How to Pack a Healthy Lunch for a Day of Skiing or Snowboarding

When we moved to Colorado, we quickly found a ‘locals’ mountain that fit our lifestyle.  Since then, we pack our lunch in a backpack, bring it up the mountain on the first run and throw it under a tree with everyone else’s backpacks.  The snow keeps our lunch cold until we are ready to eat.

Depending on your weight and the terrain that you ski, you may burn between 400-750 calories per hour of downhill and cross-country skiing.

Here are some tips for making the most of your lunch on the slopes:

Types of food to eat

  • A good supply of carbohydrates that will keep your muscles fueled all day.
  • Some salty foods, fruits and nuts for electrolytes.
  • Protein, mostly from leaner sources, and a little fiber that will keep your body feeling well fed but not sleepy.

Examples of foods to pack for the day

  • Turkey and cheese, or peanut butter with jam or honey on whole grain bread-you may need two sandwiches.
  • Portable fruit or vegetables: Oranges or cuties, dried fruit such as raisins and apricots, ready-washed bag of snap peas
  • Crunchy/salty snack:  pretzels, pop chips, tortilla chips

Snacks? Think hearty and portable:

  • Cereal bars with protein
  • Trail mix with your favorite foods-nuts, seeds, cereal, dried fruit, chocolate bits, mini pretzels or any of these things by themselves.
  • You will be burning plenty of calories so hot chocolate or a cookie and low fat milk is a great treat on a cold, high-energy expenditure day.

Stay hydrated! 

  • To avoid dehydration and increased potential for altitude sickness, be sure to stop for fluid breaks.
  • Drink lots of water. Juice and milk are also good options.
  • An indicator of hydration is urine color and volume.  Aim for light yellow and decent volume when you go to bathroom.  Otherwise, it’s time to take a rest and tank up with some water, juice or a sports drink.

What do you eat for lunch while spending a day on the slopes?

Written by:  Lauren Furuta, RD, Clinical Nutrition, Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Mini Veggie Pizza Post-Game Snack Recipe

The game is over, and it’s not quite time for lunch or dinner. But you may want to consider making a fun alternative snack of mini veggie pizzas to refuel your young athlete after a long game.

Just follow the directions below.

Recipe time:

Allow for 15 minutes of preparation before you leave for the game.

What you will need:

  • 8 mini bagels (try choices with fiber)
  • 1 cup pizza sauce
  • 2 cups shredded cheese (Part skim mozzarella)
  • 1 cup chopped veggies (Note: bright colored veggies offer great nutrition) 

How to make:

Split each bagel and add 1 tablespoon of pizza sauce onto each half. Top with your favorite veggies (i.e. bell peppers, onions, mushrooms, etc.) and divide the cheese evenly over each mini pizza. When you get home from the game, broil your already prepared mini pizzas until cheese is bubbly.

You have made a healthy, vegetarian alternative to a traditional delivery pizza.

Nutritional information* per 1 bagel prepared or per serving












*Source: Calorie King

Get more healthy recipes and resources from the Weight Management Program at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

Download our Calorie Card that can help your child make healthier food choices.

Do you have a favorite team recipe? Let us know in the comments section below. 

Is a Vegetarian Diet OK for Young Athletes?

Adolescence is a time of experimentation and growth and this often happens within the realm of eating.

Teenagers may decide to become vegetarians for various reasons including animal rights, religious reasons and/or perceived health benefits. Parents should engage their young athlete in a conversation regarding motivations for starting such a diet to ensure it is not being used as a means of weight control.

Types of vegetarian diets

Being a vegetarian is not ‘one size fits all’ or the same for every person. There are many types of vegetarians and it is important to recognize the differences among them. Below is a table that outlines the different types of vegetarian diets.

