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Guide to Hydration

by Carl Brewer last modified 2006-11-22 16:31

Our recommendations for hydration before, during and after riding

aboc Guide to Hydration before, during and after riding and racing

This is a brief overview of our recommendations with regards to optimum hydration for before, during and immediately after a long (greater than 45 minutes or so) ride or race. Being well hydrated is important to your best performance and recovery, but it's possible to over-hydrate, this guide intends to assist your performance by helping you to have a hydration procedure that works for you.

Before the ride

Hydration starts the day before your ride, ideally in the evening before a big ride day, you'll want to drink a litre or more of plain water. You should need to go to the toilet before bed and your urine should be clear. Avoid anything with caffeine, as it's a diuretic and will dehydrate you overnight. Have a water bottle beside your bed and if you wake up overnight have a sip from it.

On the morning of your ride, try and drink a liter or so of water with cordial or some other flavouring if you like, but nothing suggary. Stop drinking about 2 hours before your ride. The reason we stop 2 hours before your ride is to reduce the risk of your needing to urinate while on your ride.

Some riders may find it beneficial to have a caffeinated drink 20 or so minutes before your ride, experiment with this on training rides before doing it on race day, to make sure you don't end up busting for a wee on the startline!

During the ride or race

During a ride we suggest that your drinks contain carbohydrates and salts, to assist not only in hydration, but maintaining your blood glucose levels and resisting cramps and neurological impairment. Your body needs sugar and salt to work, and riding makes you sweat a lot of salt away, and burn a lot of glycogen. If we can keep your blood sugar levels up, you'll use less glycogen, and be able to ride further and faster.

aboc recommends the following drink mixtures, in order of recommendation :

  • aboc C4P(two teaspoons per bidon)
  • Staminade powder (two - four teaspoons per biddon) - we recommend Staminade powder as it's the only easily available sports drink that contains magnesium, which may help prevent cramps.
  • Gatorade or Powerade powder (two teaspoons per bidon)
  • any other 'sports drink' (unless you find some exotic drink like endurox, accelerade etc cheaply somewhere! These will usually be better than Gatorade and Powerade, but read the list of ingredients, and treat any grand claims with extreme skepticism)
  • plain water
We suggest that in normal cool weather, around one biddon per hour is a target for you to aim for. In hotter weather or if you're sweating a lot, increase that amount. Start drinking 15 minutes or so into your ride, and have a drink about every 10 to 15 minutes. A general rule of thumb is that you shouldn't ever feel thirsty, if you do, you're not drinking enough. We recommend powders as they're the cheapest way to get a sports drink. For example, a bottle of Gatorade costs around $2 or more, while a jar of Staminade is about $7 and will give you enough powder for 20 or so biddons. There's recipe's around for home made sports drinks using dextrose from brewer's sugar (home brew beer, available at many supermarkets) and cordial etc, which work out even cheaper than powdered sports drinks, but experiment with these before a big ride, as getting the ratios of things right for you may be a challenge.
If you're doing a long training ride, sometimes it pays to mix up one normal strength biddon, and one "super concentrate" that you can decant into the other biddon like a cordial, and mix it with water.  This has been used with success at events like the Audax Alpine Classic and Around the Bay in a Day.
We tend not to recommend drinks like Coke or Pepsi or the other soft drinks, generally they contain far too much sugar, and it's a very cheap and nasty sugar derived from corn syrup that doesn't work as well as glucose/dextrose. Additionally, the caffeine in them may not be beneficial.

Post ride

After your ride, the highest priority is to warm down and replace lost muscle glycogen and water. In the first two hours you want to replace as much sugar and water as your body will soak up. In particular, in the first 30 minutes your body is at its most receptive to glucose to use to resynthesise lost glycogen (you may have heard of the 'glycogen window', this is it!). Drink more of the c4p or sports drinks as soon as you can. Flavoured milk is also excellent, but doesn't travel well in biddons on your bike, so it's usually only useful post-ride.  Try and drink at least a liter or so of your sports drink. Now it's ok to need to urinate, so don't hold back. Any more than a liter an hour won't help much, and may in some cases be harmful, so aim to empty two biddons of your drink in the first two hours, as well as eat some high GI food (snakes, jelly beans etc). Avoid caffeine again (sorry, coffee and coke fans! it's not good to rehydrate with diuretics!). Realistically, a post ride coffee isn't going to do you any harm, but try to drink water with it to counteract the dehydrating effects of the caffeine.

As with all advice and suggestions for racing, experiment on training rides with your hydration, don't try something new on raceday, as if it doesn't agree with you, it certainly won't help!

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