How to perfect your cycling & running hydration strategy

If you’re going into a big race or training hard, you’ve probably worked out exactly when you’ll eat to fuel your efforts, but what about when and what you’re going to drink?

A lot of us base our cycling & running hydration strategies on an ‘as and when’ basis relying on aid stations or when we can fill up a water bottle en route. But when you learn that just 5% dehydration can result in up to a 30% reduction in performance – that could be the difference between a 45-minute 10k and crossing the finish line just shy of an hour – it’s clear it pays to give it a bit more thought.

Here’s everything you need to know about staying hydrated for optimal performance, including when to use a rehydration product and when water alone is enough.

Drink before you're thirsty

What is hydration?

Dry mouth, fuzzy brain, that heavy-legged feeling when you’re reaching the end of a long run or ride, most of us have suffered the signs of mild dehydration, even if we didn’t recognise them at the time.

But let’s take things right back to basics – human hydration describes the levels of water held within the body. Every cell, organ and tissue needs water to work efficiently and it makes up more than half of your body weight – around 60% in men and 50-55% in women, owing to the difference in body fat percentage.

Water is vital for keeping us alive and has many functions including regulating body temperature, removing waste products, regulating blood pressure, lubricating and cushioning joints and helping us digest and absorb food more efficiently, increasing energy and delaying the onset of fatigue.

You lose water just by going about your everyday businessgoing to the loo, sweating, breathing, you even lose a small amount through your skin – and those lost fluids need to be replaced regularly which we do mainly with the everyday food and drink we consume. Of course, this becomes even more important if you’re exercising a lot, there’s hot weather or, you find yourself in that double whammy, exercising in hot weather. Under these conditions your body produces more sweat to keep you cool causing more fluids and salts to be lost.

Drink before you're thirsty

What happens when you’re dehydrated?

The British Nutrition Foundation says just 1% dehydration can have negative effects on the body and these get worse the more dehydrated you become. According to British Cycling, 4% dehydration will decrease your capacity for muscular work, at 5% you can suffer from heat exhaustion, at 7% you may experience hallucinations and at 10% you’re in serious territory with circulatory collapse, heat stroke and even death.

The symptoms of mild-to-moderate dehydration include:

  • A dry mouth
  • Headaches
  • Poor concentration.

All of these can cause a loss of form when you’re running or cycling. When you’re dehydrated your blood volume decreases meaning your heart has to work harder, your heart rate, metabolic rate and breathing rate can all increase. You have a decreased sweat rate so your body temperature can increase and you’re also more likely to suffer muscle cramps and injuries, nausea and fatigue due to increased glycogen use. None of which is ideal when you’re training or racing.

Man running outdoors and sweating

How do you know if you’re dehydrated?

Without drawing blood and doing a lab analysis or hooking yourself up to a sweat-test machine, you have to rely on some pretty manual methods for spotting dehydration.

  • Thirst: If you’re dehydrated – you feel thirsty. Thirst comes when you’re already slightly dehydrated so if you’re exercising try and drink before it hits.
  • The Pee Test: Next time you go to the toilet, check the colour of your urine, it should be a pale straw colour – bright yellow or orange and you need to drink more.
  • The Sweat-Loss Test: Weighing yourself before and after a long session allows you to calculate the amount of fluid you’re losing through sweat. From this weight loss, you can discover how much you should be drinking as you workout, to ensure you stay hydrated. To calculate your sweat loss:
  1. Weigh yourself in minimal clothing before you workout and again when you finish.
  2. Remember to remove any heavy sodden kit and subtract any fluids you’ve drunk during your workout.

Person standing on scale | Sweat loss test

The difference between the two weights is your sweat loss and each 1kg lost is equal to 1 litre of sweat. It might not be possible to replace all of these fluids as you exercise but aim for at least 75%.

How much should I be drinking?

The NHS recommends drinking around 1.2 litres of fluid a day to replace normal water loss but the amount of fluids we need varies from person to person, depending on activity levels, weight, the temperature and various genetic factors.

Veloforte bidons for running hydration

If you’re exercising regularly then you’ll want to increase that number and also include some electrolytes in your fluids.

What are electrolytes?

Electrolytes are salts and minerals found in the blood that conduct electricity when mixed with water. They’re essential for normal bodily functions and, importantly for athletes, help keep you hydrated, regulate nerve and muscle function, regulate your blood pressure and PH level and help rebuild damaged tissue.

Some of the more common electrolytes and their basic functions in the body include:

  • Sodium – helps conduct nerve impulses and stimulate muscle contractions, supports control blood pressure and volume.
  • Calcium – influences muscle contractions, helps maintain a regular heartbeat.
  • Potassium – contributes to muscle contractions, especially of the heart and digestive system, helps with energy production.
  • Chloride – helps maintain a healthy balance of bodily fluids.
  • Magnesium – supports nerve function, helps with muscle contractions, regulates the use of nutrients for energy, helps maintain a regular heartbeat.

