A large percentage of our body is made up of water, so dehydration can affect how well you perform both mentally and physically. As a cyclist you are often limited to the amount of fluid you can drink and carry and as a consequence don't drink enough. It's important to keep well hydrated by drinking water throughout the day and extra fluid after training.
Performance minded cyclists will seek to replace not only the volume of fluids lost, but also the electrolytes lost in the process. Electrolytes lost in high concentrations through sweat include sodium and chloride, while electrolytes lost in low concentrations include potassium, magnesium and calcium. Essentially, when you taste sweat, it’s salty, and that’s the electrolytes you need to replace. Electrolytes are essential to normal function of cells and organs, so obviously in order to perform at a high level, you at least retain this balance your body requires by replacing what has been sweat out.
When choosing a sports drink for rehydration, it is important to ensure the ingredients will be replacing the electrolytes you are losing. Additionally, some drinks include supplementary carbohydrates, sugar or caffeine to help you with some extra energy along the way. Popular rehydration formulas are produced by brands such as Endura and Skratch Labs.
- Develop a fluid plan that suits your needs, amount of training and the weather! Practice your plan in your training sessions. The longer the training sessions, or the warmer the weather, the greater your needs will be.
- During training, aim to drink the contents of your bottle every hour.
- If road training, plan to refill your bottle regularly (e.g. at parks), and use these stops as markers of fluid intake. Resist the temptation of not stopping for fear of interrupting your rhythm.
- Thirst is usually an indicator of dehydration. You may have already lost a lot of fluid before you even feel thirsty.
- Start checking the colour of your urine (pale=hydrated, dark=dehydrated). Cyclists can estimate their own fluid losses by weighing themselves before and after riding - Each kilogram of weight loss is equal to one litre of fluid.
- Plain water is effective, especially if you only exercise for a short time and at a "low intensity".
- Sports drinks provide carbohydrate, electrolytes and are lightly flavoured. They can be helpful to meet your fluid needs and help performance when exercising at a greater intensity and for a longer length of time or distance.
- For personalised advice on your fluid needs in training, see an Accredited Sports Dietician.
During strenuous exercise such as cycling, your body is consuming its stored energy at a faster than normal rate. Your body only has a limited amount of storage space for this energy, therefore it can be beneficial to performance to top up these reserves on the go.
Gels are a conveniently packaged, portable and easy to consume source of carbohydrates that you can use for a quick source of energy whilst exercising. Gels are formulated to be quickly delivered into the blood to deliver the energy and nutrients required to sustain performance.
It can often be a little bit of trial and error in working out what your body responds best to, as this will differ somewhat between individuals and their exercise load. Some people will find certain brands have more impact, are easier to digest or purely just taste better. Some popular brands of gels are produced by brands such as Endura, Clif Bar, Bonk Breaker.