By: Jill Castle, Guest Contributor
Co-author of Fearless Feeding
Did you know that up to 75% of young athletes come to practice and competition already dehydrated?
By analyzing the urine color of young athletes (pale yellow or lemonade-like color urine indicates an adequate hydration status and a Mellow Yellow or Mountain Dew color is dehydrated), Dr. Susan Yeargin of the University of South Carolina studied the effects of heat exertion on young athletes’ hydration status. She found that many of them are already mildly to severely dehydrated before practice.
While she found that young athletes do a good job of drinking and replacing lost fluids during exercise, the pre-exercise dehydration placed them in a precarious and dangerous position, especially in hot, humid climates, and when the athlete is not acclimated to the heat.
Why are young athletes so dehydrated? While there are contributing factors, such as not enough time to eat and drink at school, or not bringing an extra supply of fluids, I believe the biggest contributor is the lack of guidance on drinking fluids.
Studies tell us that young athletes may not follow their thirst as an indicator to drink fluids, and may even ignore it, distracted by other events. This puts the onus on adults—parents and coaches—to train young athletes to drink routinely.
If you are a parent or coach of an athlete, make sure you’re doing these things:
Parents: Have ample water available for your little athlete. Send her to school with a large water bottle. Don’t cave in to requests for juices, soda or other sweetened beverages around exercise. Only allow a sports drink for those athletes who exercise longer than an hour.
Coaches: Schedule regular breaks for drinking fluids as part of the standard practice or game (every 20 minutes is recommended). Encourage every athlete to drink. Speak to those athletes (and their parents) who forget to bring fluids. Disallow sugary or caffeinated beverages at practices and competition.
With a concerted effort, we can prevent young athletes from being dehydrated before they even get on the practice field. And who knows, maybe you’ll see a few more wins!
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