Ensuring proper hydration for long bike rides is more than just popping a water bottle on your bicycle. Hydration is an important factor in performance, recovery, and even survival. It’s easy to be hydrated, but it’s also easy to forget to remain properly hydrated. Unfortunately, as the old adage goes, by the time you feel thirst you are already well on your way to dehydration.
Hydration begins even before you get on the bike, and it’s important to understand that not all liquids are equal in terms of hydrating power. Water, fruit juices, and even performance drinks can all aid in hydration. Try to steer clear of coffee, tea, and soft drinks as they contain caffeine which encourages fluid loss. And, although it should go without saying, avoid alcoholic beverages before a long ride. Not only will they greatly impair performance, but they will also push you towards dehydration.
Before you get on your bike, and even before you grab that pre-ride snack, drink a large glass of water. Consider this water to provide you with a base hydration. It’s not ample enough to keep you going during a long ride, but it helps your body move in the right direction.
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Drink regularly during your ride. Water, diluted fruit juices, or power drinks are all good choices. I prefer to dilute my power drinks 50/50 with water as it reduces cost, lowers caloric intake, and still allows for a flavorful drink. Some cyclists gripe about drinking regularly during a long ride as it means more frequent potty breaks, but if you aren’t using the restroom regularly (one an hour or so), you are prone to dehydration.
If water is available, take it. If you pass a hydration stop during a ride, top off your water even if you don’t think you need a refill. It’s better to keep ample supplies when riding. Water is great for quenching your thirst, but hydration salts, hydration chews, and power drinks will help keep you performing at optimal levels while you remain hydrated.
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Remember that caloric intake is also important. During an extended bicycle ride, you are burning a tremendous amount of calories. It’s important to fuel your body with rapidly digested carbs. Try to mirror the calories you burn with the calories you consume. Some people (myself included) experience nausea or just a lack of appetite on long rides. Fortunately there are a number of great products on the market that will provide you with quick energy without feeling heavy in your stomach. One great product is the energy gel or goo. These gels have about 100 calories per ounce and provide you with rapidly absorbing carbs as well as a boost of sodium and electrolytes. These will help your body utilize the water you drink.
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Remember that it is important to remain hydrated before, during, and after your long bicycle ride. Sipping fluids after a ride allows your body to recover to full hydration levels. Remember, too, that electrolytes remain an important factor in remaining hydrated. We all sweat differently. It sounds sort of gross, but some of us sweat profusely, even on cool days. Others barely break a sweat, even when riding at maximum intensity. If you sweat a lot, you lose more sodium and electrolytes through your perspiration. It’s important to replace these nutrients both during and after your ride to avoid bonking and promote recovery.
Symptoms of Dehydration
All bicycle riders should understand the symptoms of dehydration. If you experience these symptoms or you just don’t feel right, see a physician right away. Although bike riding is relatively low impact, long rides can be very taxing on the body. Be ever vigilant of developing these symptoms of dehydration:
Dry sensation in the mouth
Rapid onset of fatigue
Decreased urination, and urine that is dark in color
A rapid heartrate
These symptoms are a sign that you are dehydrated, but they may also be a sign of another medical problem. If you are experiencing these symptoms or are concerned, it’s best to see your physician.
Some people are at higher risk for dehydration than others. If you know you are at extra risk, you need to be even more vigilant about maintaining proper fluids. Children, the elderly, and people with chronic medical conditions are all more prone to dehydration. Even people sick with a mild virus like the common cold are more easily dehydrated than those who are healthy. If you have been ill, and especially if you have hade episodes of vomiting or diarrhea recently, you should put off your long rides until you have fully recovered.
At Kass & Moses, we take cycling seriously. That’s because, in addition to being bicycle crash attorneys, we are also avid cyclists. We understand that there is nothing better than a long ride to clear the mind and renew the body. We encourage riders to stay safe, properly hydrated, and aware of their surroundings. If you are involved in a bicycle crash, we can help you receive maximum compensation for your injuries and pain and suffering. Fight with a team of cyclists on your side!