Vegetarian Type  Animal proteins allowed Animal proteins excluded
Semi-vegetarian May allow all or certain animal proteins in limited amounts Variable
Lacto-ovo vegetarian Dairy and eggs Meat, fish and fowl
Lacto-vegetarian Dairy Eggs, meat, fish, fowl
Vegan None All




Food choices to keep vegetarians healthy

Because the vegetarian diet excludes certain foods, protein and certain vitamin and mineral intake can be low. If the vegetarian is thoughtful about their food choices, however, the diet can also be made complete. The more restrictive the vegetarian is, the more thoughtful they will need to be about incorporating the following nutrients:


Protein intake is important for young athletes because it helps build and repair muscles. Good vegetarian sources of protein to keep your young athlete strong include:

  • Nuts and nut butters
  • Seeds
  • Beans and lentils
  • Whole grains
  • Tofu and soy milk
  • Protein analogs (i.e. veggie burgers)
  • Protein bars

Calcium and vitamin D*

Calcium and vitamin D build and maintain strong bones. Specifically, calcium is involved in many processes that send messages to the nerves and muscles so that the body can move. Learn more about calcium and vitamin D deficiency.

Vegetarian sources for calcium and vitamin D include:

  • *Dairy foods and eggs (depending on vegetarian type—see the table above)
  • *Fortified foods and beverages such as soy, rice and almond milks, orange juice, cereals and protein bars. Note: check the label for vitamin D and calcium.
  • Vegetables, like broccoli, kale and Bok Choy
  • Sesame seeds, almonds and dried beans

Vitamin B12

Vitamin B12 helps maintain healthy blood cells and the nervous system. B12 deficiency can lead to a certain type of anemia that can cause such symptoms as fatigue, which can affect a young athlete’s performance. Great vegetarian sources of vitamin B12 include:

  • Dairy and eggs (depending on vegetarian type—see the table above)
  • B12 fortified foods (be sure to check labels, as it is not in all brands)
  • Meat analogs (i.e. veggie burgers, soy burgers and soy chicken analogs)
  • Rice, soy and almond milk
  • Cereals and protein bars


Iron helps carry oxygen throughout the body, including muscles where it can be stored. Low iron in the body can mean a tired athlete. To avoid fatigue, vegetarian sources for iron intake for young athletes can include:

  • Legumes, enriched cereals and breads
  • Nuts, blackstrap molasses (thick syrup) and prunes
  • Dark green vegetables

Guidance for young vegetarian athletes

Athletes can be vegetarians, but they need to be mindful of their diet’s potential inadequacies. It’s always a possibility that the young vegetarian athlete may require a vitamin/mineral supplement to ensure the diet is complete. Also seeing a registered dietitian is a good step to help the athlete maintain the nutrition necessary for their sport while choosing a vegetarian lifestyle. For more information about a vegetarian diet, check out this list of helpful resources.

Do you have a favorite vegetarian recipe or favorite site for vegetarian recipes that you would like to share?                                    

Written by: Lauren Furuta, MOE, RD, Clinical Nutrition, Children’s Hospital Colorado. To find out more about nutrition tips, read our archived sports nutrition posts, or schedule an appointment at 720-777-6600. We are happy to consult with parents or referring providers before a patient is seen at Children’s Colorado.

How Much Iron Do Young Athletes Need in an Everyday Diet?

Young athletes hear a lot about the importance of eating enough calories and drinking the right amount of fluids for their performance and growth.

As a dietitian and mother of two young athletes, I believe it’s also important to think about the smaller nutrients, including vitamins and minerals, to get your kids through a long day of school and a demanding practice.

Below is an overview of the importance of iron intake and good food sources to help work this mineral into your young athlete’s diet.

Why is iron important for young athletes?

Iron deficiency anemia can occur when the body does not have enough iron.  In turn, it will make fewer red blood cells or red blood cells that are too small.  This results in the blood having a decreased ability to carry oxygen throughout the body.

Depending on how significant the iron deficiency is, it can reduce sports performance, especially endurance activities (such as distance running, swimming and triathlons), impair concentration and cause increased fatigue and risk of injury.

