There are so many varieties of sports and energy drinks flooding the market, targeting athletes or anyone else whose high level of activity dictates a special kind of hydration. The choices available to those who feel the need for vitamins, caffeine or nutrients of some kind in their hydrating drinks can be mind-boggling.
There are drinks of all flavors and colors claiming a range of benefits due to their additional ingredients. How can a health-conscious athlete, or any other individual, decide between a sports drink and an energy drink when wishing to obtain maximum benefits while fulfilling hydration needs? What is the difference between a sports drink and an energy drink, and why not opt for plain thirst-quenching water?
Sports drinks are categorized as “food” by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) with strict laws governing the labeling of ingredients.
Sports drinks contain dissolved minerals, such as sodium, electrolytes and carbohydrates. Sodium and other minerals help to regulate fluid balance in the body. Because of the mineral content, sports drinks do a better job of maintaining fluid balance than plain water.
Most sport drinks are isotonic, meaning they contain similar concentrations of salt and sugar as the human body. Sports drinks also contain carbohydrates, the body’s preferred energy source during periods of intense activity.
Energy drinks, on the other hand, are considered “dietary supplements.” Energy drinks are not required to have FDA approval before production or sale. The FDA does not regulate how much caffeine and other stimulants go into energy drinks. Many energy drinks contain mega doses of sugar, caffeine and other energy boosters and have become a substitute for coffee to provide the energy to get through the day, or to feel energized for recreational activity, for many adults.
However, the American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition and the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness have stated that energy drinks “are not appropriate for children and adolescents and should never be consumed by them.” Mayo Clinic and medical professionals report seeing teenage patients who present with heart palpitations that cease when they stop using energy drinks.
With respect to sports drinks vs. energy drinks, as with any other food item, reading the label of contents and making informed choices is the responsibility of the consumer.
Whatever choice is made when selecting specialty hydration drinks, be clear about your purpose and the impact ingredients will have on your system. Remember also that for most individuals, to maintain daily hydration during normal activities all that is really necessary is adequate amounts of water.