Winning Hydration Tips for Kid Athletes

by Andrea Conner MPH RDN CDE

Winning Hydration Tips for Kid Athletes

Children need adequate hydration to regulate body temperature, move nutrients into cells to produce energy, carry waste out of the body and prevent constipation, lubricate joints and keep body tissues (mouth, eyes, nose) moist. 

Appropriate fluid intake can make the sporting difference in energy level, concentration and response time.  According to the National Research Council, even slight dehydration can decrease strength by 2%, power by 3%, and high-intensity endurance by about 10%. Naturally, fluid is crucial to prevent dehydration related injuries.  Unfortunately, by the time a child is complaining of thirst, they are likely experiencing some amount of dehydration.   

Daily “base” Hydration guidelines from the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics are as follows-  

  • 4 to 8 years old Girls and Boys-  5 cups water
  • 9 to 13 years Girls-  7 cups water
  • 9 to 13 years old Boys-   8 cups water
  • 14 to 18 years Girls-  8 cups water
  • 14 to 18 year old Boys- 11 cups water

AND to include at least 5 servings of fruits and veggies daily as these foods are water filled and contribute to total body water.

For exercise or active play- 

  1. Start drinking water 2-3 hours before practice or game and aim for up to 16 oz fluids. 
  2. A half cup- two cups water should be consumed every 15-20 minutes during exercise.
  3. Drink enough water to replace weight loss during exercise bout or play. 
  4. For activity lasting more than an hour, an electrolyte replacement drink is recommended to replace minerals lost in sweat.  This is not a time to be concerned about the “sugar” in a sport drink.  The glucose, dextrose, or fructose is needed to pour electrolytes into cells.  If you are concerned about child’s sugar intake or weight, place attention on child’s diet during the remainder of the day.

Many kids aren’t super-fans of plain water.  To help increase fluids in the diet-

  1. Keep a refillable water bottle with your child and encourage frequent sips.
  2. Use flavored ice cubes (put water and blueberries, cucumber, basil, or orange pieces into ice cube tray and freeze into cubes).
  3. Milk and chocolate milk count as fluids and are great for muscle recovery post exercise.
  4. Plan in water breaks every 15-20 min during sports or active play.
  5. Make popsicles!  Kids tend to love these refreshing treats and they serve the purpose of replacing some fluids.
  6. Include water filled foods in his or her diet.  Watermelon, strawberries and cantaloupe have over 90% water.  Zucchini, celery, and tomato are among the top water filled veggies.

Finally, avoid “energy drinks” as they have been linked to dangerous increases in heart rate.  The American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization have released strong statements against child consumption of energy drinks.

Note, these are general recommendations and your child athlete may have unique needs.  It is possible to over-hydrate, so monitor your child’s urine color to gauge hydration level. Light yellow (straw color) usually indicates adequate hydration.

Building healthy hydration habits can keep your child safe, improve performance, and increase sport enjoyment.

For personalized guidance, contact

-Andrea Conner MPH RDN CDE

Registered Dietitian Nutritionist, Certified Diabetes Educator, & Soccer-mom

Wellbody Nutrition and Fitness LLC