WORDS Gilly Grateley

Hi, Gilly here. I hope you are all enjoying the summer! If this gorgeous weather is encouraging you to get out on your bike, please don’t forget to consume plenty of water on your rides and stay hydrated. 

I got caught out a couple of years ago; it was the perfect storm of poor preparation, a hot day, not taking on enough fluids whilst riding and a hard hill! Consequently, I had a ‘funny turn’ and had to sit in the shade, drink, eat and recover before I could finish my ride. I didn’t enjoy it and I vowed not to let dehydration get the better of me again.

What is dehydration?

This is when your body loses more fluid than you take in and is common in the heat, even if you are not riding. 

Since my ‘episode’ I have been reading about this subject and there are a lot of studies and reports out there. Most are saying the same; performance measures such as endurance, strength, power, speed, agility and reaction time all decrease with dehydration. 

Amongst other things, the science says staying hydrated during exercise helps to:

Maintain your body temperature – sweat keeps your body cool, but your body temperature will rise if you don’t replenish the water you lose

Improve blood flow and circulation, delivering oxygen and nutrients to working muscles – hydrated muscles function better than dehydrated muscles. This includes the heart muscle, which will help to regulate blood pressure

Maintain the balance of minerals (salts and sugars), which affects the way your body functions

But how much should you drink?

Now of course, this is going to vary based on the intensity and duration of your ride, the temperature, your size and fitness level, the amount you sweat etc. However, as a general rule, water makes up approximately two-thirds of our bodies and we should consume two to three litres of fluid per day, regardless of our activities. Then add in if you’re exercising or living in a hotter region and you should expect to drink more than this to avoid dehydration.

A basic but easy way to assess if you are drinking enough is to weigh yourself before and after your ride; if your weight drops, you probably need to take on more fluids.

A good practice is not to wait until you are thirsty but to take on smaller regular amounts. My biking guru, Paul, has set an alert on my Garmin for every 15 minutes and this helped me to get into the habit of drinking regularly.

If you are struggling, you could try to make your water tasty by adding flavoured juices or slices of lemon, or if having cold water helps, you can try freezing your bottles half full in advance of your ride and top up just before you go out. 

What’s the story with electrolytes?

These are salts (sodium, potassium, calcium, magnesium etc.) that are essential for normal cellular function but are lost in sweat. The good news is if you are doing a really intensive or long ride, they can be replaced quite easily through commercial sports drinks and electrolyte tablets or powders, which you can add to your water. You can also help replenish electrolytes through natural foods and drinks such as bananas, coconut water, avocados, almonds, oranges, olives and watermelon.

Remember, if your rides are long and you are taking on lots of water, you could also be flushing out electrolytes when helping to keep flora and fauna hydrated!

So, what do you do when you get back?

Clean your bike, of course! If you were riding hard, alongside water, you should also consider a recovery drink to help your muscles to repair. The optimum time for absorption is within the first 30 minutes after your ride. Ideally, this drink will be a mix of good quality protein and carbohydrates, such as milk or fruit/vegetable smoothies.

My regime now is to ensure I’m hydrated before I ride (which includes limiting my beer intake the night before). Learning to sip water regularly whilst I’m riding and add electrolytes for long rides and/or hot days, and to save some of my breakfast smoothie (made with soaked oats, banana, peanut butter and chocolate milk, yum!) for when I get home all helps my performance. 

If you haven’t already, I hope this encourages you to get to know your hydration needs.

As always, drink sensibly, ride safely, have lots of fun and if you have biking stories, events or news that you would like to share, please drop me an email at bikinginthealgarve@gmail.com