Should Kids Use Nutritional Supplements Like Energy Gels And Drinks? Risks and Substitutes


As the trend of taking nutritional supplements like energy drinks and energy gels is going high up to the roof,  many young athletes also regularly drink nutritional supplements without truly understanding what they are or how they work. Can kids take these nutritional, energy-boosting supplements? Do they have any negative effects on kids’ growth and health? These are the question you must’ve thought of if you are parenting an athletic kid. 

So, should kids use nutritional supplements like energy gels/energy drinks? Energy gels and energy drinks are not suitable for children. The fact that many adult athletes take supplements without much problem does not suggest that they are suitable for children and adolescents too.

Nutritional supplements are currently unchecked in terms of safety, purity, potency, or effectiveness for kids. They are not tested for kids and even manufacturers are not required to prove that they are suitable for children. They are not marketed toward kids and some of them clearly state an age limit. 

Check out our post on Are Ready-made Energy gels better than their natural substitutes? Honey, Maple-Syrup, Dates…

Supplements can contain impurities or interfere with medications. Some products may contain impurities that trigger a false positive on a drug test. This is one more reason not to include energy gels and energy drinks in your kid’s nutritional regime. (source)

Also, if interested in engaging your kid in triathlon, make sure to check out our post on Triathlon For Kids: A Complete Guide (Age, Gear, Training & The Road To Olympics)

The most common nutritional supplements and their active ingredients are discussed in this article, along with facts for parents to know what exactly happens in their kid’s body when they take these supplements.

Also, check out How To Introduce Your Kid To Triathlon? What Parents Must Know!

Energy Drinks For Youth Triathlete

Energy drinks are designed to trick the brain into thinking that the body has much more energy than it does.

They don’t work for fast energy replacement and replenishing the energy sources. This is why they contain high amounts of caffeine, taurine (another form of caffeine), and various herbs along with a high amount of carbohydrates.

Even though they have plenty of carbohydrates, the texture of energy drinks and the high amount of caffeine in them makes it difficult for our body to absorb them quickly.

They have sugar content higher than sports drinks!

Such a highly concentrated form of sugar cannot be absorbed by our bodies. It can also lead to severe dehydration if not taken properly and with an adequate amount of water. It stays in the stomach longer than plain water so it cannot be considered a very good source of hydration.

Why kids shouldn’t use energy drinks?

  • Kids shouldn’t use energy drinks because of their high caffeine content and other herbs added to them. Many of the herbs in them are not labeled in the ingredients. They are not tested for children and you cannot be sure if they are safe for the kids or not.
  • The second major ingredient of energy drink is loads and loads of sugar. Sugar in them is equivalent to the sugar in a cold drink like cola. They are not actively metabolized by the body for energy. So they are stored in the form of fat in our body. Taking too many of these energy drinks can lead to childhood obesity, diabetes, and other heart diseases.
  • Energy drinks can also cause respiratory distress and palpitations which can be life-threatening in kids with asthma or any heart condition.
  • On rare occasions, consuming too many energy drinks can cause seizures, mania, and potentially fatal stroke.

Can Kids Using Energy Gels For Athletics

Energy gels aren’t very popular among younger athletes due to a variety of reasons. They are intensely flavored. Many children also find their texture unappealing. They are designed to give you a quick boost of carbohydrates. They contain a variety of carbohydrates for the energy requirement.

Sometimes they may contain the wrong ratio of these sugars which can make you lethargic in the middle of the race. Furthermore, energy gels are highly hygroscopic. This means they love water. If you don’t drink enough water with them to dilute the sugars, water from your body will move into your gut.

It can make you severely dehydrated. Dehydration in children can result in blacking out in the middle of the event. It can also cause their body to heat up to produce mild heatstroke symptoms.

You may want to go through the article we wrote about Are Ready-made Energy gels better than their natural substitutes? Honey, Maple-Syrup, Dates… for gel substitutes for kids.

Sports Drink For Kids

Many people confuse energy drinks with sports drinks. Sports drinks are soda waters that contain a proper amount of sugars and electrolytes without caffeine and other stimulants. Sports drink makes you hydrated and gives you the energy you need during the race and other aerobic exercises, and if this is the main purpose of offering it to kids, then why not!

