Home » Nutrition Channel » Dehydration At Summer Sports Camps Common, Studies Say

Dehydration At Summer Sports Camps Common, Studies Say

Between 50 and 75 Percent Significantly Dehydrated

Dehydration common

Young football player drinking from water jugBetween 50 and 75 percent of boys and girls attending summer sports camps are significantly dehydrated, according to recent studies. The studies found that 25 to 30 percent of the campers studied showed signs of serious dehydration, putting them at increased risk of heat-related illnesses.

The campers were dehydrated despite the availability of water and sports drinks, frequent breaks and coaches' encouragement to stay hydrated. The studies also showed that, once children are dehydrated, it is "nearly impossible for them to catch up."

Hydration knowledge not enough

The children, ages 9 to 16, also suffered significant dehydration despite an overwhelming display of knowledge and positive attitudes about healthy hydration habits, said Douglas Casa, a certified athletic trainer, lead researcher in the studies, and the Director of the Korey Stringer Institute at the University of Connecticut.

"Most campers thought they were doing a pretty good job of staying hydrated during the day, but their thirst level during practice was not a good indicator of their hydration status," Casa said. "Obviously, there's a gap between their knowledge and their actual behavior."

Thirst not indicator of hydration status

"They can't just rely on their thirst. They need an actual hydration strategy; a plan," Casa said.

"We're trying to keep the campers well-hydrated so they won't have athletic performance issues or put themselves at risk for heat-related illnesses," Casa said. "We also want them to have better hydration strategies in hand going into their high school and collegiate athletic programs, which will be even more rigorous and where the consequences of dehydration could be even greater."

To keep from becoming dehydrated, your child must 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 compared to drinking plain water. To ensure that they are drinking enough to stay hydrated at camp this summer, remind them that they should drink fluids according to the following schedule:


Before Sports

Drinking fluids prior to exercise appears to reduce or delay the detrimental effects of dehydration.

  • 1 to 2 hours before sports: 4 to 8 ounces of cold water
  • 10 to 15 minutes before sports: 4 to 8 ounces of cold water
  • A good meal with containing water (e.g. fruits)

During Sports
  • Every 20 minutes: 5 to 9 ounces of a sports drink, depending on weight (5 for a child weighing 88 pounds, 9 ounces for a child weighing 132 pounds)
  • Any time a child feels thirsty
  • Encourage drinking fluids during timeouts and breaks
  • Encourage drinking from their own fluid container and avoid sharing with others
  • Encourage the ability to drink whenever they want and not to wait until they are told to take a break
  • Adjust fluid needs during practice according to the weather, amount of equipment worn, and practice duration and intensity.

After Sports

Post-exercise hydration should aim to correct any fluid lost during the practice and help the body recover from sports:

  • Within the first 30 minutes after exercise, drink chocolate milk or a specially formulated sports drink containing protein and carbohydrates such as Gatorade G3 Recover. Not only do they hydrate, but the protein helps the body recover from exercise by enhancing muscle repair, and the carbohydrate replenish glygogen stores in muscles, which are a source of fuel during prolonged exercise of an hour or more.
  • Within two hours: 20-24 ounces of a sports drink for every pound (16 ounces) of weight lost
  • Replace all fluids lost during exercise plus any lost after exercise through urination
  • Eat a good meal with foods containing water

Heat-related deaths 

The critical importance of hydration for athletes was highlighted by the National Center for Catastrophic Sport Injury Research's Annual Survey of Football Injuries (1), which reported 5 heat-related deaths among high school football players in 2011, but only one in 2012.

"There is no excuse for any number of heat stroke deaths since they are all preventable with proper precautions," writes Frederick O. Mueller, Ph.D., Chairman, American Football Coaches Committee on Football Injuries, and Director of the Center." 

1. Mueller F, Colgate B.  Annual Survey of Football Injury Research 1931-2012. 

Revised June 20, 2013  Updated April 20, 2017

NOW Available in KINDLE