Many of the symptoms mentioned above, however, may not show up until the deficiency is more significant. So it is a good idea to be aware of who is at risk, the signs and symptoms and to know how to prevent iron deficiency in young athletes.

Common signs and symptoms of iron deficiency (anemia):

At risk iron deficient anemia populations among athletes include:

  • Female athletes (related to menstrual losses)
  • Vegetarian athletes or athletes who may restrict iron rich foods in their diet
  • Underweight/undernourished athletes
  • Endurance athletes

Iron rich foods (include daily choices to prevent iron deficiency):

  • Lean meats, dark meat from chicken or turkey (absorbed better than plant sources)
  • Beans, lentils, nuts and sunflower seeds
  • Iron fortified cereals: cold cereals and oatmeal
  • Green, leafy vegetables such as spinach and broccoli
  • Dried fruits such as raisins, apricots and prunes

For more food sources, check out Tables 1 and 2 in the Center for Diseases and Control website.

Animal sources of iron are better absorbed than plant sources. But you can improve absorption of iron in the following ways:

  • Include citrus fruit or drink orange juice with iron rich foods. Vitamin C  enhances absorption of iron.
  • Vitamin C rich foods include red pepper, grapefruit, broccoli and strawberries.
  • Avoid teas, coffees and cocoa with meals (nutrients in these beverages decreases absorption).

If you feel your athlete is at risk for iron deficiency, talk to your doctor. Professional guidance from your Pediatrician will help determine whether or not blood work to assess your athlete’s iron stores and/or risk of anemia is warranted.

Written by: Lauren Furuta, MOE, RD, Clinical Nutrition, Children’s Hospital Colorado. To find out more about nutrition tips, like calcium and vitamin D intake, read our archived sports nutrition posts, or schedule an appointment at 720-777-6600. We are happy to consult with parents or referring providers before a patient is seen at Children’s Colorado.

Healthy School Lunches for Young Athletes

Healthy-Lunches-for-Young-AthletesTo find out what it takes for kids to truly enjoy a healthy lunch, I interviewed three highly-acclaimed experts on school lunches for this blog: my children.

My 14-year-old daughter recalled that her lunches often left her feeling hungry before soccer practice. They didn’t provide enough energy (i.e. calories) and started too early—at 11 a.m. to be exact!

At the end of the school year last May, my 11-year-old son proclaimed that he could not bear the thought of another sandwich until school started again in the fall.

All the while, my 9-year-old daughter said that the broccoli served for hot lunch at her school is overcooked and smells up the lunchroom. She is also not impressed with the rock-hard pears.

With all of the feedback from my kids, I wondered: what’s a parent to do about providing a healthy school lunch that provides adequate energy, appealing fruits and vegetables, and isn’t the same week after week? If you’re struggling with similar questions, consider following the suggestions below. They’re easy to do and will make a lasting impact on your child’s health choices and energy levels throughout a long school day.

A healthy lunch should contain: grains (some of which are whole grains), lean protein, dairy or non-dairy substitute, and at least two fruits and/or vegetables. School hot lunches must follow these guidelines. But if you’re packing your own lunch, here is an example of something that you could try:

Variety is best. To diversify your child’s food intake, consider alternating between favorite hot lunches at school and packed lunches from home. Mix up sandwich types (i.e. tuna salad, turkey, ham, roast beef, peanut butter and jelly, etc.) and bread types (i.e. wheat, white, bagels or tortillas). Leftovers from dinner in a thermos can also be nice for a change.

Always eat lunch, even if the timing doesn’t seem right. If older athletes have an early breakfast and a late lunch, they will likely need a morning snack to help meet their energy needs. If they have an early lunch, they will need an afternoon snack to help get the most out of practice or competition after school. Learn more about the importance of eating before a game.

Encourage your kids to choose wisely from the cafeteria. The pasta bar will provide better pre-game or practice choices than the burger bar, while fish tacos will be better than fried chicken. If your child has the privilege of eating off campus for lunch, you should always encourage them to make healthy choices, like choosing fruit instead of french fries.

