A post on Slate’s The Big Money today about Gatorade’s marketing practices got me wondering. Do you buy your kids sports drinks to drink at their games? When my oldest started playing T-ball at the ripe old age of 4, I dutifully drove to the big box store and bought a case of Gatorade. He was going to need it for baseball. How did I know this? All the kids drank Gatorade or Powerade at practices and games.

I went on buying these sports drinks every baseball and soccer season for a couple of years, doubling the amount when my younger son started playing and tripling the amount when my husband’s schedule finally allowed him to coach.

I now shudder to think of the money that went down the drain and the plastic that went into the landfills in those first years of my boys’ sports careers.

It occurred to me shortly into their Little League careers that the boys didn’t actually need to drink sports drinks. They barely broke a sweat at most baseball games. They often did on the soccer field, but not so much that water couldn’t quench their thirst and cool them down. I kept buying it though because it was the thing to do.

This continued until we started going green. The sports drinks were one of the first things to go because of the disposable plastic bottles. I bought reusable bottles and sent the boys with water. They resisted at first, but eventually they came to accept that I wasn't going to cave.

I also noticed that when I gave them sports drinks, they often drank them down before the practice or game even started. I’d end up hoofing it all the way to the snack stand (the younger kids’ fields are always the furthest away) to buy them a second sports drink. When I started giving them water, they drank it when they were thirsty, not just because it was there. So it seemed to me that my boys were certainly able to determine when they needed to rehydrate, but the sugary sports drinks were being used for more than just rehydration. My boys were drinking them like they were candy.

Today’s post on The Big Money, Gatorade Marketing Gets More Inane, talks about the steps that Gatorade is taking to improve its image. One of the steps is replacing high-fructose corn syrup with sugar. Like I discussed earlier today, though, sugar shouldn’t suddenly be considered healthy because it’s replacing HFCS. It’s sugar, and a 20 oz. Orange Gatorade has 29.5 grams, or about 7 ½ teasoons of sugar, in it. So the health benefit of this change is mostly perceived.

But the health benefit of changing from a 20 oz. sports drink to a 20 oz. water is great. That eliminates  7 ½  teaspoons of sugar from a child’s diet, or for those who drink two bottles each time, 15 teaspoons.

The environmental benefits of changing from disposable sports drink bottles to reusable water bottles are great, too. I’ve often noticed that on many sports fields, recycling containers are put next to trashcans, but people can’t be bothered to separate their recyclable bottles from their trash. In the end, both cans get filled with a mixture of both, and busy volunteer parents who are emptying the cans end up sending the contents of both to a landfill.

Spring sports are gearing up all around the country right now. When you’re sending your little or big ball player off to the fields, send him with a reusable water bottled filled with water.

Robin Shreeves ( @rshreeves ) focuses on food from a family perspective from her home base in New Jersey.

Why are we giving kids sports drinks?
Water in a reusable bottle is just as good as sports drinks for most children playing sports.