Hydration and Nutrition on the Bike

Let's start by taking a lighthearted look at ways to hydrate while riding your bike.

Water, we have fun with it, in it or on it, but we cannot live without it. Let's take a more serious look at why hydration is so important for our daily lives and our cycling adventures.

The human body is composed of approximately 60% water.  A cyclist needs to keep his or her body topped up with fluid to perform optimally. If you are not keeping your body hydrated your performance and training gains can be compromised and your recovery process will be prolonged.

It is important to recognize the early warning signs of dehydration. When the water content in your body drops by 1-2% you will begin to feel thirsty. Losing more than this can result in a number of symptoms which, if left untreated, can lead to severe health issues. Some examples are a decrease in capacity for muscular work, heat exhaustion, reduction in blood flow, increased rate of muscle glycogen use, decreased digestive function, circulatory collapse, heat stroke and even death. Never ignore the symptoms of oncoming dehydration. Here are some signs that indicate the onset of dehydration:

Elevated Heart Rate: Heart rate is normally elevated during a work out, but if you notice an unusual increase of about 20-30 beats per minute (bpm) it could be a sign of dehydration. Your heart is trying to compensate for the reduced blood volume.

Light Headedness and dizzy spells: This is the sensation you get if you stand up from a sitting position too quickly. If this happens while changing positions on the bike, it may be time to take a few minutes rest and drink. Not enough blood is getting to your brain due to low blood volume.

Gravity Skin: Pinch the skin on the back of your hand for a few seconds. If it doesn’t spring back as quickly as normal you are probably dehydrated. Do this test when you are completely hydrated to get an idea of what is normal for you.

Urine Color and Smell: The stronger the color and smell of your urine, the more fluids you need to take. When severe dehydration sets in urine production decreases dramatically.

Bad Breath: Bacteria that builds up on the teeth and around the mouth causes bad breath. Saliva is packed with useful enzymes for breaking down food and anti bacterial properties to combat this bacteria. When you are dehydrated you cannot produce the saliva necessary to do this job.

Headaches: Normally your brain is encased within a fluid sack, and if this watery helmet is depleted you are more likely to get a headache.

Dehydration is a condition that is easily prevented if proper preparation and precautions are followed. Here are some tips to help you get your ride off to a good start.

Hydration is an important part of daily life even when you are not cycling. As a general health practice try to drink 2 to 3 liters (8 to 12 cups) of fluid a day. Establishing this daily routine is better than trying to drink excessively the night before or in the hours leading up to a big ride.

Doing the latter only leads to early and numerous “comfort breaks”.

Once you are in the saddle and out on the road it is important to drink little and often right from the start of your ride. There are many factors that determine the amount of water a rider may need, however most riders will loose between 2 and 4 cups of water per hour. Do not wait until you are thirsty to drink, but try to take 2-3 good size gulps from your bottle every 10 or 15 minutes. If your ride is going to last 60 minutes or less a 16 or 32 oz water bottle will meet your hydration needs.


For rides longer than 60 minutes most sources recommend adding electrolytes (sodium, calcium, potassium, magnesium) and carbohydrates. You need to replace the salt your body is sweating out and the electrolytes will help your body replace the salt. Most commercially available sports drinks have the correct balance of electrolytes and carbohydrates. Those who do not want to add carbohydrates to take on calories can use the effervescent electrolyte tablets. However if you are attempting a longer or faster ride you probably should consider adding carbohydrates in some form. You can add carbs with sports drinks or food items. Some choices of carbs in both forms can be found by viewing the video below. As a general rule a cyclist should add 2 carb items per hour for long hot rides.

The following video will show you some options for meeting your hydration and nutrition needs.

For a more lengthy discussion of the various products available and the relative benefits check out this site from Cycling Weekly.

Cycling Weekly

The next two sites from bicycling.com will give you some recipes and ideas for making your own sports drinks.



Dr. Gabe Mirkin believes strongly in fruit, especially bananas, as a better option than sports drinks to aid in the recovery after an intense workout. A study done at Appalachian State University found that the red blood cells of athletes eating bananas produced much lower blood levels of a genetic precursor of COX-2, which causes inflammation that delays recovery, than those of the group that took sports drinks. 

Other studies found that fruit and fruit juices provide the body with antioxidants that sports drinks do not contain. He also believes that taking in sugar during exercise helps the athlete perform longer and stronger. More information from Dr. Mirkin can be found by following the link below.

Dr. Mirkin

If any members of our club have some special homemade recipes or suggestions for hydration or nutrition pass them on to the safety and education committee and we will find a way to share them.

Our final video will show you the perils of poor drink choices for cyclists.

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Silver Wheels Cycling Club is a 501 C(7) non-profit organization. P.O.Box 242 Vermilion, Oh 44089

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