How to keep your kids hydrated the healthy way

From the desk of
Nicki Violetti
ScienceHow to keep your kids hydrated the healthy way

If you have kids, supporting their health is priority number one. And one key element of their health is hydration. But it’s not always easy to keep them hydrated the healthy way. They go to a friend’s house and slurp down 3 or 4 juice boxes. They see that sugary soda at the store. So-called “sports drinks” are handed out during their soccer match.

Who can blame them? These beverages appeal to a love of sugar that is rooted deeply in our biology. This love has permeated the human race since prehistoric times, when sweet foods were scarce and valuable. On top of that, sugary beverages cause a whopping release of dopamine which makes your kids want more and more.

When your kids are dehydrated, you don’t want them reaching for glorified sugar water. And while plain water is a better choice than sugar-loaded sports drinks, here’s the thing. Plain water is only half of proper hydration.

Just like adults, kids need electrolytes too. Right about now you might be thinking: Ugh, I need to get my kids on electrolyte supplements now?
Not quite. Beyond feeding your kids electrolyte-rich foods, you can find fun, healthy, and tasty ways to make electrolyte drinks. My kids actually prefer these electrolyte drinks to water, and they’re healthier for it. For the next few minutes, I’ll explore the basics of hydration for kids, including practical tips. Stick around!

How Much Water Do Kids Need?

I get some form of this question a lot. Folks want to know how much water their kids should drink each day.

First of all, there isn’t a fixed amount of water that every human needs. It varies by person, sweat loss, diet, and other factors.

But wait. Aren’t we supposed to drink eight glasses of water per day? Yeah, I’ve heard that since I was a kid too.

Let me be frank: popular society has this dead wrong. Not only is there zero evidence behind this rule, but drinking plain water beyond thirst can actually impair health by diluting blood sodium levels.

“Beyond thirst” is the key phrase here. So the answer to the question of how much water your kids need is: As much as it takes to quench their thirst.

Thirst is a tightly calibrated impulse honed over millennia of evolution. Osmoreceptors in your brain are always measuring your blood volume, and when blood volume drops (due to low fluids), they signal a brain region called the hypothalamus to make you thirsty.

You drink something, blood volume is restored, and thirst dissipates. It’s an elegant system. The thirst mechanism is why healthy people (including healthy children) rarely become dehydrated. If your children are drinking when thirsty, they’ll be fine.

To be clear, it’s up to parents to ensure that fluids are available. And that the available fluids are healthy. But it’s your kids that are ultimately responsible for drinking to thirst. (Even so, we can nudge them in the right direction).

Yet when it comes to hydration, we shouldn’t only give our kids fluids. We should also give them electrolytes. Let’s dive into why in the next section.

Kids Need Electrolytes Too

Electrolytes are minerals that conduct electrical charges in your body. This electricity conduction allows nerve impulses to fire and cells to communicate. It’s super important for brain function, heart function, muscle function, and almost any other function you can name.

Electrolytes also regulate fluid balance, or the partitioning of water throughout your tissues. Fun fact: adults and children are about 60% and 75% water, respectively. So yeah, fluid balance is important too.

When I talk about healthy hydration, I’m talking about healthy fluid balance. It’s what keeps blood flowing, the mind sharp, the skin moist, and much more. And drinking water is only half of the fluid balance equation. The other half is electrolytes.

The main fluid-balancing electrolytes are sodium and potassium, and many people don’t get enough of either, without realizing it.

Most people, children included, don’t get enough sodium because:

  1. Salt has been vilified as “bad for your heart.” Not true.
  2. Whole food diets contain very little sodium.
  3. Active people lose way more sodium through sweat than they often realize.

Most people don’t get enough potassium because they don’t eat enough leafy greens, potatoes, meat, and fruits. This is especially common for folks on low-carb diets that restrict many potassium-rich foods.

Unfortunately, these electrolyte deficiencies have caused a hydration crisis in adults and children alike. They’re often responsible for the low energy, muscle cramps, headaches, weakness, and brain fog that plague so many.

