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Hydration for Cyclists

By Laurel-Lea Shannon

Hydration for CyclistsIt’s complicated being a recreational cyclist these days. Questions about what to eat, and what to drink, before, during and after a ride used to be the territory of the pros. Not anymore. If you ride frequently and for longer than 1 ½ hours, knowing how to fuel your ride will improve your performance on the bike, and with proper hydration, you can reduce the risk of heat stroke.

Follow these tips to stay hydrated:

Drink fluids before, during and after your rides—but not too much. To make sure you don’t start your rides dehydrated, drink eight 8 ounce glasses of water each day. During a ride, a good rule of thumb is to drink 1 standard water bottle (600 ml or 20 ounces) per hour. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty to drink. You can lose up to 1.5 litres (50 ounces) of body fluid before your body sends the message that you need water. Instead, take sips every 15 minutes. If the weather is hot and humid, you may need more than 1 bottle per hour of exercise. Everyone’s sweat rate is different. Cycling Safely in the Heat tells you how to calculate how much fluid you need based on the amount you sweat.  When you finish your ride, continue to sip water.

Hyponatremia, a potentially fatal condition caused by low sodium levels, is rare in cyclists. But be aware that drinking too much water also reduces sodium levels and can be dangerous to your health.

If you cycle for more than 1 hour, add electrolytes to your drink. Sports drinks minimize dehydration, reduce fatigue and improve your performance. There are sport drinks galore to choose from but many of them include ingredients that you don’t want, like extra caffeine, or that you don’t need, like protein, and additional carbs and minerals. If you’re on a long ride, you’ll get these from the food you bring along. These drinks also tend to be higher in calories than simple electrolyte drinks.  When choosing a sports drink, look for one with natural ingredients.

You can easily make your own sports drink. Despite all the fancy ingredients in manufactured drinks, your body really just needs 3 ingredients during exercise: some form of sugar, salt and water. Recipes for homemade sports drinks abound on the internet, but you’ll need to experiment to come up with a mixture that works for you. For example, you can mix fruit juice with water (50/50), add a few teaspoons of sugar (6-8 teaspoons—I use unprocessed cane sugar) and ½ teaspoon of sea salt (for 1 litre or 33 ounces). Be careful with the sugar. Too much can cause stomach upset, too little won’t give you the boost you need.

Keep it cool. On a hot day it doesn’t take long for water to heat up. If you’ve ever taken a long sip of warm water you probably spat it out. Yuck! It’s easier to drink cool water. Insulated water bottles made by Polar and Camelbak will keep your water cooler for longer. Another trick is to prepare them the night before and stick them in the freezer. Leave about a third empty and top them up with water in the morning before you ride.

If you have a recipe for a sports drink you’d like to share with us, please leave a comment below.

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5 comments to Hydration for Cyclists

  • Kara

    Hey this article is great, i just read the comments.

    You guys should try VitaCoco, its all 100% natural and never from concentrate. it has a bunch of great flavors as well. Its has 15x the amount of electrolytes found in sports drinks, has more potassium than two bananas, supports healthy immune system & a healthy colon and has even more benefits than that! you can even feel the difference in your sweat. its one of the best things you can drink!

  • Diana Murphy

    I have been using Laurel-Lee Shannon’s recipe of green tea, water, orange juice, honey and salt for some time and I find this is a superb combination of flavours. not too sweet but really refreshing.Excellent!!!

    • LS

      After experimenting further with that drink I’ve found that on hard rides (or long rides) I need to add more sugar and salt. In each standard water bottle I add 3-4 teaspoons of unprocessed cane sugar and 1/4 teaspoon of salt (more if it’s really hot out, less when it’s cool). It works great fro me. Even though I have issues with hypoglycemia this amount of sugar doesn’t bother me when I ride. I’ve read that when you’re exercising, sugar goes directly to driving your muscles and doesn’t have time to cause the usual energy spikes that it can when you’re not exercising. I haven’t tried substituting honey for sugar (thought it might upset my stomach). If you try it, please let me know how it works for you. http://www.womenscycling.ca/blog/nutrition/fuel-for-cyclists/

  • Kris

    What about coconut water? It contains some electrolytes, is low calorie plus, due to its molecular design, it re-hydrates better than plain water. What are your thoughts? I carry one bottle of water and one bottle of coconut water, which I drink first.

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