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Keeping Hydrated in the Summer

Making Sure Your Kids Avoid Dehydration

Keep your kids cool at sports camps and all summer long. Before they zip up their duffel bags and head off, make sure they have a water bottle, sports drinks and a game plan to stay hydrated. Dehydration is more common than most parents realize, and the consequences range from mild to severe to even life threatening.

It's not just a matter of quenching thirst. In fact, thirst is often a poor indicator of fluid needs during exercise. Encourage your children to drink often. Teach them the signs and symptoms of dehydration, and make sure they know how to stay cooled and hydrated. Explain that even mild fluid losses hinder their performance and affect their health.

Even when water and sports drinks are readily available, kids may not drink enough to stay hydrated, says Douglas Casa, Ph.D., director of athletic training education at the University of Connecticut. Using various urine tests, Casa assessed the hydration status of 58 boys and girls, ages 10 to 14 years, participating in four-day overnight soccer camps in Pennsylvania. Most campers were dehydrated by the second day of camp, and by the fourth day, 59 percent of boys and 70 percent of girls were significantly dehydrated. He found similar results with boys ages 9 to 18 at football camps.

"The kids believed that hydration was important to their health and performance, yet they didn't drink enough," says Casa. He observed that the children socialized during breaks more than they tended to their fluid needs. "It's a real safety issue," he says. "The good news is that it is preventable."

Dehydration Is Progressive

Athletes will likely experience only a few symptoms when they first become dehydrated: often fatigue and headaches. Extreme dehydration can lead to heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

Heat exhaustion occurs when the body cannot get rid of its heat fast enough, and the athlete's body temperature begins to rise as with a fever. Sweating is the body's way of cooling. As sweat evaporates from your skin, it pulls heat from your body. This continuous loss of heat with sweat keeps your body at a healthful temperature. But when excessive fluid has been lost, the body fails to sweat and cool properly.

Weather affects sweating too. It's tougher to keep cool in humid conditions because it's harder for sweat to evaporate and for the body to throw off extra heat. Even more serious than heat exhaustion, heat stroke is a medical emergency and can affect the central nervous system and cause organ damage.

Kids on the Go Need H20 (and Sports Drinks, Too)

Casa encourages parents to give children their own re-hydration containers that hold about a quart of fluid. He prefers a clear bottle and one with the amounts marked on the sides, so kids can see how much fluid they've consumed. His personal preference is a plastic bottle available for approximately $13 at sporting goods stores. In addition to water, Casa and others recommend sports drinks during long periods of intense exercise because they provide some of the electrolytes and carbohydrates lost during play. The flavor may encourage extra sipping too. Since most athletes naturally drink more if the beverage is cold, consider freezing half of the sports drink the day before the event, and fill the rest of the container with the cold drink before the game or practice.

A Hydration Game Plan

1. Have water and a tasty sports drink available.

2. Drink enough fluid throughout the day so your urine is light colored. Casa notes that urine should be the color of lemonade and never the color of apple juice.

3. Drink 8 to 16 ounces (1 to 2 cups) about 60 minutes before play.

4. Take several sips every 15 minutes during exercise.

5. Weigh yourself before and after play. The weight you lost during exercise is fluid. For every pound lost, drink 16 to 24 ounces (2 to 3 cups) of water or sports drink.

6. If you routinely lose weight during games and practices, drink more during play. If you are heavier after play, drink less during games and practices.

Don't let dehydration dampen their fun and weaken their game. Talk to your kids about their fluid needs. Explain that drinking enough of the right beverages affects both their health and their game. Send them off knowing that they'll stay cooled and energized on the playing field and off.

Warning Signs of Dehydration
Thirst, fatigue, irritability, tingling fingers, muscle cramps, headaches, dizziness, inability to concentrate, dark urine, loss of performance, nausea and vomiting and a feeling of being overheated and unable to cool off.

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