Do you have any fun school lunch ideas that your children like? Let us know in the comments section below.

Written by: Laura Watne, MS, RD, Clinical Nutrition, Children’s Hospital Colorado. To learn more, visit our Orthopedic Institute website, or schedule an appointment at 720-777-6600. We are happy to consult with parents or referring providers before a patient is seen at Children’s Colorado. Did you like this blog post? Then consider subscribing to our blog to receive helpful advice, resources and information for young athletes.

Ice Cream vs. Frozen Yogurt: What’s the Healthy Difference?

Every sports team has heard the jingle “You scream, I scream, we all scream for ice cream!” But should we be screaming for frozen yogurt instead? Let’s take a closer look at both so you can make an informed, healthy choice.

Why choose low or nonfat frozen yogurt for young athletes?

  • A low fat frozen yogurt might be better for a young athlete (instead of ice cream) if they are eating it prior to a workout or competition, as it will digest more quickly.
  • To supply an athlete with a good amount of carbohydrates for fueling and protein for muscle recovery without the excess calories from fat. This makes it a good choice for a young athlete who eats frozen desserts frequently and/or has reached his/her adult height and is at an ideal body weight.
  • To offer a higher amount of calcium. Again, this can vary greatly so it is worth reading the label. Note that 10-15% of daily value per ½ cup is a good source for calcium. Learn more about calcium and vitamin D.
  • Frozen yogurts may contain probiotics, depending on the product. While a more definitive connection needs to be established, research says that these cultures may play an important role in immune function and prevention of some chronic diseases. Look for the “Live and Active Yogurt Cultures” seal on the label to ensure a certain amount of active cultures in the product.
  • Frozen yogurts with active cultures are usually better tolerated by people with lactose intolerance, as the cultures help break down the lactose in the product. Learn more about lactose intolerance.

Why choose ice cream for young athletes?

  • Because they are kids and they may just want a bowl of ice cream after a hard work out or on a hot summer day.
  • Young athletes need a variety of foods, including some fat, in their diet. Ice cream may be where they choose to get it from, and depending on the product, it can still be a decent source of calcium.
  • Ice cream can also be helpful for young athletes who need to gain weight.

Eating variety is essential. And the truth is: Frozen yogurt and ice cream can both be part of a healthy game plan. Use the information above, product labels and/or nutrition facts (see below) to make an informed choice.

What is the difference between ice cream and frozen yogurt?
(1 cup serving of vanilla flavored dessert)**









% DV+

Frozen Yogurt-low fat






 Frozen Yogurt-non fat






 Ice Cream-Regular (store bought)






 Ice Cream-1/2 Fat (store bought)






 Ice Cream (from a specialty ice cream shop)






*Add 100-200 calories per cup to flavored ice cream and for each 1-2 ounces of many ‘mix-ins’ in yogurt
**Source info: labels and frozen yogurt information for soft serve. These values can vary greatly with flavor and brand.
Daily value=1000 mg calcium

Learn more about our Clinical Nutrition Program at Children’s Hospital Colorado.

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Written by: Lauren Furuta, MOE, RD, Clinical Nutrition, Children’s Hospital Colorado. To find out more about nutrition tips, read our archived sports nutrition posts, or schedule an appointment at 720-777-6600. We are happy to consult with parents or referring providers before a patient is seen at Children’s Colorado.

Female Athlete Triad Poses Potential Danger for Young Athletes

female athlete triad cause preventionI have experienced many lifelong benefits of sports – both as a participant and as I watch my children explore the world of youth athletics. Unfortunately, I have also observed what begins as healthy sports participation for some girls and young women become unbalanced, putting their health at risk.

What is female athlete triad?

Female athlete triad is an association between an eating disorder, absence of menstruation (amenorrhea), and osteoporosis. It is more likely to occur in young women who participate in activities that emphasize a lean physique such as gymnastics, ice skating, ballet and long-distance running.

