So you’ve done your training, mapped out your route and given your bike a tune up – you’re ready to go! But before you set off, it’s important to think about how you’re going to keep hydrated during your long-distance cycle. Whether you’re undertaking an endurance ride such as Land's End to John o' Groats or just exploring the longer trails and routes in your local area, staying hydrated is vital – especially when the weather warms up!
Why is staying hydrated so important?
We’re advised to drink between 1.5 and 2 litres of water per day just to maintain day-to-day functions in the body, so when we exercise and start losing water due to sweating, it’s important to increase this water consumption. This is especially true when exercising in hotter weather!
Water is important for temperature regulation, energy, muscle function and cognitive function, and even very mild dehydration can lead to symptoms like headaches, fatigue and a difficulty concentrating. When it comes to exercise, just a 2% drop in body weight due to water loss can result in noticeable reductions in performance!
If you fall behind on hydration during a long-distance or endurance bike ride it can be difficult to catch up as you continue to sweat. It is much easier to drink smaller amounts regularly than fill up on a litre of water all at once, which will most likely cause bloating and discomfort.
How to stay hydrated while long-distance cycling
Knowing how much to drink and when depends entirely on your overall fitness, the temperature outside and the intensity of your bike ride, but I can give some guidelines to get you started!
First, you want to start your day with a good glass of water or fruit juice to kick-start hydration. You might want to include some foods with high water contents in your breakfast, such as melon or oranges. If you don’t start cycling until later in the day, make sure to keep your water levels topped up throughout the morning so you don’t start your ride already dehydrated!
As a general rule of thumb, most long-distance riders try to drink around one 500ml bottle of water per hour while cycling. If you’re cycling in hotter weather, cycling up hills or start to feel thirsty and overheated, then increase this intake. Try to sip this regularly rather than gulping a whole bottle on the hour, every hour, or you may find that you feel bloated and uncomfortable! A good way to make sure you’re drinking enough is to check your urine: if it’s darkly coloured then you’re dehydrated, but if it’s pale and slightly yellow, you’ve been drinking enough.
If you’re cycling over long distances this means you need to make sure you have enough water with you, or make sure to arrange somewhere to stop to refill your bottle. Before you set out for the day make sure you have enough water to last until you can refill. Two or three bottles should be enough, but you’ll obviously need to take more if you’re drinking more and stopping less.
You might also want to consider drinking some Beetroot Juice before a cycle too - not only does it help keep you hydrated but research also suggests it may even help to improve our stamina and oxygen uptake! Read our blog on this topic to find out more.
Make sure to drink a bottle in the hour after finishing your bike ride to keep your levels topped up as you cool down. Remember to keep drinking water during the evening as you normally would – there’s no need to keep drinking a bottle every hour at this point. A few glasses over the evening should be fine, provided you managed to stay hydrated during your ride. If you feel thirsty, dizzy or dehydrated, make sure to drink some extra water.
After your ride you might decide to have a coffee to boost your energy, or a beer or two to celebrate another successful day, but be careful with this! Alcohol and caffeine can quickly dehydrate you so make sure to drink extra water to offset this effect.
What about electrolytes?
Electrolytes are also lost when we sweat, so it’s important to top these up too! They play a role in maintaining our water balance, so they are vital for proper hydration. They are also essential for muscle function and the nervous system, so you really need to replace them if you’re doing a lot of exercise.
Common ways to replenish electrolytes are by drinking sports drinks or adding an electrolyte powder to water. A lot of these can also contain lots of sugar and unpleasant chemicals, so be careful which ones you choose. My favourite is Balance Mineral Drink which contains potassium, magnesium, vitamin D3, calcium and zinc. There’s even a little whey for protein and lactic acid L+ to support digestion.
Tour de France riders can drink as much as 1 electrolyte drink every hour, but the majority of long-distance cyclists won’t need quite as much. If your bike ride is a few hours long, I recommend refuelling with 1 sachet of Balance Mineral Drink in 150ml water at the end of your ride.
For extra-long rides of over 4 hours a day, I recommend replenishing your electrolytes during your ride. I’m guessing you’ll probably aim to take a break when you’re around half way, so at this point make sure to drink 1 sachet of Balance Mineral Drink in 150ml water.
Electrolytes are also found in food, so make sure to refuel at the end of the day with a healthy balanced meal, and munch on some healthy snacks during your ride: bananas are a great choice, but I love crackers and peanut butter too!