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Athletes and Hydrating: What You Need to Know

Aug 20, 2014

Athletes are always being reminded to hydrate and coaches are always encouraged to offer more water breaks. But the recent death of a Georgia high school football player after drinking too much fluid during practice has many raising the question: “How much is too much?”

Although this tragedy is a rare occurrence, it is important for parents, athletic trainers, and coaches to understand the importance of proper, balanced hydration, especially during the summer months. Children do not adapt as efficiently as adults to high temperatures. They also differ from adults in their production of heat during exercise and sweat capacity.

Adequate hydration helps the body regulate temperature, helps maintain your energy level, ensures delivery of blood to all organs and tissues, controls blood pressure, and helps the kidneys remove necessary waste from the body. If you are under or over hydrated, your athletic performance may also be impaired.

Over Hydration, or Hypernatremia (Low Blood Sodium), Occurs If You Drink Excessive Amounts of Water.

Drinking too much water dilutes the amount of sodium in your blood and can lead to symptoms like headache, nausea, cramping, bloated stomach, and swollen fingers and ankles.

More severe symptoms of hypernatremia include seizures, disorientation, slurred speech, and confusion, and require immediate medical attention. If these serious symptoms are left untreated, your child is at risk for coma or even death. Trust your gut –you know your child best!

To Maintain Proper Hydration, Your Athlete Should Be Drinking Water Throughout the Entire Day Instead of Just at Practice.

Thirst is a sign of being slightly dehydrated, so it’s important to drink before you get thirsty. As a general recommendation, most athletes need to consume at least 80-120 ounces of fluid each day. This is the equivalent of 2.5-4 Nalgene (32 oz) bottles.

Here are specific recommendations to help your young athlete with proper hydration:

Before Practice or a Game:

  • Drink 6-8 oz of cold water 2 hours before activity.
  • Drink 8-12 oz of cold water 30 minutes before activity. If you sweat a lot during activity, eat a pre-exercise meal with sodium while also drinking water.
  • Do not take salt pills unless instructed by a physician!

During Practice or a Game:

  • Drink 8-12 oz of cold water every 15-20 minutes during activity.
  • This is rarely doable during a game, so make sure you use your water breaks and time outs to take a drink – even if it’s just a sip!

After Practice or a Game:

  • Drink until you aren’t thirsty
  • Check urine – aim for light yellow to clear urine, because semi-dark to dark urine indicates you are dehydrated and need to drink water.

Water should be the primary source of hydration. For activities lasting greater than an hour, have a sports drink to supplement your intake. Good fluid choices include water, sports drinks, Pedialyte, and diluted juice (half water mixed with half juice). Drinks that should not be used for hydration include: coffee, tea, soda, and energy drinks.

Sports Nutrition at Nationwide Children's Hospital
For more information, click here.

Featured Expert

Nationwide Children's Hospital Medical Professional
Jessica Buschmann, RD
Sports Medicine

Jessica Buschmann, MS, RD, LD, is a registered dietitian with Nationwide Children’s Sports Medicine. As part of her role at Nationwide Children’s, she provides nutrition services to Ohio Dominican University’s athletic teams and the general student population.

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700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.