Fluids For The Young Athlete

Fluids play a crucial role in maintaining the health and optimal performance of the athlete. One of the most important functions of water is to cool the body. During exercise, body water is lost as sweat. If the fluid is not replaced, a person becomes dehydrated. This can be very dangerous and lead to severe illness or death. For this reason, fluid restriction should never be used to reduce weight or meet a certain weight category for certain sports such as wrestling.

Children and teens are at increased risk for overheating and dehydration. They tend to lose more sweat because their skin surface area is greater in proportion to their body size and they often drink less to compensate.Unfortunately, the thirst mechanism can be unreliable in athletes, especially children.It is often difficult to spot signs of dehydration in kids as they may only exhibit irritability at the end of a long day of physical activity.Therefore, it is very important they drink enough fluids before, during, and after exercise to replace any losses. By the time your brain signals thirst, you may have already lost 1 percent of body weight, which corresponds to approximately 12 oz of fluid for a 75-lb young athlete.Athletic performance can be impaired when a person is dehydrated as the heart beats more rapidly which in turn affects the rate of breathing.

Careful attention should be paid to young athletes participating in outdoor sports in the summer heat.Football players wearing full equipment are particularly at risk.Warning signs of heat illness include nausea, muscle cramps, dizziness, weakness, vomiting, and disorientation – if these signs are present, medical attention should be sought immediately.

Hydration Recommendations

Water is all that an athlete needs to drink for activities lasting less than 60 minutes. Sport drinks can increase fluid consumption in children.For events lasting longer than 60 minutes, a sport beverage is helpful in replacing electrolyte and carbohydrate losses.

TimingFluid Amount*
1-2 hours before event10-16 ounces of cool water
10-15 minutes before event10-12 ounces of cool water
During exercise4-6 ounces cool water or sport drink every 15-20 minutes
After exercise2-3 cups (16-24 ounces) of cool fluids for every pound of weight lost (although may need more depending on heat, the conditions, and intensity of exercise)

*Note: The lower amounts are appropriate for younger children.

Leslie Cox, MS, RD, CSP, LD, CNSC03 November 2015

Leslie Cox, MS, RD, CSP, LD, CNSC Leslie started her career at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta then joined the Navy as an officer in the Medical Service Corps. She served as a Dietitian at Read more

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