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Sports Nutrition 101: Beat The Heat


We live in Houston. It’s hot and it’s humid. Dehydration can impact athletic performance and increase the likelihood of a heat related injury. Hydration is the cornerstone of sports nutrition as well as protection from a heat related injury. Children respond to heat stress differently than adults and have a more rapid rise in body temperature and a lower sweat rate when exposed to heat. Although there are subtle, yet distinct, differences between children and adults, some key factors are important to prevent a heat related injury and optimize athletic performance during the summer months.

Bodies can acclimatize or get used to the heat. If your child is going to marching band camp or will start football in July, they should begin training gradually in the heat ten to 14 consecutive days before the camp begins. Although some benefits to training in the heat can be seen in the first few days, a recent international consensus statement on training and competing in the heat documented the maximal benefits are not realized for two weeks (Sports Medicine, 2015). One of the best things parents can do is to promote reasonable activity in the heat. Many high school coaches provide a summer workout program to reduce the likelihood of heat exhaustion or heat stroke when training begins.

What should your child or teen drink?

The American College of Sports Medicine recommends water as the primary beverage for activities that last less than 60 minutes. If your child jogs for 20 minutes, there is no reason for a sports drink despite what his or her friends might be drinking. Sports drinks have been shown to be beneficial in those activities lasting greater than an hour, particularly in the heat. Football or cross country practices are examples of when a sports drink would have some benefit. Since they are sports drinks they are intended to be consumed during sports and not at lunch or when playing video games. Sports drinks contain fluid, carbohydrate and electrolytes – all of which are needed during intense exercise. Carbohydrate is the fuel of exercising muscle and electrolytes are lost in sweat. Therefore, sports drinks contain sugar as an easily digested form of carbohydrate. I call this sugar with a purpose. Sodium is the major electrolyte lost in sweat and may also promote fluid balance. Energy drinks are not sports drinks and often contain amino acids and caffeine in high doses. No child or teenager should drink energy drinks.

How do you know if you are hydrated?

Although no one strategy is perfect you can “check” hydration status in two ways. First, have your athlete check the color of the first morning urine. If the urine is dark like apple juice, little volume or strong smelling, there is a good chance your athlete didn’t drink enough the day before. The second method is to monitor sweat rate using a digital bathroom scale. Your athlete can weigh themselves in dry clothes or their underwear before and after exercise. Each pound lost represents 16 ounces of sweat that was not replaced. For example, a three pound weight loss is equal to a 48 ounce sweat loss (three pounds x 16). Drinking this extra fluid over six hours will promote rehydration and prepare your athlete for the next activities. Lastly, don’t forget that food contains fluid. Fruits and vegetables are always a good choice since these foods are about 90 percent water. Serving fruits and vegetables at each meal is not only good nutrition, but it adds small amounts of fluid too. Enjoy the summer, plan ahead and beat the heat!

Roberta Anding