and make sure their diet is well-balanced keeping in the mind the recommendations offered by Hope this helps answer your question!

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