Dehydration during practices in Florida is a serious concern in youth sports programs. Our coaches are all trained on the dangers of dehydration and how the recognize the associated signs. They also get additional training from the league. Water breaks are given at least every 20 minutes during exceptionally hot weather and any player who complains of problems is taken seriously. In other words, we do not take the old “tough it up and get out there” attitude especially with the younger boys. Coaches also stress the importance of drinking during breaks even if the player is not thirsty. Our board of directors is on constant watch during exceptionally hot practices for signs of trouble. We want parents to know that East Lake Youth Football and Cheerleading takes this issue very seriously. The safety of the children is most important.
Here are a few things parents can do to help prevent dehydration during hot weather:
- Make sure you child is well hydrated before practice. This may include your child drinking a sports drink or water an hour or two before practice.
- Make sure your child has plenty of water during practice. One 16 ounce bottle of water is not nearly enough for most boys or girls during practice. We recommend a large jug that they can bring to practice.
- Please reinforce that your child should drink water every time they get a break even if they do not feel thirsty. A player cannot get too much water during practice in this heat.
- Check your child’s urine before and/or after practice. As uncomfortable as this may sound, dark colored urine is a sign of dehydration.
- If your child is sick, do not send them to practice especially if they have diarrhea.
For more information, there are numerous good web sites on this topic. Type in “youth sports/dehydration” into any search engine.
American College of Sports Medicine: Fluid Replacement
The primary objective for replacing body water loss during exercise is to maintain normal hydration. To minimize risk of heat injury and impairment of exercise performance during exercise, water intake should attempt to equal fluid loss. At equal exercise intensity, the requirement for fluid replacement becomes greater with increased sweating during environmental heat stress.
To minimize the potential for thermal injury, it is advocated that water losses due to sweating during exercise be replaced at a rate equal to the sweat rate. Inadequate water intake can lead to premature exhaustion. During exercise, humans do not typically drink as much water as they sweat and, at best, voluntary drinking only replaces about two-thirds of the body water lost as sweat
ACSM concludes it would be premature to recommend drinking something other than water during exercise lasting less than 1 hour. However, during intense exercise lasting longer than 1 hour, a sports drink containing carbohydrates can delay the onset of fatigue.
In addition, ACSM concludes that there is little physiological basis for the presence of sodium in an oral rehydration solution (for example, sports drink) for enhancing intestinal water absorption as long as sodium is sufficiently available in the gut from the previous meal.
A primary rationale for electrolyte supplements in sports drinks is to replace electrolytes lost from sweating during exercise greater than 4-5 h in duration.
However, if the presence of sodium enhances palatability, then ACSM find that its presence in a replacement solution may be justified because drinking can be maximized by improving taste qualities of the ingested fluid.
The American Academy of Pediatrics also found that children might be more likely to drink a flavored sports drink over water. Even though most children wouldn’t need the sports drink for their intended purpose, electrolyte replacement, sports drinks may encourage young athletes to increase fluid intake and stay hydrated.
Keep Energy High with Proper Diet, Hydration
As football season begins for youth athletes, it’s important for them to take care of their bodies before, during and after physical activity. Drinking the right fluids and eating the right foods is the best way for athletes to stay energized and hydrated. Oftentimes, however, kids and their parents aren’t aware of what’s really best to eat and drink during football season.
Kim Schwabenbauer is the Corporate Dietitian for Super Bakery and a member of USA Football’s Health and Safety Committee. She said an important thing for parents of athletes ages 7 to 14 to be mindful of is proper fluid intake.
“I would say my first tip would be to drink two cups or 16 ounces of water about two hours prior to practice or prior to a game,” Schwabenbauer said. “You do need to have water within your system because you are going to be sweating quite profusely whenever it’s this hot in the fall.”
Schwabenbauer also mentioned drinking sports drinks such as Gatorade for physical activity lasting longer than one hour.
“In practices or games that are lasting over an hour, they do want to consider consuming an electrolyte beverage – meaning something that has sodium and potassium,” she said. “The kids don’t necessarily need them in the first hour, but they do need them from an hour on.”
Youth athletes should also have a different diet from youths not involved in sports. Given their higher level of physical activity, youth athletes should also have a slightly higher calorie intake to stay energized.
“They are expending energy and therefore calories are being burned through activity, so their activity rate is higher so they need higher calories,” Schwabenbauer said. “At the same time, the makeup of the diet would also be different in that the carbohydrate portion of the diet needs to be a higher proportion.”
Schwabenbauer said 60 to 65 percent of the child’s diet should be complex carbohydrates, meaning those that contain fiber and whole grains. Carbohydrates are the main fuel source during activity, making it important for kids to eat carbohydrates at every meal.
Two or three hours before a game, Schwabenbauer suggests kids eat a snack or small meal. Kids don’t need to eat anything during a game as much as they need to take proper fluids.
“All they really have to consume during the actual game would be water for the first hour and then an electrolyte beverage after that,” she said. “In excessive heat, I would say an electrolyte beverage for the first hour.”
Schwabenbauer also emphasized the importance of not diluting electrolyte beverages. She said kids do this a lot because it helps the drink taste better, but it actually takes away from the nutritional benefits of the drink.
“This practice I see quite a bit when they dilute the Gatorade with a lot of water, and something they need to know is that it doesn’t perform in the same way that it’s actually supposed to,” Schwabenbauer said. “It doesn’t give them as many electrolytes, calories, energy and things like that when they dilute it.”
