“Increased activity brought on by participation in workouts, training and competition requires extra energy and fluid intake, especially for children,” says Thomas Pommering, D.O., Medical Director at Nationwide Children’s Sports Medicine.
The human body contains 60% water and a fluid loss of as little as 2 - 3% of a person’s body weight can impair athletic performance. In a 50-pound child, that’s only a loss of one pound due to exercise. Fluid losses of 7 - 10% can lead to heat stroke and even death. That is why dehydration and fluid replacement is of special concern for children involved in athletic activities.
But keeping hydrated is not the only way to maximize a young athlete’s performance. Staying active and playing sports increases the need for food fuel as well. Whether playing on a team or practicing sports skills at home, players can be their athletic best by scoring on the nutrition front.
The body requires nutritional fuel before and after (and sometimes during) competition to help the athlete stay physically and mentally alert. A pre-competition meal can help with that as well as help prevent the blood sugar from dipping too low (hypoglycemia.) In competitions lasting over 60-90 minutes, eating during competition can help the body maintain nutritional balance and increase stamina. Recovery, or fueling the body after competition, is also a key to maximizing performance. Carbohydrates and proteins are the key nutrients to replace.
“When exercising, it is important to monitor fluid intake, but thirst is not a reliable indicator for when a child should replace fluids. In fact, it is a late indicator,” says Dr. Pommering. “By the time the body tells the mouth it’s thirsty, it’s usually too late. It is important to drink before you are thirsty.”
The best beverage choices are plain water, sports drinks (with carbohydrate contents of less then 20 grams per 8 oz.), and diluted juices mixed one part juice with one part water (juices should have carbohydrate contents of 4-8%). Sports drinks are typically recommended for events lasting longer than 60-90 minutes. Water is the fluid of choice for most physical activities lasting less than that.
Eating high-water content foods – such as oranges, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers and watermelon – can also help replace fluids in the body. It is important to eat high-carbohydrate foods prior to, or during, competition to get the most out of the body. Eating foods in the milk, fruit, grain, vegetable and protein groups are the best ways to re-fuel the body.
The milk group includes lowfat dairy products, such as frozen yogurt, chocolate milk, yogurt, ice milk or milk. Good fruits to eat before and during competition are apples, bananas, grapes, oranges, pears and raisins. In the grain group, bagels, cornflakes, english muffins, hard rolls, pasta, pita bread, raisin bran, rice and whole wheat bread are good choices. Corn, peas, potatoes (baked, boiled or mashed) and sweet potatoes can provide the energy needed in the vegetable group, and in the protein group black-eyed peas, navy beans, pinto beans and refried beans can help as well.
Consult your primary care physician for more serious injuries that do not respond to basic first aid. As an added resource, the staff at Nationwide Children’s Hospital Sports Medicine is available to diagnose and treat sports-related injuries for youth or adolescent athletes. Services are now available in five locations. To make an appointment, call (614) 355-6000 or request an appointment online.