Cycling and Hydration

July 9, 2013

Water is crucial to the function of your body, especially when participating in strenuous sport activities such as cycling.

Water not only carries oxygen and nutrients to your muscles through your bloodstream, but it also helps pull waste away from your muscles as well. Additionally, water is expelled in the form of perspiration as your body cools itself. Replenishing water, and other nutrients, at regular intervals during your activity is extremely important to ensure that your body is capable of optimal performance.

When it comes to cycling, the best approach is to drink about 20 ounces of water for every hour that you ride. That is the equivalent of one standard-sized water bottle per hour. However, you may need even more than 20 ounces depending on your own personal physiology or the weather conditions. But most important is to remind yourself to keep drinking at regular intervals during your ride, even if you don’t feel thirsty.

The length of your ride may also play into what you drink while on your bike. Plain water is usually sufficient for rides of an hour or less (although there are energy drinks on the market that can provide quick energy boost for shorter rides).

For rides greater than an hour, always try to include an energy drink. Energy drinks are especially good at replenishing essential carbohydrates, electrolytes and calories that you are expending 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.

During ride energy drinks 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. 

Cycling Hydration Guidelines:

Rides less than 1 hour: Drink at least 16 ounces of plain water before your ride. Carry and consume 16-24 ounces of plain water (or an energy drink) during your ride. Drink at least 16 ounces of plain water (or a recovery drink) after your ride. [If you drink an energy drink during your ride, you may not want to drink a recovery drink after, and vice versa. Only one energy or nutrition beverage is necessary for a ride less than one hour.]

Rides of 1-2 hours: Drink at least 16 ounces of plain water or a pre-ride energy drink before you ride. Carry and consume one 16-24 ounce bottle of plain water, plus an extra 16-24 ounce bottle of an energy drink. Drink at least 16 ounces of water or a recovery drink after your ride, and more if it’s a hot day.

Rides over 2 hours: Drink at least 16 ounces of plain water or a pre-ride energy drink before you ride. Carry and consume one 16-24 ounce bottle of plain water, plus one extra 16-24 ounce bottle of an energy drink for each hour on the bike. Try to plan a route that allows you to stop for water along the way. You may need to take some money along with you so you can purchase bottled water or energy drinks if potable water is not going to be available. Drink one 16 ounce recovery drink in the first 20-40 minutes after the ride followed by at least 16 ounces of water. 

Weather: Riding in cold weather is no different that riding in warm weather. The same guidelines apply. Treat extreme cold weather rides the same as extremely warm weather rides—drink more water at the conclusion than on a regular day.

Please note: This is merely an overview on cycling hydration. Speak with your doctor or a qualified sports nutritionist before embarking on any sport activities. They will help you to determine the proper amounts of water and sports nutrition drinks you will need for your body type and particular activity.  

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About the Author

Tony KelseyTony Kelsey has nearly 20 years marketing experience, previously serving as global vice president of creative for an international, $1B IT solutions consultancy. Although a self-proclaimed “mediocre” racer in high school, his intense passion for cycling and bicycles in general has never waned. Today he is marketing director at Pactimo and frequently writes about cycling as a sport and hobby. @tonykelsey

36 thoughts on “Cycling and Hydration

  1. Favorite hydration drink while riding is raspberry flavor Skratch labs. For post-ride hydration, I prefer Sierra Nevada Pale Ale!

  2. There are some great hydration mixes out there. My two favs are The Right Stuff (another byproduct of the space program) and SKRATCH Labs. Another good one is the GU mix. I pick the one I am going to be using based upon my mood.

  3. One way I remember to drink is to watch everyone else riding and whenever anyone else takes a drink, I do the same. It helps me just keep drinking, especially in big group rides.

  4. I usually bike for 1 1/2 to 2 hours and carry 24 oz. of pure water and 24 oz. of Hammer Heed with water for electolyte replacement. Hypoglycemia is an issue for me therefore I am careful with “sugars.” Post ride I drink water and eventually Hammer Recoverite. It is important to note that for longer rides of 2+ hours adding some protein to the “mix” may be necessary.

  5. Just so good old fashion H2O for most rides. On longer rides when I am packing two bottles I actually like to do 1:1 ratio of water:gatorade in the bottles.

  6. CarboRocket, they are local & it works.
    I also use their 333 Half Evil Endurance Fuel on big rides. And a big old chocolate milk for recovery since I spent all my money on staying hydrated!

  7. I carry my camelback even on road rides unless it is a short, (less than 1 hour)ride.
    Water in the camelback and Cytomax in two bottles. I also bring a baggie with some Cytomax powder in it on longer rides so that I can mix up more on the road.
    If I am planning on a ride the next day I drink a big glass of Muscle Milk when I get home. If I’m not riding the next day I’ll drink water afterwards.

  8. +1 for CarboRocket 333 Half Evil for long rides. Three scoops, no food. It’s all you’ll need.

    For short rides, water or Skratch Labs hydration mix. Delicious and will replace the lost electrolytes.

  9. Pre-ride drink is UCAN. During the ride carry two large bottles (one Powerade and one water). Just bought a Camelbak also since it’s 100 degrees outside here in Texas.

  10. I drink every 10 minutes irrespective of going up, down or flat, took this advice from an Ironman and it works a treat, just a few sips does the trick to keep me going :)

  11. With all of the choices of what to drink before, during, and after exercising in the Summer heat, there still is nothing better for you than water.

  12. I drink about 60 oz of water while at week. On the days that I ride Tuesdays and Thursdays, I drink a least on Hammer Nutrition Fizz tablet during work and add one to my bottle for my ride in the evening. I live in Texas, so it is important to stay hydrated.

  13. My coach tells us we need to have an empty water bottle by the time we reach each rest stop. It forces me to remember to finish my bottles.

  14. As one who often forgets to stop and drink, I rely on water and iced tea to carry me through heat and humidity.

  15. I highly recommend taking your leftover morning coffee, add a little honey or agave, pour it over ice, and bam! Into the water bottle it goes. With my new Pactimo bottle, I will now get twice the hydration flow and twice the caffeine blast!

  16. I take 2 bottles, as most rides are 30+ miles. 1 is pure water, the other is powerade zero, i’m diabetic and that one has no sugars or carbs, but decent electrolytes.

  17. On long rides, I always keep a Gelbot with a gel and water in the back, and Cytomax or GU or Nuun or something similar with water in the front.

  18. FLUID recovery is what I take on long rides – mid way. I drink Vita-mannna Green Green Greens while hiking or cycling and then there are just good ol’ water days!!!

  19. Most rides are usually 30 plus miles. I keep
    1 bottle filled with straight water and the other with ZYM drink tablets mixed in.

  20. Hydration Tips:

    1) Set an alarm on your Garmin to go off every 20 minutes so that you remember to drink

    2) Practice taking and replacing the bottle without looking down

    3) Use nuun for active hydration without the calories!

  21. I drink at least 16 oz of water before I begin riding then take two bottles with me. One of them is full of plain water and the other I fill with ice then pour a container of coconut water over it, so it becomes 50/50 water and coconut water.

  22. To keep a steady hydration rate I drink 4 sips every 3 miles (assuming 20 MPH avg.) Works out very close to a bottle per hour. Your sips may vary. Never have cramping issues even during mid day Florida rides.

  23. Being a large rider (260 lbs)I carry one bottle with water, one bottle with Nuun tablets, and either camelback with extra water or two smaller bottles of water and Nuuns. In the deep south, heat plus humidity equals lots of fluids!!

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