It’s summer and that means the start of camp and sports programs. The weather is hot and getting hotter! So that usually means playing outdoors in the 90 degree heat! Staying well hydrated is a problem for many children during these hot months. Dehydration is a real concern for children because they tend to forget to drink enough to properly re-hydrate themselves before, during or after a long day of outdoor activities. Children loose vital minerals and electrolytes not only through sweat, but through breathing as well. In hot weather the water loss goes up dramatically. Many sports programs have long practice sessions. Contrary to popular belief it is also possible to become dehydrated while swimming or participating in outdoor water activities. If children do not consistently drink throughout the day to replenish lost water, electrolytes and minerals they can suffer serious injury in the form of heat exhaustion or more severe heat stroke. These are potentially dangerous conditions, and if untreated, can be life threatening.
Staying well hydrated is easy to do, and you don’t need those fancy sugar drinks to do it. Remembering to drink is the key. Keeping a water bottle handy at all times is advised, when participating in outdoor sports. Parent tip: If it’s a group activity, as in a school or afterschool sports program, be sure to question the coaches as to how often they are allowing the kids to have a water break. Children should always have easy access to liquids regardless of their situation. In addition, children should be enocouraged to drink even when they are not thirsty. Generally by the time they are feeling thirsty they may already be 2-3% dehydrated.
Most of the electrolyte replacement drinks, or sports drinks provide much more sugar and artificial flavorings than is generally needed, especially for children. Water is usually sufficient for replacement of fluids. To replenish electrolytes, it’s suggested that children consume foods such as bananas, oranges, berries or other types of fruits. Not only are they getting the natural electrolytes but also important vitamins, fiber and antioxidants as well. If there’s the need to satisfy the overly cautious parent in you, then adding 2-3 oz. of a real juice, such as orange, grapefruit, pineapple or apple with about 6-8 oz. of water and ice will offer a satisfactory amount of electrolyte replacement for thirsty children. Remember children are not professional athletes and drinking and eating wisely will provide exactly what their tired bodies need after a long day of play!!
Always remember to discuss nutrition, fluid and electrolyte replacement with your child’s pediatrician and program coaches especially if your child is engaging in competitive sports activities.
A few questions and answers:
Q: What about sports drinks and special water with additives? These drinks are used by so many parents and sport teams and are promoted heavily in the media. Also can you answer the question: how much should my child drink before during and after the event?
A: With so many sports drinks on the market, combined with the marketing hype associated with these products, it is difficult for parents to really know what to believe when it comes to fluid replacement for their children. Many of the “Sports Drink” beverages are in fact suboptimal when replacing electrolytes and do not meet the criteria for appropriate electrolyte replacement and should not be used. Some products are being promoted as having fewer calories and more vitamins per serving. While they do contain electrolytes, they still have too much sugar primarily in the form of high fructose corn syrup, artificial colorings, preservatives and flavorings. These are the very ingredients that children should be avoiding in the first place.
Q: How much fluids should be consumed during exercise, the following will provide a basic guideline to follow. Again the beverage of choice should be water. Avoid any drinks with alcohol, caffeine or carbonation as these increase fluid loss in the body.
Two hours before exercise, drink at least 16 oz
One hour before exercise, drink at least 8 oz
During exercise, drink at least 4 to 8 oz every 20 minutes
After exercise, drink at least 16 oz
Bottom Line: unless your child is engaging in high level competitive athletic activity, water is generally the best method for fluid replacement. Remember to always discuss nutrition, fluid replacement and electrolytes with your child’s pediatrician and sports coaches especially if your child is engaging in competitive sports activities. Refer back to the article: Preventing Dehydration for suggestions for electrolyte replacement.
By Meryl Brandwein, RD, LDN, Nutritionist
For more nutrition information, please visit Meryl’s web site: Meryl Brandwein Nutrition at www.merylbrandwein.com