Kids can’t tolerate temperature extremes as well as adults can. They sweat less, produce more heat and acclimatize to heat more slowly. All of this can lead to dehydration. Dry mouth, fatigue, headache, dizziness and difficulty breathing, particularly during periods of increased physical activity, are all symptoms of dehydration.
"The challenge with kids in general is that they’re less likely to stop and think about drinking, especially when they’re doing something fun that they’re really enjoying," says Patricia Chuey, a registered dietitian who specializes in sports nutrition for kids, as well as for professional athletes.
Active children, like those who play hockey, lose 2 or more quarts of water daily, so their bodies need to be continuously replenished. "Sometimes with hockey - or other sports that are played indoors and primarily in the winter months - parents may not be thinking about hydration as they would on the hottest day in July when their kids are outdoors on a soccer field," Chuey says. "With hockey gear, equipment is so bulky you can’t see the sweat stains on the clothing. And because they’re wearing a helmet and a mask, you might not even see the colour of their face. It’s only when a hockey player takes their helmet off and their hair is soaked with sweat."
It’s easy to see why hydration is important: The human body is approximately two-thirds water. Getting enough water through a variety of fluids and food is necessary for healthy body functions, including:
- Digesting food.
- Lubricating joints - such as knees, wrists and elbows - so they move smoothly.
- Providing a cushion for organs and tissues. For example, the brain needs enough fluid to stay "afloat" and remain protected from bumps and jarring.
- Transporting nutrients and waste products. The blood needs enough fluid to have just the right "formula" to transport nutrients. Likewise, the intestinal tract needs enough fluid to move wastes through the body.
- Regulating body temperature. While this is especially key in the summer, it's also important in the winter, when dry heat can dry out skin and tissues.
Hydration Tips for Your Kids
Drinking too little can cause mild dehydration, although most people don't realize they are dehydrated. Symptoms of mild dehydration include:
- Slowdown in solving problems or thinking through solutions (such as math problems or paperwork).
- Lower baseline muscular strength for things as simple as opening a can with a can opener or completing a hockey practice.
Losing as little as 3 percent of body weight can cause these symptoms. The body loses water through respiration, perspiration, digestion and urination every day. That water must be replaced through food and fluids. Many foods are high in water content—fruits and vegetables are 80 to 90 percent water. To keep the body adequately hydrated, all of us need to eat a balanced diet and be sure to drink enough fluids throughout the day.
What about waiting until children are thirsty?
Unfortunately, that doesn't work very well. Children and adults don't feel thirsty until already slightly dehydrated - when the body is already a little bit short on water. In fact, the body's thirst mechanism doesn’t kick in until you have lost the 3 percent of body weight that is an indicator of early dehydration. So the simplest advice is drink, drink, drink - water, that is. And drink whether you are thirsty or not.
Try these tips for keeping kids (and you) hydrated:
- Drink plenty of fluids daily. Develop a routine - have kids drink water or other healthy beverages such as milk when they wake up, at each meal and before bed, as well as before, during and after activity. Slowly work up to the goal and remember to drink when not thirsty.
- Take "hydro breaks" and drink at least ½ cup of fluid (118 mL) every 15 to 20 minutes while playing outside or competing in sports. A helpful tip: 30 mL equals approximately one "gulp." Hockey players may need to drink whenever the opportunity arises (for example, during breaks or time-outs).
- Eat plenty of vegetables and fruit. They contain loads of water. Depending on their age, kids need 4-8 servings each day, recommended in Canada’s Food Guide. Watery fruits such as watermelon, grapes and strawberries are sure to please. Try freezing the grapes for an extra special cool treat.
- Diluted juices are good alternatives during periods of heavy exercise. Just limit these drinks to once or twice a day, offering plain water the rest of the time.
- Watch out for caffeine, which is found in some soft drinks and can deplete the body of fluids.
- Provide children with their own handpicked water bottles and fill them daily. To keep beverages chilled, freeze half of the fluid in the bottle overnight and then add the rest of the fluid in the morning.
- Serve frozen juice bars for an afternoon treat.
- 100 percent juice boxes are popular and easily stowed in backpacks.
- Remind kids to stop by the water fountain and take lots of sips!
How to tell whether your kids are drinking enough:
Check their urine. Clear or light-coloured urine indicates adequate hydration. Urine the colour of lemonade is one indicator that they are well hydrated, while urine the colour of apple juice means they might not be taking in enough fluid.
Some other signs: "If your child seems a little bit lethargic or is lacking energy or is irritable, maybe they’ve had enough food but maybe they haven’t had enough water," Chuey says.
Facts About Hydration
Cool fact: The human body is two-thirds water.
What does all this water do in the body? Believe it or not, it's the main ingredient of blood. Water is also found in ALL of the billions of cells of your body because cells need water to carry nutrients in and waste products out. Water helps lubricate joints (like knees and elbows) so they move easier. Water helps digest food and move it through the intestinal tract. It forms the basis of urine (which helps waste flow from the body). Water also helps you breathe properly.
Another cool fact: Water helps regulate body temperature so adults and kids don't get too hot or too cold. When kids "heat up" (like from playing ball or biking or just sitting around on a hot day), they sweat - and sweat is water. Sweat helps body temperature stay normal. As you can see, water works hard in the body!
How much water do we need?
A lot more than most people think - or drink. To find out how much water you and your kids need every day, here’s a rough guide; they may need more depending on personal factors:
Step 1: Your child’s weight in pounds divided by 2 = the number of ounces of water he or she needs each day. For example, if your hockey player weighs 100 pounds (45 kg), divide 100 by 2 and you'll get 50 ounces (1,480 mL).
Step 2: The ounces needed divided by 8 = the number of cups of water your child needs each day. For example, 50 ounces divided by 8 = about 6 cups each day for our hypothetical hockey player.
Now try it with your child’s weight!
Step 1 _____ (your child’s weight in pounds)/2 = _____ounces of water he or she needs each day
Step 2 _____(ounces your child needs)/8 = _____cups of water your child needs each day.
It’s essential that children consume enough fluids to support their needs. Their poor sense of thirst and likelihood that they can quickly overheat mean they need to be reminded to drink and drink regularly. Don’t forget!