All of the above electrolytes are lost when you sweat.

Nature's finest electrolytes

An imbalance in electrolytes can cause muscle weakness and spasms, fatigue, confusion and dizziness. If you’re exercising intensely or for long periods, to perform at your best you’ll need to replace some of the electrolytes you’re losing and Veloforte’s all-natural, vegan rehydration range offers the perfect balance of minerals from a mix of dried coconut water, Himalayan Pink Salt and refreshing real-fruit powders, all in fantastic flavour combinations.

Hypotonic, isotonic or hypertonic?

When you’re choosing an electrolyte-rich sports drink you may be wondering what’s the difference between isotonic, hypertonic and hypotonic. Here’s a quick guide to what the labels actually mean:

  • Hypotonic – contains a lower concentration of carbohydrate than blood, hypotonic drinks flow naturally and rapidly into the bloodstream and are most effective at replacing lost fluids at pace.

  • Isotonic – contains the same amount of carbohydrate as blood. Isotonic drinks require more energy to get across the gut wall and so energy and electrolyte release is slower.
  • Hypertonic – contains more carbohydrate than blood. Most sports recovery drinks are hypertonic but if taken during exercise they can cause gastric issues and leave you feeling more thirsty.

All Veloforte rehydration products are hypotonic as they are designed to be the most efficient when you’re on the move.

How to hydrate optimally for exercise

For training sessions up to 60 minutes

For most shorter, low-to-medium intensity training sessions drinking water should suffice as your electrolyte balance shouldn’t be affected too much.

However, if you’re doing a high-intensity workout such as a track session, intervals (such as a HIIT treadmill session) or hill reps – especially if it’s hot, cold or you sweat excessively – you may benefit from replacing some of those electrolytes.

Hill reps

Electrolyte-rich and low in carbohydrates Veloforte SOLO is perfect for shorter high-intensity sessions. The coconut-water base is easier on the stomach than traditional sports drinks and contains sodium, potassium and other essential electrolytes to keep your body functioning optimally. Its Golden Apricot & Sage flavours are derived from freeze-dried fruit powders and enhanced with Stevia for natural sweetness so it’s also low in calories.

If in doubt, drink 500mls of SOLO prior to your session before you start to run or ride, to ensure you’re topped up and ready for action and again after to rehydrate and replace lost electrolytes.

Veloforte Solo | Natural hydration & electrolytes

For training sessions over 60 minutes

When you’re training for more than an hour, it’s important to replace some of the electrolytes and calories you’re losing during that session, to avoid the effects of dehydration and fatigue.

Veloforte ATTIVO and VIVO are the perfect all-in-one with 22g of fast-release carbohydrates alongside electrolytes and fluids to keep your energy levels topped up.

Veloforte Attivo & Vivo electrolyte drinks for improved running hydration

Remember you don’t want to wait till you're thirsty or hit the wall to refuel, pre-fuelling with 500ml of the natural rehydration mix one-to-two hours before your session and then aiming to drink two or three good-sized gulps every 10 to 15 minutes, will help your energy and hydration stay balanced.

If you want an added boost, the Strawberry and Basil flavoured ATTIVO also contains caffeine.

For prolonged training sessions

Out on the bike or on a run for more than two hours? Then you’ll need to take on more energy and electrolytes than you can get from a rehydration mix alone.

Aim to drink 500ml of SOLO, ATTIVO or VIVO each hour and compliment it with two to three bites of a Veloforte bar every 20 to 30 minutes to ensure you have enough fuel to get you over that finish line.

Can I drink too much?

In short, yes. We’ve all heard the horror stories of hyponatraemia – where people drink too much water in endurance events such as the marathon, severely diluting the sodium level in the blood and causing bloating, nausea and in severe cases seizures and death.

Taking on rehydration drinks can help prevent this as you’re replacing sodium and lost electrolytes as you go rather than affecting the balance of your body’s fluids.

How to rehydrate after a workout

After you’ve finished a tough training session you’ll continue to sweat and lose water for a while and it’s important to rehydrate and replace lost energy stores. This will help your body repair and recover from the stress it’s been under.

Ideally you should aim to take on 150% of the fluid you’ve lost through sweat within one-to-four hours – although take your time over this as you don’t want to end up feeling bloated and nauseous.

Alongside 500mls of ATTIVO or VIVO, you should also take on some food such as the Veloforte FORZA recovery bar which contains the optimum ratio of protein and carbohydrates, perfect for topping up energy stores and helping muscles repair.

Veloforte Forza natural protein bar for recovery

If you really can’t face any food post-run or post-ride, the 22g of carbs in our rehydration drinks will also go some way to upping your glycogen levels.

1 comment

Andy Garvie

Have you read ‘Waterlogged’ by Prof Tim Noakes? I think he would challenge some of your statements…..

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