Spilling the Tea on Sports Drinks and Sodas: What Parents Need To Know

We all know hydration is important for our health, and in the peak of summer, temperatures in central Texas easily reach 100 degrees, making hydration even more essential! When you or your family spend time outdoors this summer, you may be hydrating with sports drinks, like Powerade and Gatorade, or even soda. But do these drinks actually hydrate, or should you substitute with water instead? 

What Are Sports Drinks? 

Sports drinks are popular, sugary drinks that contain ingredients that claim to aid the body’s efforts at replenishing hydration. Sports drinks contain sugar as carbohydrates, like glucose, high-fructose corn syrup and sucrose. These sugars are meant to help the body hydrate and give the drinks their sweet flavor. Sports drinks also contain electrolytes, including potassium, magnesium, sodium, chloride, calcium and phosphorus. Electrolytes help the body absorb water — a dehydrated body often lacks necessary electrolytes which can inhibit nerves and muscles. 

Is It Smart To Consume Sports Drinks?

Studies show sports drinks can help adult athletes hydrate, but there is a lack of evidence supporting the same results in children. For children who are exercising or playing sports, providing sports drinks like Gatorade could be helpful in replenishing fluid and electrolytes, but there’s no concrete evidence that proves these drinks are helpful. However, sports drinks may encourage children to drink more liquid because of their sweet flavor and bright colors—in that way, sports beverages may help children hydrate more than standard water when exercising. For children and adults simply spending time outdoors without exerting much energy, electrolytes aren’t necessary, so you can stick to water instead of Gatorade. 

It’s important to note that other popular sugary drinks, like sodas, are not recommended for hydration. While kids may be more likely to drink soda than water, studies show that sodas actually worsen dehydration!

Why Is Water Important? 

Besides being the best way to hydrate, water has other positive effects on the body. Water has no calories, so it can also help manage body weight and reduce intake of calories. In contrast, there are 138 calories in a single can of Coke and 80 calories in one 12-ounce bottle of Gatorade.

Proper hydration can also help improve sleep quality, brain functions and boost your energy and mood.

We spoke with Dr. Eric Chudej, MD, a seasoned family medicine practitioner at Coryell Health’s Waco Clinic, as well as Rhonda Mangum, APRN, FNP-BC, a family medicine practitioner at our Gatesville location. Here’s what they had to say about proper hydration: 

Why is hydration important? 

“To ensure renal function and electrolytes are normal.” –Dr. Chudej

When should people consume sports drinks? Are sports drinks safe for children playing sports/exerting energy? 

“Fluids should be consumed with most exercise, especially if it is strenuous/fatiguing. Generally intake is adequate if thirst is quenched. Non-caffeinated sports drinks are “safe” but could be considered “unhealthy” if the calorie content is excessive. Usually this will not be an issue with regular exercise as calorie intake and expenditure will be balanced out.” –Dr. Chudej

 What drinks do you recommend people drink to stay hydrated?

“We should consider our activity level when we determine which drinks we should consume to replace our fluids. If we are exerting ourselves by exercising or doing yard work, electrolyte replacement drinks are a good option. However, if we are not exerting ourselves we really only need water for replacement.” –Nurse Mangum

Does soda help replenish fluids?

“Soda does not replenish fluids. It can actually cause more dehydration. Caffeine is a natural diuretic which means it makes more urine, causing more dehydration. Increased sugar intake also causes the cells to make more urine, causing dehydration. Artificial sweeteners affect our hydration level negatively.” –Nurse Mangum

Still struggling to get yourself or your family to drink water? These tips from the CDC may help. Your Coryell Health family medicine practitioner can also provide guidance and helpful tips so your family stays hydrated and healthy during the heat this season. 


1 National Library of Medicine

2 Healthline