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Dehydration in Sports: A Year-Round Concern

With the winter sports season here, parents may be tempted to think that they don't need to worry so much about their young athletes becoming dehydrated. The fact is that, whether your tween or teen is at the rink, on the court, in the pool, or on the slopes, the need to keep them well-hydrated so they can perform at their best is the same as on the hottest days of summer.

Cold weather poses dehydration risk

Athletes lose a great deal of water from their bodies in the winter just through breathing. Their bodies also are working harder under the weight of extra clothing, with the sweat evaporating quickly in the cold, dry air.

Studies published in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise show that athletes exercising in cold weather are actually more prone to dehydration because the cold weather decreases an athlete's desire to drink (thirst) by as much as forty percent; when athletes don't feel thirsty, they don't drink as much, and this can cause dehydration.

Other studies have shown that, as with warm-weather athletes, winter athletes, such as hockey players and alpine skiers, are often dehydrated before they even arrive for practice and end practice even more dehydrated, with fluid deficits of as much as 3 to 8 percent of body mass reported.

Dehydration can begin when an athlete loses as little as 1 percent of body weight, and that 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,

Tip:  make sure your winter sports athlete drinks fluids on a schedule, not just when thirsty, and, to maintain peak performance for exercise lasting an hour or more, recharge with a sports drink containing sodium and CHO (carbohydrates), which have been shown to increase endurance in a recent study1 by as much as 23%.

Swimmers need to re-hydrate, too

As any parent of a competitive age-group swimmer knows, an indoor pool tends to be a very hot and humid place even at the best of times. Pack in all the competitors and spectators at a day-long meet and the temperatures soar, with athletes in or around the pool losing fluids at a high rate (remember: even when they are in the water, they are still sweating). Practices for competitive swimmers also tend to last a long time, during which athletes not only burn a lot of calories but lose a lot of water and electrolytes.

Tip: make sure your young swimmer has a sports drink to gulp during practices and at meets to replace lost fluids and electrolytes, and provide the carbohydrates they need to refuel. Rehydrating with a sports drink during a two-hour practice will give them more energy and help them train harder, especially at the end of the workout. And the better they train, the better they'll compete!



1. Phillips S, Turner A, Gray S, Sanderson M, Sproule J. Ingesting a 6% carbohydrate-electrolyte solution improves endurance capacity, but not sprint performance, during intermittent, high-intensity shuttle running in players of adolescent team games aged 12-14 years. Eur. J. App. Physiol. 2010;109(5):811-821.