How Much Water Should You Drink While Cycling?

by lostcyclingdude

Ever been so thirsty that you've started hallucinating? Let's just say its not conducive to your performance. A quick look at hydration and exercise.

We had a gentleman who was about 50 years old bring his bike to us. He had been an avid rider in his youth, and, like many of the rest of us, left the sport when the demands from his career and family pulled him away.

He was nearing retirement and had decided to reenter the sport.

We helped get new tires on his bike and get it in rideable condition again. He headed out the door and the next day, he joined a group of cyclists on a short, fundraising ride.

The ride was being held on a cool, slightly rainy day. All of the cyclists were enjoying the coolness of the morning.

Unfortunately this type of weather lures riders into drinking less. Our new cycling friend died that afternoon during a short climb when his electrolytes fell out of balance from the lack of water. His heart seized, and he collapsed.

It was a sad day in our cycling community, and all of the cyclists took the lesson deeply to heart.

The Importance of Water in Cycling

When I am exercising, my body cannot get enough water.  The sweat just pours off of me, and I am always stopping to refill my bottle.  We may think of water as being mainly a "cooling mechanism", and it is, but it has other important roles as well, primarily in waste elimination.

You see, when you are working hard, your bodies are producing a lot of wastes.  In order to continue functioning, those wastes - such as lactic acid and carbon dioxide - have to be carried away from the muscles in the bloodstream. 

And blood is 83% water.

Staying hydrated keeps the blood flowing and carrying wastes to your kidneys and lungs.  It also helps keep your body cool with sweat. Keep the water flowing.

Choose A Cycling Water Bottle!

Here's a review of my three favorite water bottles
Choose the right bike bottle!Besides your helmet, this is the most important part of your bicycle. Preventing heat stroke and getting enough fluid should be your biggest concern.

Performance Loss

For most of us, cycling is an endurance sport. We do nightly rides, weekend rides, training rides and tours.  Its a great way to see the world from a different perspective and an excellent way to stay in shape. 

However, most cyclists suffer from a major dip in energy performance starting about an hour of exercise.  You see, they go through the first half hour of exercise without drinking much water.  By the time they notice that they are thirsty, they are already at a disadvantage. 

A loss of 2% of body water will significantly cost you performance ability.  And if you let it drop to 5% you will likely be suffering from at least a 30% drop in your ability to ride. 

Heat Illness

Heat exhaustion, heat cramps, heat stroke, these are different variations of symptoms that clearly state someone has been working out hard in hot weather and has not been keeping the fluid uptake high enough.  

When you cross into these boundaries, it is time to seek medical attention.  Stop exercising, increase your fluids, get electrolytes into your body and, if necessary, seek an IV drip.  Fevers of 106 degrees Fahrenheit are not a good thing. 

Electrolyte Balance

A lot of the old exercise books I grew up on only stressed the importance of water without balancing the importance of electrolytes.  It is imperative to keep enough of both in your system.  After all, sweat contains both, so you are losing both when you exert yourself. 

If you watch a major Tour such as the Tour de France, you will see that many of the cyclist's shorts are caked with white salt residue left behind by sweat. This is just an example of what your body is suffering from as you exercise. 

How much Water Should I Drink?

Here's the real question, and it is one that you may have to answer for yourself.  For most people, you will need to drink at least 20 oz (one regular-sized water bottle) every hour.  Other will find that they need a lot more fluid in order to stay hydrated. 

For example, I normally went through 2 bottles an hour, and my preference was to use one bottle of straight water, and one with an electrolyte substance in it.  So, for a two-hour bike ride I would carry two water bottles on my bike frame and two in the back pocket of my jersey.

 The main think is to start drinking early.  I drink a lot of water before I start riding, and then I also begin to start sipping water at about 20 minutes into a ride.  No matter how much water you drink, it is hard to stay ahead of your body's need.

Just don't drink so much that you puke.  (Hey, it happens)


Updated: 06/13/2012, lostcyclingdude
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