Sugared up, powered down

Energy drinks and bars mislead teen athletes.

More stories from Catherine Dana

While energy bars and drinks may be a more convenient choice for busy athletes who lack time between school and practice to sit down and eat a snack, most do not have the protein necessary for athletes — and some can have as much sugar as a candy bar.

“Alternatives for sugary bars are mixtures of fruit and nuts,” Dr. Dawn Rosenberg, who practices pediatrics, said. “They give you more or as much protein, as well as sodium and sugar to replace those electrolytes.”

Electrolytes play a large role in hydration to keep the body functioning properly, affecting muscle function and energy use. A lack in electrolytes can lead to dehydration, cramps and body fatigue. Athletes can replenish electrolytes by having proper minerals and water before and during activity.  

“If I don’t eat I can’t concentrate,” freshman Natalia Varni said. “I don’t have much time to eat before practice so I usually have a Kind Bar, a fruit and nut-based packaged energy bar, because they are quick, easy and they taste good.”

Nutrition should be the first priority, according to Rosenberg. Teens should limit added sugar to less than 25 grams a day, according to the American Heart Association, yet the average energy bar has 15-20 grams. The popular Lemon Zest Luna Bar has 13 grams of sugar, over three tablespoons of sugar.

Bars with a sugar content of five grams or lower, such as Kind Bars or Quest Bars, provide a substantial amount of protein and carbs with less than one gram of sugar.

Energy drinks contain similar high amounts of sugar. Gatorade or Powerade can be beneficial for athletes in hot conditions who need to replace the electrolytes they sweat out, yet having too much of the energy drink and overcompensating can result in taking in too much sugar and caffeine.

Diluting energy drinks or just staying hydrated with water can be enough to replace the used electrolytes, according to Rosenberg.

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