Flavored water might seem like a simple, healthy choice to pick when compared to soda, juice, and carbohydrate-loaded sports drinks. But flavored water, which shouldn’t be confused with sparkling water, carbonated water, or water with fruit essence, from your local convenience store or made from a powder at home might not be the healthiest pick for your young athlete.
TrueSport Expert Kristen Ziesmer, a registered dietitian and board-certified specialist in sports dietetics, explains what you need to know to pick or make a flavored water that’s healthier for your athlete.
Don't: Fall for fake sugar
Fake sugar is significantly sweeter than regular sugar, so it can actually make regular sugar start tasting less sweet in comparison, which can be bad news for young athletes who love sweet treats, warns Ziesmer. “Because artificial sweeteners are significantly sweeter than the real stuff, it actually makes you crave real sugar more,” she says. “Sucralose has also been shown to lower the number of healthy bacteria in your gut, which is not good from a digestive standpoint.”
Do: Read the label critically
Beyond fake sugars, you should be on the lookout for chemical preservatives and artificial flavoring and coloring, says Ziesmer. While most of these add-ins likely won’t be harmful for your young athlete, it’s better to encourage a whole and real-food approach to nutrition rather than reaching for artificial flavoring.
“There's no true definition around the word natural in food and drink manufacturing. You can’t just read the front of the package and assume the best. You always have to look at the back of the package and look at the ingredients to see what's in there,” she adds. “For example, even though Stevia comes from a plant, it’s usually cut with something else to make it mix better, but that isn’t mentioned on the front of the package.”