It may be hard to believe, but while you are sitting in the stands bundled in a parka watching your child play football or at the bottom of a half-pipe watching him compete in a snowboarding competition, he may be becoming dehydrated. Indeed, a recent study showed that cold weather actually alters the thirst sensation. When athletes don't feel as thirsty, they don't drink as much fluids, and this can cause dehydration.
Thus, while a young athlete's need to stay hydrated is a constant regardless of the sports season, athletes exercising in cool or cold weather need to be taught to drink more fluids throughout the day (before, during and after sports) and on a schedule, not just when they are thirsty. As with warm weather athletes, studies have shown that winter athletes, such as hockey players and alpine skiers, are often dehydrated before they even arrive for practice and end practice with an even bigger hydration deficit.
Dehydration can begin when an athlete loses as little as 1 percent of body weight. In a 70-pound child, that is less than 1 pound of weight lost through sweat. As little as a 2% decrease in body weight from fluid loss (e.g. 1.2 lb for a 60-lb athlete) can lead to a significant decrease in muscular strength and stamina.
If your child tires easily and repeatedly in practice and appears irritable, and his performance suddenly declines, dehydration, and/or inadequate calorie intake may be the cause.The following are also signs that your child is dehydrated:
- Dry lips and tongue
- Sunken eyes
- Bright colored or dark urine, or urine with a strong odor
- Infrequent urination
- Small volume of urine
- Apathy or lack of energy
The progressive effects of dehydration are serious. As a child becomes dehydrated, heart rate increases, blood flow to the skin decreases, and a body temperature can rise steadily to dangerous levels. To avoid a potentially life-threatening medical emergency, parents and coaches need to be familiar with the symptoms of and treatment for heat-related illnesses.
To keep from becoming dehydrated, parents need to make sure young athletes drink fluids before, during and after exercise. To promote fluid intake in kids, fluids containing sodium (i.e. sports drinks) have been shown to increase voluntary drinking by 90% and prevent dehydration better than drinking plain water.
Updated: November 14, 2012