As parents, we want to do all we can to make sure our children stay safe in their athletic endeavors. In any sport, hydration plays an essential role in not only their performance, but more importantly, their health.
However, beverage sales are big business, and many companies' clever marketing campaigns would have you and your child believe their product is the key to superior hydration, nourishment, energy and performance. That isn't always the case, and some beverage choices can actually do more harm than good.
Here are some tips to help make smart hydration choices for your student athlete:
1) Water is often the best sports drink for the casual athlete. Sports drinks, like Gatorade, are appropriate for kids involved in prolonged vigorous physical activity lasting longer than an hour. Examples include: long-distance running and biking, or high-intensity exercise such as soccer, basketball, or hockey. However, they should not be consumed as an "everyday" source of hydration, as they are loaded with calories and sugar.
2) During games and competitive events, regular water breaks should be scheduled every 15 or 20 minutes, with drinks being available at all times.
3) Hydration should be proactive, beginning well before physical activity and continuing after. Unfortunately, studies have shown 2 out of 3 kids show up for practice dehydrated.
4) Don't confuse energy drinks with sports drinks. In 2011, there were 1,499 emergency room visits related to energy drinks in patients ages 12-17. These drinks are overloaded-loaded with caffeine and stimulants. They can cause cardiac problems, insomnia, headaches and even increase risk of developing diabetes.
5) Look to a well-balanced diet before "vitamin water." While these beverages are growing in popularity, they often contain artificial sweeteners, caffeine or herbal ingredients that have not been studied for their effects on kids. If you have concerns that your child isn't getting enough vitamins and nutrients, talk to your doctor, who may recommend a multi-vitamin.
"Too often, kids are looking at commercial beverages as a magic pill to give them that extra edge, and that lead down a dangerous path," said Dr. Robert Cates of Monroe Clinic-Brodhead, who is board-certified in family medicine and sports medicine. "A child who is eating healthy, staying hydrated, taking care of their body and working to improve at his or her sport is learning values that will serve throughout life."