An athlete who struggles with the triad has

  • Lower energy intake compared to the energy demands of her sport. This may occur inadvertently or as part of a clinical eating disorder such as anorexia or bulimia. Signs and symptoms may include poor growth or unhealthy weight loss, unnecessary food restriction, odd eating rituals, excessive exercise and decreased athletic and school performance.
  • Lack of menstruation for 3 or more months (or 0-3 cycles per year) caused by inadequate energy intake.
  • Stress fractures due to a loss of bone mass caused by amenorrhea and inadequate nutrition.

Reduce the chance of athletic triad

  • Eat regular meals and snacks and adjusts energy intake to meet the increased calorie needs of her sport.
  • Regular menses that begins by age 15 and occurs 11-13 times per year.
  • Adequate calorie, calcium, and vitamin D intake for  healthy, strong bones. Most bone mass is accumulated during adolescence.

Coaches and parents can help prevent athlete triad

  • Focus on fun, fitness and health instead of size and weight. Healthy athletes come in a wide range of shapes and sizes.
  •  Do not diet or encourage your athletes to go on a diet! Dieting is one of the strongest predictors for developing disordered eating patterns.
  • Encourage female athletes to report any menstrual irregularities to a trusted adult.
  • Refer struggling athletes to a sports medicine physician, sports dietitian, and/or mental health professional if problems or concerns arise. Early detection and treatment is important to reduce irreversible health consequences such as short stature, decreased bone density, and compromised mental and reproductive health.

Encouraging your athlete to take care of herself and talking with her often about how she feels will help keep your child on a healthy track. Parents and coaches can learn more about female athlete triad by clicking here.

Written by: Laura Watne, MS, RD, Clinical Nutrition, Children’s Hospital Colorado. To learn more, visit our Orthopedic Institute website, or schedule an appointment at 720-777-6600. We are happy to consult with parents or referring providers before a patient is seen at Children’s Colorado.

10 Benefits of Drinking Chocolate Milk for Nutrition Recovery

Have you ever wondered why your child’s coach tells young athletes to drink chocolate milk after a hard practice? It may sound a bit strange, but actually, chocolate low-fat milk has been shown to help young athletes recover needed nutrition.

What is recovery nutrition?

Recovery is the window of time when your athlete needs to replenish his/her stores of energy after a vigorous workout or activity. Most high school athletes participating daily in two hours or longer ofchocolate milk recovery drink vigorous workouts or younger athletes on highly competitive club teams with equally rigorous workouts can benefit from drinking a glass of chocolate low-fat milk after an intense workout.

10 Benefits of chocolate low-fat milk for recovery:

  1. Fluid and electrolytes for hydration
  2. Protein source for muscle repair
  3. Carbohydrate source to replenish energy stores for the next practice
  4. Chocolate in the milk boosts the carbohydrate supplied to your muscles and liver
  5. Low cost replenishing option
  6. Often available in the school cafeteria
  7. Quick and potentially portable
  8. For some athletes, it may be easier to tolerate a beverage versus food shortly after a workout
  9. Replenishes necessary vitamins
  10. It tastes great and kids typically love to drink chocolate milk

Using milk as a recovery fuel will also boost your athlete’s calcium and vitamin D intake. You might be surprised to know that vitamin D deficiency among our children is becoming increasingly more common.  Vitamin D deficiency can have a serious effect on growing bones and bone strength later in life.

Are fancy recovery powders and beverages better than milk?

Not necessarily.  While they are almost always more expensive than milk, some products contain more than you bargained for, including caffeine, herbs, mega doses of vitamins and even contaminants such as melamine and lead. If you find that your athlete prefers one of these supplement beverages, be sure to read the label and choose wisely.

Alternatives to cow milk

Finally, if your child is milk allergic or intolerant other milks are available.  Examples of these include fortified soy or almond milk.  However, additional protein is needed to match that of cow’s milk. This can be supplied by a small handful of nuts, for example.

So, the next time you pick up your athlete after a long practice and dinner is still over an hour away, think about bringing him or her a 8-12 ounces of cold chocolate low-fat milk for the ride home. Their muscles will appreciate it.

