Energy Drinks for Cycling: Hydration Explained

November 04, 2020 0 Comments

Close-up of two cyclists’ hands passing a water bottle between them

It’s no secret that competing in any sport requires good hydration. But this is especially true for cycling, where riders endure hours-long rides in the sun with constant exertion and perspiration.

Fifty miles into a long ride without adequate fluids, those initial signs of dehydration — headaches, dizziness, lightheadedness, a racing heartbeat — can turn for the worse and overtake you, leaving you unable to finish the ride. Avoiding this takes careful planning to ensure you’re well hydrated beforehand and have the right energy drink for cycling with you during your ride.

As our good friend and mentor, Coach Darryl MacKenzie, reminds us, there is no formula for perfect hydration and no magic energy drink that every cyclist should choose. The factors that affect your need for fluids on a ride are many, from distance and temperature to exercise intensity, your weight and the amount you sweat. But there are a few principles you should know so you can get into a good habit of hydration when you ride.

The 2 Essentials: Fuel and Hydration

When it comes down to it, an endurance sport like cycling requires careful planning to make sure you get a whole lot of two things: fuel and hydration. A smart cyclist’s preparation regimen targets both.

For those long rides — anything more than 90 minutes — you have to start fueling and hydrating two days before your ride. This the time to stock up on those carbs while drinking plenty of water to saturate your cells. Protein will only get in the way at this point. Focus on the essentials.

Shorter rides don’t require as much advance hydration. Instead, you can be sure to really start drinking extra a few hours before a ride. But for long ones, you’re likely to get out early in the morning, so those extra days of hydrating will help you start from a better spot.

Rules for Rehydrating and Refueling on the Road

The need for planning extends beyond those days of preparation, though, right through your whole ride. Again, for a shorter ride (less than 90 minutes) this isn’t as difficult. Bringing along a couple of water bottles should suffice. But those longer rides require more strategy.

1. Follow Coach Darryl’s Rule of 90

This is one of the most basic rules to remember for your cycling outings. If you’re going to ride longer than 90 minutes, then water isn’t enough. Take along one or two different flavors of sports drink with you so you have variety — this keeps you from getting bored and motivates you to keep hydrated while riding. If it’s an especially long ride, you may need to plan a pit stop to pick up a third flavor along the way.

2. Plan for Continuous Consumption

For any endurance sport, your body needs a constant source of fuel to keep going. Energy drinks for cycling will keep you hydrated while also providing carbohydrates that your body can quickly burn up to keep you going. Don’t wait until you’ve already been riding for two hours — start drinking early and keep it up throughout your ride. Otherwise, you might end up bonking, which is much scarier than mild dehydration

3. Learn to Pick Up Your Bottle Without Looking

This is an essential skill for any cyclist to learn, yet it’s easily overlooked. How many times have you had to wait for another rider to take a drink — or stopped a ride yourself to rehydrate? Practice taking your bottle from its cage, drinking and putting it back without taking your eyes off the road. Once you’re able to do this, it makes it much easier to keep drinking steadily during a ride.

Darryl actually devotes a step-by-step portion of his stationary trainer sessions to teaching the proper technique for this process. He helps cyclists get comfortable with gradually moving the bottle a little farther without looking, and especially getting used to adjusting their grip on it right after they remove it from the cage. That’ s a precarious moment that often leads to dropping the bottle, which creates a hazard on the road. 

The point? Spend plenty of time practicing this in advance.

So, Which Sports Drink Should I Choose?

Darryl hears this question all the time, and his answer is simple: Choose the one you like the best! Sure, there are differences between different sports and energy drinks for cycling and other endurance activities. But, when it comes down to it, the point is that you want to stay hydrated and fully energized for your ride. Bringing the sports drinks and flavors you like the most will help you keep drinking.

Anyone Can Do This

Perhaps you’re new to an endurance sport like cycling, or perhaps you’ve never really felt you could handle those long rides some of your fellow riders do every weekend.

In reality, anyone can learn to keep their body well fueled and fully hydrated for hours on the bike. Coach Darryl even knows a cyclist who had a limited stomach size due to gastric bypass surgery. Even though he can’t consume a lot of carbs in advance, this cyclist has ridden five double centuries with Darryl. How? By consuming carbs and energy drinks while cycling in small doses throughout his rides.

Now that you know the basics for how to stay hydrated when cycling, you can plan to keep your thirst quenched no matter what your riding conditions are. All that’s left to do is decide on your favorite sports drink.


Look for more insights from Coach Darryl over at his website.