Health experts agree that proper fluid intake during exercise can reduce the risk of heat-related illnesses. But parents should be mindful of what their children are drinking.

As children’s activity level increases, so does loss of essential body fluids. Even when children are thirsty, they might not drink enough because the taste of plain water can be unappealing. As a result, parents may turn to flavored sports drinks.

However, some sport drinks or energy enhancers may do more harm than good because they contain unhealthy amounts of sugar and caffeine.

The American Academy of Pediatrics offers the following advice on keeping kids hydrated:

  • Children should drink before, during and after exercise. Make sure your child pauses during exercise to get a drink every 15-20 minutes.

  • Water should be the beverage of choice because it is the main body fluid initially lost during exercise. If your child finds plain water unappetizing, try adding small amounts of juice or lemon slices to the water.

  • Children exercising in hot, humid conditions for more than an hour will lose electrolytes (salts such as sodium, potassium and chloride) that can’t be replaced by plain water. Therefore, they should drink small amounts (around 5 ounces) of electrolyte-replacing fluids, such as juice mixed with water or sports drinks, every 15 to 20 minutes. Sports drinks, however, are unnecessary for children who exercise less than three hours in normal weather conditions.

  • Sports drinks containing fructose or carbohydrate concentrations greater than 8% should be avoided to reduce the risk of weight gain and dental and gastrointestinal problems.

  • Energy drinks are not the same as sports drinks. Traditional sports drinks contain electrolytes, a limited amount of sugar and no caffeine. Most energy drinks, on the other hand, contain large amounts of sugar and caffeine that don’t make up for lost electrolytes. Energy drinks can increase blood pressure and cause headaches and more frequent urination, which leads to further dehydration.