Time to Read
Points of Interest
- The importance of hydration
- How much to drink
- How often to drink
- Electrolyte & Carbohydrate
There's more to hydration on the bike than drinking when you feel thirsty, or having a coffee half way around. Water makes up 60% of our bodies, and so isn't something that you should forget about.
Hydration can have a dramatic impact on how well you perform on the bike, and how much you enjoy the ride. And that's not surprising when you consider that water controls many of our core bodily functions, or that an average athlete sweats around 1-1.5 litres per hour.
Why water is so vital to the body
Given how much you can sweat, it's very easy for our body's balance – homeostasis – to be disrupted and that can cause you all sorts of problems on the ride, notably impaired performance and slowed reaction time, which is of course a safety risk.
In case you need reminding of some of the reasons why water is so vital to us all, some of the core functions it helps with include:
- Temperature regulation
- Muscle function
- Brain function
- Waste removal
- Many, many more things!
Just a 2% loss of body mass from sweating can have an impact on performance (https://www.britishcycling.org.uk/knowledge/nutrition/drinking-on-bike/article/izn20140514-Nutrition-Hydration-101-0 ) so you don't want to waste all that hard training by not drinking.
Check out the below to nail your hydration strategy and ride at your best, whatever the weather:
The general rule of thumb of how much to drink on a ride is 500-750ml per hour. However, this is very much a generalisation – you need to consider the intensity of the ride and the temperature. Consider 500-750ml per hour and work from there.
You also need to ensure you've drunk enough before the ride, and that you fully replenish your water stores after the ride. If you go riding in the morning, aim to have drunk at least 2L of water before you head off.
If you want to be really specific with your hydration, you can actually perform a sweat test. These can be performed in specialist labs, or you can carry out your own test at home – though of course it will not be as accurate as having a specialist test you.
To perform your own test (adapted from https://www.trainingpeaks.com/blog/how-to-calculate-your-sweat-rate/ ):
- Empty your bladder and then weigh yourself (in kg).
- Ride for 60-90 minutes at a moderate pace, without drinking
- Get home, makes sure you're dry (not covered in sweat), and then weigh yourself (in kg).
- The difference in your weight before and after a ride indicates the mass, and therefore volume, lost through sweat.
- Divide this figure by the length of time you rode, and you have your approximate sweat rate. This is the minimum amount you want to drink when you ride.
Hydrating on the bike really is a case of ‘little and often', as opposed to drinking nothing for an hour, drinking gallons, and then drinking again. Leaving your drinking too late means you may be dehydrated before you realise, and by that point, it takes a long time to rectify the situation.
You want to aim to drink every 15-20 minutes, starting immediately – so after you've started riding, drink after 15 minutes, then 30 minutes etc. If you're not used to drinking that frequently, it can be useful to set an alarm on any bike computer or sports watch you may be using to prompt you.
For any ride over around an hour, or in particularly hot conditions, you may want to consider adding electrolytes to your drink.
Electrolytes are the essential minerals such as potassium, sodium, and magnesium that conduct electrical impulses through our blood to help control our bodily functions, including muscular contractions and brain function. (https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/153188.php ).
While electrolytes can be easily lost from the body in particularly hot conditions or hard rides, they can be easily replaced too – there's a number of brands around selling electrolyte tablets or powders that you can throw into your water.
You can also benefit from adding carbohydrate to your drinks on longer rides. There's only so much carbohydrate that your body can store at any one time (around 2,000Kcal) (https://healthyeating.sfgate.com/body-store-excess-calories-9627.html), and this typically only lasts us around two hours of harder exercise – so if you don't start replenishing those sugars, you're simply going to run out of fuel for the muscles and grind to a halt!
One of the easiest ways to take on the glycogen that you need to keep performing at your best is through your drink. It's recommended that you take on around 60g carbohydrate per hour on a ride, and most energy drink mixes provide around 40g carbohydrate – so having one energy drink and one snack per hour will keep you on top form.
About the Author
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