The weather is starting to warm up through most of the country. Spring officially started last Friday. And that means thousands of athletes are taking to the sports fields throughout the country.

So it's a good time to remind athletes of all ages, particularly parents and coaches of teen and young athletes, about the importance of staying hydrated.

First, experts in the field of sports medicine and science often talk about the importance of pre-hydrating. In other words, drinking regularly throughout the day so you're properly hydrated before you begin physical activity. This will make it easier for you to stay hydrated throughout your work out, practice or game.

Next, it's important to stay hydrated throughout a game or practice. And there are several products our industry offers that are conducive to proper hydration for athletes. Sports drinks are probably the most commonly known. But there are vitamin waters or enhanced waters, along with regular bottled water, that can provide important hydration benefits to athletes as well.

All of these products can give athletes the fluids needed to perform at their optimum levels. Most importantly, it will help them perform their activity safely -- without becoming dehydrated and put at risk -- particularly on hot days.

Now, one beverage category that activists seem to be taking shots at lately (mainly because it continues to sell well) are sports drinks. Sports drinks are brands such as Gatorade, Powerade, All Sport or Capri-Sun Sports. The critics, who almost always are not experts in proper hydration for athletes, even casual athletes, like to dismiss sports drinks as "salty, sugar water."

Advice: Whenever you hear a critic use that term "salty, sugar water" dismiss them immediately as someone who has no clue what they are talking about when it comes to effective hydration during physical activity.

Yes, sports drinks contain sodium. And yes they contain sugar, a carbohydrate. Sodium is an essential element that athletes sweat out of their bodies and need to replenish to maintain fluid balance. And the sugar, or carbohydrate, is needed to provide fuel for muscles - helping athletes avoid weakening during their physical activity.

Another common criticism of sports drinks are the calories, which come mainly from the sugar/carbohydrate. First, if you're exercising and participating in sports, you are going to not just burn off those calories but use them in an efficient manner to maximize your workout or performance on the field. Second, sports drinks contain approximately half the calories of a soft drink - so again, sports drinks contain the amount of calories you need for performance. Finally, if you do prefer fewer calories, most companies are now providing sports drinks with less of them.

There are many beverages - including a variety of waters -- that can provide important hydration for athletes of all levels, or just the average person trying to be more active by walking more. Check out the American Beverage Association's products site for more information on products beneficial for physical activity, paying special attention to the sports drinks as well as bottled water and water beverages sections.

The bottom line: Get out there and be active. But don't forget to hydrate properly during physical activity -- whether it's during a strenuous, competitive sport or a more casual form of exercise like a brisk walk. Your body needs it - the exercise and the fluids.