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Most athletes, adults and children alike, do not drink enough fluids to replace those lost by the body during exercise. In fact, by the time most active children become thirsty, they have already lost important fluids, along with sodium and potassium, and may already be dehydrated.

The best way to avoid dehydration is to develop a plan that addresses WHAT, WHEN AND HOW MUCH to drink.

What to Drink?
If given a choice, kids voluntarily drink more when the beverage is flavored, such as a sports drink. In a study of 9-12 year old boys exercising in the heat, drinking was enhanced 46% when the boys drank grape-flavored drinks that contained carbohydrate and sodium. Therefore, beverages flavored to satisfy athletes’ taste preferences should be readily available to drink before, during and after training and competition.

Besides the flavor benefit, sports drinks contain energy, sodium, and potassium – important nutrients for sports performance. Supplying energy in the form of carbohydrate will help delay muscle fatigue, giving your young athletes a little more pep in their step at the end of a soccer or football game. Sodium will enhance fluid retention and the drive to drink, helping to achieve adequate hydration.

What about water, fruit juice or carbonated beverages?

Water is okay to hydrate the body when exercising less than 60 minutes. However, water reduces thirst and thus decreases the stimulation to drink.

Fruit juices are not the best choice when hydrating a child before or during activity. The high sugar content may slow fluid absorption and increase the chance of a stomachache.  Carbonated beverages are also high in sugar and the “fizz” may cause burning in the mouth preventing them from gulping enough fluids.

When to Drink….and How Much to Drink?
When to drink is easy: before, during and after training and competition. In order to adequately hydrate the body, children should drink on a schedule. Remind them that dehydration begins BEFORE they get thirsty.

About 1-2 hours before beginning any physical activity, be sure to have your child drink several ounces of water. Shortly before beginning the activity (15-20 minutes prior), between 4-6 ounces is recommended. Hydrate every 20 minutes or so during exertion, and afterward, replenish with 16 ounces per every pound lost.

Ways to Increase Fluid Intake

  • Pack a water bottle or sports drink with practice every day
  • Drink something first thing in the morning
  • Pack and drink extra fluids at lunch
  • Have drinks available on the sidelines during practice and games and enforce drink breaks every 15-20 minutes during prolonged activities in the heat

Coaches and parents, remember: children DO listen to our advice, so encourage young athletes to drink fluids, even when they are not thirsty, as an important part of safely and successfully participating in sports.

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