Hydration for Cyclists Water is crucial to the function of your body. Water-enriched blood carries oxygen and nutrients to your muscles and whisks waste away from them. Water is also expelled as perspiration--the process your body uses to cool itself. When you exercise, it is essential to replenish water and other nutrients at regular intervals to prevent these all-important processes from breaking down.
A basic guideline is to drink about 20 ounces of water for every hour that you ride. Depending on your personal physiology or warm temperatures, you may need to drink more than this. As you ride, remind yourself to keep drinking at regular intervals, even if you don't feel thirsty. What you drink depends on the length of time you'll be on the bike. Plain water is generally sufficient for rides of an hour or less, although there are energy drinks on the market that can provide quick energy for shorter rides.
Use one or several water bottles to carry your plain water or energy drinks. A hydration pack, standard equipment for mountain bike riders, allows you to carry more water than a bottle and typically features some pockets to store your keys, phone and snacks. Use a bottle for energy drinks and supplements, but stick with plain water in your hydration pack to keep things as clean as possible. Bottles can be washed in the top rack of a dishwasher, but a baby bottle brush is an excellent tool if you wish to hand wash them.
For longer rides, plan to carry an energy drink. These products help to replenish essential carbohydrates, electrolytes and calories that you use during exercise. There are many types available, including liquid, powder and tablet forms.
In general, sports nutrition beverages are developed for three purposes, and are specially formulated for drinking before, during or after a ride.
- Pre-ride drinks prepare your muscles for exercise by providing a natural carbohydrate energy boost.
- Energy drinks meant to be consumed during the course of your ride work to replace lost stores of essential minerals and electrolytes while providing quick-absorbing carbohydrates.
- Post-ride drinks replenish protein and vital nutrients to help re-build muscles after extended activity and help to minimize post-ride soreness and fatigue. For optimal effect, post-ride recovery drinks should be consumed within 20-40 minutes of the culmination of exercise because this is the window of time that the body can best make use of these essentials.
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Some Basic Hydration Guidelines: For rides less than 1 hour, drink at least 16oz. of plain water before you ride, and carry and consume a 16-24oz. bottle of plain water or an energy drink. Drink at least 16oz. of plain water or a recovery drink (per manufacturer recommendations) after your ride.
For rides of 1-2 hours, drink at least 16oz. of plain water or a pre-ride energy drink before you ride. Carry and consume one 16-24oz. bottle of plain water, plus an extra 16-24oz. bottle of an energy drink. If your bike frame cannot accommodate two bottles, you may want to consider a hydration pack. Drink at least 16oz. of water or a recovery drink (per manufacturer recommendations) after your ride; more if it is a hot day.
For rides over 2 hours, drink at least 16oz. of plain water or a pre-ride energy drink before you ride. Carry and consume one 16-24oz. bottle of plain water, plus one extra 16-24oz. bottle of an energy drink for each hour on the bike. Plan your route so that you have options to stop for water along the way, and carry a few dollars with you in case you need to purchase bottled water, energy drinks, etc. Drink at least 16oz. of water after your ride, plus 16oz of a recovery drink (per manufacturer recommendations).
NOTE: This guide provides a basic overview of cycling related hydration and nutrition, but should not be considered exhaustive. If cycling is a major part of your lifestyle, or if you are dealing with a particular health issue, we highly recommend that you seek out a qualified sports nutritionist. (Our lawyers made us say that, but it's actually good advice)