Most people know water is important to drink daily, but why is it so crucial and exactly how much are we needing as cyclists? Hopefully by the end of this article you will understand the significance of achieving your daily fluid needs and make it easier to reach for another glass or two throughout the day. Water is an essential nutrient that is important to life more than any other nutrient, and is equally important to maintain fluid balance before, during and after exercise to avoid unfavourable affects, which can include reducing your cycling performance and recovery ability.
[quote_box_center]Maintaining fluid balance requires constant integration so that fluid intake matches or modestly exceeds our daily fluid loss.[/quote_box_center]
Water in the body assists in many functions, including:
- Carries nutrients and waste products throughout the body
- Maintains the structure of large molecules such as proteins and glycogen
- Participates in metabolic reactions
- Serves as the solvent for minerals, vitamins, amino acids, glucose so they can contribute in metabolic activities
- Acts as lubricant and cushioning around joints, the spinal cord and inside the eyes
- Aids in regulation of body temperature
- Maintains blood volume
Maintaining fluid balance requires constant integration so that fluid intake matches or modestly exceeds our daily fluid loss. Correct fluid balance maintains blood volume, which supplies blood to the skin for body temperature regulation. Due to exercise producing heat, which must be eliminated from the body to maintain appropriate temperatures, regular fluid intake is vital, e.g. evaporation of sweat from the skin removes excess heat from the body.
Fluid balance is regulated by mechanisms that reduce urinary water and sodium excretion, stimulate thirst and control intake and output of water and electrolytes. Water loss occurs throughout the day from sweat, gastro-intestinal tract, the respiratory tract and the kidneys. When fluid is lost due to sweat, when we exercise, plasma volume decreases and plasma osmolality increases. Conserving body water and blood volume is achieved by hormonal control via the kidneys that regulate water and solute excretion in excess of the required urine loss. This affecting the conservation of water and sodium from the kidneys which changes the urine to become more concentrated, thus conserving fluid and making the urine a dark yellow colour with a strong smell. When this occurs it is a strong indication that your body is dehydrated and that you have not consumed adequate water intake to balance your fluid loss.
Other symptoms of dehydration are thirst, fatigue, weakness, loss of appetite, impaired physical and mental performance, dry mouth, flushed skin, headache, increased respiratory rate, dizziness, and muscle spasm.
Ongoing dehydration can lead to ailments such as cardiovascular disease, kidney stones and increase risk of bladder, prostate and kidney cancer
Water intoxication is rare but can occur with excessive water ingestion and kidney disorders that reduce urine production. Excessive water intake is mainly when large amounts are consumed within short periods of time. A condition called hyponatremia is caused which is sometimes seen in endurance athletes. Guidelines suggest limiting fluid intake to 1 to 1.5 litres per hour. Some symptoms of water intoxication may include confusion, convulsions and collapse.
Daily Fluid Needs
Daily fluid intake varies greatly due to the diverse needs created by individual body size, physical activity and environmental conditions. The daily recommended intakes for fluid are 3.7L/day in men (16 cups) and 2.7L/day in woman (12 cups). Now this isn’t just from drinking water this also includes water from fruit and vegetables.
Before Exercise: drink approximately 400 to 600ml of water 2 to 3 hours before the start of exercise
During Exercise: Drink 150 to 350ml of fluid every 15 to 20mins, depending on race speed, environmental conditions and tolerance. After Exercise: Monitor fluid loss by weighing yourself before and after your cycle. Drink 1L of fluid for each kilogram of body weight lost to ensure complete recovery.
Absorption can easily be affected in each individual; here are some basic guidelines to follow to ensure sufficient fluid levels:
- Caffeinated beverages are HIGHLY discouraged a few hours before and after physical activity because of their diuretic effect, they also prevent adequate fluid replenishment. This may seem like an issue due to the social aspect of cycling, especially as many cyclists ride to a location, have a coffee, then ride home. In this instance it is essential to opt for a caffeine-free beverage, that being decaffeinated coffee, herbal tea or even better a green juice that will give you ample energy to see you home and assist recovery, not to mention assist with alkalising your body!
- Do not consume alcohol before, during or after your cycle because it also may act as a diuretic and prevent adequate fluid replenishment.
- Drink water early and at regular intervals throughout the cycle.
- Do not rely on thirst as an indicator that you need water, as this point you are already dehydrated
If you feel your water ‘goes straight through you’ try my hydration formula that I frequently recommend to clients. It is also beneficial during recovery and achieves hydration promptly. The sugar and salt content assists absorption of the fluid into the cells to reach cell hydration.
- Hydration Formula Water bottle (glass preferably or BPA free)
- ¼ fill with apple juice
- Fill with filtered water
- 2 pinches of Himalayan or Celtic Salt
- Shake before each sip