How To Prevent Dehydration on Your Summer Rides
It’s summertime, and the living is easy.
Well, that may be true for some, but it’s not entirely true for the dedicated cyclist. This time of year, those rides are getting hot. And, with July 2023 setting records as the hottest month ever recorded, you can bet that riders across the world are feeling the burn this summer.
Extended heat waves in cities like Dallas, Phoenix and Las Vegas mean that cyclists across the country — and the southwest, in particular — are finding it even harder to stay hydrated on the bike during their summer cycling routine. Can you really keep up when temperatures are regularly pushing 100 degrees?
It’s possible. Longtime cycling coach Darryl MacKenzie has managed to stay hydrated on many a long, hot ride, and he’s got a few tips to help you avoid summer cycling dehydration this year.
How Cycling Heats You Up
During summer cycling, there’s a lot that can cause you to overheat. Once temperatures approach or exceed your body temperature, it becomes much more difficult to keep yourself comfortable.
As you heat up, you’ll start to sweat, which is your body’s natural process for cooling itself down. However, if you’re riding in a particularly humid climate, you’ll find this process much less effective. The moisture in the air slows the evaporation of your sweat, making it more difficult to cool yourself off.
The environment isn’t the only thing making you hot; the act of pedaling also heats you up. Your muscles aren’t very efficient, and Darryl notes that 80% of the energy they generate turns into heat when you exercise.
Ultimately, all that heat means your muscles need more water and you sweat more of it out. As a result, you’re fighting an uphill battle when it comes to staying hydrated.
“In most cases, you cannot drink as much as you sweat,” says Coach Darryl. He’s even lost as much as 7 pounds in water weight on some of his all-day rides.
Signs of Cycling Dehydration
So, what is the committed cyclist to do? Is it even possible to keep your cycling routine going year-round? Thankfully, yes — but first you need to recognize when you’re running too low on fluids.
Here are a few sure signs of dehydration to watch for when cycling:
- Intense thirst
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Dark, amber-colored urine (like the color of apple juice)
- Less sweating and less frequent urination
- Higher heart rate than usual
- Dry mouth
All these signs are key indicators that you’re behind on fluid intake and may need to stop riding. Coach Darryl also notes a less obvious sign: leg cramps. By the time they show up, it’s probably too late to correct the problem immediately.
“You can’t get water into the body quickly enough at that point,” Darryl explains. “It’s time to take a shortcut back to the starting location or arrange to have someone pick you up."
How To Prevent Dehydration When Cycling
The key to staying hydrated on your summer rides is ensuring that you never start showing any of the above symptoms. And to do that, you’ll need to be proactive. Here are five tips for avoiding summer cycling dehydration.
The first and most effective way to maintain hydration on summer rides is to simply slow down. To ensure you can safely finish a long, hot ride, it’s best to adjust your pace. You may not finish as quickly, but you’ll feel much better when you do.
“Lower intensity means less muscle use, which results in less internal heat,” says Darryl. “So you feel cooler.”
Drink Early and Often
To ensure adequate fluid intake for hot rides, you need to plan ahead. This is where Coach Darryl’s “Rule of 90” comes into play: What you drink now affects your body 90 minutes later. So, if you want to stay hydrated for any ride longer than 90 minutes, you have to start early and keep drinking throughout the ride.
“Don’t wait until you’re thirsty,” Darryl emphasizes. “You’re creating a problem for yourself 90 minutes later.”
That also means you need to bring enough for the whole ride (or plan on refilling at strategic points). And, for rides of 90 minutes or more, you need more than water. Pack several bottles of high-sugar, electrolyte-packed sports drinks to provide the carbs and rehydrating power that your muscles need.
Make It Appealing and Effective
Even if you know you need to maintain a steady fluid intake, it’s easy to forget while you’re in the zone pedaling an intense ride. That’s why it helps to give yourself a little extra motivation to keep drinking.
Make sure you prepare a few of your favorite flavors of sports drinks, get them nice and cold, and rotate your bottles as you ride to keep your taste buds interested. If you stop for a refill, throw in a different flavor for good measure.
It’s also important to get the mix right when you blend your sports drinks before the ride. Too weak, and it won’t be as flavorful or effective for hydrating you. Too strong, and it may leave you with an upset stomach. Be sure to follow the directions for the proper powder-to-water ratio.
Keep Your Mouth Shut
This bit of advice is more relevant if you’re riding in a hot, dry climate, but it can make a surprising difference in helping you stay hydrated.
As you pedal, breathe through your nose. The more you open your mouth while riding, the more quickly you’ll dry it out and accelerate the process of dehydration.
Rehydrate Right After the Ride
Finally, it’s important to note that your after-pedaling routine is as important as what you do before and during the ride. No matter how much you drank while cycling, you’ll be somewhat dehydrated when you finish a long, hot summer ride. When you get off the bike, it’s time to start drinking plenty of fluids — and no, we don’t mean beer.
“The first and most important thing after a long ride is to deal with the dehydration,” says Darryl. “Fill up your belly with liquids before you start with foods.”
Stay Hydrated This Summer
There’s no getting around it — it’s hot out there. But that doesn’t mean you have to stop cycling. With the right approach, you can stay hydrated on those summer rides. It just takes a little forethought and planning, and a lot of fluids.
Remember, though, if you ever notice signs of dehydration, it’s time to take a break and evaluate. If you’ve fallen too far behind on your fluids, it’s better to call it a day, rehydrate, and try again tomorrow.
After a big ride, it’s important to get your cycling bottles clean and ready for the next one. Check out our guide on “How to Keep Your Cycling Bottles Clean” to learn more.
Look for more of Coach Darryl’s tips and insights at his website.
Photo by RUN 4 FFWPU on Pexels