Hydration for Cycling: Drink and Ride

Drinking and Riding. A Century old Story.

It is Century season. Yes,” century,” :one hundred,” it too has a season. Whether that means miles or kilometers, it is 100 of them. In the cycling world, we like to call 100 miles a real century and 100 kilometers a metric century, which equals approximately 67 miles. Either way, to get on a bicycle, and pedal for that long, sitting in one position on a tiny seat, up and down hills is an accomplishment.

I decided to blog on this topic for a couple of different reasons. One, I am doing a couple of them myself this season, in preparation for my 70.3 Ironman Triathlon in mid October. The second reason is because a century bike ride is considered an endurance event, hydration can play a huge role in the success it. Whether success means, just completion of the 100 mile or kilometer distance, or completion and enjoyment simultaneously, drinking on the bike can make that difference.

Here is my opportunity to confess to my personal drinking problem. Oh yeah, me, I have a drinking problem. After my crash (and it was during a century in 2007 and it was related to drinking on the bike) I have had a difficult time staying hydrated. To cut a long story short, I dropped my water bottle after successfully drinking, but it slipped as I was putting it back in the cage. I subsequently rode over it, and lost control of my bike. One broken collar bone and three or so hours in the emergency room later, I have become the only sports dietitian that now claims that hydration on the bike is dangerous.

Jokes aside, drinking on the bike requires a certain level of skill, especially for the beginner.  A good place to start is on the stationary trainer.  Practice removing your water bottle from the cage and drinking while looking forward.  You will need to learn to do this smoothly without taking your eyes off the road. Ask me, I am an expert at drinking in spin class. Now use that muscle memory and transfer it to a moving bike.

If you really cannot master the drinking action on the moving bike, or it takes you awhile to get comfortable with it (this is turning into an autobiography), there are some logistically effective alternatives. A water bladder such as a CamelbakT is a great tool for staying hydrated.  Although these are not quite in style yet with the cycling crowd they have distinct advantages over traditional water bottles.   Water bladders hold more fluid which means less stopping for refills.  They also stay colder, and can even be frozen.  Cool fluid helps keep you keep your cool (especially when not looking too cool) as does the coldness of the pack on your back.  It is even more aerodynamic.  I have found athletes take in more fluid using a water bladder but they do take some getting used to. I used that in a number of triathlons following my accident recovery.

Again, long story short (or am I too late for that?) –  I still needed my hands with the Camelbak, because I could not get the straw into my mouth without one hand creating that essential movement from straw to mouth. The fear of death thus never left me as I needed to remove at least one hand from the handlebars and Camelbak remained elusive for me.  Fast forward a few months – my newest attempt is called the SpeedfillT hydration system. A simple explanation: it is a 40 fl oz triangular shaped water bottle that is fitted onto the bike in an aerodynamic position (taking the place of the regular cages). A straw from the Speedfill bottle is then lead up to the handle bars and is strategically held in place with specially designed ties to be close to ones mouth enabling just a slight forward bend over for the required hydration. Look Ma, no hands!! I do not need to lift hand to drink anymore. Success.

Other than the Speedfill system. triathletes use various fluid reservoirs affixed to their bikes. The most common is on a tri bike or a road bike that has aerobars affixed. This means a drinking bottle can sit between the aerobars and a straw comes out from the bottle similar to my Speedfill straw.  For the same fear in me of removing my hands from the handle bars, I do not have aerobars (yet), so that system does not work for me…(yet !!) And I stress “yet” because my ultimate cycling goal is to learn to drink like a real cyclist as well as move fluidly into aero position (no pun intended) without the fear of death ruining my ride.   These methods all mean less stopping to replenish fluids and more consistent hydration on long rides.

I have also learned from my Camelbak days that simply having enough fluid does no good if you do not drink it.  Even a 1-2% drop in body weight due to fluid loss can drastically affect endurance. Once you have a good drinking method in place, a good strategy is to set your watch alarm to sound every 15 or 20 minutes and to drink 4-8 ounces of fluid so that you do not neglect optimal hydration. Furthermore, if you have a hard time with the taste of your chosen drink, it will stay in the bottle rather than getting you hydrated. Make your drink appealing, choose a flavor of sports drink that you find appealing, load your hydration system with ice, if appropriate, especially in Summer. Nothing tastes worse than hot Gatorade (or the like). I have my own personal sound as I come riding beside you (to pass you) as my ice in my 40 oz speedfill system clinks against the sides.



Months Before

  • If Possible, train with whatever hydration products will be provided at the SAG stations for the event.
  • Practice, Practice, Practice. Aim for your targeted replenishment of your sweat loss rate during training. For training and events – As mentioned, set a beeper on your watch for every 15 – 20 minutes to remind you to sip.

A Week Before

  • Along with your carbs, increase water intake 3-4 days before – aim for at least 1 to 1.5 fl oz per kg of body weight in fluids on a daily basis.                                                                                          (Symptoms: may gain water weight.) No worries – its good, and helps with hydration status for during the ride.

A Couple of Days Before

  • Increase fluid above usual levels for at least 24 hours before an event. But remember all through training, hydration is vital.                                                  (Aim for 2-3 water bottles of fluid above normal intake. Match caffeinated intake with water intake).

The Day Of:

Pre Ride

  • 2 hours before :                  Drink 8 – 16 oz
  • 15 – 30 mins before:          Drink 4 – 8 oz

During the Ride

  • Fluids immediately. Replace sweat loss.
  • If you have calculated your sweat loss rate, drink accordingly, otherwise a good rule of thumb is drink about 4 – 8 oz every 15 – 20 minutes. Alternate between sports drinks and water along the ride.


  • Replenish fluid and electrolyte loss by drinking 16 – 20 oz in both sports drinks and water per lb of weight lost during the ride.



4 Responses to “Hydration for Cycling: Drink and Ride”

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