Commuting: 4 steps to hydration

Dehydration can severely affect your performance | Photo by Anssi Moilanen

We have all been thirsty, some of us have even been really thirsty and the urge to drink is amazingly primal. Our species contains on average 57% of water, but it doesn’t make us camels. Still, dehydration seems to be something very distant for people, so instead of scientific approaches, I’ll let the simple English version of Wikipedia explain:

When people are dehydrated, they have lost so much water in their body that their bodies no longer work in the right way. Dehydration is a very bad condition and if the problem is not fixed, then the person who is dehydrated can die since they do not have enough water in their bodies.

Taken, we do not see many dead bikers littering the streets because they dehydrated, but the condition has severe effects in our performance and recovery during and from exercise. Even a minor case of dehydration affects us noticeably: Losing 1% of our body water (around 1 liter) reduce our muscle performance, concentration and irritability – you can imagine what an irritated, poorly concentrated and tired biker does to public happiness on bike roads.

If we lose more water, say 2-3% (or liters) “Serious performance inhibition occurs”, says L. Lee Coyne, Ph.D. In tests done by scientists (I hope), the time for a competitive 10 kilometer run was reduced by 2.5 minutes which is a serious decrease in a 30 minute ten kilometer run. During an hour of cycling, our body loses a liter of water in optimal circumstances, not to mention a hot summer like we are facing now. Here are our four rules for keeping yourself hydrated.

Most bikes have a place for a bottle cage to put your water in

1. Don’t wait until you’re thirsty

Our bodies have really cool warning systems, but not all of them are real time. The feeling of thirst is one of these warnings that always come too late. When you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. The magic word in keeping yourself hydrated is to keep on drinking small amounts in regular intervals, this way the water will absorb better.

2. One liter of water per hour

If you are going out for a two hour trip, take two liters of water with you. Plan your longer route accordingly and check for refilling points (public toilets are a great place for some quality tap water). Also, don’t just carry the water around – drink it. Make sure you are consuming about a liter per hour, which is easy to do by looking at the bottle. Rinse and repeat.

3. Do the electrolytic boogie

You might think electrolytes are all just marketing, but most of your body’s chemical activities are done together with water and electrolytes. Most quality sports drinks have electrolytes in them, just look for the words: sodium (Na, or Natrium in some languages), potassium (K, or Kalium in some languages), calcium (Ca), magnesium (Mg), chloride (Cl), hydrogen phosphate, and hydrogen carbonate. The more kinds of electrolytes you have in your drink, the better your hydration and function will be. Try to find drinks that have more than just sodium and potassium in them. If you just drink (lots and lots of) water, you might face water intoxication.

4. Keep on drinking

If you start exercising and you are already dehydrated, it’s just dumb. You need to keep hydrated all day, every day: Going to bed? Drink a glass of water, as well as when you wake up. Also, remember diuretics like coffee, sodas and alcohol increase your watering needs, so keep chugging that water!

Remembering these four simple rules make your commuting and training much more effective and has many other benefits. A well-hydrated body can control its temperature better, you won’t smell as bad and best of all, you’ll have energy to do something else after a long ride as well.

Do you have good tips or hints on hydration? We are interested to hear them!

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By Markus Sandelin

Markus is a bike commuter gadget freak who is learning the ropes of the bike world, you can find him all around the web - but you can start with his twitter at @banton.