HEALTHY HYDRATION FOR YOUNG ATHLETES
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As a sports dietitian that specializes in fueling young athletes, I’m asked the same questions over and over again. Parents and coaches want suggestions for what to feed athletes before, during and after activity. While game-day fueling is important, adequate hydration sits at the top of the priority list for young athletes.
There is no easier, effective or more economical way to help performance and protect
health than staying hydrated during exercise. Water is the most vital nutrient and plays a key role in how well athletes perform. In adults, a loss of 2 percent body weight in fluids has been shown to have adverse effects on performance. In children, those same negative effects are thought to occur sooner, with just 1 percent decrease in body weight. This is especially true when exercising in hot and humid conditions. The negative side effects associated with dehydration in children leads to decreased endurance and performance by negatively affecting the cardiovascular system, thermoregulation and central fatigue or perceived exhaustion. hydration increases a young athlete's risk for exertional heat illness.
How Much Water is Enough?
As with nutrients, the Dietary Reference Intakes’ (DRI) recommend how much water is needed daily:
AGE MALES FEMALES
9-13 10 cups 9 cups
14-18 14 cups 10 cups
Healthy adolescents can generally regulate their fluid intake and avoid dehydration, but active young athletes need to pay closer attention. As with nutrient recommendations, adequate water intakes for athletes are much more researched in adults than in children and adolescents. DRI is a great place to start, but young athletes need more. How much more depends on a lot of things. Intensity and duration of training, environmental conditions (heat/humidity) and equipment (uniform/pads) all play a role in how much fluid is lost during activity. Sweat loss varies from one athlete to another and should also be considered.
Ideally, athletes would be able to drink enough fluid during activity to keep pace with their sweat rate, but unfortunately, that’s not always possible. Not all athletes know their sweat rate and may not realize how much fluid they lose when exercising. Maintaining fluid equilibrium during activity is especially difficult for athletes who are heavy sweaters.
One way for athletes to learn how much fluid they lose during activity is to weigh themselves before and after training sessions. Knowing how much fluid is lost during activity will help to individualize a hydration plan. To determine fluid loss, athletic trainers can help young athletes complete this simple formula. Not only will completing the chart help identify youth athletes who may be at increased risk of dehydration, it also shows them how much you prioritize fluid status. In addition to calculating the fluid losses during activity, athletic trainers can help youth athletes become familiar with evaluating their urine. When possible, hang a urine chart in workout areas that is visible for athletes. Also, make sure that young athletes know the general rule of thumb: pale yellow urine (like lemonade) indicates being fairly well-hydrated, while darker yellow (like apple juice) indicates potential dehydration. The more emphasis athletic trainers put on hydration status, the more likely young athletes are to prioritize it.
Sports Drink vs. Water
Another common question is whether water is enough or should sports drinks be considered. The answer depends on the individual athlete, the intensity and duration of activity and the conditions in which the activity is occurring. When used properly, sports drinks can be beneficial for youth athletes.
As athletes perspire, they lose electrolytes, especially sodium and chloride. In addition to water, those electrolytes need to be replaced to prevent fluid imbalance. In addition to its role in maintaining fluid balance, adequate sodium may help prevent muscle cramping and help maintain hydration status.
Although water is often sufficient to maintain adequate hydration, a sports beverage can help replace electrolytes. Activity of longer duration (more than one hour), higher intensity and/or repeated same-day exercise sessions that result in a greater sweat loss can be supported by electrolyte supplementation. This is especially true for athletes who have high sweat rates or are salty sweaters.
The purpose of a sports drink is to provide fluid, fuel (as carbohydrates) and electrolytes to offset the losses that occur during and after activity. For other times of the day, water is the beverage to drink.
The goal of hydration is the same for all youth athletes: prevent dehydration and optimize performance. Maintaining a healthy hydration status is the first priority when putting a performance plan in place.