If you remember one thing from this blog, remember this: Hydration isn’t just about water. It’s about water plus electrolytes.

5 Tips to Keep Your Kids Hydrated

Let’s move to the practical stuff now. Here are some tips to keep your kids healthy, hydrated, and feeling good.

#1: Make fluids available

It’s your job as a parent to ensure your kids have easy access to fluids. This might look like:

  • Sending your child to school with a bottle or two of electrolyte water.
  • Preparing a large volume of electrolyte drinks when your child has a sporting event.
  • Occasionally asking: “Are you thirsty?”

The key is to plan ahead. Hot days require more fluids, though cold days have their own set of hydration challenges. All those layers cause increased sweat loss, for one.

I prefer to overpack rather than underpack.

#2: Emphasize thirst

Conventional wisdom urges us to drink when we’re not thirsty. But this is bad advice because drinking beyond thirst can over-saturate your body with water and exacerbate electrolyte imbalances.

Tell your kids that thirst should guide their drinking habits. Explain that it will make them better at sports, better at school, and more like their favorite superhero.

Make it about their favorite things and they will listen. But also explain that any old fluid won’t do—especially not the stuff that’s jam-packed full of sugar.

#3: Communicate why sugar is bad

One of the biggest challenges of parenting is getting your kid to willingly avoid sugar. Sure, you can keep sugary drinks out of the house—and I recommend you do—but you can’t shield them at school or a neighbor’s.

The trick is to make your kid want to avoid sugar. No easy task, since sugar is what their taste buds crave. Instead of enforcing a prohibition against sugar, try to explain why sugar is bad in a way that resonates with your child.

Wrong way: If you have a soda at Johnny’s, Mommy and Daddy will be very angry with you. You’ll be in big trouble.

Right way: Do you like going to the dentist? Me neither. That’s why I don’t drink soda or fruit juice. It’s bad for your teeth. It’ll give you cavities, then I’ll have to take you to Dr. Rosenberg’s office.

Or if your little one is obsessed with Captain America, explain that Captain America stays strong by eating whole foods and avoiding sugar. (He probably does). You get the idea.

#4: Make it fun

Even when fluids are available, not all kids will hydrate properly. They might be fussy about flavor or defiant of doing what they’re told. Whatever the reason, you may need to spice it up.

The biggest tool in your toolbox is flavor. To make water more palatable, you might add:

  • Lemon juice
  • An electrolyte drink mix like LMNT
  • Slices of citrus fruits
  • A dash of stevia

Also consider the visual and tactile side of hydration. Use brightly colored water bottles and long swirly straws to stimulate their senses while they hydrate.

And don’t forget to use positive reinforcement. Sincere praise is a powerful tool to shape human behavior.

#5: Use LMNT

A lot of people ask me if LMNT is safe for kids. The short answer is yes. Absolutely.

A packet of LMNT contains only electrolytes, stevia, citric acid, malic acid, and natural flavors. No sugar, artificial ingredients, or junk of any kind.

It’s more than just safe for kids. It’s healthy for kids because it provides essential minerals like sodium, potassium, and magnesium to support optimal hydration.

We created LMNT to be the kind of electrolyte drink mix that we would give to our kids. And that’s exactly what we do!

Every day before Jiu Jitsu, I mix LMNT into water bottles for my two girls: Zoe and Sagan. Zoe loves Citrus Salt. Does this mean she’ll be a margarita connoisseur later in life? I try not to think about it. Sagan is our raspberry monster. Raspberry Salt used to be my favorite too, until we launched Orange Salt.

This kid-approved popsicle recipe tastes especially great with Watermelon Salt, which my husband Robb is partial to. On a hot day, they could put the ice cream truck out of business.

The bottom line is that LMNT is a fun and tasty way to keep your kids hydrated. Plus it’s sweet without the sugar, which solves a major parenting problem rather neatly.

One last note before I sign off: I hope you’ve found this helpful and that you’ll use what you learned today to keep your kids hydrated the healthy way. They’ll appreciate it. Whether that appreciation is for the taste or their health? No matter! We covered both.

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