Water is the most abundant substance in the body. Every cell in your child’s body needs water to function properly. Water controls body temperature, helps transport nutrients and waste products in and out of cells and is needed for digestion, absorption, circulation and excretion.
"The best advice for parents is to encourage their child to drink plenty of fluids. Active kids may need up to eight or more cups of fluid a day," says Mary Mullen, a pediatric dietitian at Rush University Medical Center. Children often fail to recognize thirst or respond to the symptoms of thirst." Mullen recommends parents keep a close eye on children to make sure they are drinking fluids, especially when they’re involved in sports or playing on hot days when fluid needs are higher than usual. Since children don’t produce sweat as easily as adults, their body temperature rises faster, with dehydration a threat.
Says Mullen, who co-authored the American Dietetic Association’s Guide to Healthy Eating for Kids, "Try to encourage your child to drink plenty of cool fluids before, during and after play." Her rule of thumb is to offer about 3 to 4 ounces every 15 minutes if they are involved in sports or running around in the summer. She recommends sending them off to activities like a day camp or sports camp with a water bottle. "You may also want to talk to their coach or day camp leader to make sure they are providing plenty of fluid breaks," she adds.
Due to an undeveloped sense of thirst, young children can become dehydrated, leading to irritability. They may feel tired, suffer from headaches or even find it difficult to concentrate, whether on the playing field or in the classroom.
Water or sports drink?
"There’s little need for a child under 10 to have a sports drink," says Nancy Clark, author of Nancy Clark’s Sports Nutrition Guidebook. "Kids should be playing, not doing intense exercise for more than an hour that requires a sports drink."
The exception is when the weather is very hot, the child is wilting and the water is "yucky tasting." She admits that a child will drink more fluid if it tastes good, so more of a sports drink might get consumed than bad-tasting water. "But watermelon or orange wedges might be the preferred source of water and energy."
Clark says a child who eats a pre-exercise snack should be able to maintain energy for an event such as a soccer game, with enough water during it. In her view, sports drinks are beneficial if there is no pre-exercise snack and during exercise that lasts longer than 1 to 1½ hours.
If a child doesn’t need a sports drink, are there any detriments to drinking one? Only if unnecessary calories are a concern. Or at meal time, they may displace healthier beverages, such as juice or milk.
Proper hydration is important year round, but especially during the warmer months. Keeping children "well watered" can better their mood and performance.
Dear Good Sense Eating:
How do I know what type of water to buy? There so many options now.
Jessica R., Plainfield
No wonder you’re confused. There’s a mind boggling array of waters and sports drinks from which to choose, with the lines often blurring between them.
Plain bottled water may not provide the fluoride that kids need. When buying, look for a brand with fluoride.
Nutrient-enhanced water beverages may be fortified with vitamins, minerals or herbs. They may be unsweetened or sweetened with non-nutritive sweeteners such as acesulfame potassium and sucralose. Some also contain caffeine.
Sports drinks provide electrolytes (minerals) with 50 calories in 8 fluid ounces or 130-140 calories in a 20-ounce bottle. They are also often sweetened with high fructose corn syrup.
So-called smart waters are usually unsweetened and provide minerals only.
Caffeinated water may have the same amount of caffeine as a cup of coffee (60 mg) or less.
Homemade Sports Drink
1/4 cup sugar
1/4 tsp. salt
1/4 cup hot water
1/4 cup orange juice (not concentrated)
2 Tbsp. lemon juice
3 1/2 cups cold water
1. In the bottom of a pitcher, dissolve the sugar and salt in the hot water.
2. Add the juice and the remaining water; chill.
3. Serve with ice, if desired.
4. Quench the thirst.
Yield: 1 quart
Nutrition information per 8 ounces: 50 calories; 12 g
carbohydrate; 110 mg sodium. Reprinted with permission from Sports Nutrition Guidebook, Fourth Edition, by Nancy Clark, MS, RD (Human Kinetics, 2008).