Did you know that youth athletes are at increased risk for dehydration when compared to adult athletes? Youth athletes produce more metabolic heat and don’t cool their bodies as effectively as older athletes. That’s why it is so important for youth athletes to stay hydrated during exercise. A good rule of thumb is at least 4-8ounces of fluid every 15-20 minutes of activity. But the question then becomes, what kind of fluid should a youth athlete be drinking? Obviously water is important, but what about sports drinks, energy drinks, juices, or even milk? What kind of impact do those fluids have on a youth athlete?
Sports drinks like Gatorade are best for athletes that are involved in any physical activity lasting longer than an hour (such as long-distance running and biking) or in high-intensity sports (soccer, basketball, or hockey) where athletes are constantly moving. Since these drinks contain carbohydrates (sugar), they are a good source of immediate energy. Sports drinks also contain important electrolytes like sodium and potassium. These electrolytes are lost through sweat, and athletes need to replace them quickly in order for their muscles to work properly and minimize recovery time. Also, since most sports drinks are sweet, they are a good way to help ensure a youth athlete stays hydrated, especially if they don’t like drinking plain water.
However, sports drinks are not really necessary for the “casual” youth athlete. Research indicates that regular old water is fine for replacing any fluids lost during low to moderate-intensity activity. There has even be concern that giving sports drinks to non-active kids on a regular basis does more harm than good in the long run, since the sports drinks are full of calories that those kids don’t need.
Believe it or not, chocolate milk is actually a great source of nutrition for youth athletes! Studies have shown that low-fat chocolate milk helps build muscle and can improve endurance and performance. Chocolate milk has a good carbohydrate to protein ratio, which is critical for refueling tired muscles and restoring depleted energy stores after intense activity. Milk is also naturally high in potassium, a crucial nutrient which most people (not just youth athletes) aren’t getting enough of each day. Remember that you want to select a non-fat or skim chocolate milk.
Most health professionals agree; energy drinks have no place in youth sports. A study by the American Academy of Pediatrics warns parents and coaches about increased anxiety and heart arrhythmias in youth athletes as the result of caffeinated energy drinks. Meanwhile the National Federation of State High School Associations also warns athletes that caffeinated energy drinks should not be consumed before, during or after physical activity because they could actually raise the risk of dehydration!
Dehydration in youth athletes is a serious concern, and the effects can be life threatening. It’s so important that players replenish any water or nutrients lost during their practices and games, but not all fluids were created equal!