The importance of fluid and fuel when kids are playing outside


It was a wonderful camping trip with about 15 families on a lake in Eastern Washington in July. The temperature was over 100° F. Parents and kids were swimming and playing in the water, and the adults were making sure our kids were safe in the water and sun—life jackets, sunscreen, close supervision. But, we weren’t thinking about the effects of heat and dehydration, and kids’ reluctance to take time out of playing to get something to eat or drink. By evening, my five year old was complaining of nausea and a head ache; her lips were dry…..she had been playing hard in the sun since lunch time and had not stopped to eat or drink. She was dehydrated and maybe starting to suffer from heat exhaustion. We were able to rehydrate her with water and a fruit drink. We dodged a  bullet!

Dehydration can happen quickly in kids who are playing hard in hot weather!

Fluid needs for kids playing outside in hot weather:

Kids tend to ignore their thirst and hunger when they are having fun playing. What’s a parent to do?
  • Have lots of cool water available—water bottles or thermoses filled with water and ice, add some lemon or lime for flavor.
    • Make sure kids are stopping for water every 20-30 minutes.
      • A 40 lb 5 year old needs at least 8 ounces of fluid for every hour of activity while a 100 lb 12 year old needs at least 20 ounces per hour (6 mL per pound of body weight per hour)
  • Young kids and early teens who have not yet gone through puberty do not sweat nearly as much as adults do, so they do not always need a “sports drink” to keep them hydrated. Water will do just fine!
    • Plain water or  unsweetened seltzer water with lemon, lime or orange slices.
    • Fruits and vegetables  help meet fluid needs because they are all between 85 and 95% water!
      • Frozen fruit bars, Anytime Treats Without the Added Sugar
      • Fresh fruit, or veggies
      • Fruit smoothie made with fresh or frozen fruit, plain yogurt or milk and a squirt of honey or a little sugar.
  • When a drink that contains electrolytes and sugar (“sports drink”) might be necessary:
      • During a long continuous activities that last over 1 hour with no time to stop for a snack:
        • Bike ride or run, or high school foot ball, soccer, swim or cross country practices
          • Appropriate drinks:
            • Sports drinks, like Gatorade™ or Powerade™
            • Home made sports drink: Mix 400 mL 100% fruit juice + 600 mL water + slightly less than 1/4 teaspoon salt.
            • Coconut water
            • Important: No kid needs to be drinking sports drinks unless they are doing a prolonged activity without stops for snacks.
              • Sports drinks, home made or otherwise are “sugar water” with a pinch of salt!

Energy (calorie) needs for kids playing outside in hot weather


  • Offer food about every 2 hours. This will give kids the energy to keep on playing, and give them electrolytes.
  • Keep it healthy! Kids need healthy, nutrient dense foods for meals and snacks if they are going to meet their needs. Pair “treat foods” with something healthy.
    • Great summer snacks: Fruit, frozen fruit bars, crackers and cheese or peanut butter, nuts and raisins,  veggies and dip, cookie with milk or yogurt, smoothie made with milk or yogurt and frozen fruit, ice cream topped with fruit.


We want to make sure our kids are well hydrated and nourished so that they can enjoy fun in the sun and stay healthy!