Simple Sips: Hydrating Techniques for Youth Athletes

Yes, I’m going to talk about water again :) WAIT! All the info will help, even if you don’t fall into the youth category. Besides, it’s a way to look busy at work so read on!

If you are the proud owner of a young athlete then you should know one important detail (other than the fact that your own life will need to take a back seat while those in your back seat get carted around like Ms Daisy)…adolescents dehydrate much faster than adults AND the signs are not as readily noticeable. The reasons? Well, dehydration occurs faster in those between the ages of 6-14 due to the fact that their bodies are still in need of more water for the growing of bones, sinews, ligaments, etc. More water is already being used for that pesky growing process, so the muscles and surrounding tissue don’t hold as much. This means that as your athlete plays their heart out, they are dehydrating at an accelerated rate. So, why don’t the symptoms show up? Well, technically they probably do, it’s just that most don’t notice them. The symptoms of dehydration can include the following:

  • Dry mouth
  • Headache
  • Nausea
  • Stomach cramps
  • Muscle cramps
  • Fatigue
  • Dizziness
  • Achy muscles all over
  • Trouble collecting ones thoughts
  • Feeling thirsty (I know that’s a DUH, but by the time we feel thirsty we’re in the danger zone)
  • Slow in perspiration, no matter the temp
  • Slow in hand/eye coordination

Now, these don’t generally all hit at once and when your kid is playing for the win they tend not to notice a little cramp here or a dry mouth there. It’s not that the symptoms aren’t there, it’s that they have better things to think about. Your job is to focus on preventing dehydration altogether as opposed to simply trying to spot the symptoms. Once we reach the point of nausea, muscle cramps, slow perspiration and cotton mouth, chugging a liter will do no good. As a matter of fact, rapid water consumption at this state will more than most likely end in the water running for the nearest exit….meaning a barf bomb for your kid.

In order to prevent dehydration in young athletes, we need to plan ahead. For starters, don’t feed your kid crap on a training day! I see this over and over on the football field: a kid has a couple of hot dogs for lunch and washes them down with a soda…THAT is the one who passes out on the field. They end up starting a grueling 2 hour practice already dehydrated (food for thought: carbonated beverages pull water from your bones….yeah) and then end up on the ground or in the hospital. Use your parent brain and take care of them. Make sure they drink water throughout the day (that’s why schools have those fancy fountains!) and if practice or the game lasts more than 45 minutes OR is in extreme heat, consider sending a sports drink with your kid. Since sugar is the enemy of hydration, I opt for G2 or other low sugar drink. You can also water it down a bit as needed. The sodium and potassium help the body to hold onto water so as not to dehydrate during a game/practice session. I also really like the Gatorade chews. They have some that are simply for hydration and easy to carry in one’s pocket as well as some pre-game carbohydrate chews that help the body stay fueled without pulling from its own muscle. Head to the game with water in hand and place it on the sidelines for your kid (nobody wants their mommy running water out to them people!) and make sure to have a hydrating beverage in the car when you pick them up from practice.

Snacks can help with hydration as well. Vegetables are water dense and can provide a whopping 30% of our daily water IF we eat enough. I always send my son brocoli, carrots, cauliflower, cucumbers, tomatoes, etc. at lunch, especially on game pr practice days. If your kids are more used to burgers and fries, offer them the knowledge on what it takes to become a better athlete. Example: world-class athletes don’t chow down on a double meat and fries before a game…. Train your gut and your butt and you’ll reap the benefits on the field or the court, simple as that. Ask your kid to try it for 2 weeks and see how they feel. My son noticed a large difference in how he felt when he took a homemade lunch and when he bought the processed junk at school. He now asks that I make his lunch and often times throws in some help as well. And he’s in highschool now :)

Limit seriously salty snacks before games, but don’t take salt out of your athletes diet! Athletes need more salt. That’s reason to become an athlete for some people… Keep the diet varied and spend just a little extra time getting prepped for games. Pack a cooler with healthy snacks, including LOADS of fruits as these provide hydration and quick energy. Think you’re too busy? Tell that to the doc who has to stick a huge needle in your dehydrated kids arm. Yeah, you can pull time. In today’s world most grocery stores have fruits, veggies and even recovery drinks already made and within close proximity to each other. Invest in refillable bottles and for goodness sake, make your athlete help in this process! Life isn’t a one man show, but a big production where we all have a part to play :)

Stay hydrated and stay healthy!




