Cycling energy drinks: Your complete guide to fuelling your ride with liquid

When you’re gearing up for a long, epic day in the saddle, water alone probably won’t be enough to keep your legs turning. And while we’d obviously recommend you pack your bib shorts with plenty of delicious Veloforte bars, on those longer or more intense rides you might also want to fill your bidon with a cycling energy drink to give you extra options for topping up fuel on the move.

Cycling energy drinks come in many guises – there are carbohydrate drinks to give you energy as you ride, there are hydration drinks designed for the quick absorption of fluids and there are recovery drinks for when you get home. They all offer a convenient way to sip sustenance without breaking your rhythm.

So how do you know what you should be drinking and when? Here’s the lowdown on the different types of cycling energy drinks and which type of ride they’re best for.

Remember though, whichever drink you choose, make sure you’re well fuelled and hydrated before your ride, rather than playing catch up on the bike.

Staying hydrated - your guide to what to use & when

Electrolyte/Hydration Drinks

Best for: Pre-hydration, rides longer than an hour, hot weather rides, those who prefer fuelling with food.

What’s in electrolyte hydration drinks?

A mixture of water and electrolytes, hypotonic hydration drinks are designed to hydrate rather than fuel. They have low levels of carbohydrate and sometimes none at all.

Why would I use them?

When you cycle, you sweat, and when you sweat you lose water as well as electrolytes – vital salts and minerals such as sodium, potassium and magnesium. Even being slightly dehydrated and low in electrolytes can affect your cycling performance, making everything feel much tougher, upping your heart rate, increasing the likelihood of cramps, nausea, fatigue and other unpleasant symptoms.

For rides up to 60 minutes, sipping on plain water should provide adequate hydration but on long rides or hot days, cycling hydration drinks will replace lost electrolytes and top up your fluid levels.

Strangely drinking plain water can actually dull your thirst as it dilutes electrolytes. Electrolyte hydration drinks, on the other hand, contain sodium which can stimulate thirst making sure you drink enough.

How do I use electrolyte/hydration drinks?

While the exact instructions may vary for different drinks, aim to drink around 500-750mls an hour by taking a mouthful every 15 minutes or so. For rides over 90 minutes you’ll also want to take on some form of fuel such as a Veloforte bar to top up your glycogen stores as the carbs in these drinks won’t be enough.

How do I choose the right one for me?

There are plenty of electrolyte hydration drinks out there but it’s worth paying close attention to the label as a lot contain artificial additives and flavourings.

Veloforte Solo is a low-carb electrolyte replacement mix that offers 100% natural hydration based on coconut water, Himalayan Pink Salt and fresh fruit from golden apricot which is paired with sage for a delicious unique taste profile that’s unlike anything you’ve tried before. It provides the essential electrolytes you need, including sodium and potassium.

Coconut water and Himalayan Pink Salt for improved cycling hydration

Carbohydrate energy drinks

Best for: Rides over an hour, those who prefer to drink their fuel rather than eat

What’s in carbohydrate energy drinks?

Carbohydrate energy drinks are a mix of water, carbohydrates and electrolytes. They can be isotonic or hypertonic, are often found in powder form to be mixed at home and the carbohydrates can come from a number of different sources such as sucrose, glucose and fructose, often in a combination that supplies slow and fast-acting energy.

Why would I use them?

Carbohydrates, which are stored in the muscles and liver as glycogen, are the body’s preferred source of energy when exercising. As your glycogen levels deplete you’ll tire and find it hard to keep going. Carbohydrate drinks give you energy on the go, to boost your endurance and performance.

How do I use carbohydrate energy drinks?

If you’re riding for longer than an hour you should aim to take on 30-60g carbohydrate every 60 minutes by sipping from a carbohydrate drink at regular intervals.

How do I choose the right one for me?

