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Drinking Fluids Before, During and After Sports Important For Children

Young boy drinking waterSurprising, as it may seem, the most important part of an athlete's diet isn't what they eat, it is what and how much they drink. Hydration before, during and after exercise is especially important for preadolescent children because they have special fluid needs compared to adults, or even teenagers. As a parent or coach, you are responsible for taking precautions to prevent heat illnesses in exercising children and making sure they drink enough fluids.

One of the most important functions of water is to cool the body. As a child exercises, his muscles generate heat, raising his body temperature. When the body gets hot, it sweats. The evaporating sweat cools the body. If the child does not replace the water lost through sweating by drinking more fluids, the body's water balance will be upset and the body may overheat.

To keep from becoming dehydrated, your child should drink fluids before, during and after exercise. To promote fluid intake in kids, fluids containing sodium (i.e. sports drinks) have been shown to increase voluntary drinking by 90% and prevent dehydration compared to drinking plain water. Recent research suggests that a "one-size-fits-all" prescriptive advice to drinking is outdated because sweat water losses are dynamic and dependent on the intensity of exercise (higher metabolic rate, more sweating, more water loss); the ambient temperature (the hotter the conditions, the greater the amount of evaporative sweat production); and body size (bigger the mass, more evaporative sweat needed to cool the body). These three main drivers of sweat water loss are highly variable in children.

Nevertheless, it is still a good idea for kids to drink fluids before, during, and after exercise, especially in the heat. 

Before Sports

Drinking fluids prior to exercise appears to reduce or delay the detrimental effects of dehydration.

During Sports
  • Any time a child feels thirsty
  • Encourage drinking fluids during timeouts and breaks
  • Encourage drinking from their own fluid container and avoid sharing with others
  • Encourage the ability to drink whenever they want and not to wait until they are told to take a break
  • Adjust fluid needs during practice according to the weather, amount of equipment worn, and practice duration and intensity.
Cautionary note: Encouraging children to drink fluids does not mean encouraging them over-drink, which can expose a child to the risk of a dangerous, potentially life-threatening condition called hyponatremia.

After Sports

Post-exercise hydration should aim to correct any fluid lost during the practice and help the body recover from sports:

  • Within the first 30 minutes after exercise, drink chocolate milk or a specially formulated sports drink containing protein and carbohydrates such as Gatorade G3 Recover.  Not only do they hydrate, but the protein helps the body recover from exercise by enhancing muscle repair, and the carbohydrate replenish glycogen stores in muscles, which are a source of fuel during prolonged exercise of an hour or more.
  • Replace all fluids lost during exercise plus any lost after exercise through urination
  • Eat a good meal with foods containing water


Revised and updated July 8, 2019