This is important information for coaches, parents and student athletes, according to Sports Medicine Specialist, Dr. Marc Kowalsky of Orthopaedic & Neurosurgery Specialists (ONS), because improper hydration can impact mental alertness and physical performance, and it increases the risk of injuries.
“As little as two percent dehydration can cause muscle fatigue and affect a young athlete’s aerobic capacity, strength, stamina, and reaction time,” he said. “It can also put undue strain on the heart.”
Adequate hydration is vital to maintain normal blood pressure and improve blood flow and circulation, which affects the levels of oxygen and nutrients that are delivered to the muscles. When anyone exercises, their core body temperature increases and sweating dissipates the excess heat in response, as long as the body is hydrated enough to function in this way.
“Hydration replaces the water lost through sweat and helps prevent cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke,” said Dr. Kowalsky.
Decreased athletic performance is just one sign that an athlete is fluid deficient. He or she may demonstrate symptoms such as irritability, fatigue, nausea, headache, muscle cramping and difficulty paying attention.
So how much does a young athlete need to drink to stay properly hydrated? The exact amount depends on a variety of factors, including the youth’s body size and the level of training and exertion expended during practices and games.
“In general, young athletes should drink one-half to one ounce of water per pound of body weight and minimize water weight loss to no more than two percent of that body weight,” Dr. Kowalsky advised. In other words, a 100- pound child should lose no more than two pounds during exercise. The easiest way to establish a general guideline is to weigh your child before and after intensive athletics.
General hydration levels can also be checked by looking at the color of the player’s urine. The goal is for a clear, water-like appearance; from there changes toward a more concentrated color and density indicates levels of dehydration.
Parents can help by encouraging their athletic children to drink plenty of water during the day, particularly an hour or two leading up to exercise, when they should have at least 16 ounces. Ideally, while playing, they should shoot for half a dozen big gulps of water every 15–20 minutes. After activity, 16 ounces for every pound lost through sweat should be replenished. However, over hydration has its own set of problems, so don’t let them go overboard with the fluids.
In general, water is best for sports sessions of an hour or less. Sports drinks can help to replenish the fluid, electrolytes and carbohydrates that are lost during more physically taxing conditions such as sports participation that exceeds 60 minutes, if there is extreme heat and humidity and/or if the young athlete is prone to excessive sweating. In these circumstances, experts recommend a sports drink with at least 110–240 mg of sodium per eight ounce serving.
In general, mild symptoms of dehydration should go away shortly after the child has started hydrating. However, consult with a doctor right away if the symptoms persist, worsen or if the child faints, or seems disoriented.