Hydration and the Young Athlete

Attend any track meet, soccer game or visit a recreation facility and you’re likely to see children drinking soft drinks, energy boosters or sports beverages. Parents often ask if children need these drinks to enhance their performance or ‘re-hydrate’ themselves after participation in activity. Whatever happened to water? If we are losing water through sweat, then why not supply our bodies with this important fluid?

Health Canada recommends that we drink water regularly to satisfy thirst. People who are physically active require more fluids. For most very active people, water is all that is needed to stay hydrated. Water is also calorie-free, inexpensive from a faucet or fountain, and readily available in and out of your home.

Water makes up 60% of the human body. Our body needs water because we lose it throughout the day from breathing, sweating, urination and bowel movements. These fluids need to be replaced for the body to function properly. Without enough fluids people may become dehydrated which can lead to tiredness, weakness, irritability and dizziness. Even mild dehydration – as little as a 1 to 2 % loss of your body weight – can sap energy, make you tired and cause poor performance during activity.

Unlike older athletes who drink water or fluids to ‘re-hydrate’- many children drink because they are thirsty or the beverage tastes good. Although children tend to drink more fluids if they are flavoured, parents are still encouraged to offer plain tap water often. If a parent finds that their child drinks more when their beverage is flavoured, offering regular sips of an unsweetened, diluted juice or a sports drink during exercise can be helpful.

Regardless of what you decide to offer, it’s important to know that kids have a poor sense of thirst and reminding kids to drink often is key for them to stay hydrated. Another important time for replacing fluids is at the end of an activity. Water, juices, chocolate milk or sports drinks can meet those needs.
Encourage water first for hydration and then flavoured fluids if needed. Flavoured fluids like sports drinks tend to be expensive and high in added sugar, but may help reduce a child’s risk of dehydration. See easy recipe to make sports drinks which offer flavour and saves money.

500 mL- 100% juice
500 mL- water
¼ tsp salt

For more information visit www.dietitians.ca.

Written by: Jennelle Arnew, BSc RD. Jennelle is a Public Health Dietitian for the Chatham-Kent Public Health Unit, and also works on their Child and Youth Chronic Disease Prevention Team.

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