Drink up!

We asked the experts for advice on keeping young sports stars hydrated this summer

For budding young athletes and sports people, much attention is paid to what – and when – they’re eating. But now the spotlight is firmly on drinks following the campaign for a sugar tax, which was confirmed by government in the March budget for implementation in 2018. Sugary sweetened drinks, including sports drinks, are the biggest single source of sugar in children’s diets, so what are the alternatives? 

Kate Martin, Managing Partner at independent schools’ caterer, The Brookwood Partnership, explains their approach to sports nutrition:

“We follow general principles of healthy eating, encouraging consumption of reduced levels of saturated fats, healthy proteins with higher fibre and complex carbohydrates. A good daily diet keeps pupils healthy for general performance. 

“Adjusting the menus on days when we know the pupils are involved in sports activities ensures that the marginal gain is provided to help a team win. We do this by increasing the complex carbohydrates and promoting hydration.  

“We cater for some schools where elite training takes place and, in these organisations, we generally work with a specialist in sports nutrition who guides us specifically for the activities in question.”

Dehydration whilst taking part in physical activity can impair performance and cause unpleasant symptoms

Amy Roberts, Director of Nutrition and Food Development at Holroyd Howe, offers her top tips for young athletes.

What and when to drink before taking part in sport/exercise

It is essential that before we begin exercising we are hydrated. Dehydration whilst taking part in physical activity can impair performance and cause unpleasant symptoms if left to progressively get worse, such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness, weakness and confusion.

As well as encouraging young athletes to drink six to eight glasses of fluids throughout the day, an extra preventive step would be to consume 150ml-200ml approximately 45 minutes before exercise. 

What and when to drink during sport/exercise

Once we start exercising, it is important to start in taking fluid as soon as possible. Aim to take regular sips every 10-15 minutes, of 75ml-100ml. For young athletes exercising at a moderate to high intensity for up to 90 minutes, they do not need to drink anything other than water (the body will use glucose and muscle glycogen as its energy source). After 90 minutes their body’s energy stores will be depleted and therefore providing more energy is necessary to continue performing at the same level. At this stage an isotonic sports drink can be beneficial, these types of sports drinks will provide carbohydrate for energy and will aid rehydration. A drink containing four to six grammes of sugars per 100ml may benefit their performance and help to postpone fatigue.

What and when to drink after taking part in sport/exercise

The sooner you start to replace lost fluid the better! Encourage young athletes to begin drinking fluids straight away after finishing exercise and to continue drinking until no longer thirsty and then to have an extra glass just to be sure. Professional athletes, to avoid dehydration, will weigh themselves before and after exercise. For every kilogram of body weight lost it should be replaced with 1.2l-1.5l of fluid (but not all at once).

Drinks to avoid

Hypertonic drinks should be avoided as they can reduce rehydration. Sugary fizzy drinks are an excellent example of a hypertonic drink. The fizziness can also cause the stomach to feel bloated which may become uncomfortable during exercise. Any drinks containing caffeine should also be avoided, as children are much more sensitive to caffeine and these drinks can cause the heart rate to increase.

Three alternatives to sugary drinks

Coconut water

Coconut oil and water have become popular among health enthusiasts, offering a health benefits like antioxidants, natural enzymes and naturally-occuring vitamins and minerals including potassium, magnesium and zinc.

Hypertonic drinks should be avoided as they can reduce rehydration. Sugary fizzy drinks are an excellent example of a hypertonic drink

Watermelon water

We know how refreshing it is to eat fresh watermelon – so why not prepare a bottle of watermelon water? The fruit contains a number of electrolyte minerals, six times the amount in standard sports drinks. To make your own, combine watermelon flesh with lemon juice, mint and natural sweetener.

Healthy snacks

If your students need a pick-me-up, some solid foods such as bananas and raisins can benefit athletes as much as a drink, as well as providing fibre and antioxidants. Don’t forget to offer water alongside a snack to keep hydrated.



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