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Staying hydrated on the bike is key for maximising your performance, regardless of the weather. Drinking enough each day is just as important as getting enough fluid on a training run or in a race; so getting the balance right for you is essential.
The human body is made up of 60% water and dehydration means your body cannot perform at its peak, or recover properly. Everyone sweats at different rates and the speed, distance and terrain of your ride will also affect how much water your body is losing. You can monitor your own hydration by checking the colour of your urine and weighing yourself daily to detect any sudden weight loss.
If your body is dehydrated, physiologically you’ll experience reduced heat dissipation, increased core temperature, decreased sweat rate and skin blood flow, reduced blood volume, decreased digestive function and increased use of muscle glycogen.
British Cycling demonstrates how dehydration can affect your cycling performance: “A 2% drop in body weight due to sweating (1.6 kg for an 80 kg rider) will impair performance noticeably, 4% will decrease your capacity for muscular work and, at 5%, heat exhaustion can become an issue and your capacity for work will drop by up to 30%. Hit 7% and you’ll start experiencing hallucinations and, at 10%, circulatory collapse, heat stroke and even death become possibilities.”*
On a typical day off the bike, your fluid intake should be around 2 to 3 litres. This doesn’t have to be water as sports drinks and fruit and vegetable juices count as well, but tea, coffee, sugary drinks and alcohol don’t quench your thirst. By continually maintaining this hydration, you shouldn’t need to over-hydrate before a race or during training.
To ensure optimal hydration, sip 500ml of water or sports drink a couple of hours before a ride. During a race or training session, try to drink every 10 minutes or so rather than gulping down a lot of water infrequently. You’re stocking up to hydrate your body later on, so maintaining a steady intake of fluids as you lose them will keep your performance steady. After a ride your body requires fluid to replace the protein, carbohydrate and electrolytes lost.
To stay properly hydrated you need fluid, carbohydrates and electrolytes. For the most part, water alone is enough to maintain your body’s hydration, so on easy rides under an hour, consuming water will be fine. You may need to replenish carbohydrates and electrolytes if you’ve completed a race or longer training programme. Sports drinks can provide this, although be sure to stay away from drinks that have a lot of sugar.
Just as you vary your fluid intake with exercise, so should you adapt for weather. If it’s particularly hot you may need a sports drink in addition to water. Maintaining optimum hydration by drinking regularly throughout the day, and from beginning to end of training sessions will ensure your body has the fluid it needs to perform at its best.
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