Carbohydrate and sports drinks often contain a number of artificial additives which can cause gastrointestinal issues for some so it’s a case of trial and error until you find one that works for you. Though if you’re not a big fan of error, then our more natural hydration powders are easy on the stomach, packed full of real-food nutrients and offer a good place to start.

Try Veloforte’s higher-carb hydration drinks alongside a Veloforte bar or bite for additional fuel. Made from all-natural ingredients, Attivo and Vivo contain 22g of rapid-release carbohydrates while ATTIVO also has natural caffeine from guarana for an additional energy boost .

Veloforte Attivo & Vivo natural cycling energy drinks

Fructose or dual-fuel drinks

Best for: Rides over an hour, increased carbohydrate intake

What’s in 2:1 fructose drinks?

Fructose drinks, which can be isotonic or hypertonic, usually come in powder form and contain electrolytes and carbohydrate in a ratio of 2:1 glucose to fructose. This ratio allows you to ingest extra carbohydrates each hour.

Why would I use them?

The body can absorb around 60g of carbohydrates an hour but when glucose and fructose are combined in the 2:1 ratio this goes up to between 80-90g per hour. This is because each sugar uses a different route from the intestine into the bloodstream.

One study found that cyclists who drank a glucose and fructose drink averaged a 1.8% faster time over a 100km time trial than when they drank a glucose-only drink.

How do I use 2:1 fructose drinks?

While each brand will differ, as a general guide, aim to sip around 150-250mls of fructose drink every 20 minutes or so.

How do I choose the right one for me?

Some cyclists find fructose drinks are easier on the stomach than glucose-only drinks but it’s still worth trying them out to see which works best for you.

If you want to mix up your fuelling with both drink and food, Veloforte’s Attivo and Vivo contain 22g of dual-source carbohydrate derived from the natural fructose and glucose found in dried coconut water, frozen dried fruits and simple cane sugar.

Post-ride recovery drinks

Best for: After your ride

What’s in post-ride recovery drinks?

Recovery drinks usually contain carbs, protein and fluid which can come from a wide range of sources.

Why would I use them?

Paying attention to hydration shouldn’t stop when you unclip. To help your body recover you’ll need carbohydrates to replace lost energy, water to replace lost fluids and some protein to help muscles repair. A recovery drink is a good way to get all those nutrients in fast, particularly if you struggle to eat after exercise.

Post-ride recovery drinks

How do I use post-ride recovery drinks?

It’s suggested that the body is most receptive to nutrients within 90 minutes of exercise so recovery drinks are best taken sooner rather than later. You’ll also continue to sweat and produce urine after you finish so you should aim to replace 150% of fluid lost through sweat within 1-4 hours of finishing your workout. And don’t worry you can do this gradually rather than chugging down a bucket load and leaving yourself bloated.

How do I choose the right one for me?

Chocolate milk is a favourite for many cyclists and runners or you can buy purpose-made recovery drinks.

If you prefer to eat and drink yourself stronger after your ride, try our recovery bar Forza, which contains 12g of complete protein alongside 31g of natural sugars. Combine this with 500mls of Attivo and Vivo for extra carbohydrates and electrolytes.

Veloforte Forza protein bar

How do I know if I’m drinking enough?

We've got an in-depth blog post on hydration here but, in a nutshell, the NHS recommend drinking 6-8 glasses of water a day, more if you’re exercising.

Everyone’s different though, so you may find you need to drink more. The easiest way to check if you’re adequately hydrated is to check your pee. You’re aiming for a pale straw colour.

If you’re exercising frequently you’ll lose on average 500mls to one litre of water and vital electrolytes each hour of your workout so you’ll need to ensure you drink as you sweat.

If you want to calculate your exact sweat loss, weigh yourself before and after a workout. Each 1kg of body weight lost equals one litre of sweat. You should aim to replace at least 75% of this during your next workout to ensure you stay hydrated.

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For fuelling and hydration support, check out the other guides on the Veloforte #FuelBetter blog.

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