It may not feel like summer just yet, but the hot weather is just around the corner – or at least we hope so. But regardless of whether the sun is out or not it is getting warmer, and warmer weather means more riding, more racing, more sportives and longer club runs. With all the extra riding you’re doing, you’ll be sweating more and essentially losing more salts and fluids. Sweating itself not a bad thing, in fact it is very good for you, it helps to keep your immune system strong, gives you healthy looking skin, releases endorphins and helps you to lose weight. However, the more you sweat, the more fluids you need to take back on board.
How much water do I need?
There is an unwritten rule that you should be taking on around 500-700ml of a water per hour to replenish sweat and carbohydrate loss. However, using plain water simply does not replenish the sodium loss quickly enough and can lead to a significant malfunction in muscle function and performance: by not taking on enough you could suffer muscle cramps, power loss and low blood sugar levels.
Most electrolyte drinks or carbohydrate sports drinks on the market today have the key ingredients to help keep these stores topped up, and should be taken advantage of in races and long training rides. These supplements will keep you hydrated with essential minerals such as magnesium, sodium, calcium, potassium and chloride.
Fuelling quantities are very different depending on: your weight, height, what type of riding you are doing, how experienced you are, and even how much you sweat. Below is a breakdown of different situations to look out for when thinking about hydration.
There are many types of racing from criteriums, to sportives, to stage races, and how you fuel for them will differ greatly. For criteruim racing and shorter time trial races consisting of about an hour or so of race time, you may want to consider gels as a better and easier option to get the required fuelling in – these sorts of races can be too difficult to fuel on-bike. A gel will contain approximately 30g of carbohydrate and a blend of electrolytes, taking two of these this will help to keep the carbohydrate stores topped up. Alternatively, a 500ml bottle of fluids and a gel should get the job done. The ideal carbohydrate consumption for a typical athlete is approximately 60-90g per hour.
If you’re new to supplements, then start off gradually and train with your chosen brand, don’t decide just to use it on race day as this could upset your stomach and actually hinder you more than help you. It’s a good idea to take a bottle, gel, and a bar out with you on your training rides to get used to fuelling at the right times.
For the longer races, or consecutive stage races that last for 3 days or more, hydration is very important as you will find yourself dehydrated very easily if not monitored. Carbohydrate drinks, bars and electrolytes are key to maintaining your performance, taking on 60-90g per hour is the recommended amount. Remember: recovery is important after the race to replenish carbohydrate stores and aid muscle repair.
Sportives are probably the rides where you will take on the most fuel, on this kind of effort you will be looking to take on at least 60g of carbohydrates per hour, so make sure you take enough nutrition with you. Of course there will be pit stops, but take your own in case you need it before you get to one or if you have specific brands you like to stick to.
It is advised that a 500ml bottle of energy drink and a bar/gel per hour will deliver the correct amount of fuel to keep your carbohydrate and glycogen stores at an optimum level – you may need a little more depending on the effort you are putting in. The most common mistake when fuelling is to leaving it too late, and once you start to feel tired it is probably too late. Remember to eat and drink before tiredness kicks in and you should be able to maintain a constant performance throughout. You may need to train yourself to do this as it is not easy at first, and your body will be very good at making you think you are okay until you ‘hit the wall’ and ‘bonk’. You won’t feel like you need the fuel until you come to a standstill on the side of the road, so remember to eat and drink in plenty of time!
When the hot weather ramps up we can all start to experience different issues that may affect our riding. One of these issues is cramp, and many of us suffer from this, and it is still not known what actually causes it. It’s likely to be a combination of effort and lacking in minerals and salts, so to counter this, it’s advised to take on more fluids that contain electrolytes.
Calcium and magnesium deficiency is linked to muscle cramps, so a diet high in these can help fight any symptoms from occurring. Foods like bananas, beans, fish, dark chocolate and spinach contain a good amount of calcium and magnesium, but be careful: consuming too much may lead to diarrhoea, so only take on as much as your body can cope with.
In cool weather conditions less water is needed, and gels can be used to avoid taking on too much water when sweating is much less of an issue. This method will help to replenish electrolytes and top up carbohydrate stores, without making you feel bloated or need the toilet every half an hour!
Things to look out for
Always remember to check out the ingredients of your supplements, as some carbohydrate drinks do not contain electrolytes and are simply an energy source. Some brands contain all the essential electrolytes and others will sell electrolytes separately, this can be useful if you are wishing to lose weight and do not want the added energy. Using electrolytes alone will replenish the sweat losses and help the body maintain water and keep the muscles working for longer, but remember this will not provide you with any carbohydrates.
The best way to find a brand that you enjoy is purely through trial and error, and it does help if you like the taste, but some brands suit some flavours more than others and there isn’t a rule that you should be using one over the other. Take a look at the full range of supplements here.