EX­ER­CISE More wa­ter may not quench thirst for bet­ter re­sults

In many cases, more wa­ter does not equal bet­ter per­for­mance for cy­clists

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - JILL BARKER

Ask cy­clists how much and how of­ten to drink dur­ing a long ride and you’ll get al­most as many an­swers as there are cy­clists. Some be­lieve in reach­ing for the wa­ter bot­tle of­ten and some drink more spar­ingly. Then there are those who follow a very strict reg­i­men in­volv­ing pre­cise quan­ti­ties of wa­ter con­sumed at reg­u­lar in­ter­vals. Who’s right? That’s the ques­tion a team of re­searchers tack­led in the re­view pa­per The In­flu­ence of Drink­ing Fluid on En­durance Cy­cling Per­for­mance.

Be­fore delv­ing into the find­ings, it’s worth not­ing that for many cy­clists, a drink of cold wa­ter dur­ing a long, hard ride is more re­ward than part of a well thought out strat­egy to ward off de­hy­dra­tion and the de­cline in per­for­mance that ac­com­pa­nies it. But is re­ly­ing on thirst to de­ter­mine when to drink the best plan for cy­clists who want to be the best they can be on their bike?

In an ef­fort to get a han­dle on how much fluid cy­clists should con­sume dur­ing rides of vary­ing dis­tances, the re­searchers waded through 151 stud­ies be­fore find­ing 15 that matched their nine-point cri­te­ria for in­clu­sion, one of which in­cluded re­view­ing only those stud­ies that looked at drink­ing no sooner than five min­utes be­fore get­ting on the bike. Their con­clu­sions were based on the ex­pe­ri­ences of 70 cy­clists in to­tal, 10 per cent of them women.

The first note­wor­thy dis­cov­ery is that for rides last­ing an hour or less, cy­clists should avoid drain­ing their wa­ter bot­tle. Too much wa­ter dur­ing short, high-in­ten­sity bike rides has the po­ten­tial to cause stom­ach up­set such that it re­duces per­for­mance by as much as 2.5 per cent when com­pared with no fluid in­take.

“It has been demon­strated that above an ex­er­cise in­ten­sity of 70-75 per cent of VO2 peak (or peak oxy­gen up­take), gas­tric emp­ty­ing be­comes com­pro­mised and fluid starts to ac­cu­mu­late in the stom­ach, lead­ing to ab­dom­i­nal bloat­ing, gas­troin­testi­nal dis­com­fort and re­duced cy­cling per­for­mance,” said the au­thors of the pa­per pub­lished last month in Sports Medicine.

Some stud­ies in­di­cated that 50 per cent of the cy­clists in­volved in short, fast rides suf­fered from stom­ach up­set and over­all dis­com­fort af­ter con­sum­ing too much wa­ter.

It’s also worth not­ing that the ma­jor­ity of elite cy­clists par­tic­i­pat­ing in 40-km time tri­als don’t reach for their wa­ter bot­tles. In­stead, they tend to drink be­fore a race, which al­lows flu­ids to be ad­e­quately di­gested be­fore get­ting on their bikes.

As for rides longer than one hour, the re­searchers con­cluded that fol­low­ing a pro­to­col as sim­ple as drink­ing when thirsty im­proved per­for­mance sim­i­lar to more reg­i­mented hy­dra­tion pro­to­cols and re­sulted in bet­ter times than not drink­ing at all.

That said, there are a lot of vari­ables to take into con­sid­er­a­tion when de­ter­min­ing how much to drink dur­ing a lengthy bike ride.

“Both drink­ing to thirst and planned fluid in­take are vi­able strate­gies and their use should be based on the cy­clist’s pref­er­ence, en­vi­ron­ment, course, type and du­ra­tion of event, rules and op­por­tu­ni­ties to drink,” the re­search team said.

This seem­ingly sen­si­ble ap­proach to de­cid­ing when and how much to drink is sim­i­lar to that rec­om­mended to run­ners who, like cy­clists, have been guilty of thinking that more wa­ter equals bet­ter per­for­mance.

It’s also a re­minder that cy­clists shouldn’t follow the same hy­dra­tion strat­egy ev­ery time they get on their bike — another bad habit that cy­clists fall into.

So while most cy­clists know enough to in­crease their in­take of flu­ids in hot and or hu­mid con­di­tions, most don’t ad­just ac­cord­ing to how far they plan on cy­cling.

“Pro­vid­ing a set fluid pre­scrip­tion and vol­ume as a blan­ket guide­line and re­place­ment strat­egy clearly does not of­fer a ben­e­fit to cy­cling per­for­mance for all in­di­vid­u­als over a range of ex­er­cise du­ra­tions, in­ten­si­ties and en­vi­ron­men­tal con­di­tions,” the re­searchers said.

There may be some cir­cum­stances — such as cold weather con­di­tions when your thirst mech­a­nism falls be­hind your body’s ac­tual need to re­place flu­ids — when a more planned drink­ing strat­egy is nec­es­sary. In those cases, the re­searchers con­cluded that cy­clists should aim for 0.15-0.20 mL of fluid per minute per kilo­gram of body weight for rides be­tween one and two hours, and 0.14-0.27 mL of fluid per minute per kilo­gram of body weight for rides more than two hours.

The bot­tom line is there are per­for­mance con­se­quences for cy­clists who drink too much and drink too lit­tle. So avoid emp­ty­ing your wa­ter bot­tle dur­ing short, in­tense rides, even on hot days. But let thirst be your guide for most dis­tances that keep you on your bike for more than an hour. This sim­pli­fied plan not only re­quires less prepa­ra­tion be­fore get­ting on your bike, you’ll pay less at­ten­tion to the me­chan­ics of stay­ing well hy­drated while in the sad­dle.

So go ahead and give your­self per­mis­sion to be more in the mo­ment when on your bike and for­get about wor­ry­ing about the right time to grab your wa­ter bot­tle.

Cy­clists shouldn’t follow the same hy­dra­tion strat­egy ev­ery time they get on their bike.


There are sev­eral vari­ables to con­sider be­fore reach­ing for your wa­ter dur­ing a lengthy ride.

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