Hydration Advice Teen Athletes Should Never Follow

Teens need more than just water to perform their best.

May 09, 2023

664786494

Photo by: MilicaStankovic/Getty Images

MilicaStankovic/Getty Images

There’s no shortage of advice about the ‘best’ way for teen athletes to hydrate. Gym trainers, coaches, and especially social media influencers have suggestions for performance-enhancing beverages. And a teen’s brain is a prime target for influence. That’s because teen brains aren’t yet able to fully evaluate how current behavior may affect future outcomes. Additionally, teens are still growing and often need additional nutrients. What’s a parent to put in the fridge?

While some recommended drinks are at worst, expensive, others can be dangerous.

As a mom of teen athletes, registered dietitian and a running coach, I’ve heard a lot of hydration myths. Here are some of the most popular myths to be mindful of, along with some better advice.

155073322

Photo by: GreenPimp/Getty Images

GreenPimp/Getty Images

Myth: All Teens Need for Hydration Is Water

While it’s true that most teenagers don’t drink enough water, if they have intense practices or games of constant exercise for longer than 60 minutes, they need more than water. They need a sports drink. A sports drink is also needed if conditions are very hot or humid and teens sweat a lot.

Sports drinks provide three important nutrients, along with, most importantly, hydration:

Sodium: This is the electrolyte lost the most quickly during sweating. Not enough sodium can lead to a fluid imbalance. Dehydration means there is less blood volume pumping through the body which can tax body systems like the heart, and can cause sudden, painful muscle cramps. Sodium increases fluid retention to help prevent dehydration. Heavy sweaters (those with gritty skin after sweat dries) especially need to replenish sodium. Sports drinks vary in sodium and electrolyte content, so compare labels.

Potassium: Helps maintain electrolyte balance and makes muscle contraction possible during exercise. Potassium is not lost as quickly as sodium, and is easier to get in food. However, if your teen doesn’t have time to eat between matches, a sports drink with potassium can quickly replenish the lost electrolyte.

Calories: Constant exercise burns through energy reserves. So calories in the form of sugar or dextrose can quickly replenish energy. Sugar-free sports drinks are also available, but if a sports drink is truly needed to replenish electrolytes, energy stores are also probably depleted and need to be replaced to maintain physical performance.

Myth: Hydrate with Sports Drinks Throughout the Day

Casually sipping on sports drinks, while not intensely exercising leads to the consumption of extra sugar, calories and sodium. Even if the drinks are zero-sugar, most sports drinks contain citric acid which can break down tooth enamel and increase the risk of cavities.

Water is the best way to hydrate daily. Period. Even on the day before a game, or during the hours before a match.

“For most children and adolescents, daily electrolyte requirements are met sufficiently by a healthy balanced diet; therefore, sports drinks offer little to no advantage over plain water,” writes the American Academy of Pediatrics in its report on sports drinks and energy drinks.

Teens need a lot of water. The general recommendations for daily fluid consumption on normal days are:

  • Age 9-13 Years: Girls – 9 cups, boys – 10 cups
  • Age 14-18 Years: Girls – 10 cups, boys – 14 cups

In hot weather, and especially before, during, and after games, more fluid is usually needed.

To prevent dehydration during intense activity, try to encourage teens to drink:

  • 2-3 Hours Before Activity: 10-20 ounces of water per hour
  • During Intense Activity of One Hour or Longer: 1/2-cup of sports drink every 15 minutes
  • 1-2 Hours After Activity: At least one cup of water per hour – or a protein and carbohydrate recovery drink like chocolate milk

It’s tough to get teenagers to drink this much water. Here are some sipping suggestions:

  • Fill a pitcher with the total amount of water needed for the day. Have teens pour the pitcher into their water bottle to see how many times they need to fill it throughout the day.
  • Remember fruits and nutrient-rich liquids like milk count towards fluid intake.
  • Make 100-percent fruit juice ice cubes and add a few to flavor water bottles.
  • Make Homemade Sports Drinks for occasional use.

Myth: Energy Drinks Are Good Before a Big Game

First, a clarification: energy drinks are not sports drinks. Energy drinks contain caffeine and other stimulant substances that the American Academy of Pediatrics says has no place in the diet of children and adolescents.

And some energy drinks contain a lot of caffeine. Most contain 100-300 mg per serving. For comparison, one cup of coffee contains around 80-100 mg of caffeine.

Energy drinks can be dangerous for teens. In one year, nearly 1,500 kids (12-17 years old) went to the emergency room for an energy drink-related emergency. Energy drinks can lead to dehydration, irregular heartbeat, anxiety, irritability and mood problems, plus sleeping problems including insomnia. Yet up to 50 percent of adolescents have reported consuming energy drinks.

It’s recommended that kids ages 12-18 do not consume more than 100 mg of caffeine daily. What’s a parent to do when teens insist caffeine helps their athletic performance?

Green tea may be a good compromise. The drink contains 28-38 mg caffeine per cup of brewed tea. Green tea also comes in refreshing fruit or ginger flavors and adding one cup of tea to flavor a large water bottle may help with consuming more fluids.

Alternatively, try our Homemade Energy Drink made with green tea and wholesome ingredients, but not on game day. Most athletes know they should never drink a new beverage that they have not consumed during practice. Also, make our recipe using plain, not sparkling water, to avoid an upset stomach, if drinking before activity.

Related Content:

Next Up

What Is Creatine? And Should You Take It?

The wildly popular supplement is being touted as a way to enhance athletic performance.

Tips for Exercising in the Heat

Don't let summer's high temps bring your fitness routine to a halt. Just follow these five easy steps for exercising in the heat.

How to Prep for the Day Like a Peloton Instructor

We got the scoop on these instructors' favorite snacks, gym bag must-haves and coffee orders when a day at the office involves multiple workouts.

What Is Cutting and Bulking? And Should You Do It?

The pattern of eating was once used only by serious body builders.

Does The Honey and Salt Pre-Workout Trend Work?

A registered dietitian nutritionist weighs in on whether a spoonful of honey and a pinch of salt can really help boost your fitness.

Here's What an Olympic Runner Eats Before and After Running

Shalane Flanagan and nutrition coach Elyse Kopecky offer their do's (superhero muffins!) and don'ts (skipping breakfast!) for pre-workout and recovery.

These Fitness Events Are All About the Food

Run — or power walk — for cupcakes, steak and more.

5 of the Best Plant-Based Recovery Foods

If you're more of an herbivore, you'll want to read this after hitting the gym.