Are the Electrolytes in Gatorade Harmful to Children?

Thirsty boy drinking water outdoors
Water is the best way to keep kids hydrated. (Image: JuliA!n Rovagnati/iStock/Getty Images)

The sports drink Gatorade contains electrolytes designed to help prevent dehydration in serious athletes. Kids often enjoy the sweet taste of Gatorade, which prompts many parents to offer it to them in lieu of water. Some parents also use Gatorade to prevent dehydration when their kids have the stomach flu or diarrhea. Although the electrolytes in Gatorade do not pose a serious risk to healthy children, the sugar and calories in the drink can contribute to tooth decay and childhood obesity.

Electrolytes

Sad schoolboy
Fatigue may be a symptom of electrolyte loss. (Image: lvdesign77/iStock/Getty Images)

Electrolytes, such as sodium, calcium, potassium, phosphate and magnesium, are minerals in your body with an electric charge. Keeping the right balance of these minerals ensures that your heart keeps beating, and that your nerves and muscles function properly. Failing to replace electrolytes lost through vigorous activity or a bout with diarrhea or vomiting can result in an electrolyte imbalance. Symptoms of an imbalance include dizziness, nausea, weakness and fatigue.

Dehydration and Diarrhea

Gatorade Launch Event
Gatorade can make diarrhea worse. (Image: Christopher Polk/Getty Images Entertainment/Getty Images)

Although Gatorade can work in a pinch to help rehydrate your child, pediatrician Jo Ann Ryhans told Babycenter that the sugar in Gatorade can make diarrhea worse. The American Dietetic Association suggests using an oral electrolyte maintenance solution to rehydrate your child. Pediatric oral electrolyte-maintenance solutions contain levels of salt and sugar specifically tailored for the needs of children. Call your pediatrician for advice whether this type of solution is appropriate for your child’s situation. Severely dehydrated children might require hospitalization and intravenous rehydration.

Hydration During Sports

kid's soccer
Gatorade may help seriosuly competitive child athletes. (Image: fotokostic/iStock/Getty Images)

Nancy Clark, a registered dietician and sports nutritionist in Boston, told the “New York Times” that sports drinks such as Gatorade might help seriously competitive child athletes stay hydrated. Clark recommends Gatorade and other sports drinks for older children who participate in multiple practices or competitions, especially in the hot summer months. The salt in Gatorade can help extremely active children’s bodies hold onto water more effective. Many kids also prefer Gatorade's sugary taste to plain water, which can cause them to drink more during practice.

Tips and Precautions

Thirsty Boy Drinking Water Outdoors
Encourage your child to drink water. (Image: Anjanette Cathey/iStock/Getty Images)

Clark cautions against serving Gatorade and other sports drinks as a daily drink for non-athletic kids. Instead, urge them to drink water, which can hydrate most children effectively without adding any empty, sugary calories into their regular diet. Some children end up dehydrated because they forget to drink. Remind your child to take a break and drink water every 15 to 20 minutes during games and competitive events.

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