Hot Weather Hydration for Young Athletes


Is Your Child Getting Enough Water This Summer?

It should go without saying that living in Arizona makes it difficult for anyone to stay hydrated in the summer. But for young athletes it is particularly difficult.

First, obviously, they are out exercising in extreme temperatures (even in the morning it can be over 98 degrees). Second, their bodies don’t tolerate excessive temperatures the way adults do because they haven’t fully developed cooling mechanisms like sweating so kids can overheat more quickly than adults.  Finally, they will tend to just keep playing and not think about continually drinking to stay hydrated. Kids being kids, (even when they are thirsty) they will just keep-on going not recognizing the first signs of dehydration.

So, aside from just keeping your young athlete from over-heating, sports performance diminishes with even the slightest bit of dehydration. The American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) reports that even a 2% decrease in total body water results in a decrease in aerobic exercise performance. Although this may not apply as readily to sprinting sports such as basketball, football, or baseball, the ACSM also reports that this same 2% decrease may decrease mental function, a fact that would apply to all athletics.

Even more critical than sports performance is that, left unchecked, dehydration can rapidly accelerate to heat exhaustion and stroke.

In order to be properly hydrated during practice and at game time, it is important that your child drink enough fluids beforehand.  It is recommended that as early as 4 hours before vigorous exercise, athletes should take-in at least 1-2 cups of fluids. The urine color should then be monitored 2 hours later.  If the urine color is still darker than a light yellow, another ½ to 1 cup of beverage should be ingested.  Drinks with proper amounts of sodium (e.g., Gatorade) or pre-game meals containing sodium can aid in fluid retention and stimulate the athlete to drink enough to be fully hydrated.  During the game, how much to ingest will depend on many variables including the sport, weather conditions, and size of the athlete.  Therefore, the ACSM recommends that athletes monitor weight change during practice and games.

 

Now, we all know that weighing a kid before, during and after practices and games isn’t always practical. So a good rule of thumb to keep water, and electrolyte, levels up during exercise is to drink fluids every 10 to 15 minutes during activity. If it is particularly hot make sure to have the athlete take in water as well an electrolyte replacement drink. Parents, it is a good idea to teach your kids to drink at regular intervals.

After exercise, it is essential to replenish the body’s fluid and nutrient levels. Under normal circumstances, normal meals and drinks will restore proper hydration levels. However, if the athlete has to rehydrate quickly (e.g., play the second of a doubleheader on 2 hours rest), a faster remedy will need to be used. To accomplish this, weight loss should be measured and about 3 cups of fluid should be ingested for every pound lost. Light amounts of foods and drinks containing sodium will also be helpful to promote fluid retention.

 Signs of dehydration to watch for in your child are:

  • Fatigue
  • Nausea
  • Headaches
  • Cramping
  • Difficulty in coordination
  • Excessive thirst

Hydration is as important for optimal performance as practice and good equipment. Carrying out this vital task properly ensures that your athlete has the proper nutrients during key times in the big games and, more importantly, that they learn good habits to function healthfully and avoid injury for the rest of their life.

 

Sources:

American College of Sports Medicine. Exercise and Fluid Replacement. Med Sci Sports

Exerc. 39(2):377-390, 2007.

           


Dustin Buck

PT, ATC