Cycling Hydration Strategies You Need to Know Now

While having a solid hydration plan should always be on your radar as a cyclist, monitoring your hydration during the warmer months of the year is especially important — and can be a big factor in your performance on the bike.  

To stay safe and get the most out of your training rides and races, use this guide to develop a basic strategy for fluid consumption before, during and after your ride.

Factors to Consider

There is no one hydration plan that will work for everyone. Individual physiology plays a large role in how much we need to drink before and during exercise, which is why figuring out your own personalized hydration plan can be a real challenge.

A few of the factors that will determine how much fluid you need on the bike include:

  • Your individual sweat rate.
  • Muscle mass.
  • The length of your ride.
  • The intensity of your ride.

 

If you weigh more and have more muscle, your hydration needs will be greater than a person 50 pounds lighter. Because of this, men will require a greater fluid intake than women in general.

One simple way you can determine if you’re meeting your current hydration needs is to weigh yourself before and after your rides. If you weigh less after your ride, you may to increase how much fluid you’re taking in. If you weigh more, you’ll need to dial it back.

When you weigh yourself, it’s also a good idea to keep a log of how much fluid you drank during the ride and how much weight you lost or gained. Make note of the temperature, distance and intensity of your ride, too, as these will also factor into your hydration needs. Keeping track of this information will make it easier to gauge how much you should drink for future workouts of similar distance and intensity.

According to a study in the Journal of Sports Science, the goal you should shoot for is no more than a 2% decrease in overall body weight after any given ride. If you’re within this range, you’ve gotten it just right.

During the Ride

What and how much you should drink during a ride will vary according to how easy or difficult your training session is. For less intense efforts of around an hour or less, water should be sufficient. For longer or more intense efforts of an hour or more, a sports drink containing electrolytes and sodium will be needed. Which sports drink you choose is highly individual. If you find one that doesn’t upset your digestive system during exercise and is easy to consume, stick with that. Keep in mind that training rides are when you should experiment — not on race day.

As a general rule, an average adult weighing 155–160 pounds should drink 12–16 ounces of fluid per hour of cycling in moderate to cooler temperatures. For more intense rides in warmer weather, you may need to consume two to four 16-ounce bottles per hour. If you’re an extreme sweater, you may need to monitor your salt intake as well.

Since it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to have a team car behind you to hand you full bottles when you’re thirsty, you’ll need to plan out your water stops before you ride. Water fountains at parks or gas stations and coffee shops should all be located before you head out the door to ensure you aren’t left stranded without fluids for extended periods of time.

Single-serve hydration packets like those sold from Skratch Labs are convenient and make topping off your bottles with an electrolyte easier to manage on longer rides. All you’ll need to do is add water.

Also keep in mind that instead of stopping to drink large amounts of fluid all at once (which can lead to cramping), you should aim to take two or three sips every 10–15 minutes. This will keep your fluid levels even and help you avoid huge dips and spikes in glycogen and sodium levels.

Before and After

One aspect of hydration that is commonly overlooked is how much fluid you drink before and after your workouts. Starting your ride dehydrated or not hydrating properly following a workout can affect your performance on the bike and increase the time it takes to recover.

While the Harvard Health Letter recently stated that normal adults likely need in the neighborhood of 30–50 ounces of water per day, active adults cycling regularly will need more than that — in the neighborhood of 70–100 ounces of water per day. Before a long or strenuous training session, drinking an additional 16 ounces with electrolytes two hours before your ride will also help you top off your glycogen reserves and ensure adequate hydration.

After a ride, don’t try to replace all fluid loss at once. Eat a meal, sip your favorite recovery drink (chocolate milk, anyone?) and slowly bring your body weight back to normal. As long as you’ve consumed the correct amount of fluids on the bike and hydrated properly leading up to your workout, the fluid loss you’ll need to replace shouldn’t be too extreme.

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Marc Lindsay
Marc Lindsay

Marc Lindsay is a freelance writer based in Scottsdale, Arizona. He holds a master’s degree in writing from Portland State University and is a certified physical therapy assistant. An avid cyclist and runner of over 20 years, Marc contributes to LAVA, Competitor and Phoenix Outdoor magazines. He is the former cycling editor for Active.com.