Conquent: Without Limits
Conquent: Without Limits
John Bissell's Blog

Training for Long Rides - Part I Hydration

2010-02-05 19:59:58
Shortcut URL:

Training planning:

Our local YMCA bike club is growing, and the members are growing more ambitious. Several members have decided to train for longer rides, centuries and double centuries and were asking what they needed to do to train for those rides. We had a meeting to discuss this, and the following articles in three parts are a summary of the discussion.

Three legs:
1. Hydration
2. Nutrition
3. Physical stress and Recovery (riding your bike)

These legs all go together, but the story will get too long, so I will post it in three parts.

Part I

We’ve all been told to drink, drink, drink because you will never get enough. There is both truth and fiction to this story. The truth is that you will never get enough. In an hour workout you can easily loose 30-40 ounces of water from your body. The problem is that you cannot process 30 to 40 ounces of water per hour. I’ve read articles that say you can process as little as eight – ten ounces an hour and other article that say an athlete can process between 20 and 26 ounces per hour.

These articles lead us to three questions. 1) why the big difference (8 – 10 v. 20 – 26)? And 2) How can I stay hydrated if I loose a quart and the most I can possibly process is 26 ounces? And 3)what happens if I get too much hydration or too little hydration?

To answer the 1st question, it appears that there is a big difference between what trained athletes can tolerate verses what couch potatoes can tolerate AND using an electrolyte supplement appears increases the absorption rate. The study that revealed a processing rate of between 20 – 26 ounces of fluids study was done by Hammer Nutrition and they used Iran Man tri-athletes and ultra-distance runners for the study. They also used an electrolyte supplement. The other study used short distance weekend mountain bike riders and if they used any electrolytes the article did not mention it. After reading these articles it appears that part of your training program is teaching your body to process the greater amount in that spectrum (8 – 26 ounces) and learning how much you can tolerate.

The Hammer study looked into the question “ how can I stay hydrated if I’m not processing enough fluids to replace?”. The basic point of the study was to look at the difference between replacement and replenishment when the body is under load. What the study seemed to show is that when the body is under load (the study defined under load as being faster than a brisk walk) it knows how to solve the problems with less than is being burned (both for food and water). The body replaces during recovery, but only replenishes while under load.

So the answer to the 3rd question is that you walk a very fine line with hydration while under load. The point here is that you are making do with less. Thus you are always behind in hydration while you’re riding; there is nothing you can do about it. If you forget to drink for an hour, you will be behind even more leading to a dehydration problem. All sorts of bad things happen here, like cramping, dizziness headache, and if it gets severe there are lots of very severe consequences to dehydration. ( )
If you drink more than you can process – especially with no electrolyte supplement, you can get hyponatremia ( Hyponatremia is a disturbance or reduction in the electrolytes in the blood. Basically you drank so much that your blood thinned. This problem can lead to a reduction in power, nausea, a feeling of bloating etc. So now if we look at the dehydration caused by forgetting to drink for an hour, and then trying to fix that problem by drinking three water bottles at the next rest stop, you will find that you have not solved your dehydration problem because you cannot process that much water, but you very well may have increase the fluid I the blood without the electrolytes causing hyponatrimia (over hydration) while you are still dehydrated (under hydration).

So the key here is to work on learning how much your body can tolerate while you’re training. I and many others have found it important to time myself just to be sure I’m getting enough at a good even rate. It is also important to note that these extremes are only going to happen with long sustained effort. Most athletes can stand just about anything for about 90 minutes. So even if it is not recommended, you likely could go out hard for a 30 mile ride with no food or water and not encounter any problems that you noticed. You will pay with a hard painful recovery, but you might just say – “I worked hard so of course I’m tired and worn out.” Really you just blew it and got away with it, and if you went any farther you would be calling for a (car bus or cab) ride home. You pay later for the mistakes you make earlier: You feel great during that 1st hour so you don’t drink. You will never catch up. All day you go into a bigger deficit, and hour eight you feel like road kill and don’t know why. It was hour one – that’s why.

It is important to note that at hour eight, you may not jut be paying for the problems created in hour one. If you work out hard the day before, or spend the day before in the sun, or do any number of things the day before that did not focus on hydration, you may be starting the ride in deficit. Most ultra-distance athletes will work on hydration the day before the big event. And any alcohol the day before will make this situation worse. Alcohol will dehydrate you and you need to recover from it’s other effects as well. So always remember, the day before is very important – and for longer rides, the week before is really key.

In this section I mention electrolyte supplements a couple of times. There are a few good ones and several lousy ones on the market. The reason for the lousy ones is simple – most people are not athletes, and most people do not stress their bodies with a sustained effort for 6 – 16 hours (time you would expect to be on the road on a century to double century). If you’re sitting on the couch watching the super bowl and you drink a Nuun tablet, or three Hammer Endurolytes every hour, you will probably get sick. But if you sit on the couch drinking PowerAde, you might be fine. Conversely, if you use PowerAde for your long ride, you will likely find that it works not so well, while the Nuun and the Hammer Endurolytes work great.

I don’t know all of the brands out there. I have researched Nuun and Hammer Endurolytes and believe they both do what your body needs. I like the Nuun better because of the packaging, the flavors and the way it mixes in the bottle to give me a little electrolyte with each sip of water. It is also important to note that your body has the same issue with uptake of electrolytes. There is a maximum you can do. The good electrolyte supplements will give a dosage recommendation. It is a good idea not to go beyond the dosage recommendation.

Part II on nutrition will be posted soon.

Training for Long Rides - Part II Nutrition
Being worried about cars and traffic

Comment on this blog
Your name:

Your email (will not be displayed):



Enter the text above to help us filter spam: