It was 97 degrees in the scant shade. Yet despite the sweltering heat, my two children were running as fast as they could.
Over and over again.
They were competing in the all day-long Hershey’s regional track meet.
Needless to say, the topic of kids and hydration was big on my mind.
It was rough. But we used some good tactics and my daughter moved onto State’s the next day for the 100 m dash where she placed in second despite the ongoing heat.
Key to them making it through this day was making sure they got enough water inside of them to replace all the water pouring out of their bodies as they exerted themelves.
The Inside Story On Why Hydration Matters
Staying well hydrated is essential for beating the heat.
Remember, we’re essentially 2/3 water. All the processes in our body depend on having enough water.
- Our major transportation system that carries around hormone signals, our immune cells and nutrients for our cells – the blood – depends on having enough liquid in our system to work effectively.
- Our cells are mostly composed of water and many of the chemical reactions in our body even require water to work.
- Water is also essential for digestion and waste removal. Without enough, our body can’t make use of nutrients or get rid of toxins.
- Finally water helps us beat the heat by providing relief – sweat is our natural cooling system and without enough water we can’t do this effectively either.
Which brings us right back to the start of our discussion . . .
When you sweat a lot trying to stay cool and get rid of the heat building up inside of you because of all the energy you’re burning, you need to replace the water you just sweated out.
Finally, when we lose water through sweat we also lose precious minerals dissolved in our sweat – magnesium, sodium, and potassium. Our body uses these minerals for everything from keeping your heart beating to the right rhythm to keeping our muscles and nerves relaxed to building bones.
What Happens Without Hydration
Without adequate hydration, our kids (and us) end up with headaches, muscle cramps, lethargy and just feeling plain irritable and cranky.
More severe cases can lead to shock and require medical attention.
Kids are more susceptible to dehydration because they have higher turnover of liquids and electrolytes due to higher metabolisms.
So here are some things to keep in mind with kids and hydration:
Kids And Hydration Tip #1: Don’t Wait To Be Thirsty
We’re usually dehydrated before we feel thirsty.
So it’s important to make hydration a routine with your kids, not only based on how they feel. On really hot days, set a timer for an hour and make sure everyone gets a drink each hour. Give one of your children the official job of being the water chief for the day and reminding everyone to drink water regularly.
Basically, take on the job of reminding your kids to drink. They won’t drink enough instinctively so don’t wait for the thirst signal to stay hydrated.
One way to keep track if you’re drinking enough is to monitor your pee. If your pee is dark yellow and you’re not peeing that much and you’re probably not getting enough liquid in.
Fascinated with all things potty-related, little kids can really get into giving a pee report and looking at it with you. Then, if you collectively decide it could be a little lighter, go get a drink together!
Kids And Hydration Tip #2: Drink Before You Snack
In our snack-oriented culture, we often confuse hunger with thirst.
Often when your kids want a snack, they actually may really need a drink instead. Keep track of how they’re snacking. And when they ask for a snack, suggest a drink instead. Or offer it first and then see if they’re still hungry.
Kids And Hydration Tip #3: Cut Out The Sweets
Too often kids hydrate with sweet liquids.
So along with increasing hydration with the heat, we end up increasing their sugar-intake.
First of all, start encouraging water as a way to wet your whistle. Water can taste wonderful when you’re really thirsty – It’s a great time to develop a taste for it.
But to ease the transition, add a squeeze of lemon, lime or orange. Or even simply water down drinks with water, shifting their taste buds away from the super sweet.
One of our favorite ways to hydrate is ice tea made with Celestial Seasonings fruit zinger teas (Berry Zinger, Raspberry Zinger, Tangerine Zinger, Lemon Zinger). We just leave a half-gallon glass jar with two teabags in it out to stew on the porch in the sun.
At this point we’re used to drinking it straight, but it’s a great way to water down fruit juices. Or mix in a touch of sweetener. You can give your children great fruity drink kids will enjoy without the sugar.
Kids And Hydration Tip #4: Replace Electrolytes
Hydration is also a means for replacing electrolytes – minerals like sodium, potassium and magnesium that are essential for nerve and muscle function. These minerals dissolve well in water and they are the first to go when you sweat a lot. So it makes sense if you’re losing these minerals to get them back inside of you when you take in some water.
Now sometimes, people go overboard, downing the Gatorade when they haven’t sweated that much. This puts too much salt in your body, not to mention the sugar. (And who knows what those neon color additives do inside of you!)
On the other hand, too much water without electrolyte replacement can lead to hyponatremia, a condition marked by not enough sodium in the body fluids outside that surrounds the cells.
Signs of hyponatremia are headaches, confusion, fatigue, convulsions, cramps, nausea. In extreme cases it can be fatal.
Again, many of the electrolyte replacement drinks mean more sugar, too. You can make your own and reduce the sugar by combining:
1/2 tsp.table salt (NaCl); 1/2 tsp. salt substitute (KCl); 1/2 tsp. baking soda; 2 T table sugar; 1 Qt tap water.
(Thanks to Clearing My Empty Nest blog)
You can use the fruit ice tea I mentioned above to make this.
Like any electrolyte-replacement drink, this is not for chugging down. It’s only needed when you’ve been losing a lot of fluids (and electrolytes) by sweating a lot.
A favorite electrolyte-replacement drink of mine is nuun (the company, nuun, keeps everything in lower case, hence the lack of capitals).
Nuun is an incredibly clever and good electrolyte replacement drink.
It’s simply a tablet that you add to your water bottle. Just wait a couple minutes while the effervescent tablets dissolve and then drink. Nuun replaces electrolytes and gives your formerly plain water a slightly sweet fruity flavor. And it’s completely safe for children. Just make sure you use it when you need to replace electrolytes, not otherwise.
Hint: Be sure and leave water bottle caps off or mouthpiece open for a few minutes as it dissolves so that the gas from the effervescence can escape.
Nuun is packed in waterproof little tubes so you can carry them along on bike trips and hikes to easily get your electrolytes by just adding water. I know some serious mountaineers also make use of this smart packaging.
Nuun is a great minimally sweetened replacement for Gatorade, Powerade, etc.
Kids And Hydration Tip #5: Make It Easy On You
While nuun is great, I was even more thrilled with the discovery of using Camelbak waterpacks when I took my little ones to the playground. Camelbaks are specialized small backpacks with a bag inside for water and a tube that stretches out to hook onto the shoulder strap. The tube ends with a moutpiece you simply bite down on gently in order to get your gulp of liquid.
Look Ma! No hands!
With a camelbak, I always had my hands free while I monitored my kids as they climbed jumped and swung around the playground equipment. I never had to keep track of water bottles or worry that they got knocked over into the dirt and the mouth would get dirty. Whenever anyone needed a drink, I simply unhooked the tube and they could slurp away.
As the years have gone by, we always use camelbaks for long hikes or when the we go as a family on a bike ride. They can hold an enormous amount of liquid. They keep it cooler because of the insulation most packs have. And they are – again- right on hand without any fuss.
You can get camelbaks in all shapes and sizes. Some are elaborate backpacks with all kinds of extra pockets. Others are more streamlined. And they now make kid-sized camelbaks as well.
Kids And Hydration Tip #6: Minimize Toxins
Water is what we use to clean ourselves from the inside out. So why bring in extra junk with each sip of water. Now, I’m not a purist on this. I have great faith in our bodies’ ability to get rid of toxins. And it’s sometimes hard to verify the quality of the water you’re drinking. If we need some water and there’s a faucet nearby, I’ll take it.
But why add to the toxic burden you’re body’s already dealing with?
There are some standards you can shoot for. At home we use a distiller to make our water pure. We have an arsenic problem with our well and it’s been the best solution we could find for it. Additionally, a distiller ensures that we’re not missing chemicals filters aren’t designed to catch or that aren’t even detected by standard water tests.
We’re currently looking into an additional arsenic-removal system but sometimes in a pinch we have to rely on bottled water which also brings us face to face with the hormone-disrupting chemical bisphenol-A. Bisphenol-A is found in many plastics and can leach into food from the plastic.
For this reason, I highly recommend using bisphenol-A-free plastic water bottles or aluminum ones. Companies like Platypus and Camelbak are making bisphenol-A free bags so you can feel comfortable about using plastic water containers.
Kids And Hydration Tip #7: Keep It Cold
Now I’m one who can take room temp water – even on a hot day.
And temperature isn’t an essential criteria for hydration. If you’re losing liquid, even warm water will make a difference.
But truly there is nothing so good as a little chill with your water. And when it comes to health and safety, a little chill can help you stave off heat exhaustion.
For this reason, we usually put ice in our water bottles. Or – if we’re really ahead of the game – we’ll fill them a couple of hours before we go out on our activity and stick them in the freezer. (The platypus bags can be frozen)
If it’s super hot. Or if ease of movement isn’t such a premium, I always bring a nice thermos or two filled with icey liquid.
Kids And Hydration Tip #8: Hydrate In The Cold
It’s hard to keep this in mind right now in July, but you need to keep hydration part of your action plan even when it’s cold out. If you’re active, you’re perspiring. And with the increase metabolizing, your body is using more water to flush waste products out to your bladder. So even on the snowy ski slopes, make sure you keep your children and you well-hydrated.
Got any hydration tips to share? We’d love to hear them. Please share below in the comments.