Is H2O all a cyclist needs for hydration?

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Anonymous's picture

A fellow-cyclist on a recent ride suggested that I should switch from water to a sports drink for better hydration. Following the advice, I went to a health food store... only to be bewildered by variety of brands and ingredients with polysyllabic names. Attempts to clarify the choice on the web only compounded the confusion: not only did I find conflicting recommendations, but even the pros and cons of water vs. sports drinks tuned out to be a debatable issue. Besides, I saw nothing addressing cyclists' needs specifically (well, may be that's because we are not so special when it comes to hydration - or are we?) So, here are my questions: is H2O all a cyclist needs for hydration? If not, what should one look for?

Anonymous's picture
Adam Jacobson (not verified)

There have been reports lately of endurance athletes being overhydrated from drinking too much water alone.
My general experience is that water is enough for the regular workout or even mid-length ride, especially if its not hot. If you're going long or its hot, its important to get the salts and sugars back in so gatorade or the like is useful. I was once on a tour and someone nearly collapsed from drinking only water.

Anonymous's picture
Bob Shay (not verified)
Personal Experience

"The following is based on experience, not scientific research.

I have found that when I cycle over 80 miles that an energy drink helps me in two ways. First, I feel more energized and not run down in the last miles. Second, it helps me drink more later in the ride.

I learned this from doing 100 mile rides every weekend for four weeks in 2005. Prior to my first 2005 century ride, I built up my 1,000 base miles of short 25 to 50 mile rides.

When I began riding centuries this year, I couldn't figure out why I felt so run down everytime in miles 80 through 100. I had a noticable performance falloff and I was drinking 24 oz of water and eating 300 calories (powerbars)every 90 minutes. After mile 80 I felt so exhausted that I didn't even want to drink water - and I was thirsty.

So, I tried adding a performance drink to my longer rides. One of the longest rides with a performance drink was a 140 mile ride from NYC to Montauk. Using the performance drink, I felt energized in miles 80 through 140 and I continued to want to drink water even in the later miles.

When choosing the sports drink I had no clue which one to select other than I knew gatorade was too sweet sugary for me especially to drink continuously for seven hours. So, after a websearch, I found this site -

I tried Extran based on the reviews. It tasted fine and was not as sugary as Gatorade. So far I have used Extran on 4 century rides and can't imagine doing a long ride without it. I have also started to use Extran on my daily morning fast rides of 25 miles where I try to keep my heart rate just below my lactic acid threshold. I have found that with the sports drink I tend to feel a little more ""fresh"" for the ride the next morning.

Hope this helps.


Anonymous's picture
bill (not verified)

You need salt. Especially when it's hot and you sweat more. (Not a bad idea to keep a couple of small packets in your seat pouch.)

I highly recommend the powdered gatorade endurance formula. You can mix to taste and it's not as sweet as the bottles you buy in stores. Some of the other brands are ok but I like this one. You can even carry a small bag of it to mix if you're refilling your bottle.

You don't really need a lot of sports drink though. I usually take two bottles. One with plain water. The other with some of the powder mixed in. That will do me for a 60 mile ride. Then again, on a 90 degree day like today I'd definately need to refil somewhere along the way.

Anonymous's picture
Sebastian (not verified)
basically yes

it's a question of absorption rate though. iso-tonic drinks, with the same density as the blood absorb fastest. the hotter it is, the thinner the drink should be, as a rule of thumb. most sports drinks are sugary some disgustingly so, supplying you with energy on top of hydration. if its not too hot and you dont ride too hard, a snack with water is better though.

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