Apr 5, 2018, 9:05:46 AM CDT Nov 6, 2018, 3:53:13 PM CST

The importance of hydration for young athletes

How drinking enough water can boost athletic performance and reduce injury risk

Teen athlete drinking water at running track Teen athlete drinking water at running track

While drinking enough water may seem like a simple action, it impacts virtually every aspect of sports performance.

“Staying hydrated increases energy, improves movement, recovery and agility, thermoregulation, and aids in mental clarity and activity – all of which can improve physical performance and reduce the risk of injuries,” says Noel Williams, a registered dietitian and board certified specialist in sports dietetics at Children’s Health℠ Andrews Institute Sports Performance powered by EXOS.

What are the athletic benefits of staying hydrated?

“Almost every measurement of performance – aerobic endurance, strength, power, speed, agility and reaction time – decreases with as little as 2% dehydration,” explains Williams. Learn more about the signs and symptoms of dehydration.  

There are specific benefits of staying hydrated for athletes, including:

  • Improved muscle function. Hydrated muscles function better than dehydrated muscles.
  • Regulated blood pressure. Staying hydrated helps maintain normal blood pressure during exercise so your heart doesn’t have to work harder than necessary to maintain normal blood pressure.
  • Improved circulation. Staying hydrated also improves blood flow and circulation and thus the delivery of oxygen and nutrients to working muscles. Good hydration also aids in the removal of metabolic by-products and waste from muscles, while replacing the water that is lost through sweat.

How can proper hydration help young athletes reduce injury risk?

“Dehydration contributes to muscle fatigue, which can increase the risk for injury,” says Williams. Staying adequately hydrated can help reduce muscle fatigue and reduce the risk of injury.

In addition, as an athlete exercises, the core body temperature rises and, in response, the body sweats to dissipate this excess heat so the body doesn’t overheat. “Staying hydrated replaces the water lost through sweating and is essential for thermoregulation, helping to prevent cramps, heat exhaustion and heat stroke,” says Williams.

Tips to hydrate before, during and after physical activity

Fluid needs vary based on activity, intensity, environmental conditions, body size of the athlete and training status. The more highly trained an athlete is, the more he or she will sweat and require more water.  

To maintain optimal hydration throughout the day, young athletes should drink ½ to 1 ounce of water per pound of body weight. To maintain peak performance during exercise, minimize water weight loss to no more than 2% of your body weight. This means that a 100-pound athlete should lose no more than 2 pounds during a workout.

Williams encourages athletes to drink plenty of water in the hours leading up to practice and continue taking four to six big gulps of water every 15 to 20 minutes during exercise. After exercising, drink 24 ounces of water for every pound of water weight you lose during your workout.

Calculating sweat rate

Knowing an athlete’s sweat rate is important when monitoring hydration. Sweat rate is the amount or rate at which a person sweats. To calculate sweat rate, measure weight before and after a workout. The difference in the weight indicates how well the athlete is staying hydrated and whether it’s within the healthy guidelines. The weight difference plus any fluids consumed during workout equals the sweat rate. Understanding this number will guide the amount of fluid needed during the workouts or practices.

Water or sports drink: What is best for athletes?

If young athletes are working out for one hour or less, water is generally sufficient to keep hydrated. Sports drinks may be recommended in certain situations including when:

  • Exercise lasts longer than 1 hour
  • Engaging in intense workouts
  • Practicing or playing in extreme environmental conditions, such as high heat and humidity
  • Excessive sweating occurs, i.e., being a “heavy sweater”

In these situations, experts recommend a sports drink containing at least 110 to 240 mg of sodium per 8oz serving to replace fluid and electrolytes lost through sweat.

Learn more

The specially trained pediatric sports performance experts at Children’s Health Andrews Institute Sports Performance powered by EXOS can help young athletes perform at his or her best, while remaining healthy and safe. Contact us today to schedule an appointment.

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