Whether you’re a seasoned cyclist or the Santos GLNG Brisbane to the Gold Coast Cycle is your first ever cyclosportive, having a good hydration strategy will be key to long distance cycles.
Poor hydration impairs performance and can make your leg muscles lose power, especially in the latter stages of a long distance ride. However drinking too much can weigh you down, cause digestive discomfort, and in severe cases can even lead to serious illnesses like hyponatremia.
So exactly how much should you be drinking on a long distance ride cycle?
Planning your Hydration Strategy
The amount of fluid you need to drink on long distance cycles will depend on a variety of factors, including personal fitness, climatic conditions, the duration/physical intensity of the ride and how hard you to push yourself. All of these things will affect how much you sweat, and how much you sweat will determine how much fluid you need to consume.
Professional cyclists typically sweat anywhere from a litre to in excess of two litres per hour when riding. To maintain optimal performance they must replace as much lost fluid as possible. However, while we can guzzle down water pretty quickly, there is a limit to how fast our bodies can actually absorb it – maxing out at about litre of water per hour.
The discrepancy between how fast we lose water versus how fast we can replace it makes a certain level of dehydration inevitable when rides that go for longer than an hour. The best professional cyclists can do is to delay the effects of dehydration for as long as possible. This is achieved by calculating personal sweat rates, replacing as much fluid as their bodies can manage, and pre-hydrating in the lead up to the race.
Part of delaying dehydration means starting off at optimal hydration levels. If you begin a long distance cycle already dehydrated, things are going to get much worse for you while you ride.
Get up early on race day to get your hydration and nutrition levels sorted. Aim to drink 2 cups of water when you first wake up (ideally at least 3 hours before you ride) and have a nutritious breakfast. Drink at least a cup of water per hour thereafter until you start your ride.
When riding you should increase your fluid intake to about 200-250mls every 15 minutes.
How to calculate your sweat rate
In order to figure out how much fluid you should be consuming, the best approach is to calculate your personal sweat rate. To do this simply weigh yourself with your clothes off before going on a cycle. Then weigh yourself again when you get back. Provided you have not eaten or drank anything in between, any weight loss can be attributed to water weight loss. If you have been taking in fluids, keep track of how much and subtract that figure from your final calculations (800 mls = 800 grams).
Note your own sweat rate will vary depending on conditions. For more accurate results, track your sweat rate when cycling in cool conditions, and again when cycling in warm conditions. Do the same for short and intense versus longer distance rides. Also bear in mind that dehydration will also effect sweat rates (the more you drink the more water you have to produce sweat, and the better your body will be at cooling itself).
Once you’ve figured out your sweat rate for various conditions, aim to drink that amount when cycling in those conditions. When you finish a ride weighing in at the same amount as you did before the ride, it indicates you’ve hit it on the head.
Electrolyte Drinks – Why Water is Not Enough
When you sweat you don’t just lose water, but also electrolytes, which are are essential for fast rehydration and good muscle function. On long distance cycles electrolyte depletion can impair performance, so it is important that you replenish electrolytes as well as water when you ride.
Nigel Mitchell, head of nutrition at British Cycling recommends that long distance riders consume a bottle of water and a bottle of electrolyte drink every hour – standard procedure for his riders at Team Sky. When riding in warmer conditions, this gets increased to two bottles of water and one bottle of electrolyte drink.
Less fit riders lose more salt when they sweat than seasoned riders. If you are only starting out, are not acclimatised to cycling in hot conditions, or are attempting a longer cycle than you are used to it would be advisable to maintain the 1:1 water:electrolyte ratio, at least until your fitness improves.
On easier rides lasting less than an hour, water is all you need to keep hydrated. as sufficient electrolytes can be obtained through food (provided you have a nutritious diet).
Controlling Carbohydrate Intake
Avoid high sugar and caffeinated energy drinks on long distance rides. The general rule is you should take in one gram of carbohydrate for every kilogram of bodyweight per hour. So if you are a 70kg rider, aim for 70 grams or less (about equivalent to a banana).
When choosing a sports drink or electrolyte drink, check the label and make sure it’s carbohydrate content comes in well under your recommended hourly intake. Be sure and factor in this carbohydrate content when working out your event day nutrition.
Don’t Wait Until You Are Thirsty
Thirst generally does not kick in until you are about 2% dehydrated, at which point your performance is already suffering. In fact, just 2% dehydration can reduce a professional athlete’s performance by up to 30%. Good race hydration means taking a proactive approach to fluid intake.
Programmed Drinking – Drink Small Amounts, Often
While we can drink water pretty quickly, our bodies are much slower at actually absorbing it (on average 1L/hr). If you wait until you are thirsty and then try to guzzle down large amounts of fluids quickly you will only cause yourself discomfort while the water sits inside you waiting to be absorbed. Programmed drinking means rather than drinking ad lib, you focus on drinking small amounts, frequently. On long distance cycles in hot conditions, aim for 200-250mls every 15 mins. If you wear a sports watch, program in reminders for 15 minute intervals.
What is THORZT?
THORZT Electrolyte Drink is the official hydration partner of the Santos LNG Brisbane to the Gold Coast Cycle
Challenge. THORZT replaces the electrolytes lost through sweat to keep your muscles performing at their peak!
It’s hypotonic formula is is designed to be absorbed faster than water for rapid rehydration.
THORZT contains magnesium to prevent cramping, branch chain amino acids for muscle repair, and low GI carbohydrates for sustained energy release on long distance rides. With under 43g of carbohydrates in a 750ml bottle, you can replenish electrolytes, rehydrate and refuel, all whilst remaining well under the recommended carb intake for long distance riders.