Sports Drinks for Young Athletes

Written by Melissa Moses, MS, RD

Sports drinks and other sugary drinks like juice and soda tend to accompany practices and games for our children. Whether they play soccer, t-ball or volleyball, most kids expect drinks during and after their game! Many teams even take turns letting parents buy drinks for the entire team each week.

Sport drinks contain nutrients like sugar, electrolytes and minerals that are important to replenish after vigorous exercise but what does that mean - vigorous exercise? Vigorous exercise is categorized as exercise that continuously lasts for more than an hour and may be done in hot or humid weather. For children, we find that most sporting events involve more of sitting on the bench or side lines than running around vigorously. For most children, water is the best option to help rehydrate. Water contains no added sugar and can replenish any fluids lost during exercise. Electrolytes and minerals are obtained through the foods we eat and rarely need to be "replenished" unless vigorous exercise is performed.

It can sometimes be confusing to decipher what is "healthy" and "not healthy" for our children. Sugary drinks like sports drinks, juice and regular soda provide a lot of extra sugar that our bodies don't need. Even 100% juice contains about the same amount of sugar as regular soda. It does contain natural sugars; however, natural sugars get processed the same way in our bodies as added sugars. We find it is always better to eat the fruit than drink it. This is because whole fruits give your body fiber which fills you up. Juices do not provide the same effect.

As parents, it is our job to provide drinks for our children to rehydrate at sporting events and water is always the best option. For children who are still looking for the yummy sweet taste in their drink there are options that you can offer. Drinks like PowerAde Zero, Propel, to-go packets of Crystal Light or drop-ins like Mio to add to water bottles provide low-sugar options for your children. Low sugar drinks contain 3 grams of sugar or less per 8 oz. For parents providing drinks for the whole team, it is important to take into consideration that what our children really need to drink is water. Fun low sugar beverages can always be an option as well.

Sugar Recommendation for Drinks: Less than 3 grams of sugar per 8 ounces

Drinks High in Sugar  Amount of Sugar in 8 oz
Gatorade 14 grams
100% Juice 26 grams
PowerAde 14 grams
Sweet Tea 23 grams
Regular Soda 26 grams 


Drinks Low in Sugar Amount of Sugar in 8 oz
Water 0 grams
PowerAde Zero 0 grams
Propel 2 grams
 Crystal Light 0 grams 
 Hawaiian Punch Drops 0 grams 

Provided by staff who are part of Brenner FIT (Families in Training). Brenner FIT® is a pediatric weight management program at Brenner Children's that helps families create healthier lifestyles together. Brenner FIT offers free cooking, nutrition and parenting classes.