During last summer’s Tour Down Under we watched our televisions in horror as a young competitor blacked out and rode his bike off the road into some nasty injuries. The cause? Severe dehydration. As the weather hots up it’s not only elite cyclists who need to watch their fluid intake.
You can lose a lot of body fluid on even a short ride. The longer your ride, the bigger the risk. Dehydration will impair your concentration and cause fatigue. You need to be vigilant about your fluid intake because by the time you feel thirsty, you’re already dehydrated.
Make sure you’re well hydrated before you leave home. Then aim to replace the fluid you lose during exercise. That ranges between half and one litre an hour depending on range of personal factors. Drink again when you finish the ride.
Water is the ideal fluid to keep you hydrated. If you find it hard to drink enough water sweetened drinks such as cordial can help. Sports drinks are formulated to maximise fluid absorption and contain carbohydrates and electrolytes to replace those you lose. Be careful with sweet and sports drinks especially if you’re trying to lose weight – they won’t help. You’re best to alternate them with water.
The best way to stay hydrated is to sip regularly as you ride. If you’re not confident about pedalling and drinking from a bottle, it’s a good skill to practise. If you have to stop every time you want a drink, you might be inclined to drink less than you should. Learn to pick safe places to pull out your water bottle and drink: flatish bits of road or track where you won’t have to stop or change direction suddenly. Another option is a backpack-style carrier with a drinking tube.
Take care while you’re actually drinking. Don’t use your teeth to open and close a bottle. If you hit a bump you could injure your gums or teeth. Try pulling the lid open while the bottle is still in the cage and push it closed again when you replace it in the cage. Sometimes you can even leave it open and save having to worry.
Keep your bottles clean, especially if you drink sports drinks or cordial. Wash them out with detergent and hot water after each use. This prevents mould growing inside, as it will do if you’re not careful.
Drink often throughout your ride and you’ll enjoy it much more.
See you on the road soon, God willing. Eddie Barkla
First published in the Bendigo Weekly Friday 19 October 2006