Summer sports are in full swing and, while your child is practicing, conditioning and competing, it is important to stay hydrated.

Q: My kids are ready to roar through summer, but with the kind of heat we sometimes get, I worry about how to keep them hydrated. I often hear that by the time someone feels thirsty, they've already gotten too dehydrated. How can I keep that from happening?

A: Summer sports are in full swing and, while your child is practicing, conditioning and competing, it is important to stay hydrated. Sometimes, large amounts of water and electrolytes, such as salt, are lost through long periods of exercise with excessive sweating. Children also will spend time out in the sweltering sun, so being able to prevent and recognize dehydration is vital year-round, but it is especially important to be vigilant during the summer months.

Dehydration can be identified by a dry or sticky mouth, thirst, few or no tears when crying, eyes that look sunken, dry skin and lips, lack of urine for 12 hours in an older child, dark urine (similar to the color of apple juice) and dry, cool skin. The best way to prevent dehydration is to be sure children get plenty of fluids when they are physically active - and water should be the main source of hydration.

Adequate hydration helps the body regulate temperature and maintain energy levels, ensures delivery of blood to all organs and tissues, controls blood pressure and helps the kidneys remove waste from the body. If your child is dehydrated, his or her athletic performance may also be impaired. Always consult your child's pediatrician concerning your child's health.

-Jessica Buschmann, M.S., R.D., L.D., is a registered dietician with Nationwide Children's Hospital Sports Medicine.