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The Noob’s Guide to Cycling Hydration: How Much and What to Drink

August 2013
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One of the toughest things I’ve dealt with on a bike (besides pedaling harder) is proper hydration.  My first year I was all over the map and I paid for it on more than one occasion with huge bonks – and even a large drop in performance over two weeks because of a severe electrolyte imbalance.  I’ve since worked it out to a bit of a science.  To keep this post a reasonable length, I’m not going to bother getting too verbose with the importance of proper hydration, I’ll just simply leave it at this:  It’s more important than what I eat and just plain water isn’t good enough.  No it isn’t, please cut it out, you’re wrong (or you’re not pedaling hard enough).

In my first year of cycling I stuck mainly to H2O on the bike – no additives, just water.  Generally speaking I’m not a big water fella, but on the bike water worked at quenching thirst better than anything.  Unfortunately it also diluted what little electrolytes I had left in my body over a long ride or ten so I would end up cramping up on a ride longer than 75 miles – it got so bad my sweat stopped tasting salty.  Gatorade helped fix that but I always ended up a sticky mess.  Then I won a pair of Peal Izumi shoes from another blog last year and when they arrived, much to my surprise, the box was filled with goodies including Gu electrolyte tabs.  I love those – they’re just mildly flavored in a 26 ounce water bottle and not near as sticky if splashed on me (or the bike).  I stuck with that in one bottle of water and one of the Electrolyte tab (or Gatorade) for every long ride since and have yet to have a cramping episode like I did last year.  Just a few weeks ago though, a friend gave me a half-used jug of Hammer Perpetuem (H.P.) drink mix and I traded that for the Gatorade or electrolyte tabs, at least until the first refill.  This has proved to be the best yet, especially for centuries.

There’s always a question of how much though.  Fortunately, Endomondo (my fitness tracking software of choice) throws out a suggestion for hydration for each ride.  Assuming warm conditions, 85 degrees, it breaks down like this for me:

(2) 26 oz bottles of water on rides ranging from 16-20 miles (or 1.5 liters)

(1) 26 oz bottle of H.P. and one of water, for 20-40 miles

(1) 26 oz bottle of H.P. and one water, then refill both with water for 40-60 miles (or 3 liters)

”  “, then refill one Gatorade or electrolyte tab and one water twice for 60-75 miles

”  “, then refill at least three times with one Gatorade (or electrolyte tab) and one water for 100+ mile rides (about six liters total).

Depending on your noob status, you may be looking at those last few (3-6 liters) and worrying about having to stop to let some of that liquid back out too often.  If you’re giving enough of an effort, the fear is unnecessary.  You’ll be able to go when you stop to refill and that’s only if you have to.  Often times I don’t have to relieve myself after the first stop on really long rides (75+ miles).  I almost never have to stop for rides up to 40 miles long.

Some personal stats, considering weight and effort is important to hydration needs.  The harder the effort, the more you’ll need to stay hydrated (I’m assuming if you weigh more, you’d need a little more fluid, though I may be mistaken – I simply don’t know):

I’m 6’0″ tall, weigh 158-160 pounds and I ride between 19 and 21 mph average.

Now, I actually have a friend who passed out on a 41 mile solo ride and bashed his melon pretty well because he didn’t drink enough (he used to make jokes about “p*ss*ng crystals” after a century).  Thankfully he was just fine with a black eye and a little scrape, but he cracked his helmet too.  Proper hydration is a must if you’re going to perform well.  Good luck and enjoy the ride.


4 Comments

  1. Adam C. Henderson says:

    Hey! You stole my tag line! (No problem really, just proving that I read every word!) Great info on hydration. Thanks! And yes… I AM jealous of your new bike.

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