Fluid Needs for the Young Athlete

Currently, the recommendations for children ages 6 to 17 is 1 hour of active play per day.  For the young athlete this recommendation is easily met each week. What becomes next important after physical activity is fluid needs. It is important to remember that children are NOT young adults and that they can dehydrate very quickly. Thirst is a poor indicator of fluid need in children because they are typically to busy to recognize the need for water.

General Rule of Thumb:
  • Drink every 15 minutes during activity
  • Drink even if your not thirsty
  • Parents job to remind/enforce/monitor (especially younger children)
Signs your child needs more water:
  • Headache
  • Tired, muscle weakness/cramps
  • Dry mouth
  • Urine color & smell
  • Weather (heat, humidity, time of day)
  • Skin tone (very flush)
Daily Fluid Recommendations for an Average, Healthy Child who actively plays one hour a day:

4-8 yrs: 5 1/2 cups
9-13 yrs, girl: 9 cups
9-13 yrs, boys: 10 cups
14-18 yrs, girls: 10 cups
14-18 yrs, boy: 14 cups or 1 gallon

If your child consumes the recommended amount of fruit and vegetable servings each day, their fluid needs are between 6 to 8 cups a day. Raw fruits & vegetables have a high water content, are rich in vitamins and are low in calories.

During Activity & After
It is VERY important that a young athlete stay hydrated during physical activity (practice, games, tournaments, etc). Every 15 minutes they should gulp down water, ideally, a cup or more at a time. Once activity is over it is important that the child eat OR drink a carbohydrate rich food within 15 to 20 minutes. For example, any fresh fruit (bananas, grapes, apples, peaches, pears, oranges) and/or a sports drink.

I referred to fluid as water throughout this post. Water is the best fluid replacement, however, there may be times when it is necessary to use sports drinks. Our rule for our kids: if they are excessively sweating during activity or will be active for multiple hours, then we pull out the sports drinks.

It is NEVER appropriate to give a child an energy drinks.