The Right Choice? Water.

By Wanda Rutledge

It’s time to check in on our new year’s resolutions for amateur sports leaders. As promised, this month I look at one of our resolutions:

 Drink right: Choose water instead of sugar-sweetened beverages.

This is one of three resolutions adopted in a recent collaborative national initiative of leading out-of-school-time organizations to combat childhood obesity by adopting unifying principles of nutrition and physical activity.

Yes, but aren’t sports drinks better for athletes? They have all of those electrolytes that replace lost fluids and give you energy. Look at all of the college and professional athletes who use them; they must be good.

First, remember that sports drinks were originally designed to replenish the body fluids and electrolytes that college athletes lost during the course of a strenuous game. Today, the reality is that children of all ages who participate in any activity—regardless of level of intensity or their own size and metabolism—are target consumers.

Check the nutrition facts label and note that sports drinks contain two important electrolytes—sodium and potassium—however, they also contain sugar. There are 14 grams of sugar in each eight-ounce (or one cup) serving. Most of the single-serving sports drink bottles contain 16 – 32 oz. (28 – 56 grams of sugar). The American Heart Association recommends only three teaspoons (12 grams) of sugar daily for children.

We provide juice boxes, not sports drinks. Those should be OK.

Many juice drinks, especially those individual boxes for children, contain less than 10 percent real fruit juice and more sugar than sports drinks. Check the nutrition labels for all juices boxes, including the 100 percent juice versions, and see how many grams of sugar they contain. If it’s more than 12 grams, reconsider.

Research from the Mayo Clinic, and other reputable medical sources, tells us that if your workout lasts less than an hour, hydrating with plain water is a better option. Many children practice and compete less than one hour at a time and often not in highly strenuous activities.

But, our program has an exclusive contract with “X” sports drink provider. We can’t afford to alienate them.

I am not suggesting that sports drink companies are the Evil Empire and should be vilified. On the contrary, virtually all of them have recognized the prevailing concern over the sugar content of their brands and now offer lower sugar options, as well as water. Begin a conversation with your sponsor. Ask for a different product from their lineup.

In the meantime, or just as a matter of course, offer water and make it available each time you meet. Fill the team drink container with water. Make individual bottles of water available in your concessions stands. Ask parents to bring “team water bottles” instead of juice or sports drinks. Encourage your young athletes to use refillable aluminum or stainless steel sports bottles for their water. These bottles can be imprinted with team names, colors and logos, and sold as fundraisers for your program.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR: Wanda L Rutledge, Ph.D., is Assistant Professor, Business Administration, at New Jersey City University (NJCU) in Jersey City, New Jersey with more than 30 years of experience as a senior national non-profit sports management executive. An entrepreneur, sports management and sports marketing consultant, she is the former Deputy Executive Director of USA Baseball and the current Special Events Director of the National Amateur Baseball Federation. She has been president of the National Council of Youth Sports (NCYS) since 1990. Her doctoral dissertation was a baseline study about leadership in amateur sports entitled, “Who Is Leading Amateur Sports in America Today and How Well Do They Practice Exemplary Leadership.” Contact Wanda at