Written by: Lauren Furuta, MOE, RD, Clinical Nutrition, Children’s Hospital Colorado

Wrestlers: Tips on Losing Weight Safely – Avoiding Risky Weight Loss Behaviors

Wrestlers cutting weight to compete in a weight class is nothing new. Unfortunately, many of these athletes take on unhealthy methods to lose weight.  When weight loss is done in a healthy way, the wrestler can become stronger and more competitive in a lower weight class..

An estimated 25%-67% of wrestlers use techniques such as over exercise, calorie restriction, fasting, and different dehydration methods to lose weight. Wrestlers tend to believe this type of action will improve their performance, but in reality this usually only makes things worse.

Dehydration is a wrestler’s worst enemy

Dehydration is a main health concern when losing weight quickly. It occurs when a wrestler cuts off their intake of fluids. Dehydration is the worst method of losing weight since it causes quick decline in strength, endurance and mental alertness.

Symptoms of dehydration can become noticeable after as little as 2% loss of normal water volume. Drinking too little water in combination with heavy exercise may cause cramps or, in extreme cases, heatstroke and swelling of the brain which causes seizures and hypovolemic shock.

A simple, efficient way of determining proper hydration is to check urine color.  Dark urine (similar to apple juice) indicates dehydration and clear urine indicates adequate hydration.

Extreme reduction in calories can result in strength loss

Malnutrition is also pretty common among wrestlers trying to lose weight quickly. Dehydration combined with extreme calorie reduction can result in a loss of strength, muscular endurance, stamina, and concentration. Sudden unhealthy weight loss can mean that a wrestler is not getting essential nutrients like protein, calories, B vitamins, iron, and zinc; this can cause depression, muscle atrophy and lower testosterone levels. Many wrestlers have gone as far as vomiting before weigh-ins in order to make a specific weight class for a wrestling match.

Every high school wrestling program in American is required to use the national hydration assessment tests to determine if a wrestler is fit to wrestle. These tests are intended to analyze body fat percentages at the alpha weight and establish how much weight a wrestler can lose each week. When a wrestler reaches the minimum body fat percentage of 7% for boys or 12% for girls of their alpha fat composition, the wrestler cannot lose any more weight due to competition rules.

This system was put in place to ensure healthy weight loss and to minimize the harmful side effects of rapid weight loss. In Colorado, for health and safety reasons, the state’s weight control program requires hydration testing with a specific gravity not greater than 1.025, which is tested immediately prior to the body fat assessment. Any wrestler’s assessment that is below 7% for boys and 12% for girls must have a release form signed by a healthcare professional to participate in an upcoming event. This release won’t allow a wrestler to participate at a weight class below that for which the initial assessment allows. A 2 lb. variance above the scratch weight is permitted at the time of certification if signed by the parent and a physician.

Tips for healthy weight loss for wrestlers

Healthy weight loss tips:

  • Drink plenty of water. It is not worth cutting the weight if you can’t wrestle due to dehydration! It’s best to get a drink every 10-15 minutes at the gym and at least every 3-4 hours during the day.
  • Reduce the fat in your diet: fatty foods may taste good, but are higher in calories. Learn and know what food sources are high in fat and avoid them. Learn what foods are low in fat and eat them.
  • Eat smaller, more frequent meals: keep snacks with you. This will keep you from over eating during a sit down meal and also increase your metabolism.
  • Maintain strength training. You want to keep the strength you gained in the off season.
  • If you snack, eat fruits or pretzels instead of chips and candy.
  • Practice good nutrition by eating a balanced diet with a variety of foods.. Follow guidelines for a healthy diet. If you are restricting your intake, a daily vitamin/mineral supplement is helpful. A basic supplement which meets 100% of the RDI required nutrients is all you need.
  • Slow loss is good loss: start losing weight early. 1 to 2 pounds per week. This will assume that the weight which you lose is mostly fat. Weight loss of more than 2-3 pounds will result in things you don’t want like muscle loss.
  • Get plenty of sleep.

