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Best Cycling Practices for Hot and Humid Weather

Ask a Pro — Diane Stibbard

Coach, Personal Trainer, and Two-Time Canadian Duathlete of the Year

Diane Stibbard - two-time dualthlete of the year

Question: “Last year I started getting lightheaded after riding in hot and humid weather and my energy level would be very low. Is this because I am not eating or drinking enough?”

Diane’s reply: 
This is a very good and frequently asked question. With summer almost upon us, and some areas already experiencing high temperatures and humidity, hydration, particularly sodium and potassium hydration, becomes very important. With regards to fueling, adding gels, bars or food becomes important when logging 90 minutes or more on the bike. I’ll address hydration requirements first and then discuss the how and when for fueling.

Hydration is a 3 step process. This 3 step process starts pre-ride, is continued during ride and concluded post ride.

Pre-ride: Step 1
2 hours before – 2 cups of water
1 hour before – 1.5 cups of water
5 – 15 minutes before – sips of water

By implementing this step, you are creating a hydrated body state. The ideal way to “test” if you are coming into the ride in a hydrated state is the “pee test”. This is just simply checking the color of your pee. If it is clear to very pale yellow, you are hydrated. Pee colours of yellow or dark yellow, shows a dehydrated state. If you see this prior to a ride, I suggest drinking a cup of water with some electrolytes (throw in a half a Nunn electrolyte tablet), wait 10 minutes or so, and check the colour once again. Going into a ride in a dehydrated state will set you up for issues ranging from low energy, nausea, and muscle cramping on and off the bike.

The only caveat in the hydration practice is over-hydrating, which rarely happens but is still a possibility. Over-hydrating can cause an issue called Hyponatremia. This is when the level of sodium in your blood is abnormally low. Sometimes cyclists over-hydrate with water before a workout or a race, and this causes the body to eliminate too much sodium. Drinking too much before and during prolonged cycling in warm and humid climates can put you at risk for hyponatremia. Large athletes are usually not as susceptible to this, as the size of your body will affect how much dilution of sodium takes place. But a small body takes in less fluid to dilute the extracellular fluids, putting small cyclists at a higher risk. Don’t be too concerned about hyponatremia. I always use the “pee test” as my indicator both before and after any of my rides or races. I simply wanted to raise the issue for those who are hypervigilant about hydrating and may overdo it.

During a ride workout or Race: Step 2
5 – 10oz every 20 minutes (a sport bottle = 12 – 16oz). This definitely should have electrolytes in if riding in very hot and humid weather, and/or if riding over 1 hour Examples: Skratch, E-load, Nunn (I personally like NUNN, as it just electrolytes and not added sugars, and I supplement carbohydrates by adding gels or real food depending on the length of the ride) GU Electrolyte Brew.

By implementing this step, you will continue to keep your hydration levels where they need to be and avoid dropping energy levels, nausea, heat exhaustion and even heat stroke.
For rides of 1 hour or less, or recovery rides you only need to hydrate with water. Rides lasting longer than 90 minutes should be supplemented with electrolytes.

Recovery/Post Workout or Race: Step 3
It’s very important to drink a recovery type drink, which has a combination of carbohydrates and proteins. This will ensure the replenishment of the glycogen stores that have been used up by the workout or race. Examples of what to drink are listed below:
1. Commercial made recovery drinks. Examples: Endurox R4, Accelerade, Vega Recovery, 1% Chocolate milk, Gatorade G Series
2. A shake made with 1-cup milk or yogurt, 1 cup fruit juice, small banana and 1 tablespoon peanut butter.

*(Note the step 3 recovery hydration should contain a ratio of 2:1 Carbohydrates to proteins. ie. 30 grams of carbohydrates: 15grams of proteins) This maybe 1 cup of berries and 1 scoop of your favorite protein powder.

By implementing this final step you will re-establish your body’s hydration levels, as inevitably even with good hydration practices you will be somewhat dehydrated.

If you aren’t using any type of electrolyte supplement in your water during your rides, go to your local bike or running store and pick up a few small packages to sample which ones you like and can tolerate. Then once you have established what you like, on rides lasting longer than 90 minutes, begin to add this to your sport bottles. For those rides upwards to 4-5 or even 6 hours, carrying additional bottles of fluids with electrolytes in your jersey is a must. Or stop on route at a store to top up your empty bottles.

Fueling is an additional requirement for rides lasting longer than 90 minutes. Incorrect fueling can also cause fatigue, nausea and “bonking.” Bonking is when the body is depleted of adequate glycogen (stored energy/carbohydrates in the working muscle), causing you to slow down or sometimes come to a complete halt.

The type of fuel source is very individual. However, the amount is standard. Workouts lasting 90 minutes or more require carbohydrates as the primary fuel source (protein is not a source of fuel for working muscle, although it’s important for rebuilding muscle damage after a ride). Research shows that we can digest about 100 – 200 calories in one hour, and the amount depends on body weight. Cyclist weighing in at 100 – 125 lbs. will be on the lower end of the range, and cyclists above 125 lbs. can eat on the higher caloric range.

The fuel should be eaten every 45 minutes to 60 minutes of riding time, from the 90-minute mark. There is no performance difference among carbohydrates ingested in liquid, gel or solid form, assuming that each substance has the same caloric value. So, whatever you feel you can digest easily is what you should take with you. I take energy gels (100 calories) for rides lasting up to 3 hours. For anything longer, I combine solid foods in the form of gluten-free buns (as I am gluten-free) with a little almond butter and jam along with a gel that has a little bit of protein as well.

These are standardized amounts of fluids and fuel sources, but it’s up to you to test out which products and foods work. But don’t try something new in a race or at an event in case it doesn’t agree with you or you just don’t like the taste or consistency. If you haven’t been hydrating or fueling correctly and you do ride longer than 90 minutes, over the next few weeks try out some different options and find what you like and what works for you.

Get out there and ride well-fueled. Ride strong, and finish happy!

Training for a two-day cycling eventDiane provides training programs for recreational and competitive cyclists, duathletes and triathletes, including nutritional counseling and personal training. Does your company need a fitness consultant? Get in touch with Diane to discuss fitness seminars for corporations

You want personal training but don’t live near Diane? No problem. Diane does email and telephone consultations. To learn more, visit Diane’s website or contact her at

Check out Diane’s e-programs: Keeping Fit in the Off-Season and Training For a Two-Day Charity Event For the Time-Starved Cyclist.

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