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. Some of my personal favorites are Nuun Hydration tablets and Scratch Labs hydration powders.
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.
About the Author
Tony Kelsey has 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 VP at Pactimo and frequently writes about cycling as a sport and hobby. @tonykelsey