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Blog: What's In Your Sports Drink?

Michael Chen/

Today, I am in clinic, seeing one of my favorite 14-year-olds. Just a few months prior, he talked about his goals for getting to a healthier weight. This was after discovering that strawberry milk didn’t count as a serving of fruit (since it doesn’t have any fruit in it). He decided that he was ready to give up “all” sugar-sweetened beverages in an effort to get to a healthier weight. Today, he is sharing his progress -- telling me that he hasn’t had any sugar-sweetened beverages since he was last in clinic. In his hand is a 32-ounce, neon-colored sports drink.

What to say? I took a deep breath, pointed to the bottle and said, “What do you think about drinks like the one you have today?”

His mother immediately said, “He’s in football now.” He didn’t answer, but started to look at the label.

He has a 2-hour practice, during which he says he is active for about half the time. The 32-ounce beverage he had was 2.5 servings, for a total of 200 calories.

We did the math together. He burns approximately 400 calories during each practice and is consuming 400 from the sports drinks alone, generally drinking one before and one after practice. He was shocked, and has now made a new commitment to reading labels and to finding a "fun" low-calorie drink. 

Sports drink marketing companies can confuse consumers, as they suggest that you need these beverages for every physical endeavor, when you really don't. Checking calories and ingredients on labels is very important.

With that in mind, one last thought: For those who seek something a little more exciting than water, there are plenty of zero-added sugar options. 

M. Jennifer Abuzzahab, MD, is a Pediatric Endocrinologist at the McNeely Pediatric Diabetes Center and Endocrine Clinic at Children's Hospitals and Clinics of Minnesota. She has been working in Pediatric Endocrinology for 17 years. Endocrinology is the study of hormones—or the chemical text messages that are sent throughout your body. She is an unapologetic science nerd, and is passionate about pediatric obesity, growth disorders, endocrine consequences of cancer survival and endocrine disruptors. She is active in research; however, spends the majority of her time in clinic. She sees Sound Medicine as an opportunity to share her clinical experience with people who are not her patients.