Children's Hospital Colorado

Water vs. Sports Drinks: What Is the Best Choice for Young Athletes?

Water vs. sports drinks – how do you decide what to give your growing athlete?

Ask yourself these questions to help determine if water or a sports drink is more appropriate:

How long will the activity last?

If practice or competition lasts less than one hour, water is the best choice to stay hydrated. If the activity will last longer than one hour or is very intense, a sports drink will help your child stay hydrated, but it will also provide something that water cannot – fuel for his or her working muscles.

What are the climate conditions?

Children are more susceptible to dehydration than adults, especially in hot, humid conditions and also at high altitude. Even during an activity that lasts less than one hour, if your child will be sweating profusely, a sports drink will again provide something that water cannot – electrolytes that are lost in sweat.

Your child can get too much of a good thing.

  • Sports drinks are helpful immediately before, during, and after exercise but they should only be used for training and competition.
  • Sports drinks contain calories and drinking too much can take away from balanced eating. Don’t let sports drinks replace other nutritious drinks throughout the day.
  • Water is the best choice if your athlete is thirsty between meals. Milk is a great drink choice at meals to provide much needed protein, vitamins, and minerals.

Learn more about sports nutrition.