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Proper Hydration And Nutrition For Long Bike Rides

  • By Triathlete.com
  • Published Apr 16, 2010
  • Updated Aug 30, 2011 at 7:22 PM UTC

The longer you ride, the more important a role hydration and nutritional supplementation play in your performance and recovery. When it comes to maintaining optimum hydration and energy levels, the simplest approach is almost always best.

Written by: Mark Deterline

So Simple It’s Difficult

Because of its importance in performance, muscle health and even survival, hydration should be addressed first in a few sound practices:

  • Hydration is one of the easiest things to do, but it’s equally as easy to neglect. Since you know you should be drinking constantly, simply reaffirm your commitment to do just that by consuming primarily water and tea, diluted fruit juices (keeping an eye on calories), and drinking plenty of water.
  • Ensure you’re hydrated before you eat, on or off the bike. Try employing the pre-meal-glass-of-water rule: Drink a large glass of water before you eat anything. This helps ensure you’re staying hydrated, but also that you won’t mistake thirst for hunger.
  • Drink frequently and consistently on the bike. The worst thing about staying truly hydrated is the need to pee all the time. Having to pee when you’re on a road or mountain bike is a drag, especially for women. As a general rule, cyclists should have the urge to “go” at least once every hour.

If you ever stop during a ride or race and there’s a water source, whether or not you’re feeling thirsty or need a water refill, drink out of one or both of your bottles and then top them off. If it’s a long or hot ride, take a packet of your favorite drink mix to add to water at stops along the way. If your mix doesn’t include electrolytes, take along sodium tablets or the increasingly popular gummy hydration chews. If you’re about to go up a big climb and don’t want unnecessary weight, be sure you won’t need the water on the other side. Always play it safe.

Caloric Intake Before, During & After

Naturally, caloric intake and hydration go hand in hand since each influences and facilitates the other. There are voices in the endurance nutrition sector gaining increased attention, having first secured a following in bodybuilding circles. They assert that high-quality starches boasting special molecular footprints provide athletes’ muscles what they really need—rapidly digested and absorbed carbs. This is best known as the so-called waxy maize craze, but there is growing interest in Vitargo. Easily absorbed carbohydrate sources are relevant to all three facets of sports nutrition: pre-exertion loading, sustained energy during training and racing, as well as superior recovery through more efficient and effective glycogen repletion during the 30-minute recovery window.

Anthony Almada, co-founder of EAS [now a product owned and marketed by Abbott Nutrition] now championing his patented Vitargo S2 product, loves to emphasize three things: gastric emptying, digestibility and absorption.

“Carbohydrates that are closer in form to those stored in plants spend much less time in the stomach and are more rapidly digested, absorbed and delivered to the liver and muscles, sustaining high work rates and providing post-training glycogen replenishment without bloating,” Almada says.

Reid and Eileen Swanson of Tri Lab Coaching based in California emphasize experimentation and practice followed by consistency:

“Calories burned should be mirrored by calories consumed as closely as possible. Determine your baseline in training. By baseline, we mean what you tend to burn and what can you consume while training, such as your ideal volume of water, electrolytes and caloric intake per hour. (For example, a 165-pound elite male triathlete might require 24 ounces of electrolyte drink, 200 milligrams of sodium and 400 calories each hour.) Determine which foods and beverages can deliver these volumes into your system–i.e. you must be able to comfortably digest and absorb them–so you can convert all that into energy. Make a note of your established nutritional intake; this will reinforce what you plan to consume on race day.”

Since the process of digesting normal or real food takes time, it is crucial to implement high-quality supplements before, during and after exercise to perform at our best. Almada emphasizes that athletes must have access to carbs that rapidly transition through the gut, are easily digested in the small intestine then quickly absorbed to provide fuel to muscles. That doesn’t mean deemphasizing fresh foods or falling into the trap of seeking “better living through chemistry,” Almada insists. “After all, what is more natural than a pure starch extract from one or more of our trusted crops over thousands of years?”

These products are called supplements for a reason. Nutritionists have been searching for natural, healthy ways to harness energy sources in their most basic forms to enable our bodies to absorb what they need within the framework of extensive and repeated exertion. Effective supplements will get glucose into your blood and muscles more quickly to provide essential fuel before and during a ride. And since “recovery is performance” and vice versa, one of the most important post-ride practices is the consumption of easily absorbed carbs within the 30-minute window.

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