What is the Best Fluid Choice for Young Athletes?
In one corner stands water, in the other stands sports drinks.
Just as young athletes go head to head on sporting fields, seems that these two heavyweightsare seemingly in competition for the designation of "best fluid choice".
Even good ol' Charlie Brown wants to know the answer, "Is there an outright winner in this battle?"
Is one better for pre-activity, during activity, or for post-activity?
Could there actually be other fluid choices that can rise up and seize the coveted title?
Let the contest begin....
The Winner: Water just ahead of sports drinks
Why: Water provides an inexpensive, readily accessible and low-calorie option to maintain hydration. Cold water is better absorbed. For kids who for some reason won't drink water and prefer a flavored beverage, then sports drinks right before exercise are a sensible option. Keep in mind that the American Academy of Pediatrics counsels against routine consumption of sports drinks outside of sport activity due to concerns that include excessive sugar intake impacting dental health and body weight.
Guidelines for Use: The American College of Sports Medicine recommends these pre-exercise guidelines:
- Drink 16-20 fluid ounces of water or sports beverage at least four hours before exercise.
- Drink 8-12 fluid ounces of water 10-15 minutes before exercise.
Other Things to Consider: Dehydration can affect quality of exercise, ability to maintain appropriate body temperature, and lead to early fatigue and cramping. Keep an eye on body weight, especially in hot or humid environments and when performing multiple exercise sessions with short recovery periods. More than 2% weight loss from regular weight suggests dehydration and requires adequate fluid intake (usually with water) to replenish losses and correct the reduction in body weight.
The Winner: Kinda depends
Why: For most exercise activities that last under an hour, water is a very sensible choice that meets the needs of young athletes. If the exercise session lasts over an hour, water is still a solid selection, but there is an increased role for sports beverages to help replace sugar (carbohydrate) and electrolytes (salts). For those athletes who tend to be salty sweaters (white salt rings on headgear and uniforms, sweat has a distinct salt taste), sports beverages can help replace those sweat salt losses.
Guidelines for Use: Main Goal- use thirst as a guide rather than a forced schedule
Here are suggestions from our colleagues at the American College of Sports Medicine:
- Goal is to maintain fluid balance:
- Drink 3-8 fluid ounces of water every 15- 20 minutes when exercising for less than 60 minutes depending on tolerance
- Drink 3-8 fluid ounces of a sports beverage (5-8 percent carbohydrate with electrolytes) every 15-20 minutes depending on tolerance when exercising greater than 60 minutes
- Depending on tolerance: means use that thirst as a guide and realize that the above recommendations are a guide rather than a required mandate for most otherwise healthy athletes
Other Things to Consider: Drinking too much water can actually be dangerous, especially in ultra-endurance activities lasting several hours. Excessive water ingestion without adequate salt intake can lead to low sodium levels in the blood stream (hyponatremia) with risks of seizures, brain swelling and even death. Thus, many authorities recommend against rigid or forced consumption of water during ultra-endurance events such as marathons or triathlons.
The Winner: Neither
Why: Well, you actually cannot go wrong with water or measured amounts (again to reduce sugar/calorie burden) of sports drinks after exercise, but if the ultimate goal is optimizing immediate (first 30 minutes after exercise) recovery including rehydration, then let me suggest some more favorable choices.
- Chocolate milk: not only provides adequate fluids for rehydration, but also scientifically supported ratios of carbohydrate to protein that enhance muscle repair and recovery. Also delivers calcium and Vitamin D which are important for bone health (especially with indoor sport athletes that have reduced opportunity for Vitamin D absorption due to limited sun exposure). Almond, rice or soy-based chocolate milk can be used for those who don't tolerate or are allergic to cow's milk. There usually isn't much objection to the sweet taste.
- Tart Cherry Juice: also provides necessary fluid intake with collateral benefits of anti-inflammatory properties that can reduce both immediate and delayed muscle soreness and stiffness. Might actually be able to reduce perceived need for non-steroidal anti-inflammatory medications after exercise.
Guidelines for Use: One 8-12 ounce serving of chocolate milk or tart cherry juice within 30 minutes of completing activity. Can use similar amount of sports beverage as well. Measure weight after activity- for every one pound of weight loss, recommend consumption of 16-24 ounces of fluid, of which water should be the primary component.
Other things to consider: In addition to chocolate milk, protein-rich foods such as peanut butter and Greek yogurt are helpful for muscle recovery. Berries and actual cherries are also good anti-inflammatory food sources. Limit sugar-filled sports drinks or chocolate milk to the immediate post-exercise period, and also watch high sugar content snacks after exercise.
More winning advice: do not encourage sharing of containers (which can encourage sharing of illness) and do serve beverages cold for better absorption.