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December 6, 2023

What Parents Should Know About Sports and Energy Drinks

ThedaCare Pediatrician Says Some Drinks Contain High Caffeine Levels

New sports and energy drinks are gaining popularity, thanks in some part to an increased presence on social media channels such as YouTube. The advertising and videos connected to these drinks have impacted their millions of young social media followers. Many of these products have hundreds of milligrams of caffeine, which is becoming a concern for parents, families and health care professionals.

“Parents should know that caffeine in any amount can impact young people much more strongly than adults,” said Sneha Subbarayan, M.D., a Pediatrician at ThedaCare Physicians Pediatrics-Neenah. “It’s also important to truly understand how much caffeine is in a specific drink. For example, some of these drinks have 100-200 milligrams of caffeine. A can of caffeinated soda has about 30 milligrams.”

Energy drinks generally contain stimulants such as caffeine and guarana, a plant product which contains caffeine. These drinks also may contain sodium, vitamins, minerals and sugar protein. The American Academy of Pediatrics said some energy drinks can contain up to fourteen times the level of caffeine found in some sodas.

Rapid consumption of about 1,200 mg of caffeine can cause toxic effects such as seizures in adults, the FDA said. Children, teens and adults can experience a range of effects from caffeine over-consumption including:

  • Insomnia or trouble getting to sleep
  • Headaches or dizziness
  • Nausea or lack of appetite
  • Anxiety and rapid or irregular heart rate
  • Hyperactivity and increased energy
  • Jumpiness and increased stress hormones
  • Dysphoria (unhappiness)
  • Impaired concentration

“Overconsumption of highly caffeinated drinks can cause toxicity in the body, and even death,” said Dr. Subbarayan.

In May 2023, a British primary school student suffered a “cardiac episode” following drinking an energy drink. Kids with pre-existing conditions also can be at greater risk for caffeine-related health problems. The American Academy of Pediatrics discourages any consumption of stimulants including caffeine by children, and energy drinks are never recommended for children under age 12.

“Water is the best drink for children,” Dr. Subbarayan said. “Adolescents should limit caffeine consumption to a maximum of 100 mg per day.”

Additionally, people can become physically dependent or addicted to stimulants. The FDA currently recommends that healthy adults can consume up to 400 mg of caffeine per day, though people on certain medications or who have certain conditions (including pregnancy) should talk to their providers about whether it’s safe to consume caffeine.

Sports Drinks vs. Energy Drinks

Sports drinks are different from energy drinks, but also should be consumed with caution. They are flavored beverages that normally contain minerals, vitamins, nutrients and electrolytes, and for young people who participate in athletics, the drinks can help rehydrate them after intense activity.

“Sports drinks are not recommended as a substitute for water, however, because they can have a high caloric content, and they are sometimes high in sugar, which contributes to obesity,” Dr. Subbarayan said. “Additionally, the citric acid in some sports drinks can lead to dental erosion if consumed frequently.”

Children and adolescents likely consume some caffeine daily as the stimulant can be found in foods and drinks like chocolate, soda, tea and ice cream.

“Always check product labels of the drinks your children consume to ensure they are caffeine-free or contain reasonable amounts if your children are over age 12,” she said. “Keep in mind that many caffeinated drinks also contain sweeteners, which also should be limited to protect your child’s health and well-being.”

Overconsumption of sugary drinks can lead to obesity. Almost 20% of children and teens in the United States were obese between 2017 and 2020, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

“Talk to your kids about caffeine, sugar and nutrition and help them to understand the risks of the drinks they may be asking for,” Dr Subbarayan explained. “Read food labels with your child, and when they’re old enough, teach them to compare items to make informed choices.”

About ThedaCare

For more than 110 years, ThedaCare® has been committed to improving the health and well-being of the communities it serves in Northeast and Central Wisconsin. The organization delivers care to more than 650,000 residents in 17 counties and employs approximately 7,000 providers and team members. ThedaCare has 180 points of care, including eight hospitals. As an organization committed to being a leader in Population Health, team members are dedicated to empowering people to live their unique, best lives. ThedaCare also partners with communities to understand needs, finding solutions together, and encouraging health awareness and action. ThedaCare is the first in Wisconsin to be a Mayo Clinic Care Network Member, giving specialists the ability to consult with Mayo Clinic experts about a patient’s care. ThedaCare is proud to partner with Children’s Wisconsin and Froedtert & the Medical College of Wisconsin health network to enhance convenient access to the most advanced levels of specialty care. ThedaCare is a not-for-profit health system with a level II trauma center, comprehensive cancer treatment, stroke and cardiac programs, as well as primary care.

For more information, visit or follow ThedaCare on social media. Members of the media should call Cassandra Wallace, Public and Media Relations Consultant at 920.442.0328 or the ThedaCare Regional Medical Center-Neenah switchboard at 920.729.3100 and ask for the marketing person on call.