Proper hydration in youth sports can be easily overlooked, but it’s important to keep in mind. Kids are often in warm environments when they participate in sports – on a field on a hot summer day, in a stuffy gym, or buried under layers of heavy protective equipment on the ice. These situations can lead to heavy sweating, and if that fluid isn’t replaced, young athletes could be at risk for dehydration.
Just like in adults, dehydration can be a very serious medical issue for children. Use this guide to ensure your youth athletes are properly hydrated, and learn to spot the signs of dehydration.
Why hydration in youth sports is important
Dehydration happens when a person loses more fluids than he or she consumes. When this happens, the body doesn’t have enough water and other fluids to carry out its normal functions.
Dehydration can come with serious risks. According to the Mayo Clinic, dehydration can potentially lead to heat illnesses, swelling of the brain, seizures, low blood pressure, kidney failure, and in rare cases, severe dehydration could result in a person falling into a coma.
The National Alliance for Youth Sports reported that “up to 75 percent of young athletes aged 8 to 18 come to practice already dehydrated, according to researcher Dr. Susan Yeargin from the University of South Carolina.”
Sweating during the day and not drinking enough liquids can lead to a dehydrated state even before youth athletes become active. As kids lose more fluids while participating in athletic events, their level of dehydration can increase if they are not replacing the lost liquids.
Even if an athlete’s dehydration level is not enough to cause a medical issue, it could impact his or her performance on the field. According to NAYS, in children, 1 percent dehydration can cut down a player’s endurance. The website states that in a teen athlete, 2 percent dehydration can affect endurance levels and result in hindered alertness and cognitive function.
Tips for keeping youth athletes hydrated
To avoid potentially serious medical complications, it’s important to keep young athletes hydrated. During particularly long or strenuous practices, or in hot or humid conditions, athletes need to take precautions to avoid dehydration.
According to the Mayo Clinic, the following safety measures should be taken by coaches and teams to keep athletes hydrated:
- Insist athletes drink plenty of fluids before and during athletic activities
- Encourage athletes to wear light and loose-fitting clothing
- Avoid holding practice or playing games during the hottest part of the day
- End or cancel practice and games early if needed
- If available, move practice or games to a shaded or indoor area
- Make sure fluids are available for athletes at all times
According to NBA.com, to properly rehydrate, athletes’ levels of potassium, sodium, and carbohydrates should be replenished. These can be found in sports drinks such as Powerade and Gatorade. During intense workouts, athletes might consider consuming a sports drink in addition to water.
NBA.com suggests drinking fluids strategically before, during, and after athletic activities. The website, citing Memorial Hermann Sports Medicine, states about fours before beginning physical activity athletes should consume half of a cup of water for every 40 pounds of his or her body weight.
During an activity, it is recommended athletes replenish fluids lost through sweating, but the amount will vary. According to NBA.com, the amount should reflect how much sweat is lost and how long the activity lasts.
The website recommends consuming sports drinks for intense workouts lasting more than 30 minutes. Post-workout it is recommended that an athlete consume 3 cups of fluids for each pound lost during the workout.
How to recognize signs of dehydration
Even when precautions are taken it is possible a young athlete might suffer from dehydration. Because of this, it’s important to teach players about hydration on youth sports so they know the signs of dehydration to recognize the symptoms and seek help.
According to the Mayo Clinic, these symptoms could signal dehydration:
- Having a dry or sticky mouth
- Feeling thirsty
- Suffering from a headache
- Feeling dizzy
- Experiencing cramps
- Having excessive fatigue
- Showing disinterest in the game or practice
- Struggling to play up to his or her usual level
If an athlete feels the signs of dehydration, attention should be raised with a parent, coach, or medical trainer. If caught early, most dehydration can be resolved by consuming more fluids.