Dehydration in Youth Sports

Heat and the Athlete: Preventing Dehydration in Youth Sports

Summer sports camps and team practices keep kids (and their parents) busy through the season.  As the temperatures rise and the humidity increases, those fun activities may lead to illness and injury due to heat stress.  Fortunately, there are many steps you and your young athlete can take to have a safe and active summer sports season.

There are several risk factors that place children uniquely at risk for heat-related illnesses.  These include inadequate pre-hydration, being tired or not well rested, sudden increase in physical activity at the start of a sports season, increased BMI (weight to height ratio), current or recent illness (especially illnesses with vomiting, diarrhea and/or fever), and many medications.

Heat-related illnesses often start slowly, but can progress quickly if not recognized. Symptoms of heat exhaustion include increased thirst, weakness, muscle cramps, nausea and vomiting, headache, irritability, increased sweating or cool and clammy skin.  If your child displays one or more of these symptoms, it is best to have them stop play, move them to cool environment (indoors if possible), lay down, treat with cool water soaked towels on the skin, sipping of fluids and call our office for further advice.

The best way to ensure your athlete’s safety is to take preventative steps.   Have your child or teen begin hydration the day prior to practice and to continue to increase fluids the day after practice, as well.  While access to drinking water on the field is essential, pre and post practice hydration is key to preventing injury and illness!  Drink on a schedule, not just when thirsty. Follow these helpful guidelines:

Ages 6 to 12Ages 13 and up
Before sports4 to 8 oz cold water 1-2 hours prior to sports; 4 to 8 oz cold water 10 to 15 minutes prior to sports8 to 16 oz cold water 1-2 hours prior to sports; 8 to 12 oz cold water 10 to 15 minutes prior to sports
During sports5 to 9 oz every 20 minutes5 to 10 oz every 20 minutes
After sportsWithin 2 hours of completion, drink 24 oz of water for every pound of weight lost or for every hour of exerciseWithin 2 hours of completion, drink 24 oz of water for every pound of weight lost or for every hour of exercise

Sports drinks, such as Gatorade™ may be useful in replenishing electrolytes (for example sodium, potassium, chloride, etc.) that are lost due to sweating.  Be mindful of sugar-containing drinks as sugar can cause more urination, resulting in an increased risk of dehydration, rather than preventing it.

Always dress your athlete in light colored, breathable clothing.  Changing frequently into dry clothing during practice is helpful to wick moisture and may be cooling.  Attention should be taken to football players or other athletes who wear heavy protective equipment.  Frequent breaks should be taken, with the athlete out of pads and helmet while on the sidelines.  Gradual acclimation to the climate over 10 to 14 days is helpful, as well.  This may include shorter and less intense practices initially and a gradual increase the amount of protective equipment over the acclimation period.

Keep your child off the field if he or she has had a recent illness, especially fever or gastrointestinal illness, until the symptoms have been resolved at least 3 days.  Be aware that if your child has a chronic medical condition such as diabetes, thyroid disorder, is overweight, or takes medications for conditions such as ADHD, he or she may be at increased risk for heat-related illness.

Coaches, athletic trainers and other supervising adults should be aware of the signs of heat related illness and carry an action plan to deal with it, as well as first aid equipment.  Coaches must make difficult decisions regarding whether the conditions are favorable for play.  Support him or her if they make modifications to the practice schedule due to heat, and don’t be afraid to suggest that a break or decrease in intensity is needed.

Let’s have a fun, safe and active outdoor summer!