Sweat loss is higher during exercise than under normal conditions and as a parent, showing your high school athlete how to stay hydrated is vital.
When student athletes sweat, they lose water and electrolytes and, if that loss is not replenished, it results in decreased performance. At the most extreme, which is rare, dehydration can pose life-threatening injuries. Dehydration can be moderate or severe and the symptoms, treatments, and risks differ at each level.
When dealing with younger athletes, it is important to recognize that they are even more at risk for dehydration and heat injury. Yet, despite how important hydration is, research shows that most young athletes usually only drink about half of what they need. The following six ways will help ensure your high school athlete avoids being a bad statistic.
1. Know How Much Hydration They Need
Because everyone is different, there are no hard-set rules for how much water your son or daughter has to drink while exercising. Factors to consider include their sweat rate (you probably know whether they sweat a lot or not much), the environment’s heat and humidity, and the length and intensity of the exercise.
It is helpful to measure how much fluid your athlete loses during exercise in order to get a sense of how much water they should drink. A good way to do this is by weighing them before and after physical activity — for every pound of body weight lost, they need 16 to 24 ounces of water.
2. Focus on Water
Most of the time, water is all that is needed to stay hydrated. Contrary to popular perception, sports drinks do not hydrate better than water — though they help replenish the carbohydrates and electrolytes lost during exercise. Plain water can replenish fluids lost during exercise just fine.
According to a recent study by the Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition, drinking very cold water in intervals during intense physical activity substantially helps to keep core body temperatures closer to normal, thereby maintaining hydration levels and athletic performance.
3. Keep Track of Water Consumption
Keeping track of your high school athlete’s water consumption is important even outside of the training room. There are many ways to do this. There are water containers for instance, that have counters on them that “click and count” every time the bottle is refilled.
If your athlete is good with schedules, they can also set a reminder to grab some water every 90 minutes. If those don’t work, you have to pay attention to the color of their urine — if it’s usually clear or light yellow they are properly hydrated.
4. Be Careful with Sports Drinks
While water is generally sufficient for hydration, if your athlete exercises at high intensity for longer than an hour, sports drinks may be helpful. Unlike water, sports drinks contain calories, potassium, and other nutrients that can provide energy and electrolytes that aid in longer performances.
Electrolytes are simply certain minerals like calcium, potassium, magnesium, and sodium ions that are important to preventing dehydration. Electrolytes direct nutrients and water to the areas of the body where they are most needed and they maintain cells’ optimal fluid balance. This is why choosing sports drinks high in electrolytes will aid your athlete’s hydration.
Sports drink should be chosen wisely, however. Many of these drinks are high in calories from added sugar and contain unnecessary sodium. It is also important to check the serving size since one container may hold several servings. If your athlete drinks the full bottle, they need to do the math and double or triple the amounts on the Nutrition Facts Label.
Keep in mind, too, that some sports drinks contain caffeine, which is a dehydrating agent. Related to exercise, drinks with high caffeine content should be avoided. Finally, read the label for the ratio between electrolytes and sugar: electrolytes, not sugar, support hydration at the cellular level and many sports drinks contain more sugar than is needed or useful.
5. Choose Foods that Help Hydration and Provide Essential Nutrients
Given that around 80% of people’s daily hydration comes from beverages and around 20% comes from foods, feeding your student athlete the right foods makes a considerable difference.
Hydrating foods include vegetables, yogurt, beans, pastas, rice, and cereals. This is because they are cooked in water or other liquids. Many fruits are also a good source of both fluids and electrolytes—though the electrolyte quantities differ depending on the fruit. Bananas and dates for instance, contain high levels of the electrolyte potassium and are a great option for refueling your athlete during an intense workout.
All of these foods are beneficial to non-athletes as well.
6. Know When to Drink
Hydration starts well before your student athlete trains or enters an event. Prior to a game, match, or meet, your son or daughter should drink 4 to 8 ounces of cold water every hour, and double that amount right before the event starts. Young athletes must be taught that game preparation starts with hydration.
During lengthy events, the coach knows to get team members consuming fluids to keep pace with loss from sweat. It is crucial you encourage your athlete to hydrate and replace electrolytes even after the event. Cold sports drinks that balance the sodium and potassium levels are especially useful at this point. Remind your young athlete to replace lost fluid after training to help accelerate the recovery process.
Realizing that younger athletes are more at risk for dehydration and heat injury is important. Fortunately, parents of athletes can do their part by keeping them hydrated.