How to hydrate your active child
There are no formal guidelines for how much water or fluids we should drink, but the NHS says there's some evidence 1.2 litres or 6 to 8 glasses of water a day is the right amount for adults.
Children will generally need less than that, and the amount will vary depending on their age, the temperature outside, and what kind of activity they are doing.
Babies and infants have a lower body weight so are more sensitive to even small amounts of fluid loss.
Water intake should be higher in warm weather or when the child is exercising.
Tips for preventing dehydration in children
- Drink water or sports drinks. The NHS says semi-skimmed milk is also OK, or diluted squash or fruit juice, but avoid fizzy drinks or those with caffeine. Caffeine is a diuretic, meaning it may cause a child to lose more fluid.
- Be prepared. Children should be well hydrated before training and competitions.
- Regular refreshment. Active or athletic children should drink fluids on a regular basis. Create a "fluid schedule" in which your child drinks a certain amount of fluids before, during, and after practices, games and competitions. Children should drink more if they are exercising in hot, humid, sunny conditions, or if they sweat heavily. Drink early. By the time a child is thirsty, he or she is already dehydrated.
- Be aware of the physical condition of the child. Lack of physical fitness can impair the performance of any child who plays in the heat. If your child is overweight or not used to exercise, they should start slowly. Dehydration of more than three per cent of body weight increases a child's risk of a heat-related illness. For children participating in organised sports, organise practice during cooler hours, especially if the child isn’t very fit.
- Acclimatise them to the heat. Gradually introduce young athletes to the heat to prevent dehydration. Slowly increase the intensity and length of workouts over 10 to 14 days. This helps train their bodies to drink more, increase blood volume and sweat more. Sweating helps release heat from the body.
- Know the weather conditions, and plan accordingly. Know the heat index - It is the combination of high air temperatures and humidity that is most dangerous. Exercising in a relative humidity of 35% and an air temperature of 35C may cause heat illness. Plan the hardest activities for early morning or late afternoon/evening when it is cooler.
- Ensure your athletes wear appropriate clothing. Lightweight, light-coloured clothing is best. Ventilated shorts and t-shirts let heat dissipate. For sports that use heavy equipment and pads, let young athletes practise in lighter clothes for a week to acclimatise their bodies. Then put on the bulky gear.
- Watch them closely. Watch youngsters before, during and after practice for any signs of dehydration or other problems. Pay special attention to young sports participants who eagerly compete at or above their capabilities.
- If a child looks unwell, take him or her off the pitch. Monitor the child closely while they rest and make sure they drink fluid. Children with moderate heat injuries, not heat stroke but heat exhaustion, may look fine 15 minutes later if you give them something to drink and allow them to cool down, but they're still dehydrated. They should take the day off, and you should keep an eye on them if they come back to practise the following day.
- Have an emergency plan. If you are a sports activities organiser, train all support staff in first aid. Make sure each staff member knows what to do during an emergency.