Stay Hydrated

Saturday, October 19, 2013

As the season changed from fall to winter many of us noticed a change in our riding. Sure, it's colder, and we have to dress appropriately, but that's not what I'm referring to. What I'm referring to is the after ride fatigue that seems to overcome us after an extended chilly weather ride.
Most people would assume that they're just tired. After all they've been out on their bikes for a while and, given the season, they're probably not riding as often as usual. But that's not what's going on. The real problem is water, or, the lack of same.

On a hot summer's day we ride through the woods sipping water at every opportunity, almost without thinking about it. But as the fall and the winter overtake us, for some reason, we don't seem to drink as much. There's no good explanation for this, other than we're obviously just not as hot. But, our need for hydration doesn't change with the season. We still need to drink, still need all those electrolytes floating around in our bloodstream, just like we do in the summer.

Most of us start our rides dehydrated to some extent. If it's an early evening or after-work ride we may have gone through the day drinking only a cup of coffee or two. That's not enough.

 If it's an early morning ride, we may be riding on that wake-me-up cup of Java and a glass of juice. But after a long night's sleep, that's not enough. First thing in the morning, you're probably at least a little dehydrated.

Just for fun, take this test: Weigh yourself before you go to bed and then weigh yourself when you first wake up. Most people will find that in the morning they're 1-3 pounds lighter than they were the night before. That's water loss, mostly due to breathing.

Is this really a big deal? What are the symptoms of dehydration and how do they affect your riding?

Many studies have shown that when you ride dehydrated your body just isn't working at its best. The military has done studies to see how much dehydration effects performance. And it's clear that the more dehydrated you are the worse your performance, and the slower your recovery after exercise. One little known fact to come out of these studies is the facet that during extended periods of exercise it's impossible for your body to absorb and utilize fluids as fast as you may be losing them. No matter how much you drink. This means that it's important to, at least, start off your rides with enough water in your 'tank' to finish without running too low.
How do you know if you've drunk enough before your ride, or during it? Well, that's easy, if you're well hydrated you'll need to excrete some of it either immediately before you start riding, or one or more times during your ride. In fact if you don't take a 'nature break' while you're riding, that's a pretty sure sign that you're dehydrated.
Think of it this way, cars run on gasoline, bicycles run on water. You need plenty of 'gas' or pretty soon your ride grinds to a halt. So in the hours before you ride, drink a glass or two of water. Top off your tank.

But, water isn't all you need. On longer rides you'll need electrolytes too. On a long ride, one that's longer than an hour or so, water alone won't be enough and will actually deplete your electrolyte levels. So, don't hesitate to drink something with electrolytes in it, PowerAde Zero, Gatorade or whatever.

Ride dehydrated and you can't ride as well or as fast as you're capable of. You may even bonk. Running low on fluids limits your ability to enjoy your ride. Get too low and you begin to get a little foggy. That's not a good thing when you're busy dodging trees, rocks and roots. Get too low on fluids and you'll get cranky, short tempered and that's no way to enjoy your ride. Another thing, after a ride on too little water, all you'll want to do for the rest of the day is take a nap. Instead of being energized by your ride, you're trashed by it.

Riding in the winter is just as much fun as it is in the warmer seasons. You need to dress appropriately to stay warm, but not too warm, and depending on your local riding conditions, run studded tires. When the snow's too deep swap your bike for snowshoes or skis. But whatever you do, winter or summer, drink!

--By Bill Boles