The truth about power drinks

Power drinks include everything from fortified vitamin waters and sugary sports drinks to highly caffeinated energy drinks. All of these drinks boast added ingredients that claim to provide an added benefit, such as increased energy and alertness, enhanced performance or an improved immune system.

Consumption of these drinks is on the rise, and while some find the effects to be harmless, many experts advise against everyday use - especially for kids and teens.

Energy drinks, known on the market as Amp, Monster, Rock Star and Red Bull, to name several, can contain as much as 500 mg of caffeine - the equivalent of 14 cans of a regular caffeinated soda. A lethal dose of caffeine is considered to be between 200 and 400 mg, meaning just one drink could have potentially adverse effects.

Because adolescents are smaller in size than adults, and often have a lower tolerance for caffeine, the side effects can be more serious. As with adults, too much caffeine for kids and teens can result in:

  • Jitters and nervousness
  • Upset stomach
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Frequent urination
  • Increased heart rate
  • Rapid speech

Caffeine consumption in adolescents can affect their neurologic and cardiovascular systems, which are not yet fully developed. Dependence and addiction are other serious concerns.

Energy drink labeling often is incomplete and vague. Herbal supplements including guarana, a caffeine source, and taurine, an amino acid, are usually found in energy drinks, and have not been tested for safety in use by children.

Fortunately, many schools have banned soda and energy drink sales on campus. With this ban, however, some kids are turning to sports drinks as an alternative. These drinks may not contain caffeine but may be high in sugar and calories.

Products such as Gatorade contain added minerals, carbohydrates and flavoring that are intended to replenish water and electrolytes lost through sweating during exercise. These additives can be beneficial for adolescents during prolonged and vigorous aerobic activity, such as long-distance running, but are not necessary for moderately active athletes, and especially not for sedentary children.

For less extreme athletes, drinking water every 20 minutes while exercising is adequate for maintaining normal cardiovascular and other physiological functions.

Pediatricians recommend drinking plenty of water and skipping sugary drinks and juices. With the exception of low-fat or fat-free milk, calorie-containing beverages should be limited or eliminated from a well-balanced diet.

In a study conducted by the Committee on Nutrition and the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness, pediatricians and parents are urged to:

  • Better educate children and adolescents on the risks of sports and energy drinks, and emphasize the potential side effects.
  • Understand that energy drinks pose potential health risks primarily because of stimulant content.
  • Encourage children to restrict or avoid altogether carbohydrate-containing sports drinks.
  • Teach children that sports drinks have a specific and limited function in adolescent athletes. These drinks should be ingested only when there is a need for more rapid replenishment of carbohydrates or electrolytes during periods of prolonged and vigorous physical activity.
  • Promote water, not sports or energy drinks, as the most important source of hydration for adolescents.