Loving the BITE: Make Your Own Sports Drinks
The art of drinking the right thing at the right time on the bike can take years of practice. We’re gonna speed that up for you. Really, it’s simple. It simply depends on 3 factors:
- Your primary goal: Are you riding mostly for health and weight loss OR for cycling performance? This can become less clear when you’re trying to do both, but by establishing a primary goal, you’ll set the foundation for a fueling strategy.
- The duration and intensity of your ride.
- The weather conditions – temperature and humidity. A little subjective, I consider low temps under 50 degree F, moderate at 50-70 degree F, and high at 70+ degree F (especially with high humidity). What can I say? I’m a cold-weather-loving cyclist.
This week, we’re going to explore some simple homebrew sports drinks and strategies for choosing the right one on different types of rides. Proper hydration and fueling can be all the difference between Loving the Bike, and bonking in the heat and dragging yourself back home.
Take a look at the Hydration Chart I’ve created below to see what ingredients you’ll want in your drink for your ride. Then, see the recipes that follow. You’ll be ready to “rock” your next ride, well-hydrated!
Recipes of the week: Simple Homemade Sports Drinks
Water + Electrolytes (sodium) Drink:
1) 64 oz. water + low-calorie sweetened flavoring (such as True Lemon Lemonade, lemon or lime juice + Stevia, or Crystal Light PURE – look for Stevia or sucralose-sweetened, to taste) + ¼-½ tsp. salt
Per 8 oz. serving: 0-5 calories, 0-1 gram carbs, 75-150 mg sodium; Per hour @ 20 oz.: 0-12 calories, 0-3 grams carb, 187-375 mg sodium
Similar Commercial Drinks (in terms of carbs and sodium): NUUN Tablets, Camelbak Elixir
Water + Diluted Carbs + Electrolytes (sodium):
1) 64 oz. water + ¼ cup sugar + flavoring (such as unsweetened lemon juice, unsweetened Kool-aid, etc.)+ ¼-½ tsp. salt
2) 56 oz. water + 8 oz. 100% juice + 2 Tbsp. sugar + ¼-½ tsp. salt
Per 8 oz. serving: 30 calories, 8 gram carbs, 75-150 mg sodium; Per hour @ 20 oz.: 75 calories, 20 grams carb, 187-375 mg sodium
Similar Commercial Drinks (in terms of carbs and sodium): G2, any powdered sports drink mixed to half-strength
1) 64 oz. water + ½ cup sugar + flavoring (such as unsweetened lemon juice, Kool-aid, etc.)+ ¼-½ tsp. salt
2) 48 oz. water + 16 oz. 100% juice + ¼ cup sugar + ¼-½ tsp. salt
Per 8 oz. serving: 60 calories, 15 gram carbs, 75-150 mg sodium; Per hour @ 20 oz.: 150 calories, 38 grams carb, 187-375 mg sodium
Similar Commercial Products (in terms of carbs and sodium): Gatorade Pro, 1st Endurance, Skratchlabs Exercise Hydration
Easy Add-ons for experimentation:
Potassium: Potassium is another important electrolyte in training, and it can be easily added from Morton’s Lite, which can be found at your grocery store next to the salt. If you do decide to add it, try ¼ tsp. per 64 oz. fluid (44 mg Potassium per 8 oz., or 109 mg per hour with 20 oz.).
Maltodextrin: Maltodextrin is a man-made carbohydrate that has advantages over simpler sugars because 1) it provides a slightly less simple carb, which can last longer and lead to more prolonged energy, 2) it does not add a “sweet” taste, and 3) it can be absorbed in addition to fructose and glucose, rather than in place of (so you can absorb more carbs per hour). It can be found online or in health stores…try adding 30-60 grams maltodextrin per 64 oz. fluid (in addition to other ingredients above)
L-Glutamine: L-Glutamine can reduce muscle breakdown and muscle soreness in training and recovery. It can be found in health food, vitamin, and online stores. Try adding 4500-6000 mg per 64 oz. fluid.
For anyone who is thinking that they’d much rather just drink water, I hear you. I understand that good, clean water is the most refreshing drink on and off the bike, and that drinking a sugary sports drink gets old (especially one loaded with chemicals you can’t pronounce). And, for those athletes whose primary goal is health and weight loss, or who are riding at a low or moderate intensity on a short ride, this is fine.
However, for a cyclist who’s primarily trying to improve on the bike, push him/herself to new limits, and train or race with time goals in mind, I recommend a drink with water, electrolytes and carbs. Here’s why:
- When you’re training or competing for >60 minutes, and especially in hot or humid weather, you lose more than just fluid in your sweat. Your body depends on the electrolytes you lose for many functions, and it’s crucial to replenish them if you want to perform at an optimal level and stay healthy. Over-hydration can be very dangerous, but usually only occurs when fluids are replenished without electrolytes.
- Sports drinks that contain a 4-8% carbohydrate solution leave your stomach quickest, and are therefore digested and absorbed faster than water. Within this range, you do have to be careful to not concentrate too much, as it can lead to stomach upset.
- Sodium actually increases the absorption rate of fluids in your large intestine, so you hydrate better when the fluid contains sodium. I recommend sodium mixed within a drink, rather than in a high-sodium pill for this reason and to avoid the feeling of “heavy” or swollen legs and diminished energy.
- When you replenish only fluid, but you’ve lost fluid and electrolytes, your body must work hard to reestablish the correct ratio of electrolytes to fluid in its plasma. In order to do so, you may continue to excrete fluid in order to not cause a diluted plasma ratio of electrolytes to fluid. End result: More dehydration.
- Your brain operates on glucose. Your muscles, once they’ve used up their short supply of glycogen, need a consistent source of glucose for optimal performance whether burning carbs or burning fat (in the absence of carbs, lactic acid builds up quicker). When you give your body fluid, lytes, and carbs, you give it the nutrients it needs to work harder for a longer amount of time. In this way, plain water without another steady source of carbohydrates falls short.
- Dehydration and imbalanced electrolytes have a direct, detrimental impact on your performance. Just a 3% loss of body weight due to dehydration can significantly impair your performance, muscle contractile strength, and speed. At 5-6%, you’re bonking and can no longer regulate body temperature.
In fact, I think training with the proper fluids is every bit as important as competing with them. When cycling, you must be able to push yourself if you want to get better, right? So why not give yourself every advantage? Money for sports drinks can certainly add up, especially when used 3-4 times per week. Enter these homebrews above. They are inexpensive and utilize simple ingredients to provide fluids, carbs, and electrolytes. And while I would never claim that my homebrew is better than or as researched as some of the good products you can find commercially, I find it does the job for a tiny fraction of the cost and without the chemical junk. For many athletes, it affords them the opportunity to training every day with adequate, consistent fuel.
When considering your on-the-bike fuel and hydration plan, keep in mind that your body can likely use ~60+ grams carbs (depending on the sources of carbs), 200-300 calories, 400-700 mg sodium, 100-130 mg potassium, 16-32 ounces fluid per hour of training. If you’d like to consume these amounts, you’ll generally need 20 oz. of the water + carbs + lytes drink PLUS ~25 grams carbs from another source.
You can make every ride count whether you want to lose weight, become a better cyclist, or both. If you want to get better, you must train better. Don’t waste opportunities. Give your body the fuel it needs every time. And then, enjoy a nice glass of ice-cold water when you’re done.
Fuel Your Ride. Nourish Your Body.
*Thanks to Scott Thigpen from Thigpen Designs for taking Kelli’s Hydration Information and creating the chart found above.