How much water to drink when cycling? Is it better to drink water or an isotonic drink? Here are some tips for staying hydrated on the bike
Proper hydration while cycling is essential for a successful training session and for avoiding physical problems. Especially when the heat is felt, as you know, our body is composed of 50-80% water, depending on the age and constitution of each person. Maintaining these levels is essential.
Genetics, physical condition, ambient temperature and humidity, and heat conditioning are all factors that determine how quickly your body can show symptoms of dehydration. Take care of yourself!
Bad habits, such as not carrying enough water or not frequently drinking during a ride, will reduce your performance. In case of dehydration, your strength is reduced, and you risk fainting, suffering from dizziness, or even a heat stroke.
Also, don’t panic or take extreme measures. Drinking too much liquid can lead to overhydration, and its consequences are also harmful to your body.
As a cyclist, the middle ground is a virtue regarding hydration. The amount of water you plan to carry with you and the organization of your water intakes will ensure that your performance is not affected and that you do not suffer from physical problems.
How many bottles of water should you take with you? How often should you drink while cycling? How much should you drink per sip? Is it better to take water or an isotonic drink? Here we explain the guidelines to properly hydrate before, during, and after your bike ride.
The muscles responsible for a movement like pedaling need large amounts of water to move properly.
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Tips for staying hydrated on the bike
The Role of Water in The Body
To answer the above questions, it is important to emphasize the importance of water in the body, especially in a cyclist’s body. It is the element that the human body needs to ensure basic functions, such as cellular reactions, transport of substances, and thermoregulation.
Thermoregulation allows the body to maintain a stable internal temperature, facilitating the normal functioning of all its organs. It also allows the muscles to function properly.
The muscles responsible for a movement like pedaling need large amounts of water to move properly. And this, as the body does not have a large supply and storage capacity, is lost when the muscles are stressed.
Most sports nutritionists agree that the 30 to 45 minutes after you finish a workout is when you need to drink the most.
The British Cycling Federation points out that the human body comprises 60% water. Performing a moderate or even intense exercise such as cycling would eliminate 2% of this reserve, which would cause an 80 kg man to lose 1.6 kg.
If these fluid reserves are not replenished in time, this loss can double in a short time, reducing the muscles’ working capacity and leading to great fatigue.
Most sports nutritionists consider the best time to drink to be within 30-45 minutes of finishing a workout.
How to Hydrate Before a Bike Ride?
You don’t just have to replenish those water reserves during your bike ride. Aside from cycling, there are also a few hydration tips you should follow to prepare your body for the exertion of a workout or race.
It is advisable to drink water regularly, days and hours before your training or your race, even without waiting to be thirsty.
In addition, your water intake should be accompanied by an intake of essential minerals that will protect your muscles from problems and improve blood circulation. These essential minerals are:
- Calcium: abundant in dairy products, fruits, vegetables, and cereals, it improves the fluidity of nerve impulses and muscle contractions.
- Iron: Foods rich in iron are vegetables and meats. They should be part of a cyclist’s diet because they are the engine of red blood cells responsible for transporting oxygen to muscle cells.
- Magnesium: it balances calcium and phosphorus, which provide energy. It absorbs both and contributes to the recovery and improvement of intestinal transit.
- Sodium: is one of the essential minerals that must be part of effective hydration. It is found in all salty foods and isotonic drinks. It delays water loss and intervenes in muscle contractions.
Scheduling a fluid intake every 10 to 15 minutes while cycling is the ideal way to maintain proper hydration.
In addition to combining regular water intake with a varied diet rich in these minerals, most sports nutrition experts recommend testing the color of your urine as the best thermometer of effective hydration. If your urine color is clear or very light yellow, you are doing a good job.
How to Stay Hydrated During The Trip?
Assuming that each person has different physiology and will need to ingest more or less fluid during exercise, the general rule is to drink without waiting until you feel thirsty.
In this sense, scheduling fluid intakes every 10 to 15 minutes is the ideal way to maintain adequate hydration. This time interval also varies according to our level, the duration of the outing, the difficulty, and the outside temperature.
It is just as important to drink during exercise as after, especially in muscle recovery.
