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Sports Drinks Versus Water: Which Hydrates Kids Best?

Kids prone to dehydration

Kids are susceptible to heat illnesses when active in hot weather because they:

  • Sweat at a lower rate (both in absolute terms and per sweat gland), which may impact evaporative heat loss;
  • Get hotter during exercise due to an increased lean muscle mass;
  • Children enjoy playing and exercising, which increases heat production in their bodies.  As more heat is produced, more water is lost through sweat;
  • Have more skin surface for their body weight (that results in excessive heat gain in extreme heat and heat loss in extreme cold);
  • Have hearts that pump less blood; and
  • Adjust more slowly to exercising in the heat (a child may require five or six sessions to achieve the same degree of acclimatization acquired by an adult in two or three sessions in the same environment).

According to a 2005 American College of Sports Medicine report on hydration, "even a 1 percent to 2 percent reduction in body mass" through perspiration "reduces the aerobic performance in 10- to 12-year-old boys."

Because studies show that kids will voluntarily drink more of a sports drink compared to drinking plain water, giving your child a sports drink to consume before, during and after sports significantly reduces the risk of dehydration, which can lead to heat illnesses.

Kids often dehydrated

Three University of Connecticut studies recently presented to the American College of Sports Medicine found that between 50 and 75 percent of boys and girls at sports camps were significantly dehydrated. at the end of their camp stays Twenty-five 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.  "Most of teh campers thought they were doing a pretty good job of staying hydrated during the day," the studies said, but, "Obviously there's a gap between their knowledge and their actual behavior."

Education and hydration strategies  

A survey commissioned by the National Safe Kids Campaign revealed that more than three out of four parents of active kids aged 8-14 do not know the steps they should take to help prevent dehydration in their children.

The survey and studies show the importance for parents of not only educating their children about the importance of hydration but of having and implementing a hydration strategy utilizing the consumption of sports drinks  on a schedule before, during and after sports to eliminate the risks of dehydration and heat illnesses.

Parents need to remember, however, that their kids should not be drinking sports drinks unless they are engaged in intense exercise in the heat over a period of hours (such as when they are competing in multiple practices or games during a single, hot summer day), and not  with meals, as consumption of sports drinks has been linked with obesity and tooth decay.


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