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How much should youth athletes drink while exercising in extreme heat?

The wicked combination of high heat and high humidity in Central Texas can be really tough on a young athlete’s body. Exercising in the heat —summertime practice for football, track, baseball, soccer, or any youth sport — can make the summertime more enjoyable and help to improve a young athlete’s skills, but it can also pose added risks for those young athletes working out in the hot sun.

The normal guidelines for fluid intake — one ounce of water per pound of body weight per day — don’t apply when you’re suited up in pads in 90-degree heat. Youth who are part of teams practicing outdoors in the summer sun must increase their fluid intake considerably in order to avoid heat exhaustion and heatstroke.

“Young athletes should drink one 20-ounce bottle of sports drink before going to practice, one liter of sports drink per hour while working out, and another bottle once they get home,” said Charlie D. Williams, MD, a pediatrician on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Health.

Dr. Williams underscored that water is insufficient in replenishing the body in the Texas heat and humidity.

“Young athletes need electrolytes when they’ve been sweating a lot. Water isn’t good enough.”

“If you’re running or working out and you find yourself thirsty, you’re already two liters behind what you should be drinking,” cautioned John Blevins, MD, a pediatrician on the medical staff at Baylor Scott & White Health. “You need to stop and drink.”

Dr. Blevins further noted that if young athletes feel lightheaded, they need to stop working out right then and cool off, without returning to exercising.

If young athletes don’t hydrate themselves enough while exercising in the summer sun, they risk heat exhaustion or heatstroke. Signs of heat exhaustion include dizziness, confusion, nausea, profuse sweating, headache, rapid heartbeat, and difficulty breathing. They may experience some or all of the symptoms.

If you think your young athlete has heat exhaustion, get him or her inside to a cool place immediately, loosen any tight clothing, and have him or her drink at least one liter of sports drink to replenish lost fluids.

Heatstroke, a more dangerous condition, requires emergency treatment. Signs of heatstroke are similar to those of heat exhaustion but also include a high fever and seizures. Again, they may experience some or all of the symptoms.

If you think your athlete has heatstroke, call for emergency attention immediately. While waiting for the responders to arrive, get the young athlete into a cool or shady place, loosen tight clothing, and place a fan blowing on him or her. Dr. Williams suggests applying cool, wet towels or ice packs around the neck, in the axillary area (the underarms), and the groin area to help lower body temperature.

Dr. Blevins counseled that if the young athletes are exercising and complain of feeling cold despite the extreme outdoor temperature, they need to cease exercising immediately, lie down and relax. Dr. Blevins said they should not resume exercising because “they may go into shock.”

Keeping young athletes well hydrated and watching for the signs of heat-related illnesses can ensure a fun summer in the sun and bypass a visit to your doctor.

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How much should youth athletes drink while exercising in extreme heat?