Dear Doctor Samson,
What are the advantages and disadvantages of water and its use during heated sports activity by young children? At soccer matches, I see limited water intake, but I also see water being sprayed, poured, and splashed on these very hot youngsters. What is your advice?
Having been a high school team physician for 17 years this question brings up a subject dear to my heart.
In many sports programs, the archaic concept that water should be used with reservation during practice and games is still promulgated by coaches. In the last few years, coaches, aware of sports physiology, no longer support this dangerous idea.
It is essential that players of all ages get unlimited fluid replacement during and after practice, particularly in hot, humid weather.
An adolescent athlete may lose the equivalent of several liters of water while participating in a sporting event. If this fluid is not replaced, his physical strength, agility, endurance and ability to concentrate diminishes greatly.
Players of all ages have to be told they need fluids. They must be allowed, and even encouraged, to drink frequently during the play period.
After the athletes finish a hard game and feel good because they took enough fluids, you'll never have to remind them again. An educated way to demonstrate the fluid need is to weigh an athlete before and after the game or practice. The weight loss is essentially all body water, remembering that 2.2 pounds equals one liter of water loss. One can judge the fluid needs for the particular level of sporting event.
What should a player replace this fluid with? Simply water. No fancy commercial drinks or secret home formulas need be used. They are too concentrated. If one feels compelled to use these drinks, dilute them half and half with water.
Although splashing water on the players feels good to them, it does not help replenish the body water deficit. It is not harmful to pour tap-water-temperature water on the players during a play session. Keep the ice water for internal use.
A practice I have seen more and more, at pre-high school age levels, is eating or sucking on fruit at half time. The players need water. If they want to suck an orange, that's fine, but not at the expense of water.
Salt tablets are not needed. Players do not get salt depleted unless they have specific medical problems that cause an increase in salt excretion (ie. ceptic fibrosis). If, for some reason, your family is on a significantly restricted salt diet, your athlete may need a regular diet during the season. Under these situations, consult the physician who prescribed the restricted sodium diet.
I have seen coaches pass out vitamin C tablets before and during a game. This is not harmful unless excessive amounts are used. Is it helpful? There is no documented evidence that vitamin C intake on this basis does anything more than increase the ascorbic content of the player's urine.
Prevent dehydration by encouraging your players to satisfy their fluid needs. They will not over-hydrate themselves. The human body knows what it needs. Don't interfere with the most sophisticated "computer-monitor" system in the world--the human body's nervous system.