Within 30 minutes after a game, youth athletes should have at least a snack that has both carbohydrates and protein. Within two hours after practice or a game, Schwabenbauer said kids need to have an actual meal.
“That meal should contain all the components of a regular meal they would be eating, such as a high quality protein source like turkey, baked chicken breast or tacos with vegetables on it,” she said. “They’re also going to need a carbohydrate so they’re going to need a pasta or bread component.”
Schwabenbauer said the after-activity meal doesn’t have to be dinner food. It could also be breakfast food such as omelets with meat and veggies and whole wheat bread as long as the meal contains a protein and carbohydrate.
For parents, planning ahead is an easier and healthier choice to make for their kids. They can grab food for practice when they need it and make sure they have healthy choices easily accessible.
“You save that time,” Schwabenbauer said. “Portioning out snacks for the week, such as grapes and carrots, and it’s all set and ready to go. It’s just easy to whip out the snack from the refrigerator and not have to think a thing of it.”
Proper nutrition is a key part of success for youth athletes on and off the field. Throughout the season, the right nutritious choices can help make the best of a young athlete’s performance on the football field, while instilling healthful habits for life.
Facts and Figures for Hydrating on the Field
Whether it’s a sweltering hot day of preseason practice or a cool November game, youth athletes can experience the effects of dehydration.
Making sure players are staying hydrated – for both practices and games – is a safety practice that youth football coaches need to remain cognizant about. Whether it’s a sweltering hot day of preseason practice or a cool November game, youth athletes can experience the effects of dehydration.
Along with techniques for tackling and blocking, why should proper fluid intake be another fundamental that youth coaches stress to their athletes? According to the National Athletic Trainers’ Association Position Statement on the Fluid Replacement for Athletes, “Dehydration of 1 percent to 2 percent of body weight begins to compromise physiologic function and negatively influence performance. Dehydration of greater than 3 percent of body weight further disturbs physiologic function and increases an athlete’s risk of developing an exertional heat illness (i.e. heat cramps, heat exhaustion, or heat stroke).”
JohnEric Smith, Ph.D., Senior Scientist at the Gatorade Sports Science Institute and a member of USA Football’s Football and Wellness Committee, has some advice for youth coaches and players on how to best prepare for taking the field.
What is taking place in the body when an athlete is dehydrated during practice or a game?
There are multiple processes by which the body loses fluid. The main process for fluid loss during physical activity is sweating, which is critical in dissipating heat and maintaining body temperature. In a warm, humid environment, about 80 percent of heat loss is done through sweating. In a warm, dry environment, about 98 percent is done from the evaporation of sweat from the skin. Not balancing fluid intake with fluid losses from sweat is the primary reason athletes get dehydrated during activity.
What are the signs and symptoms of dehydration that coaches should be aware of?
The first sign of dehydration is thirst and general discomfort. Then as dehydration becomes more severe, flushed skin, general fatigue and possibly the onset of muscle cramping can occur. As players continue to dehydrate, they can become dizzy, have a headache, vomit, and/or have chills. Similar to other things, there’s a progressive physical decline as you become more and more dehydrated.
What can occur as a result of these symptoms?
One impact of dehydration is a rise in core temperature as someone becomes dehydrated. Dehydration leads to a faster rise in body temperature during exercise. As body temperature increases, you begin to increase the risk of heat illness and heat injuries. To help protect against the negative effects of increasing body temperature, fluid is lost in the form of sweat to help maintain a close to normal body temperature.
Much of this fluid loss is going to come from the fluid in the blood increasing the stress placed on the cardiovascular system. The heart is going to work harder to pump blood because it’s going to become thicker making it more difficult to move through the body. Because the heart is working harder, heart rate generally goes up three to five beats per minute.
Another negative impact of dehydration is an increase in the perception of effort to do the same task. Because of the rise in core temperature, increased strain on the cardiovascular system and increased perception of effort, the time to reach exhaustion is reduced. Decrements in physical performance have been shown with dehydration rates as low as 2 percent – this is like a 150-pound person losing 3 pounds.
When is it most important for athletes to consume the most liquids – before or during exercise?
Hydration needs to be a focus for athletes throughout the day. Because all athletes are different, it is impossible to make general hydration guidelines. When not practicing or competing, remember to drink fluids when you are thirsty throughout the day. Monitor your urine output and urine color. The color of your urine should be similar to lemonade. If your urine is darker than lemonade you should be drinking more, if your urine is clear you may need to drink less.
About 7 percent of athletes show up to practice and games dehydrated – they’re not hydrating well away from the practice and competition field. Athletes should be sure to drink something two to three hours before their game. Monitor urine volume and color and have that direct you in consuming more fluids before exercising. During exercise, drink to match what your body is losing. To determine the volume you need to consume during activity, weigh in before practice and games then weigh out after practices and games. Your goal should be to minimize the amount of weight you lose during your activity while making sure you do not gain weight during the activity too.
What are the differences and benefits between drinking water and sports drinks?
Number one, sports drink will encourage you to drink because of the salt, flavor and taste. Salt and carbohydrates help for faster absorption of the fluid and the salt replenishes the electrolytes lost through sweat. The body primarily uses carbohydrates for fuel during exercise and your body has limited stores of carbohydrates available, so it’s important to provide an external source that your body can use during exercise as opposed to relying solely on what your body has stored.
What are some general hydration tips for youth athletes to follow?
One of the most important points to remember is to think about your hydration throughout the day and not solely center it around your activity. You want to make sure you’re drinking enough, but also not drinking too much. Both under hydrating and over hydrating have harmful medical consequences.