This One’s for the Parents

At the risk of being a fire starter (who am I kidding? I love to start fires), I feel the need to address a growing problem that is making itself painfully evident.

If you are the parent of a youth involved in any sport, it is YOUR responsibility to make sure your athlete is properly fueled for practices and games!!!!!!!!!!!

I wish I could just assume that line is sufficient, but I have witnessed nutrition deficiencies that tell me we still don’t get it…..

Younger athletes are different from weekend warriors and gym rats. Children, age 5-16, who participate in sports need to be properly fueled. This means that they need plenty of water, not a Route 44 of choice from Sonic people! Corn chips, french fries and handy wrapped sweets are not considered fuel either. End of story. Youth are more prone to dehydration and improper fuel utilization especially if they are not sent out on the field, or court, with the advantage of proper nutrition. It’s really not that hard, but it’s something most parents simply don’t think about.

I was helping to coach my daughter’s soccer team last night. Practice is from 5-6 p.m. and her team is girls from 5th-6th grade. Most of the girls showed up sleepy and lacking energy, a sure sign of dehydration. Several made comments that they were hungry. Do you know what happens when you work out in a state of dehydration and hunger? Catabolism. It’s about as much fun as it sounds. The body, in its search for energy, will slowly start to shut down essential organs, such as the liver and digestive system (hello stomach pain while running!), and pull from the nearest source: muscles. Sending your child to practice without proper hydration and fuel means that their body will turn and begin to break down its own muscle tissue, essentially eating itself. How’s that for love? Not too good.

I get that we are ALL busy. I’m working from the time I wake until I hit the pillow and I’m usually driving between classes and clients, but I assure you my athletes are always well prepared. How can you fuel your athlete and ensure that they are safe and well hydrated for practice and games? Here are a few of my tricks:

  • Send water for lunch or make sure they drink water at home. Schools offer fountains, but it’s rare that kids (especially junior high and high school) have the time to get in enough water. Pack a bottle of water and encourage your youth to drink it at lunch. “But they don’t like water”. This is a fight you need to pick. Don’t be a wimpy parent and then have to explain to your child that the reason why they passed out on the field and now have to be hospitalized is because you didn’t want to utilize your parental rights. Drink water.
  • Make sure they have water AND an electrolyte beverage for long practices and games. Both my kids always have a bottle of water for during games and one for after. You can also send a G2 or Powerade (low sugar) mixed with water. These are particularly important if it’s extremely hot or they have to wear a lot of equipment (i.e. football pads).
  • Make sure they have some pre-game/practice fuel. You don’t want them practicing on a full stomach, so these are things that are easy to stuff and store. A handful of almonds and an apple, a banana and a piece of toast, some granola and apple juice or even a low sugar protein smoothie (if you have time to make it). If you pick your athlete up and head to practice directly following work, consider planning ahead and packing the snack(s) in a cooler for later. It should take less than 2 minutes and the payoff is phenomenal.
  • Provide healthy snacks for the team. When we’re in charge of snacks we always bring water, bananas and oranges (since post-game is the best time to get natural sugars in to replenish the muscle glycogen that will store from the meal that follows), pretzels or trail mix and maybe a little dark chocolate as a treat. Mounds of processed foods will do nothing but make athletes cranky and sleepy. Skip the Cheezits and head for the produce.
  • Make sure they have a good meal following the practice/game. It doesn’t have to be a 4 course meal. Just make sure they get proteins and carbs to rebuild the muscle. Spaghetti and meat sauce, chicken with rice and veggies, potatoes with chicken and salad, etc. are all great options and easy to make before hand.
  • Keep the items you need on hand. I buy protein bars for my son since he does a lot of after school athletics. I simply send them in his lunch OR he can throw them in his binder.
  • In special situations I do use electrolyte and/or carbohydrate blocks. You can find these at the local sporting goods store or health food store. These blocks contain electrolytes and often fast digesting carbs. They are small and easy to digest, BUT you have to drink plenty of water. Since the schools love to believe it’s totally fine to deprive children of water and fuel, I make sure my son has these tucked away for pre-game/practice. They are small enough to have in his pocket and something he can chew up while dressing out.

The bottom line here is don’t depend on somebody else to fuel your kid. If we would just commit to up the water and lower the sugar, we may wake up to different kids as both dehydration and excessive sugar can contribute to changes in personality and temperance. Fuel your athlete for success and you won’t regret the small amount of extra time you have to spend. Take the accountability and make sure you explain this to your children. This way they can have a say in the healthy snacks which can lead to better adherence. It’s never too early to start living healthy!