How To Stay Hydrated While Cycling

June 01, 2022 0 Comments

Close-up of cyclist's arm handing a water bottle to another cyclist

It takes careful planning to ensure you have everything you need for a long bike ride. That’s true for your equipment, but it’s especially true for your water and sports drink supplies.

There’s a big difference between a 25-mile ride and a century, and you’ll need different hydration supplies for each of those rides. Do you need water? Gatorade? How much? And how do you make sure you’re drinking enough?

As usual here on the Selle Anatomica blog, longtime cycling Coach Darryl MacKenzie has the answers and tips for how to stay hydrated while cycling.

Ensure You Have Enough To Drink

The first and most important rule for cycling hydration is simple: Make sure you have enough to stay hydrated for the entire ride. As a general rule of thumb, one bottle per hour of riding is a good target. In other words, if you expect to ride for two hours, you need two full 20–25 ounce bottles to maintain hydration while cycling.

Again, that’s a general rule. You’ll also need to take into account factors like temperature and your own weight. If it’s hot or you’re a heavier rider, you may need more fluids on hand for the ride. In that case, you may want to go with larger water bottles or plan for a stop (more on that below).

Simply having enough fluid for the ride isn’t enough, though. Equally as important is what’s in those bottles. And this is where Coach Darryl’s Rule of 90 comes into play. For rides under 90 minutes, water will do the trick. For anything longer, you need sports drinks for cycling in those bottles. That’s because you need those carbohydrates and electrolytes, not just the basic hydration that water provides. And it takes 90 minutes for those carbs to work their way into your system. 

Those carbs are essential for maintaining your energy level for a long ride, and they will help you remain mentally alert so you can stay safe on the bike. Don’t worry about guzzling a lot of carbs, either. You’re expending so much energy, they’re not going to stick around long enough to turn into fat. 

For those long rides, Coach Darryl has plenty of Gatorade powder at home. That way he can mix up just the right amount before a ride. 

Make Sure You Drink What You Have

Even if you set out on the road with the right supplies for maintaining hydration while cycling, that’s only the first step. Once you’re out there, you actually have to drink your supplies. And there are a few ways to help ensure you do that.

Choose Your Favorite Flavors

The first thing to do, especially on a long ride? Mix it up with flavors you like.

The biggest strategy for getting you to consume more fluids is bringing different flavors of sports drink,” Darryl says. “So the biggest error you can make is to just buy one flavor.”

Having a few different flavors with you will help you keep it interesting and avoid getting bored with drinking 40-plus ounces of the same thing. It doesn’t matter what those flavors are — just make sure you have a couple different ones that you like. Darryl always has three cans of different flavors of Gatorade powder at home for this reason.

If you like it, youre gonna drink more,” Darryl explains. He will generally drink three or four times more sports drink than water, as long as it’s a flavor he enjoys.  

Rotate Your Bottles

To make even better use of your multi-flavored setup, don’t drink your bottles one at a time. Instead, rotate them halfway to keep your taste buds interested.

After he drinks half of his first bottle, Darryl swaps the bottles in their cages so the other flavor is up front. He then drinks half of that one and swaps them again.

The one exception to this system is on intermediate-length rides of 2-2.5 hours. For a ride like that, you don’t need that many carbs, but you’ll still want enough hydration while cycling. In that case, bring one bottle full of a sports drink for cycling and a second full of water. And always drink your sports drink first so you can make the most of those carbs, since they take about 90 minutes to work into your bloodstream.

Stop for More 

What about those especially long rides that go for three hours or more? Well, your bike only has two water bottle cages, so you’re going to need to plan on a pit stop to refuel.

When you stop for a refill, the same rule of variety applies. Don’t get the same flavors you’ve been drinking! Get a third (and fourth) flavor. If the bottles at the gas station are too big for your water bottles, drink the extra in the parking lot or share them with someone else on the ride.

Get Ready for Your Next Ride

Once you’re home from the ride, it’s time to start thinking about the next one. If you’re going to be properly and safely hydrated, then you need to keep those bottles clean and free from bacteria. 

After every ride, Darryl rinses his bottles out immediately and puts them in the dishwasher. Once clean, he sets them out with the lids off to dry completely before stowing them in the cabinet. That way he’s always ready to fill up another clean set of bottles when he needs them. 

With these cycling hydration tips in mind, you should never have any issues staying hydrated on a ride. Now, fuel up and get out there. 

Looking for more cycling tips? We’ve got new insights from Coach Darryl coming every week, dealing with everything from cycling safety to gear essentials. Sign up for our newsletter to stay in the know.


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

Image by Jana Wersch from Pixabay