Cycling, Hydration, and what you need to Know
Always Keep Hydrated
Keeping hydrated is essential to cycling whether you are on a training ride or a sportive. As we ride we lose fluids through our sweat all the time and we risk running into unpleasant issues if we do not keep our fluid levels topped up. Even if your ride is an hour or less, you should always take fluids with you.
This post outlines the best practices to keep hydrated when cycling.
It should be noted that like food intake, how much fluids and the kinds of fluids you take on will be unique to you, and the stated numbers are guidelines only.
How Much Water should I drink when cycling?
The pros drink 500-1000 ml of water per hour and if you have not experimented with intake before, this is a good starting point for you. How much water you consume will be dependent on weather conditions. On hotter days you will sweat more and need to replace fluids more often. Also, the fitter you are the less you will sweat and so will require less fluid.
Another aspect to consider is how you will refuel your water bottles for longer rides. Nearly every organised sportive will have feeding stations. For longer training rides you should plan your route so you can top up your water bottles.
Drinking when Riding
It is a good idea to drink before you feel you need to when riding and it is essential that you can drink while keeping your eyes on the road. Therefore, you should be able to take and replace a bottle of water without needing to look at it.
When you drink and for that matter eat, try and ensure it is on a straight bit of road with no obstacles ahead, and preferably it will be a stretch of road you know well. If in any doubt about potential hazards, simply stop, drink, and start riding again.
Electrolytes (Sodium, Potassium, Calcium and Bicarbonate)
Electrolytes are salts and minerals your body needs to pass messages from your brain to your muscles. As you ride you will lose electrolytes through your sweat which depending on how much you lose, causes cramp. Many professional cyclists will put electrolyte powder into a 500ml bottle of water, to keep their levels topped up. This will be predominantly sodium based powder, as this is what is lost through sweating.
You may have noticed after a long period of sustained exercise that water keeps you hydrated, but does not restore energy. This is due to losing and not replenishing electrolytes.
Given that we lose electrolytes through sweating, factors come into play that determines how much we lose when on a ride. Consider:
- Temperature – the hotter it is the more we lose
- Fitness – The fitter you are the less you’ll sweat
- Clothing – Cycling gear that allows your skin to breathe will result in you losing less electrolyte
- Salt intake – If you have a high salt intake the more you will sweat
- Genetics – Your genes may determine you will sweat more than the average person and so will need a higher concentration of electrolytes
How much you need will be individual to you.
Carbohydrates and Water
It is possible to put carbohydrate powder into your water bottle to help keep your energy levels topped up. Like gels and bars, however, you may find this does not agree with you. In this instance, it is a good idea to keep your carbohydrate intake restricted to food.
Like other aspects of your cycling, you will only perfect your food and drink intake through experimentation and practice. So get out on the road and keep cycling!