The Hydration War

It's one area which we struggle with sometimes and it can ruin your ride as much as it can make it. It's perfecting the art of hydrating. Get it wrong, you're in a world of trouble. Speaking from experience, pounding headaches, weak legs, dizziness, it's a situation you don't want to find yourself in especially if you're miles from home. Get it right though and you can hit the level of performance you've been striving for. Richard from Spok'd and the crew over at Qualified Nutrition have shared their insight into tackling the war on hydration...

It’s no secret that to perform to the best of your ability, your nutrition must be on point. Just like a car, the quality and quantity of the fuel consumed is going to influence your performance. However, one aspect of nutrition that can sometimes be overlooked is hydration, and with approximately 60% of the body consisting of water, it’s important we get it right to avoid becoming dehydrated! In a dehydrated state, there is a reduction in blood volume, making it more difficult to transport nutrients around the body, to compensate, your heart rate increases to pump more blood around the body, meaning you must work even harder. In addition to this, water assists in the regulation of body temperature. When we get too hot, water escapes through the skin in the form of sweat, taking heat with it to cool us down, as well giving a cooling sensation on the skin when it becomes wet.

Research has shown that a loss of just 2% in bodyweight can impair performance, which for a 70kg athlete translates to a loss of 1.4 litres. A simple yet effective way to determine your rates of water loss during exercise is to measure your bodyweight before and after a ride, whilst taking into account how much fluid you took onboard. If you do this in different conditions, you can gain a good understanding of how your body works. If you know how much you are losing, you can accommodate accordingly. To ensure you aren’t starting a ride dehydrated, compare your urine to a urine colour chart, if you find yourself at the darker end of the scale, it would be wise to consume more fluid than if you were at the lighter end!

So we know hydration is important and how to measure it, but how much should we drink and when? Well, it depends. As previously mentioned, much of it comes down to our bodies own individual sweat rate, which is of course influenced by genetics, work rate, temperature and humidity. Collecting as much individual data as possible using the discussed methods is going to be massively advantageous when it comes to optimising your hydration strategy. Understanding that different environments will ultimately result in different requirements is key. Remember, in a hotter environment you will require more fluid.

As a general recommendation, taking on 500ml 1-2 hours before a ride should ensure you are beginning in a relatively hydrated state. As for during the ride, for every complete, an additional 500ml with electrolytes should be consumed. Remember, it’s not only water we lose through cycling, but also electrolytes! Finally, after measuring how much weight was lost during the ride, consume 1.5x the amount along with some carbohydrates and protein for increased absorption. For example, if following a ride you record a weight loss of 1kg, in the hour following you could consume 1.5 litres with a carbohydrate and protein rich meal. Again, these are only general recommendations and you should take the time to understand your own individual needs.