If it’s the summer cycling season, it’s probably hot where you live. Cyclists and other outdoor athletes are the first to notice rising temperatures. And the hotter it is, the faster you lose fluids when you ride.
Fluids are crucial to your performance and sense of well-being. we’re really just big bags of fluid—our blood contains about 50 percent water. Because water helps keep us cool, a loss of only one percent of our bodyweight as sweat means a significant loss of speed and endurance.
I know you’ve heard it before—drink, drink, drink! But it’s amazing how few cyclists heed this advice. They forget to drink because of the excitement of the ride, then they wilt before the end.
But proper hydration is easy. Here’s how:
- Ride Early or Late. You’ll need to replace fewer fluids if you ride when it’s cooler. One approach: commute by bike so you ride early in the morning and again in the evening when temperatures have moderated.
- Practice Drinking On the Bike. If you aren’t comfortable taking one hand off the bar to pull the bottle from the cage, practice while riding in an empty parking lot or lightly traveled road with a wide shoulder. Hold the bar with your other hand near the stem to limit swerving as you reach down.
- Pre-hydrate. Make sure you’re well hydrated before the ride. Most people are chronically dehydrated because they simply don’t drink enough water. Keep a bottle on your desk and sip frequently all day. For an energy as well as fluid bonus, down 16 ounces of a sports drink about an hour before the ride.
- Drink During the Ride. The latest hydration science says to drink to satisfy your thirst. But to avoid forgetting to drink, make it a habit to reach for your bottle every 15 minutes or so instead of waitinguntil you feel like downing the whole bottle.
Most riders need one big bottle (about 28 ounces) per hour, but it’s highly variable depending on temperature, intensity of the ride, and other factors such as body size. Experience will help you judge your fluid needs.
- Hydrate After the Ride. No matter how much fluid you drink while riding, in hot weather you’ll finish the ride depleted. Your stomach doesn’t empty fast enough to keep up with the demand.
Weigh yourself before and after the ride. Compare the figures. If you’ve lost weight, drink 20 ounces of fluid for each pound of bodyweight you’re down. Keep drinking until your weight has returned to normal and your urine is pale and plentiful.
- Restore Sodium Levels. Those white stains on your clothing and helmet straps after a hot ride come from the salt that you sweat out. It needs to be replaced. Low sodium levels have been associated with increased incidence of cramps. Heavy sodium losses may also lead to hyponatremia, a potentially life-threatening condition.
Your sports drink should contain at least 100 mg of sodium per 8 ounces (check the label). It may also help to salt your food when you’re riding frequently in hot weather, or add a bit of salt to your sports drink if it doesn’t quite measure up.
More about hydrating:
Should I eat salty foods before riding?
Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred's full bio.