Water on Long Rides


I’m training for some upcoming races this Spring/Summer.  On short rides I tend to just drink water because I don’t want to overuse all the sugary sports drinks.  Is it okay to just drink water on longer rides as well (2-3 hours)?  Or should I add a electrolyte powder or pill?

Kelli’s Answer:

Since you are training with the intention of improving as a cyclist and/or racing, it’s important that you give your body the fuel it needs when it needs it (this is different than a person who is working out primarily to lose weight or leisurely). On rides less than 60 minutes, water is fine.  Longer than an hour, when your ride is moderate to high intensity, you need more than just water.  Here’s why:

  1. 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.
  2. Sports drinks that contain a 5-8% carbohydrate solution leave your stomach quickest, and are therefore digested and absorbed faster than water.
  3. Sodium actually increases the absorption rate of fluids in your large intestine, so you hydrate better when the fluid contains sodium.  Of note, this is a good reason to use a fluid in which the sodium is dissolved into it rather than popping electrolyte pills or sodium tablets once in awhile.
  4. 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.
  5. Your brain operates on glucose.  Your muscles, once they’ve used up their short supply of glycogen, need a quick source of glucose for optimal performance.  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.

Please send us your questions for our Expert Sports Nutritionist, Kelli Jennings to “Ask the Sports Nutritionist“. Kelli Jennings is a Registered Dietitian with a passion for healthy eating, wellness, & sports nutrition.  For more information go to www.apexnutritionllc.com.