Does My Kid Really Need Gatorade: the What, When and How Much for Keeping our Kids Hydrated


Let’s face it, it makes perfect sense that well hydrated athletes feel better and play better. Hydration is key not only to good performance on the field, but it is essential in prevention of heat exhaustion, the second most common sports-related injury among young athletes. With that said, staying hydrated is a difficult task for kids and adolescents; studies show that at any given time, almost 50% of kids had some degree of dehydration. Kids and young adults are more susceptible to dehydration because they have higher energy expenditures and they produce more metabolic heat. Young athletes don’t sweat as efficiently as older adults and they are not as diligent about drinking fluids. Symptoms of dehydration include headaches, dizziness, nausea, muscle cramps and in severe cases heatstroke. By the time your child is thirsty, he/she is at least 1-2% dehydrated so do NOT drink based on thirst!

First let’s start with a basic question…WHAT should my child drink? The flavored water and sports drink industries are multi billion dollar ones, with incredible marketing and publicity budgets. With that said, study after study demonstrate that plain, cool water is best. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends that children and adolescents drink “plain water for hydration before, during and after most exercise regimens.” However, several recent studies have shown that if a young athlete is exercising strenuously for over 60 minutes he/she may benefit from a sports drink for carbohydrate and electrolyte replacement. In addition, it has been proven time and time again that kids will drink more if the drink is flavored. So what are we to do?

We read labels and do our best, that’s what we do! Here is a partial ingredient list of a very well known purple sports drink on the market: water, high fructose corn syrup, sucrose syrup, sucrose-fructose syrup, citric acid, natural grape flavor, salt, monopotassium phosphate, Red 40, Blue 1…really??? Do our kids need all this? A sports drink should contain 6-8% carbohydrate solution with 50 mg/100ml sodium and smaller amounts of chloride and potassium (it does NOT need controversial artificial colors and corn syrups, BTW banned from most European countries but still allowed in the US).

A very simple recipe for a homemade “sports drink” I like to call “Devin’s Smartnade” (thank you Devin Allen for all your research) consists of 1/2 cup of 100% juice (any flavor your kid likes, my son and his teammates love lemon/lime), 2 Tbsp of honey or 1/2 cup of sugar (for the carbohydrate content), 1/4 teaspoon sea salt (for electrolytes) and 2 quarts of water…that’s it! Simple and cheap to make! Another choice now popular on the market is coconut water…it’s low calorie, high in potassium, vitamin C, iron and B vitamins. If your child enjoys the taste and you’re willing to pay the extra money, go for it!

We can talk now about the WHEN and HOW MUCH should your child drink. There are established guidelines by the American College of Sports Medicine which apply to even our younger athletes:

  • Drink at least 16 ounces of water 2 hours before the event (this is the one we miss most frequently!)
  • 8-16 ounces of water 15 minutes before the event
  • 5-10 ounces every 15-20 minutes during exercise
  • drink AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE within 15-30 minutes after exercise

A  few last tips:

  • Sip, Sip, Sip! It’s better to drink over a longer period of time before exercise rather than chug it down which will cause bloating and fluid sloshing in their bellies!
  • Young athletes can monitor their own hydration by checking the color of their pee; it should be pale yellow (my son has fun with this one!)
  •  Beware of caffeinated beverages- caffeine is a diuretic and will make kids pee more frequently, exactly the opposite of what they want!
  • Carbonated and energy drinks have NO place in youth athletics
  • Remember the brain is comprised mostly of water, so staying well hydrated will help them be focused on and off the field and have quicker reaction times.

So there you have it, Hydration 101…feel free to comment or email me if you have any additional or specific questions…and don’t forget to sign up for my newsletter/future blogs! See you again soon, and remember to “make the healthier choice the easier choice” for you and your family!

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