While there are no side effects for using them in children, they can be ridiculously expensive and can be a real burden on your budget.

As they have high carbohydrates and sugar content, if used improperly they can increase the consumer body weight if you don’t watch your calorie count.

Caffeine and Athletic Kids

Caffeine is commonly consumed by young athletes in the form of energy drinks, sports drinks, gels before and during training and competition.

They take it in the hopes of improving stamina, performance, and concentration.

It also helps them with inspiration, and mental alertness, as well as masking exhaustion. while this might be the case in adults this is not the case in children and adolescents.  

Caffeine helps adults by enabling them to exercise longer than their normal period without being fatigue because it forces muscles to use more fat in place of carbohydrates.

However, the protection and efficacy of caffeine before and after exercise in children and teenagers has yet to be determined. They may be more susceptible to the harmful effects of caffeine than adults. They may even feel caffeine jitters at a time when they are already nervous and anxious.

Most energy drinks come with a lot of caffeine in them, sometimes the amount of caffeine in one energy drink can even approach two to three cups of coffee. This amount of caffeine makes teenagers and kids susceptible to side effects like,

  • jitteriness and nervousness
  • upset stomach
  • Lack of concentration 
  • insomnia
  • Diarrhea
  • Withdrawal symptoms like headache
  • Palpitations
  • Impulsive behavior

These symptoms may be more marked in children already fighting some physical or mental ailments.

How Much Caffeine Can Be Considered Safe For Kids?

Caffeine is found in many things in today’s period. Kid’s favorites like chocolate drinks, chocolate, tea, coffee-flavored ice cream, and all chocolate-based products contain caffeine in varying amounts. The question arises of how much caffeine can be considered safe for kids.

  • 4 to 6 years old: less than 45 mg per day (about one 355 ml can of pop)
  • 7 to 9 years old: less than 62.5 mg per day (about one and a half 355 ml cans of pop)
  • 10 to 12 years old: less than 85 mg per day (almost two 355 ml cans of pop)
  • 13 years and older: no more than 2.5 mg per kilogram of body weight, per day (source)

Energy drinks and some energy gels contain anywhere from 50mg to 200 mg of caffeine in one can of energy drink. In conclusion, even drinking one can per day crosses the upper daily limit of caffeine intake for kids and teens.

Alternatives to nutritional supplements for athletic children

For the energy required by children in their sports and exercise, many natural options are available. It is better to use these natural alternatives rather than succumbing your kid to the world of chemicals and preservatives.

Make sure to check our post on Triathlon Nutrition Guide: Before, During & After Race (What Not To Eat !!!)

Some of the alternatives that I found safe and perfect in terms of calories and energy requirements are mentioned below.

  • Watermelon juice: watermelon is 90%water and it has a good enough amount of electrolytes and sugar. It is easily available and you can even make it at home.
  • Coconut water: coconut is an excellent source of minerals that are usually lost during sweating. It has its own unique flavor and texture similar to sports drinks. You can even get them from your local supermarket.
  • Smoothies: fruit smoothies with bananas and dates and other berries can give you all the amount of nutrients for your body. Although smoothies don’t do much for hydration still they can make you run for a longer period. To compensate for dehydration, make sure you drink a lot of water between breaks.
  • Homemade lemonade: it is an excellent drink for the middle of the race and exercise. Not only it has excellent flavor but it also maintains the ph of your body and gives you all the added nutrients.

Check the article we wrote to find out about the other natural alternatives for a quick energy boost here

Final thoughts

Although these nutritional supplements are widely popular they impose many risks on the youth. These risks are greatly reduced in adults due to their well-developed body and their coping mechanism.

Children are still in the growth phase and these supplements can severely deteriorate their health on can cause a negative impact on their weight and BMI.

So, don’t give your 12-year-olds energy drink or other supplements to depend on. Instead, make them some natural smoothie juice or energy bar to help them develop a better sense of their body needs. Their body will also start meeting up with energy requirements with proper exercise and make them more efficient.

Also, check out How long does it take a child to finish a triathlon? Tips for kids and parents

sherifjallad

An extreme triathlete who have competed in dozens of triathlons including IronMans and Extreme triathlons.

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