Being properly hydrated is one of the most important steps a youth athlete can take toward achieving peak performance in their sport.
Hydration is foundational, in that everything else an athlete does during training, competition and recovery is at least somewhat dependent upon their fluid intake.
As simple as the topic of hydration seems to be, there’s a lot conflicting advice on how much water youth athletes should drink and when.
How Fluids Get Lost
Before we can answer how much water youth athletes should drink, it’s helpful to understand what determines how the fluids we drink end up getting lost.
Fluid loss mainly happens four different ways, of which only some may apply to you and your athletes:
- Exercise Intensity: Exercising for hours (like in endurance sports) means a greater need for fluids and an increased need to create a hydration plan to avoid becoming dehydrated.
- Sweating: Some athletes sweat more than others, and those who sweat a large amount are at a greater risk of severe dehydration.
- Temperature: Exercising in hot weather increases the amount of fluid lost through sweating. Conversely, exercising in the cold can impair the ability to recognize dehydration and also increases the amount of fluid lost through breathing.
- Altitude: Exercising at higher altitude has a dehydrating effect on the body and increases the amount of fluid needed to feel sufficiently hydrated.
How Much Water Youth Athletes Should Drink Before, During and After Exercise
A good rule of thumb for athletes is to divide their body weight in half and drink at least an ounce per pound of body weight throughout a typical day (e.g., someone weighing 160 pounds should drink 80 ounces of water a day). This amount should then be adjusted for the day’s activity level and outside temperature.
On high-activity days, the timing of hydration becomes an extra important factor. As general rules of thumb, the following guidelines can be helpful:
- Before Exercise: Drink 16 ounces of water two hours before physical activity begins, and another 8-16 ounces right before exercising.
- During Exercise: Every 15-20 minutes, drink at least 4-6 ounces of fluid during vigorous exercise. For less vigorous exercise, decrease the amount slightly.
- After Exercise: Drink 16-24 ounces of water for every pound lost during physical activity. Consuming rehydrating beverages (like fruit smoothies) and eating watery foods (such as fruits and vegetables) along with salty ones can help replace lost fluids and electrolytes.
A simpler way for most athletes (or anyone) to drink enough water is to remember the Rule of 8: eight times throughout the day, drink a big glass of water (eight total).
Ultimately, every athlete loses fluids at different rates and has unique hydration needs. Building regular water breaks into training sessions is a good coaching habit and lets athletes learn to care for themselves.
Stressing the importance of staying hydrated even on rest days pays dividends in how athletes feel and perform, especially when it comes time to compete their hardest.
Sources and further reading:
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