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No Bull: Sports Drinks Fuel Young Athletes Playing Team Sports

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Sometimes you just can't believe what you read online or in the newspaper.

You may have seen the headlines or heard the buzz:  "Energy Drinks May Give Young Sports Teams An Edge, Study Says" trumpeted one; "Energy drinks boost stamina, enhance performance of young team players," said another.

Time to rush out to the nearest supermarket to stock up on energy drinks for your young athlete. Right?

Not so fast.  

Sports drinks & energy drinks are not the same!

Dig deeper and you'll soon discover that what the articles are talking about aren't energy drinks at all.

Nope.  The drink that researchers at the University of Edinburgh in Scotland say helped 12- to 14-year-old athletes in the study play, on average, 24% longer before exhaustion during stop-and-go, high intensity team sports was a solution containing 6 and 8% carbohydrates and electrolytes; in other words, a sports drink.

How could the media confuse energy drinks and sports drinks and use the terms interchangeably when they are so fundamentally different?  Heaven only knows. 

"We weren't researching energy drinks," says Dr. John Sproule, lead author of the sports drink study and a professor in the Department of Physical Education, Sport and Leisure Studies at the University of Edinburgh. "It was the press that decided to use the term 'energy.'"

While energy drinks have become extremely popular among adolescents and young adults in recent years, with many young athletes seeing them as a quick and easy way to maximize athletic performance, many groups, including the National Federation of High School Associations (NFHS), recommend against their use for re-hydration and warn that consumption may hurt not help athletic performance by causing side effects as bloating, abdominal cramping, diarrhea, light headedness, and impaired sleep.  Energy drinks are not sports drinks: they contain higher concentrations of carbohydrate (usually 9-10%) and calories than a sports drink, and high amounts of caffeine, both "natural" (from herbs and untested nutritional supplements) and synthetic, which aren't in sports drinks. 

So, now that we have that straightened out, what should the take-away of the Scottish study be for sports parents?

Pretty simple: that sports drinks, like Gatorade, consumed right before and at 15-minute intervals during prolonged stop-and-go team sports such as soccer, football, ice hockey, basketball, volleyball, and lacrosse actually help young athletes play better, longer.

Or, to put it another way, sports drinks work. And that's no bull.