Question: My brother is a hydration freak. He often drains his 100-oz. CamelBak before the ride is finished. If he runs out, he finishes dry. I ration my water and always make it last until the end. Which method is better? — Bruce A.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: I’ve never seen research on this topic, but my hunch is that it’s better to ration fluid for the length of the ride.
Your brother’s approach has merit, however. By drinking early and often, he won’t be dehydrated toward the end of the ride, even if he runs out of fluid during the last hour. However, if you drink too much, too fast, the fluid can slosh around in your stomach faster than your body can digest it. And late in a ride, he might wish for a sip to wet his mouth and throat, but his performance isn’t likely to suffer.
On the other hand, when rationing fluid, you might not drink enough early. If you become dehydrated, you’ll probably be unable to recover no matter how much you drink late in the ride.
Of course, if you underestimate fluid needs, rationing evenly throughout the ride can make the best of a bad situation. You may not have enough fluid to stay optimally hydrated, but at least you’ll be giving your body periodic doses rather than making it go cold turkey.
Whichever method you use, for comfort’s sake don’t use up all liquid before the very end. If you ride the last portion completely dry, you can get an uncomfortably parched mouth. Keep enough fluid in reserve to allow at least a sip every 15 minutes.