How and When to Hydrate
Everything you need to know to stay hydrated—before, during and after a ride.
Time it right Hydrating before pedaling helps you avoid drying out on the road. For best absorption, sip 12 to 16 ounces of water four hours before hopping onto your bike; two hours before, sip another 12 ounces. While riding, drink enough to match the intensity of the exercise, the heat of the day and your body's needs—the average recommendation is one 16-ounce bottle per hour in cool weather, up to as many as four bottles per hour in extremely hot weather, based on a 150-pound cyclist. Afterward, your goal is to replace lost fluids and electrolytes. If the ride was easy or moderate, sipping water and having a small meal within an hour of finishing should be sufficient, but if the ride was long and intense, use the weighing method below to determine your drinking regimen.
Customize People sweat at different rates, and rides vary in terrain, speed and distance, but hydration goals are the same regardless. "Your aim is to minimize fluid and electrolyte loss or gain," says Douglas Casa, Ph.D., the director of athletic training education at the University of Connecticut, at Storrs. The best way to learn your individual sweat rate: Step on the scale before and after a long or hard ride. If you weigh less afterward, you should be drinking a bit more; if you weigh more, you should cut back to avoid overhydration.
Keep it simple "On easier rides, stick with water. You'll get the mother lode of electrolytes, calories and fluids from the meals and fluids you consume prior to, and after, your ride," says Casa, who's been researching hydration and exercise issues for more than a decade. When a ride is intense, pushes past an hour, or is in hot weather, consider a sports drink. "I recommend staying away from the stuff with 9,000 ingredients," says Casa. "You just need the essentials—fluid, carbohydrates and electrolytes."
Try and try again The only way to find what drinks work for you is by testing them. "Some products may not taste good to you, while others may sit in your stomach in a bad way," says Casa. If you're the type of salty sweater who finds white streaks on your jersey after a ride, you may need a drink with more sodium. For extreme salt sweaters, Casa suggests adding 1/4 teaspoon of salt to 16 ounces of sports drink (that's 600mg of sodium). If you find that a sports drink upsets your stomach, try diluting it with water. "Just never start a big event with a new product in your bottle," says Casa. "That's a recipe for disaster."
Five common hydration mistakes-and how to avoid them
Truth: KEEP UP WITH SWEAT LOSS—MOSTLY Replace about 75 percent of lost sweat during a long ride. "To do that, you need to know your sweat rate," says Ryan, who recently coached a heavy-sweating triathlete who routinely lost 40 ounces of fluid an hour. To determine your sweat rate, weigh yourself before and after a short ride. "An hour ride is a good indicator of what you're losing through sweat alone," Ryan says.
Hype: OVERFLOW BEFOREHAND Guzzling gallons of fluids before a ride or race will do little more than send you searching for rest stops.
Truth: TOP OFF AS YOU GO Sip a 16-ounce sports drink an hour or two before you saddle up. That's enough time for your body to absorb what it needs and eliminate what it doesn't. Then take in about six to eight ounces (two to three gulps) every 15 to 20 minutes while you ride.
Hype: CAFFEINE WILL DEHYDRATE YOU Caffeine has long been demonized as a diuretic. On paper, that means it should lead to dehydration and heat stress, especially when you consider that it also raises your heart rate and increases your metabolism.
Truth: CAFFEINE IMPROVES CARB BURNING A review of ongoing research recently revealed that caffeinated drinks don't make you pee that much more than equal amounts of beverages without the buzz. The stimulant also doesn't worsen the effects of summertime heat. In fact, caffeine makes you feel better. Numerous studies have shown that it lowers your rate of perceived exertion while improving your strength, endurance and mental performance. Even better, researchers from the University of Birmingham, in England, found that riders who drank a caffeinated sports beverage burned the drink's carbs 26 percent faster than those who consumed a noncaffeinated sports drink, likely because caffeine speeds glucose absorption in the intestine.
Hype: YOU NEED MORE PROTEIN Initially, carbohydrates were the essential building blocks of the sports beverage. Then protein muscled its way onto the scene, after early studies showed that carb-protein blends seemed to shoot into the bloodstream and enhance endurance cycling performance better than carb-only beverages.
Truth: YOU NEED A LITTLE PROTEIN. . .MAYBE Recent research on 10 trained cyclists performing an 80K trial showed that riders drinking carb-only beverages did just as well as those drinking carb-protein beverages, and both groups did better than those consuming flavored water. However, the International Society of Sports Nutrition recently reported that taking in branched-chain amino acids (BCAAs) during vigorous aerobic exercise can decrease muscle damage and depletion. "If you're on a long ride where you're also eating, you'll be taking in protein already," says Ryan, "so it's likely not necessary to also have it in your drink."