In summer, the intake of water or isotonic liquids (mixture of water and mineral salts) must be more frequent, at least every 15 minutes. On the other hand, in winter, where the percentage of humidity is generally higher, the interval can be increased to 20 minutes.
Many experts recommend drinking 500 ml of water (a small gourd) per hour, dividing it into several doses, and accompanying it, before training, with a hot drink such as coffee or green Tea. These drinks act as stimulants to activate muscles and delay the onset of fatigue.
For brief outings, water may suffice. Beyond 60 minutes of effort, the deal changes. When you sweat, you lose minerals (also called electrolytes ) that your body needs to keep functioning. In this case, ensure your hydration drink contains sodium electrolytes.
Have you ever noticed those white spots on your clothes and helmet straps after a sweltering ride? It is the salt we lose, and we must replenish it immediately. Low sodium is often associated with cramps.
Isotonic drinks have a sugar concentration corresponding to that of blood (between 6 and 8%). It means that their absorption is fast. They’re a great choice for on-the-bike hydration when you also need a calorie boost.
Beware of other drinks, such as energy and soft drinks. They contain a lot of caffeine and sugar. Their pleasant taste pushes us to consume them too easily. But excessive consumption does more harm than good.
Caffeine makes you sweat faster and urinate more often. It also stimulates bowel movement, causing you to lose water and easily put you at risk of dehydration. Health experts don’t recommend them on your bike rides, especially not on hot days.
On the other hand, do not forget that the water does not take long to heat up in summer. Nothing is more unpleasant than a good sip of hot water over 30 degrees. That’s why buying a thermally insulated water bottle is always a good idea. They are not infallible, but they maintain the right temperature longer.
Otherwise, there are some homemade tricks. The best method for us is as follows:
- Fill the bottles three-quarters with water.
- Put them in the freezer the day before the ride.
- Fill them with water just before you go on the bike easy and efficient.
How to Stay Hydrated After Each Trip or Bike Ride?
Once your workout or bike ride is over, don’t stop drinking. Drinking during exercise is just as important as after exercise, especially in muscle recovery.
Generally, you should drink enough water to regain your pre-race body weight. Don’t worry if you’re in the middle of a weight loss phase, as it won’t interfere with your goals.
Almost all of the weight you lose while cycling is water. In contrast, almost all body fat loss occurs within 24 hours of exercise during recovery.
Most sports nutritionists agree that the 30 to 45 minutes after you finish training is when you need to drink the most.
And if you want to refine your recovery further, we recommend that you frequently drink during the period immediately following exercise, which refers to the famous metabolic window.
In this hydration phase, after each ride, training, or race, you should mix water and isotonic drinks or prepare a shake rich in proteins and carbohydrates. You can buy it or prepare it yourself with natural ingredients (fruits, cereals, etc.).
On the other hand, it is not recommended to drink carbonated drinks or alcoholic beverages such as beer, which delay the rehydration of the body and are harmful to organs such as the liver and kidneys.
How Much Water Should You Drink?
In addition to frequently drinking before the course or timing your intake during and after training, you should also pay attention to the amount of liquid ingested.
It is better, at this stage, to drink a small amount several times rather than drinking a lot a few times. Your fluid reserves will be better balanced during exercise.
It is also better to have a good water supply than to carry the bare necessities. During an outing, unforeseen events, breakdowns, falls, and a sharp increase in temperature in certain areas (mountain valleys tend to be very hot and humid in summer) can make it necessary to consume more liquid than expected.
In this sense, a good solution is to install an additional bottle holder on your bike to hold an extra bottle or to carry a hydration backpack, which is highly recommended for mountain bike routes.
The hydration backpack will also allow you to carry spares and food while increasing your liquid reserve comfortably.
As mentioned above, many experts recommend a recommendation of 500 milliliters of water for every hour of activity.
Carrying extra water or an isotonic drink for a longer or more intense workout doesn’t mean forcing yourself to drink more either. It is very important to control the amount of fluid ingested, as excessive consumption can cause physical problems due to a drop in the level of sodium in the blood, which leads to hyponatremia.
It is very rare (it usually appears during very intense events such as marathons or triathlons). Still, when it does occur, it is a manifestation very similar to heat stroke, and if it is not treated, it can have very serious consequences.