I have tried them all. Most of them offer the moon and stars. Drink this and no more cramps. Drink this and you don’t have to take food with you. Drink this and add to your prolonged power. Drink this for recovery. Drink this for when actively engaged. Drink this as a pre-ride booster. I have written before about my bad experience with dehydration when I began riding seriously. Did I mention it was bad? Most who are reading this have had an experience with the sudden loss of power, confusion, cramping, slosh-belly, bloating, etc. Many times we end up in this predicament because we did not prepare correctly or in a hurry. In the dog-days of summer, it is absolutely crucial to hydrate. Dehydration is simply this: blood volume is decreased which means that the heart has to work harder to pump the blood to all of the parts of your body that need its vital oxygen and nutrients.
How Much and When
Everyone is different and has different sweat rates. In the link provided, Camelbak has a simple formula to find your rate. Although, many times how much to drink will also depend on the level of exertion. For example, if I am on a low-zone recovery ride I would not need as much as race; that seems obvious, but it I have seen it time and time again. The basic rule of thumb is to a drink every five minutes, give or take. This keeps you hydrated by allowing your body the time it needs to absorb the fluids. The aforementioned slosh belly happens when someone forgets to drink for a while or waits until he is thirsty then begins slamming water or whatever to get back under the line . . . too late. Once a rider hits the dehydrated level, there is no getting back while in the activity. It takes time, rest and a slow intake of fluids to recover.
I recently made a switch. For years I used a very diluted Gatorade mixture in my bottles. It worked okay, but I often felt bloated when riding beyond four hours. The light came on one day when I forgot my Gatorade powder and used straight tap water. I was already taking on carbohydrates in a steady rate, so using only water was helping in the processing of the carbs and hydrating me. Drinking the diluted mix and eating carbs was overloading my body. it was having issues processing it, especially as the hours on the bike increased. It was a win-win for me, in cost and ease. I know that there are great hydration supplements out there, but lately I have felt far better on higher-mileage rides with plain ol’ water. Now, it is also to note that JUST water is not good either . . . for rides beyond, let us say, an hour. Water is a natural diuretic, and when consumed alone without something to help in the absorption, it can flush the system more than hydrate the system. That is why, as a general rule for me, if it is going to be less than an hour or very low zone spin, I will go back to my diluted Gatorade mixture. A hard ride or anything beyond an hour, it is back to solid carbs (or gels) and water.
Pre and Post
It is imperative to drink BEFORE you ride and AFTER you ride. Waiting to take your first sip of water all day the moment you start your ride is bad. You are more than likely already dehydrated, and it will only get worse. Hydration must stay above par on a consistent basis. Early morning ride? When getting dressed, drink a glass of water. Drink another coffee, water or juice on the way to your starting point. BUT your hydration for an early morning ride should have begun the night before, to segway smoothly into post-ride hydration. The after-ride fluids are crucial for proper recovery. Here is why:
- protein synthesis requires hydrated cells . . . less hydrated the slower the synthesis
- replenishing glycogen stores is in digestion and that MUST have fluids for the absorption of nutrients
- fatigue is more prevalent because the body is simply working harder to heal from your workout.
- heart rate recovery . . . Every lain down at night, after a hard effort, and your heart is still elevated? Hydration aids in HR recovery, simply because of more blood volume; therefore, less work for the heart.
We all make excuses for not hydrating properly throughout the day. Many of us will not hydrate at all if it is an “off day” from the bike. Drinking the proper fluids and in the appropriate amount are vital pieces of the puzzle for staying healthy and fit, not to mention the benefit of the immune system. So drink up!