The kids of summer need to stay hydrated

Eating Well

June 25, 1996|By Colleen Pierre | Colleen Pierre,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

"It's hard to get kids to drink, even when coaches remember to bring fluids to games and practices. Kids don't want to be bothered. They just want to get back into the game," according to one longtime Little League coach.

The American Dietetic Association (ADA) has targeted this problem, noting that kids in organized sports need to be supervised when it comes to getting enough to drink.

Kids are not just little adults. ADA points out that kids sweat less, produce more heat and are less efficient at transferring heat from muscle to skin. They have more skin surface area, for their height and weight, than adults do, and they acclimate to heat more slowly than adults. So they're at much greater risk of dehydration than adult athletes playing under similar conditions. In addition, kids don't instinctively drink enough to replace sweat losses, so in the heat of competition, they can push themselves into heat exhaustion.

Water is the best fluid replacer for activities lasting less than 90 minutes. But coaches, parents and kids know that they're more tempted by flavorful beverages like sports drinks, fruit juice or even Kool-Aid. Watered-down drinks are the easiest to absorb during intense activities like swimming or running. But stand-still skill sports like baseball or archery don't tax the digestive system, so any drink will do, as long as it replaces lost sweat.

Kids need to be taught to drink before, during and after their event. Just as they once learned to rinse and spit (not a science-based concept), now they have to learn to swallow!

Kids attending sports camps where they compete or drill more than once a day should be monitored especially well. Supervisors can assess hydration by weighing kids before and after workouts. Any weight loss during a session is fluid, not fat. Two cups of water weigh a pound. If a child loses two pounds in one afternoon, that child needs to drink four cups of fluid before going back for another workout.

Fluid restriction should never be used as a disciplinary measure. ADA also points out that fluid restriction, diuretics and laxatives to promote water weight loss are always inappropriate because they upset electrolyte balance, damaging both health and performance.

ADA's statement on nutritional guidance for child athletes further clarifies how kids are different from adults:

Children's bone density and proportion of body fluids are very different from adults'. Weight and percent body fat should not be used to decide who can play and who cannot. Setting overly strict weight standards can limit normal growth and development.

Weight-control practices such as fasting, food restriction and dehydration should not be used with growing children.

Limiting children's caloric intake by eliminating one or more food groups puts them at risk for fatigue, dehydration, nutritional deficiencies, eating disorders and limited growth. "Food choices should not be restricted because of the energy [calorie], sugar, or fat content of any one food."

On the other hand, children don't need to be over-fed either. Stuffing them doesn't make them grow. It only makes them fat.

Vitamin supplements and ergogenic aids (amino acids, protein mixtures, chromium supplements) have never been shown to improve performance in kids (or adults). Relying on supplements instead of healthful, well-balanced meals can compromise health as well as performance.

Child athletes need healthful eating habits that provide the energy they need to grow and to play at their sport. Like adults, they can easily meet their nutritional needs by choosing foods from all the categories of the Food Guide Pyramid.

Kids need plenty of complex carbohydrates, including breakfast cereals, sandwich breads or rolls, English muffins, bagels, rice and tortillas, along with at least two fruits and three vegetables daily. They also need two small servings daily of high protein foods like lean meat, chicken, fish, beans, peanut butter or eggs, and two or three servings of dairy foods. And yes, they need some fat. A little bit of sugar is OK, too.

Kids have small stomachs and high energy needs. Choosing from all the food groups is the key to good health, maximum growth and peak performance.

Colleen Pierre, a registered dietitian, is the nutrition consultant at the Union Memorial Sports Medicine Center and Vanderhorst & Associates in Baltimore.

Pub Date: 6/25/96

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