Sports Nutrition: Hydration

Staying hydrated is critical for young athletes.  Lack of proper hydration will significantly affect an athlete’s performance and can lead to heat illness, despite training and conditioning.  The best way to stay hydrated is to drink water throughout the day and water/sports drinks on the sidelines before, during and after practices and games.  It’s also important to avoid caffeine-containing beverages.  I tell young athletes that the color of their urine should always be the color of light lemonade, no darker.  In addition, parents, coaches and players should be aware of the warning signs of dehydration:

Warning Signs of Dehydration

  • Thirst
  • Irritability
  • Headache
  • Weakness
  • Dizziness
  • Cramps
  • Nausea
  • Decreased performance

How much should your young athlete be drinking?  Here’s a helpful chart outlining fluid guidelines from 2010 Nutrition for Young Athletes by Suzanne Nelson, ScD, RD:

Fluid Guidelines for Active Kids

Throughout the day: At least 6-8 cups
Before activity: 4-8 ounces (8-16 gulps)
During activity: 4-6 ounces (8-12 gulps) every 15-20 minutes
After activity: 16-24 ounces (32-48 gulps) for every 1 pound lost
Note:  kid size gulp=½ oz., adult size gulp=1 oz.

Nelson recommends sports drinks as the preferred fluid source for before, during and after exercise.  Sports drinks contain a source of carbohydrate which supplies some fuel to working muscles and electrolytes which help replace what is lost in sweat.  Research has shown that kids will increase their voluntary drinking with sports drinks versus water during activity and thus, stay better hydrated.  Please choose your sports drinks wisely.  Look for the carbohydrate source to be glucose, glucose polymers (maltodextrins) or sucrose instead of fructose.  These drinks will be best absorped and not cause the GI distress that is common for fructose-containing drinks.

I recommend your athlete drink either water or sports drinks determined by what he/she feels most like drinking.  In my family of young athletes, I have a daughter who does not like sports drinks but a son who prefers them.  It’s just important to find what they like,and drink!

This is the second article in a 5-part series called ‘Sports Nutrition for the Young Athlete’.

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