The days are getting shorter and it’s definitely getting colder. There are plenty of outdoor youth sports teams braving the cold and chilly air day in and day out—football, cross country, soccer and more. And as soon as there is snow on the ground you know the skiers and snowboarders will be ready to go. But many youth athletes don’t realize that they are still at risk of dehydration during their cold weather seasons, oftentimes even more so then during the summer season! Here’s why:
Dehydration is actually accelerated in colder weather (or at higher altitudes, so be extra careful skiers!) because the air is drier. When we breathe our bodies humidify the dry air around us and heat it up to our core body temperature. That’s why your breath fogs up when it’s cold outside. When it’s colder, your body has to work that much harder to humidify the air and you lose more water in the process. You could lose 1-2 quarts of water just from breathing when it’s cold! Now think about how much activity goes into a sports game or practice and how much harder you’re breathing—that’s even more water lost!
You also have to remember that the more layers you’re wearing (including padding) the more you will sweat which means even more fluid loss.
But here’s why dehydration is still such a big concern in colder weather (maybe even more of a concern than when it’s hot outside)—cold weather tends to suppress thirst, which means the normal warning signs that you need more water ASAP aren’t there like they would normally be on a hot summer day. When you aren’t sweating buckets it’s sometimes hard for youth athletes to remember that they are still losing water while they play and they need to replace it! Since your sweat is evaporating in the fall and winter air your core body temperature isn’t rising as much, so a tall, cold glass of water doesn’t seem as necessary to help you cool down. But staying properly hydrated is just as important on a cold day as on a hot one!
Here are some symptoms of dehydration that coaches, parents and athletes need to watch out for in this cold weather:
- dry mouth
- dark colored urine
- muscle cramps
- and more!
Caffeinated drinks have a diuretic effect, which means you urinate more after drinking them, further increasing the risk of dehydration. That’s one of the reasons energy drinks and sodas are such a poor choice for youth athletes (among many others). Sports drinks can help replace lost fluids electrolytes, but they can be full of sugar so boring old water is usually still your best bet.
Sports parents, if you want to try to “sneak” a little extra water into your youth athletes after a cold practice session, why not see if they’d drink tea? Non-caffeinated tea can warm them up and help rehydrate them!