Whether out for a leisurely ride, training or racing, keeping hydrated when cycling is paramount for your health and your performance and helps to reduce your recovery time. Surprisingly not many of us know how much or when we should be taking on fluids or, indeed, often can take on too much, leading to increased comfort breaks. This blog will give you everything you need to know about hydration and cycling, from when to drink off the bike to stay hydrated when out on the bike.
Why it’s important to stay hydrated when cycling
Did you know that losing as little as a 5% reduction in hydration could leave you with heat exhaustion? It shouldn’t surprise anyone who has ever suffered from hitting the wall or cramping when riding that not taking on enough fluids can severely impact your body and your ability to keep riding. Staying hydrated isn’t just for the hot days either, most cyclists will attest that they probably dehydrate more in the winter when it is less evident that you need to drink as often due to the lower temperatures.
The risk of dehydration is real when cycling, and the effects can include the following:
- Muscle cramps
- Heat exhaustion
- Dizziness or light-headedness
- Increased heart rate
For those wanting to claim their next KOM or hit a performance target, you must ensure that your hydration is at its optimum. A study shows that being at optimal hydration when riding your bike can increase performance, here are some facts they found:
- Hydrated athletes were faster during a 5-km, outdoor, hill-climbing course.
- Mild dehydration decreased physiologic function.
- Dehydration hindered cyclists’ ability to maintain cycling cadence.
- Mild dehydration decreased cycling performance during a 5-km, outdoor, hill-climbing course, possibly due to thermoregulatory strain and perceived exertion.
5 top tips for cycling hydration
Drink before you are thirsty
If you wait till you feel thirsty, it is already too late, and you will begin to feel the effects of dehydration. Taking regular sips of water as often as every 10 minutes, depending on the riding conditions, is a good starting point, then adjust it for your rate of hydration needed.
Don’t cycle dehydrated
If you are already dehydrated, do not attempt to ride your bike. It is a good idea to plan and take on water before a ride to ensure that you are topping up your hydration rather than trying to play catch up once on the bike.
Don’t always reach for the sports drinks
Sports and electrolyte drinks have their place in sports and cycling, however, plain old water is usually sufficient for anything under 1 hour of cycling. A good habit to get into is to carry two bidons when out riding, one with your sports/electrolyte drink of choice and one with plain water, this way, you can alternate between the two and keep your hydration levels up.
Sipping is better than gulping
Taking regular sips of water or sports drink is better for you than taking big gulps; not only does your body process it better, but it will also stop you from needing the toilet so quickly! You can also upset your blood’s electrolyte balance by taking on too much water too quickly, which can lead to cramps.
Hydrate post ride
Remember to rehydrate post-ride if you want to speed up recovery times and help get you refreshed quicker. Most will reach for a protein shake or bar, but it’s more important to take on fluids and help maintain your optimum hydration levels.
Best cycling drinks for hydration
Tried and tested by the team here at UK Fitness Events, we have hand-picked our top 5 drinks for keeping hydrated when cycling:
- Water – good old council pop, tap water – whatever you choose to call it, nothing works better!
- Cordial – water and a dash of your favourite cordial work wonders.
- PowerBar Electrolytes – tablet form, pop them in water in a bidon and away you go!
- HIGH5 ZERO Hydration Tablets – again, tablet form, in water in a bottle, perfect!
- Torq Energy – if you need something to give you a lift or a case of zoomies, check out the Torq Energy range.
Cycling Hydration: Summary
You should now be armed with everything you need to know about staying hydrated when cycling and why it is essential for your enjoyment and performance. Remember:
- Little and often is better than gulping
- Off the bike, hydration is just as important
- Its easier to dehydrate in colder conditions
- Good old water is perfect for most cycling rides
Are you looking for further cycling advice? Why not check out the rest of our cycling advice blogs? Or sign up for our community newsletter to stay in the know! You can find links for both below.