Keeping Young Athletes Hydrated

One of the repeating questions I get from parents is “What should my athlete be drinking before, during and after a game or practice?” This simple question is really dependent on the types of activities your child or teen is doing and the duration.

For most recreational sports, and less intense activities (rec soccer, baseball, volleyball, etc…), water is the best way to maintain and re-hydrate. Most kids on the sidelines will tote along a water bottle or jug. It’s important for parents and coaches to remind kids to take sips every 15 minutes or so while they are waiting their turn to play or go in the big game. Since most rec leagues are pretty short in duration (under 75 minutes long), there is no need to use special sport’s drinks to replenish electrolytes unless it is a very hot day.

When you get into more of your travel leagues, high school and middle school teams, and those activities that are longer in duration (travel soccer, two-a-day football practices, swimming, cross country), I suggest keeping water handy at all times. But, the difference with these high-intensity activities, most of our kids are coming into their games or practices already dehydrated. Studies show that 75-80% of teens go to practice mildly dehydrated. It’s critical for parents and coaches to encourage fluids throughout the day. This can be challenging when most of these athletes are spending the first six-eight hours each day at school. Setting a timer on a phone or Ipod can help remind students to carry a water bottle to class or to take sips in between class periods.

If your child is practicing for longer duration each day (greater than 75 minutes), besides drinking water, a sports drink may help refuel their electrolyte needs. Sports drinks can be very high in sugar, sodium, artificial colors and preservatives. When picking out a sports drink, just make sure that the sugar levels are low, and that there are no added supplements or caffeine. Generally, an 8 oz portion (one cup) is plenty to replenish any electrolytes lost, not the whole bottle. As a post-workout drink, I encourage my own teen athletes to carry a drink box size of low-fat chocolate milk. This is a great recovery drink not only to provide hydration, but it’s the perfect balance of proteins and carbohydrates for after a long practice or hard game.

If you are worried about your teen and their hydration, talk to your pediatrician or schedule an appointment with a dietitian who specializes in working with kids and athletes.