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How much water should a cyclist drink?

Consuming enough water is essential for everyone, but even more so for cyclists who are going to sweat more than non-active individuals. Dehydration diminishes performance, because it thickens the blood, decreases the heart's efficiency, increases heart rate, and raises body temperature.

It doesn’t matter how short or long your training ride is make sure you always have a full water bottle and drink water regularly

In the past you would have been advised to drink around 2 litres of water a day. However, we feel that this one-size fits all approach is somewhat limited. How can the same nutritional advice work for a 45kg female and a 95kg male? Put simply, it can’t. A far more accurate method is to work out how much water you should drink based on your body weight, the amount of exercise you are doing and the temperature around you.

But what about how you should drink all this water? This really falls into two categories: when you are not cycling and when you are cycling.

Many people find it extremely difficult to drink enough water during the course of a normal day. The most effective way to combat this is to try and keep a bottle of water with you at all times, or ensure you have a glass or cup with you at work. And if the prospect of drinking glass after glass of plain old water sounds like too much, try adding a dash of cordial or even better a squeeze of fresh lemon or lime. If life (i.e. work) often takes over and you often find yourself at near the end of the day having only drunk a little water all day, a simple but really effective trick is to place a number of elastic bands around whatever you are drinking out of. The idea is to simply remove an elastic band every time you refill your bottle, glass or cup. Simply work out how many times you should refill it during the day (or even just your time at work) and provided it doesn’t get hidden away, the removal (or rather the non-removal) of elastic bands will be a constant reminder of whether you are on track.

In practical terms, part of your training regime should be getting used to drinking whilst cycling. You should practice taking small, regular sips to prevent your stomach from overloading. Depending on the nature of your training session or race, you should also consider drinking an isotonic drink containing sodium and potassium as these are the major electrolytes that are lost through sweat - they function by balancing the fluids in your body and are active during muscular contraction.

When rehydrating after exercise plain water may well be sufficient if you have been cycling for less than, say, 1 hour but, if you have trained particularly hard or for a longer period, drinks contains sugar or maltodextrin and sodium may help speed up your recovery. Sports drinks containing carbohydrate also increase water absorption into the bloodstream, according to some research, whilst various studies have indicated that, if nothing else, sports drinks aid in the rehydration process because people tend to drink more due the agreeable taste!

Top Tip

Sometimes nothing beats listening to your body and, according to some researchers, the best way to know whether you are hydrated before a run is to check the colour of your urine (as this correlates accurately with hydration status). Very pale yellow urine indicates that you are within 1% of your optimal hydration. Not necessary something to boast about on the start line, but nice to know all the same!