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Drink up when the heat is on

13 January, 2014

As the weather heats up, staying well hydrated is the key to staying on your bike. Melissa Heagney finds out how to keep your fluids up during summer.


Sports dietitian and keen cyclist Rebecca Hay has tips for staying well hydrated on the bike.

Knowing  how to keep your energy levels up when you’re riding your bike has become second nature to Rebecca Hay. It’s not just because the 44-year-old is an accredited Sports Dietitian—she’s also a keen road and mountain bike racer—training between five and six days a week to compete at criteriums at Heffron Park in Maroubra, NSW, and for the other challenges she takes on across the country, like the Highland Fling and SCODY 3 Peaks Challenge. Proper hydration, says Hay, is key to maintaining peak performance when you ride.

Whether you’re a commuter or top competitor, drinking enough to keep your body at the right temperature, and well hydrated, can make all the difference.

“The body functions better within a certain temperature range,” Hay says. “Being able to sweat allows the body to cool itself during exercise, so intensity can be maintained. If there’s not enough fluid in the body this cooling method is compromised and performance will suffer.” Knowing how much fluid you need requires a scientific approach, she says.

“Monitoring the volume and colour of urine is one of the easiest ways to assess the state of your hydration,” Hay explains. “Urine should be a ‘pale straw’ colour and volume should be medium (not too much or too little). This can be hard to explain given the capacity for volume is different for everyone. I would recommend an intake of 300–500ml of fluid in the hour preceding an exercise like bike riding for most men and women.”

Hay says many cyclists she works with want to know what to eat and drink before, during and after a ride.

“Most want to know if and what they should eat before training and, what they should take with them on the bike, and should they use water as opposed to a sports drink? “All levels of riders are interested in these topics. Even the experienced riders get confused about what they should be eating and drinking on the bike,” she says.

Hay also says being well hydrated isn’t about drinking a lot before you jump on your bike. “If you take in too much fluid before riding you will have to find a bathroom 20 minutes into the ride.” (No doubt an uncomfortable thought for many riders in bib knicks).

On shorter rides, Hay says water should be enough to quench most thirsts and keep people upright, on two wheels. “Those doing particularly intense sessions may benefit from a sports drink,” she adds. “For longer rides—anything longer than two-and-a-half—I tend to recommend a sports or electrolyte drink as a part of a fuel and hydration strategy. If the temperature and/or humidity is particularly high, and sweat rates are high, then I may suggest they add additional electrolytes to water to assist in stimulating thirst.” Hay says drinking water or other fluids at regular intervals is important. “A few mouthfuls of fluid every 15 to 20 minutes is a good rule on a moderate-intensity ride.

Even on shorter rides it is good practice consuming fluid to get into good habits. If you’re doing a sprint distance race, ensuring athletes are properly hydrated before they start is the key—fluid may not need to be consumed in a short event but this is something that needs to be determined on an individual level,” Hay adds.

Riders suffering dehydration would have obvious signs of feeling thirsty and having a dry mouth. However, dehydration also increases heart rate, and adds to the amount of effort needed to keep riding. “You can lack concentration, have a loss of strength and power, an increased respiration rate, a pounding headache and a delay in onset of sweating,” Hay says. “The consequences of dehydration start with impaired exercise performance but can lead to exertional heat exhaustion and heat stroke.

“More severe dehydration symptoms related to these conditions are: fatigue, dizziness, excessive sweating, nausea and, at the really severe end, a loss of consciousness and even death. “Dehydration speeds up the onset of fatigue—so riders will hopefully recognise this sign early and start to be more aggressive with their fluid intake at this time.” Hay says fighting off dehydration can also include eating the right types of fluid-containing foods. “Fruit, salad foods and vegetables are all suppliers of fluid in the daily diet. Foods such as yoghurt also supply fluid,” she says.

In hot weather, it’s particularly important for people to be aware of how much they sweat. “The best rule is to work out what works for you as an individual—check your sweat losses by weighing yourself pre- and post-exercise in different weather conditions and at different exercise intensities.”

Home-made electrolyte drink

I tend to suggest commercial drink products to most of my clients—it’s more convenient. They can make their own sports drinks too—there’s just more organising to be done with getting the right ingredients.

Juice/salt and water works well: 350ml juice, 150ml water and 1/8 tspn salt. There are many recipes around. Just look for 6–8g of carbohydrate per 100ml of fl uid and 300–700mg sodium per litre. Too much sodium will make the drink unpalatable and you won’t drink it. So some adjustment may be needed here to suit individuals likes/dislikes.

Ride On content is editorially independent, but is supported financially by members of Bicycle Network Victoria. If you enjoy our articles and want to support the future publication of high-quality content, please consider helping out by becoming a member.

One Comment leave one →
  1. 13 January, 2014 1:49 pm

    Great informative article thank you – I’m sure dehydration is one of the primary reasons for energy loss & slow recovery after strenuous exercise

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