We all know hard riding in the heat requires hydration to keep the machine that is you running smoothly. The question is how much, when, and what to drink? When it comes to on-bike hydration, there are some cardinal rules that we can all follow. Here are five great hydration tips for cyclists.
1. Know your planned ride time and ride intensity, and then hydrate accordingly. These factors will dictate how much and what you should be consuming. Generally there are three different length rides: 1 hour (short), 2 hours (medium), and 3+ (long). A good rule of thumb is to drink 20-24 ounces per hour on the bike. Most experienced riders will take one bottle of electrolyte or isotonic drink mix and one bottle of plain water for rides more than an hour. Unfamiliar with electrolytes? Electrolytes are a compound of salts that maintain fluid and acid-base balance in your body, making them indispensable, especially for endurance athletes. So drink often drink because when you’re dehydrated, it’s not only uncomfortable but you lose power output, reduce endurance, and increase the risk of cramping.
2. Next look at the weather forecast for when you plan on riding. There’s no need to ride with two bottles of mix on the bike and one in the jersey if you’re going out for an hourlong recovery ride. But if it’s 103 degrees and humid, you may need to rethink your ride altogether. A good rule is if it’s 77 degrees or less, use one bottle of electrolyte mix and one plain bottle of water. When the temperature exceeds 77, carry two bottles of mix and make sure to eat correctly. You will ingest most of your electrolytes from the drink mix, but don’t forget gels and food while you’re riding. Most gels contain electrolytes and carbs that fuel caloric needs that can offset fatigue.
3. Know thy self. Your body is your own and each of us have different hydration needs. The rate that you lose electrolytes and water from sweat is determined by fitness, body chemistry, and genetics. So hydrate for you and know what you need as an athlete to be at your best. A cyclist can lose up to one liter (or two pounds) of sweat during one hour of cycling. That said, aim to drink 20-24 ounces of fluids per hour on your ride no matter what. Seasoned veterans will tell you that proper hydration starts before the ride.
Another way to assess your hydration techniques and determine how much you need for your body is to step on a scale and measure your body weight pre and post ride. Note how much weight you lose while using various drink mixes and hydration techniques. The aim is to maintain your pre-ride weight, not lose or gain. Gaining weight can be a sign of over-hydration and can lessen cycling performance and/or cause GI distress.
4. Plan accordingly for your races and training. What is your next training ride? Is it a quick spin around town for an hour? Or is it a 3-hour ride riddled with interval after interval to simulate the stress of racing? For either ride, plan accordingly, knowing what you need, thus setting yourself up for success. Also look at your route on a map and scout places where you can refill bottles and grab a snack. There’s no worse feeling than riding bonked and looking for that oasis of a fountain in the desert. Don’t let this happen to you. Another tip is to use an old pill bottle to carry a small stash of your favorite drink mix. That way you can make another bottle of mix during your ride. Keeping your carbs and electrolytes topped off allows you to keep your pace strong and hopefully keep cramping in check. This is especially important for longer rides.
5. Recover like a pro and feel like one the day after. Ok, you just finished your ride, what now? Eat a big plate of pasta and rice and watch TV? Not exactly. After a workout, your body needs to replenish and repair what it has used from the ride. True recovery involves consuming essential nutrients, and also choosing the best delivery method. A recovery drink is a great go-to because of the convenience and consistency. You know what you’re getting every time, and you can choose what best suits your needs.
Notice we call it “recovery drink” and not “protein drink.” Though protein is excellent for athletes, at this time in your workout what your body needs is very specific. Most recovery drinks have a 4:1 carbohydrate to protein mix designed to refuel the muscles and recover the body. The most significant difference in mixes is the quality of ingredients. Make sure you choose high-quality drink mixes from a small list of ingredients. There are many options out there, and you need only look. There are vegan protein recovery drinks, gluten-free recovery and kosher so do your research and find the best one for you.
Look to consume your recovery drink within 30 minutes of getting off the bike. If you can’t do 30 minutes, don’t worry there’s still the time when you get home, but 30 minutes is optimal absorption time. Then when you get situated and back home after your ride, try to consume a healthy meal consisting of good quality proteins and carbohydrates. One of our favorite recovery meals is white sushi rice (short grain rice) with coconut oil, sweet potatoes, and cannellini beans. It’s easy on the stomach and puts the spring back in your step.