Updated 23 August 2019
Like a sentient cucumber, the human body is made up of two-thirds of water (actually, cucumbers are made of 96% water – Ed.) Proper hydration allows all kinds of great things to happen in the human body, like lubricating your joints, fueling your muscles, and regulating your body temperature. But why should you care? Here’s 5 questions you wanted to ask about hydration but didn’t want to look stupid asking in front of your friends.
1. Apart from getting a bit of a headache, what happens to my body when I’m dehydrated?
Reducing the amount of normal water content in the body means your heart has to work harder to move blood cells around (less fluid in your blood stream = harder to move around), and your body will begin to overheat, which affects both your physical and mental performance.
According to the American College of Sports and Medicine, being dehydrated by more than 2% of your bodyweight will significantly affect your performance on a bike. And since your muscles are made of 70-75% water, dehydration can lead to muscle cramping too.
2. Why are sports drinks always banging on about electrolytes?
Electrolytes are essentially minerals, such as sodium, chloride, and magnesium, that regulate bodily fluids. Small amounts of these minerals are in our sweat – salty sodium being the main one – and their lack can lead to dizziness, muscle cramps, lethargy, and so on. So it’s not only important to put water back into our bodies, but we also need those electrolytes.
Good old fashioned food is a good way to replenish your electrolytes, but another popular method is to drink your electrolytes with water. We recommend electrolyte drinks such as Science in Sport which our Ged describes as “extremely quaffable”.
3. Will energy gels hydrate me?
Some gels contribute to hydration levels, but even then the amount of hydration is usually very small. Their main function is to provide energy in the form of carbohydrates.
According to Dr. James Morton in this Telegraph article, “The traditional approach was to feed carbs with fluids, but we now know now we can feed them in the form of gel and get the same results,” he says. “From a practical point of view, you don’t have to carry round lots of fluid – carry the gel then use drinking stations when you need fluid.” So you can put away that baked potato and grab yourself some gels instead.
4. How much water should I be drinking when cycling?
If you want to take hydration really seriously, Cycling Weekly recommends drinking 1.5-2 litres of water a day, as well as weighing yourself before and after a heavy ride and replacing the lost weight with water.
Meanwhile according to the excellent online Camelbak Hydration Calculator, the amount of water a 11.5 stone, 31 year old man should drink during a 45 minute medium-difficulty cycle in chilly (i.e. British) weather is… 400ml.
You can visit the site and pop in your age, height, gender, and other juicy details such as the colour of your urine, and the calculator will tell you what you should be drinking.
5. But it’s also possible to drink too much water, right?
Pee experts say that a normally-hydrated body will produce “straw-coloured” or “transparent yellow” urine. We’ve also heard “chardonnay”.
Completely transparent urine means you’re too hydrated, which can be a risk in itself; Eventually it can cause an imbalance in your electrolyte levels which leads to something nasty called “hyponatremia” or water intoxication. To provide a rough example, if you weigh 12 stone and drink 6 litres of water in a short period of time, you’ll probably die. You’ll know if you’re getting there because some of the symptoms include nausea, vomiting, frequent urination and mental disorientation. So don’t try it.
Bicycle Co-operative tips:
- Make sure you take enough water with you in the form of a bottle and cage like these, or invest in a hydration reservoir which you can pop in a rucsac, or get a dedicated hydration rucksack which means faff-free water drinking.
- For long rides or events, bring along some electrolyte tabs such as these.
- Your body needs fuel as well as water to properly function, so make sure you’ve got your peanut butter sandwiches with you or pick up some energy gels or nutrition bars.
- Don’t try and drink 6 litres of water in one go.