Hype: HYDRATION DURING EXERCISE IS THE BE-ALL AND END-ALL Big beverage companies would have you grabbing your sports drink during every ride, no matter how long or short the effort, lest you suffer the ill effects of dehydration.
Truth: DRINKING EVERY DAY IS ESSENTIAL "Your first priority should be staying on top of your daily hydration," says Ryan. Research on gym-goers found that nearly half began their workouts in a dehydrated state. "Many people don't consume enough fluids during the day," Ryan says. "If you hydrate properly on a regular basis, you won't need to worry as much about getting dehydrated during a typical moderate ride." The old eight-glasses-a-day dictum is a good guidepost.
Silence. That's all Dr. Allen Lim heard when he knew he had arrived at a solution. No longer were his Garmin riders complaining of the headaches and bloated stomachs that had plagued them for so long. Lim had spent countless hours mixing formulas in buckets to create not a product, but a solution that was informally dubbed Secret Drink Mix, or SDM. Why a secret? Because word had spread through the peloton that Lim had perfected a hydration solution that was effective and delicious, and it led to many pros pouring out the electrolyte-heavy, overly sweetened beverages provided by their sponsors and replacing it with Lim's contraband. Fortunately for us, the secret is out, and Lim is offering this pro-developed and battle-tested solution to the world. It's now called the Exercise Hydration Mix, from Lim's Boulder, Colorado-based Skratch Labs.
Unlike many sports drinks, which are formulated around electrolyte or caloric replenishment during physical exertion, the Exercise Mix focuses on keeping your body's sodium levels carefully regulated. Lim discovered that the rampant headaches plaguing his pro riders were not induced by a lack of fluids, but rather, a lack of sodium -- a very typical symptom of dehydration. Essentially, your kidneys regulate fluid retention based on the body's concentration of sodium. When sodium concentration is high, your body is forced to hold on to that fluid to dilute it. But when your sodium levels get too low (ie: through sweat loss), the opposite happens and your kidneys must expel that fluid.
Lim's mix is designed to keep your body's sodium balance carefully regulated, maintaining hydration while also slowing diuresis. With diuresis slowed, you'll be able to pre-hydrate and drink more before a race without needing to make those three inopportune bathroom breaks right before your call-up. If these concepts around a sodium-based formula sound familiar, that's because they are -- Lim's drink mix contains nearly four times the amount of sodium in many convenience-store sports drinks, putting it on par with emergency-grade rehydration salt formulas like Pedialyte, and those used by the World Health Organization to combat severe dehydration.
The athletes that helped Lim develop the Exercise Mix weren't just complaining of headaches. They were also suffering from severe stomach bloating and flavor fatigue. The second half of Lim's solution was to ensure his drink was easy and pleasurable to consume day in and day out. To accomplish this, every ingredient from the Exercise Mix is naturally occurring or naturally sourced from real fruit, which ensures you're not putting anything in your body that's been chemically formulated or enhanced. In short, if it wasn't here on this earth before you were, Dr. Lim and his team refused to use it.
The ingredients are: sucrose, glucose, sodium citrate, potassium citrate, calcium citrate, magnesium citrate, freeze dried fruit, citric acid (a natural preservation agent from pure lime juice), and ascorbic acid. Notice the pronounced absence of the 'natural flavors' found in so many other sports drinks. Part of what makes the Exercise Mix so uniquely palatable even during prolonged periods of exercise and constant re-hydration is the lack of a savoring agent. Generally, chemically-derived flavoring agents like those ominous 'natural flavors' tend to remain on your palate, causing flavor fatigue, and in larger doses, wreak havoc on your gut.
The Exercise Mix uses real lemons, limes, oranges, and raspberries, which are freeze-dried and pounded into powder. This creates a refreshing, super-clean flavor that's easy on your stomach without a lingering aftertaste that wears out its welcome halfway into your race. It means you're not just getting a 'flavor' of lemon or orange, you're getting actual lemons and oranges in the mix. This is one of the many fundamental breakthroughs behind the Skratch Labs drink mixes. Whether you're staying hydrated during a 24-hour endurance race, or re-hydrating after a grueling criterium, they simply taste great.
Lim and his team created two drink mixes, optimizing each for different levels of physical exertion. This Exercise Hydration Mix has a slightly higher salt content, making it Skratch Labs' on-bike mix, best used for periods when your heart rate is up and you're sweating. Because this mix has a supremely high absorption rate and is not a natural diuretic, it's excellent as a preventative measure against dehydration while you ride, when you stop at an aid station, or immediately after your workout or race, because you can drink a larger volume of it at a time without painful bloating. This is due in part to the drink's exceptionally low levels of acidity, and lack of chemically-enhanced flavors.
The Skratch Labs Exercise Hydration Mix is available in Lemon Lime, Orange, or Raspberry. Each one-pound package should provide approximately twenty (23 grams dry), 500ml servings.