It’s hard to pass a grocery store checkout without encountering an energy drink. The bright and edgy cans seem to appeal to a younger generation, as do flavors like cotton candy, birthday cake, and whatever “rainbow unicorn” may be. It sure seems like they’re marketed to kids, but should kids actually drink them?
While it’s not uncommon for teens to gravitate towards things like a cup of coffee and energy drinks, like red bull, as they approach adulthood, kids are growing up fast. Your kids might be interested in energy drinks at an age much younger than you would expect.
Here’s what you need to know before you let them crack open a can.
What Is an Energy Drink?
Energy drinks are usually a combination of energy-boosting B vitamins, post-workout recovery amino acids like L-carnitine, and caffeine as a stimulant. The idea is that these ingredients will work together to help energize the mind and body.
For young adults, it’s easy to see how the idea of an energy drink is appealing. If you’ve got a hard workout ahead, everything in the can would give you the boost you need to push through and achieve your athletic goals.
Children aren’t hitting the gym and shouldn’t be partaking in intense physical workouts, and that’s one of many reasons why this combination of ingredients is largely unnecessary for their wellbeing.
What’s the Difference Between a Sports Drink and an Energy Drink?
Sports drinks, soft drinks, and energy drinks are often lumped into the same category, but they’re incredibly different. Sports drinks don’t usually contain any vitamins or stimulants. Instead, they contain electrolyte minerals and rapidly absorbed carbohydrates in the form of sugar.
When you’re out in the sun for a very long time or when you’ve been very physically active, your body uses more of its own water. You sweat, and if you sweat a lot, your body wants to put back the water it lost.
The electrolytes in a sports drink help replenish some of the things your body lost through sweat while encouraging the body to retain more water.
Are The Effects of Energy Drinks Safe for Kids?
There’s nothing dangerous about the vitamins in an energy drink. It’s unlikely that your child would benefit from amino acids, which are most helpful for people focused on gaining a significant amount of muscle mass.
Your child doesn’t need any amount of caffeine for energy. That’s where energy drinks and kids don’t work well together.
Children are inherently more sensitive to the side effects of stimulants due to their smaller stature and developing systems. Although it is rare, kids and teens have died as a direct result of overconsuming caffeine in energy drinks.
What You Should Know About Caffeine and Kids
There are safe upper limits for caffeine consumption. Although children should avoid caffeine entirely, it may not always be feasible. Caffeine naturally occurs in many of the healthy things you probably serve at home, making it essential to understand how much caffeine your child may encounter.
Dark chocolate contains less sugar than milk chocolate, making it the healthier choice for a dessert or a sweet treat. The average bar of dark chocolate contains about 70 mg of naturally occurring caffeine.
Children below six years old shouldn’t consume more than 45 mg of caffeine daily. This means that allowing your five-year-old to eat a bar of dark chocolate would expose them to nearly double the safe upper limit of caffeine.
If your household relies on tea as an alternative to sugary drinks like soda or juice, you should also be mindful of caffeine and energy drink consumption.
Herbal teas do not contain any caffeine, but black, white, and green tea do. A single cup of black tea, the kind of tea that most American families make at home, contains 47 mg of caffeine.
Some caffeine comes from perfectly healthy parts of a family’s regular diet, but it all works the same way when it enters your child’s body. A few squares of dark chocolate or a cup of homemade iced tea won’t harm your child’s health, but you should be mindful about enforcing moderation.
Are Sports Drinks Safe for Kids?
There’s nothing inherently dangerous about a standard sports drink. The issue doesn’t stem from stimulants, which aren’t present in sports drinks.
The problem is that sports drinks usually contain added sugar that bloats your child’s diet with empty and unnecessary calories, which is a concern for families looking to make wiser choices about the foods they consume.
Sports drinks often aren’t necessary for children. If you have a very athletic child who frequently trains, the occasional low sugar sports drink and plenty of plain water are unlikely to be harmful. It simply won’t be the best choice.
If you allow your child to consume sports drinks, make sure you’re thoroughly reading the nutrition label. Sports drinks that contain high amounts of sugar may be doing more harm than good.
Don’t use sports drinks in place of water or give your child sports drinks to consume with meals. Only provide them after periods of moderate to intense physical activity or in situations where your child would naturally sweat a lot, like on a family hike or beach trip.
What Works as a Substitute for Energy Drinks?
Almost anything is a better alternative to energy drinks. If your child is athletic and would benefit from a slight boost to their performance at their ballet recital or hockey game, here are some drinks you can feel good about giving them.
Low-Fat Chocolate Milk
Athletic people need healthy carbs to power their bodies. Low-fat milk contains these carbs and many other essential vitamins and minerals.
Dairy, oat, almond, and soy milk all work the same way in this instance, so whatever milk or milk alternative your household uses is perfect enough. Children may like chocolate or vanilla milk more than plain milk. Just make sure you’re keeping an eye on the added sugars. The lower, the better.
Coconut water might be a better substitute for sports drinks than energy drinks, but if you have an active kid, a sports drink is closer to something they’d benefit from.
Coconut water is similar to sports drinks in many ways. It’s completely natural, and it contains the same electrolytes that athletes need after an intense training session. It also tastes delicious, which makes it easy for adolescents to understand its appeal.
Protein Shakes for Kids
Protein shakes for kids are rarely necessary, but there may be instances where a highly active picky eater would benefit from a protein shake after a busy day and a long soccer game.
Your goal should always be to encourage your child to get the necessary amount of protein from their food. If you think you’re having trouble, consult with your pediatrician about the inclusion of supplemental protein on days when your child is active.
A Multivitamin and a Glass of Water
The health effects of energy drinks come from the combination of caffeine’s stimulant effect and the energizing effects of B vitamins. B vitamins aren’t harmful to your child. In fact, they’re absolutely essential to the normal growth and development of your child’s body.
Ideally, your child should be achieving their recommended daily amounts of B vitamins from their food, but things don’t always pan out that way. Children who can’t or won’t eat animal products often don’t get enough vitamin B12 in their diets, and B12 is crucial for the body’s ability to naturally produce its own energy.
In some cases, a multivitamin supplement may help. You should always consult your child’s pediatrician before introducing new vitamins into your child’s daily routine. Explain your child’s average daily diet and energy expenditure to your pediatrician.
If your pediatrician agrees, choose a multivitamin designed to support your child’s overall health.
A multivitamin with a full glass of water, fruit juice, and a healthy snack, like a banana with nut or seed butter, should be more than sufficient to help your child replenish and refuel.
Happy, Healthy, Energetic Kids With Hiya
Hiya’s once-daily children’s chewable multivitamin was created with your active picky eater in mind. We spoke with pediatricians about what many kids need a little more of, and we created a multivitamin that will work to support the health and wellness of most American children.
Hiya is sugar-free, gluten-free, non-GMO, dairy-free, vegan, eco-friendly, and made in the United States. It’s the ideal solution for almost any family household.