RAGBRAI Training: Proper Hydration
by Coach David Ertl
The corn in Iowa is coming up and that means one thing – summer is coming and along with it, hot weather. Like the corn, your body needs water to function properly. This article will touch on some key points regarding proper hydration, including a few words about adult beverages.
Your body is your engine. Treat it well and it will treat you well and give you a rewarding RAGBRAI experience. Neglect it and it will treat you the same. Just as you wouldn’t run your car without engine oil, you need to make sure you body is filled up on water to get the best performance out of your own personal engine. You are losing moisture at all times, even when you sleep. Your body gives off moisture from your skin and through your breathing. But your water loss is greatly accentuated during cycling when you may be visibly dripping with sweat and breathing heavily. In cold weather, when you can ‘see your breath’ what you are seeing is the moisture coming out with each breath. Cycling in the warm weather increases your sweating rate. Being dehydrated on a ride can make you feel fatigued and low on energy, while what you actually need are fluids, not food. So be sure to rehydrate while cycling as well as before and after.
You should attempt to stay hydrated when you are not riding. It’s easier than you think to get dehydrated just working in an office. Make a point to drink regularly throughout the day. If you are going for a long ride on a hot day, be sure to drink extra fluids prior to the start of the ride. You should need to visit a restroom before the start of your ride if you are adequately topped off. After a ride, be sure to start rehydrating immediately to help your body recover from the stress of the ride. An interesting experiment is to weigh yourself before and after a ride on a hot day to see how much you actually lose. It’s possible to lose several pounds of water on a very hot day.
The best fluid to drink is water, but any fluid you consume, including that in your food, counts. There is a common belief that consuming drinks containing caffeine will dehydrate you. However, recently there is evidence that caffeinated beverages do add to your hydration status. But if you are consciously trying to hydrate, it’s best to minimize caffeine. A good rule of thumb is that if your urine is light colored or clear, you are adequately hydrated. The more yellow, the more you are dehydrated.
So what and how much should you drink during a ride? If you are doing short rides (90 minutes or less), just drinking water is good enough. On rides longer than 90 minutes, you ought to consider using a sports drink, like Gatorade. There are many of these on the market that you can buy as powders and add to the water in your bottles. These typically contain a source of carbohydrate (glucose, sucrose, fructose, maltodextrin), electrolytes or salts (sodium, potassium) and some may contain proteins, amino acids, vitamins or other ingredients. The most important component are the electrolytes because they need to be replaced on long rides because you lose them through your sweat. Have you ever noticed white crystals on your shorts or helmet straps after a long ride on a hot day? That’s salt you’ve lost through your sweat. You can now buy electrolyte tablets that you can drop into a full water bottle and it will dissolve (some fizz) and give you an instant electrolyte drink. It’s also important to replenish some carbohydrate, but if you are eating during a ride, as you will invariably will during RAGBRAI (that’s half the fun!), then having carbs in your water bottle is less important. It’s much less critical to get protein and vitamins in your water bottle. You can get those from food before and after your ride.
That answer what to drink, but how much should you drink? Unfortunately this is less simple to answer as it is a very individual issue. Some people sweat a lot more than others. You know who they are – some people get you wet riding just riding behind them. Others hardly ever break a sweat. You probably have a good idea whether you finish a ride dripping wet or hardly damp. About the best rule of thumb I can give you is to drink often while riding. On a hot day, you should be drinking two large water bottles per hour. It is often said that if you wait until you are thirsty to drink, it is too late – you are probably already somewhat dehydrated. Drink before you are dry.
So what about drinking adult beverages? On RAGBRAI you may find a place or two along the way where you can find yourself a beer. Having a beer or two as part of your fluid intake is perfectly fine. In addition, beer has some carbohydrates which are important for energy. More than a couple of beers and that leads to other issues which go beyond this article on hydration. Also, consuming too much while riding is no different than having too many and driving a car. But if you enjoy your beer and drink it responsibly, it isn’t necessarily a bad thing and can help with your hydration.
So as you are doing your riding in preparation for RAGBRAI, be sure you have two water bottle cages on your bike and get in the habit of drinking frequently.
Hydrate and Ride!
Coach David Ertl
David Ertl is a USA Cycling Level 1 (Elite) Coach and Personal Trainer. He coaches the Des Moines Cycle Club Race Team, the Iowa JDRF Ride To Cure Diabetes Team, the Above & Beyond Cancer RAAM Team, and he coaches individual cyclists. He also provides cycling training plans and ebooks at his website: http://www.CyclesportCoaching.com . He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org