What Should Young Athletes Drink?

When you practice, play, run, work out, or lift weights, you sweat. You need hydration. Is water enough? Or is drinking Gatorade essential to your fluid replenishment? Let’s look at what some experts in the field of athletic nutrition think in regards to how athletes should rehydrate.

How Much Should Young Athletes Drink?

This question really depends upon the type of workout you’re doing. The intensity level and duration of a work out are key factors in the amount of fluid an athlete needs. Your needs may vary greatly between doing 30 minutes of cardio exercise versus playing in a competitive game for 90 minutes. The director of sports nutrition at the University of Michigan is Caroline Mandel (follow her on Twitter @chmandel). In an article for espn.com’s Build a Better Athlete” series, Mandel stated “in general, high school athletes require 10 to 12 cups of fluid per day consumed at meals and snacks”. This fluid may come from water, fruit juice, or milk.

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends drinking fluid every 15-20 minutes during an activity. If an athlete weighs 90 lbs. or less, they need at least five ounces of fluids every 15-20 minutes. Those weighing over 90 lbs. need nine ounces. Athletes should also drink 12-16 ounces roughly 30 minutes before their game/practice begins.

The “Gatorade vs. Water” Debate

It’s highly probable that when you’re thirsty during or after a game or practice, you’re reaching for some type of sports drink. They have dozens of flavors, brands, sizes, and of course high profile athletes endorsing them. While many sports drinks such as Gatorade are perfectly fine at replenishing fluids and valuable nutrients that you lose during work outs, often water works just as well.

A rule of thumb is for any game or practice lasting less than 45 minutes, drinking water for recovery is perfectly fine. Work outs longer than 45 minutes may include drinking an electrolyte-rich sports drink. Water, however, should be your main source of hydration throughout the day.

Drinking a sports drink beyond just intense games and practices has little health benefit. Those drinks have large amounts of sodium, which is essential to the human body, and is a nutrient lost through sweat during physical activity.

In a Washington Post article, Casey Seidenberg had this to say about the idea many have on needing sports drinks over water:

“Some people are going to point out that sodium is lost through sweat in higher concentrations than the other electrolytes, and neither fruit nor water provides sodium. But the American diet contains enough, if not too much, sodium, so chances are a child is just fine without the 270 mg of sodium in that same container of Gatorade. Remember that these drinks were originally designed for performance athletes, not growing children.”

Gatorade, Powerade, and other sports drinks are good…sometimes. Intense, long practices and games are good times for the consumption of sports drinks. During meals and snacks throughout the day, however, water should be your beverage of choice.

Don’t Drink This!

Some young athletes think it may help them if they drink an energy drink before a practice or game. The reality is that most energy drinks are loaded with sugar and caffeine, and can actually dehydrate you. Don’t rely on these types of drinks to give you energy. Look to healthy fruits to give you a pre-game boost.

For post-game recovery, another drink you can choose is chocolate milk. Because it is high in protein and carbohydrate content, it is ideal for muscle recovery. A study done by Joel Stager, a physiologist at the University of Indiana at Bloomington, discovered that swimmers, cyclists, and runners all experienced recovery equivalent to that of many sports drinks.

Are You Hydrated?

It sounds weird (probably gross, too) that one of the best ways to determine if you are getting enough fluids is by looking at the color of your urine. This can help you determine if you are adequately hydrated or not based on how light or dark the urine is. It’s important to note that thirst is not always the best indicator of hydration! Don’t assume that just because you’re not thirsty that you are properly hydrated. Use the chart below to help you know if you’re in greater need of fluids than you may realize. And remember, above all else, drink plenty of water!