Unhealthy weight loss methods:

  • Don’t use sauna suits and garbage bag shirts. This method will overheat you very quickly. They are NOT a safe or productive way to lose weight. Sauna suits only make you lose water weight faster causing dehydration.
  • Don’t fast.  Starving yourself to lose weight is harmful to your body. You should try to eat healthy everyday. Not eating will make you tired and you may start to feel sick at times throughout the day.
  • Don’t drink too much caffeine (soda, coffee, etc.), as this will cause you to lose water through urine. After practice, drink enough water to replace to the water you lost during practice.
  • Stay away from laxatives and weight-loss products.  They can cause long-term health issues.
  • Don’t eliminate all carbohydrates or protein, from the diet as a means to achieving weight loss. Carbohydrates and protein are important in maintaining strength and endurance.
  • Don’t work out if you feel sick, dizzy or cold. These are signs of dehydration and heat illness. You won’t be able to lose any more weight without hurting yourself.
  • Don’t rely on water loss to lose weight. If you are going to lose weight by sweating, limit it to the day of weigh-ins. Keep your weight within two or three pounds, fully hydrated, and you can sweat this off before weigh-ins.

Energy Drinks: Do You Really Want to “Unleash the Beast?”

When I was in elementary school the First Lady, Nancy Reagan, promoted a health campaign called “Just Say No” to drugs.  Similarly, I want to encourage all young athletes to “just say no” to energy drinks…

Energy drinks like Red Bull, Monster, Rockstar and 5-Hour Energy shots are heavily marketed toward young people.  If Red Bull sponsors New York’s Major League Soccer Team and world-renowned skier Lindsey Vonn, then it must be a good product for young athletes, right?

Experts say…kids should never consume energy drinks

The American Academy of Pediatrics Committee on Nutrition and the Council on Sports Medicine and Fitness state that energy drinks “are not appropriate for children and adolescents and should never be consumed.”  However, sales of energy drinks are expected to hit $9 billion in 2011. Half of this market is aimed at children, adolescents and young adults.

What’s the difference between an energy drink and a sports drink?

Energy drinks are often confused with sports drinks, but they are actually quite different:

  • Sports drinks contain sugar and electrolytes.
  • Energy drinks contain sugar, caffeine, plant extracts such as guarana, herbs such as ginseng, as well as amino acids, vitamins, and antioxidants – sometimes in megadose quantities.
  • Sports drinks are categorized as “food” by the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and strict laws apply to their labeling.
  • Energy drinks are considered “dietary supplements” which are not required to have FDA approval before production or sale.  The FDA does not regulate the amount of caffeine and other stimulants found in energy drinks!

Why the strong warning against energy drinks? 

They may contain up to 400 mg of caffeine per serving (that’s equivalent to 11 sodas or 4 coffees).  High doses of caffeine may work together with the other ingredients in energy drinks to cause adverse reactions like sleep disturbances, increased blood pressure, increased heart rate, anxiety, irritability and vomiting.  They have also been reported to cause very serious problems such as seizures, cardiac events, and even death.

Dr. Christopher Rausch, Director of the Cardiopulmonary Exercise Laboratory at Children’s Hospital Colorado states, “I have seen many teenage patients who report palpitations (a sensation of abnormal heart beats) in association with using energy drinks and these symptoms have resolved when they stopped using energy drinks . . . .  Children with predisposing conditions may be at an even higher risk of cardiac arrhythmias with use of energy drinks.”

If you’re looking for a boost of energy, don’t put your health at risk by reaching for an energy drink.  Instead, concentrate on effective training, healthy eating and getting adequate rest.  It will be worth the extra effort!

For more information on energy drinks, check out this recent story from USA Today on the topic.

Are you concerned about energy drink use among young athletes?

Written by: Laura Watne, MS, RD, Clinical Nutrition, Children’s Hospital Colorado.