Hydration During Mountain Biking – Why It’s So Important

Hydration During Mountain Biking – Why It’s So Important

Photo by Martin Sanchez

We often overlook the importance of hydration during mountain biking. This is surprising considering 60 to 70% of the human body consists of water. Water regulates our body temperature, aids digestion, lubricates our joints and helps remove waste, among many other critical functions. So, you may wonder, what should I be drinking during my bike rides? Just plain water? Electrolytes? Sugar?

Water, carbohydrates, and electrolytes, oh my.

You need both carbohydrates (sugar) AND electrolytes for optimal hydration during mountain biking. Therefore, choose a sports drink with some sugar and salt in it. Plain water is fine for shorter bike rides, approximately under 1.5 hours. However, if it is hot out, you are going for a ride over 1.5 hours, or riding at an intense pace, choose a sports drink over plain water.

Salty Sweat

Are you a salty sweater? Do you get salt stains on your clothing, skin, or helmet straps? Do you crave salty foods on or after rides, such as chips or pretzels? You may be someone who loses extra salt in your sweat. You need to replenish that salt! Pack pretzels or chips on your bike ride, and make sure to use a sports drink. Eat other salty snacks afterward like pickles or watermelon with salt.

During summer rides, I like to use Liquid IV to help with hydration during mountain biking. It can be purchased online or at many Costco stores. It has 500mg salt per serving, which is more than most sports drinks out there. However, it doesn’t have a lot of sugar in it, so I make sure to have occasional snacks while I’m drinking it.

How much water am I losing during my ride?

Unsure how much you are sweating? You can use a household scale to figure it out! Here’s how:

Step 1: Weigh yourself before and after you ride. 

For every liter you lose, you should replace it with approximately 1.5 liters of fluid. (remember 1kg= 2.2lbs) This doesn’t just have to be through only drinking. Water in foods, such as in watermelon, counts as well. This is also a good way to see how much you hydrated during your ride.

Step 2: Calculate your findings.

If you weigh more than you started, you are overhydrated and can back off a little next time. If you weigh a few kilograms less after your ride, increase how much you drink next time. Don’t get worried about weighing yourself before and after every ride; just practice a few times to learn how much you sweat. Also, try doing this in the summer and winter so you can compare the differences. 

Overhydration – Can you overdo it?

Yes! You can drink too much water, especially plain water. As a result, you can become hyponatremic, which occurs when the sodium level in the blood is too low. When your body holds onto more water, you may appear edematous or swollen. Symptoms of hyponatremia are nausea, fatigue, and confusion.

Sip water throughout the day and have a water bottle around as a reminder but don’t force it. Don’t drink large amounts of water to hide hunger. Urine color can be a good indicator of hydration status. Clear means overhydration. Pale yellow to yellow is ideal. An amber or dark yellow color urine indicates you need to drink water immediately! If you are sweating a lot, it’s sweltering out, or you just completed an intense ride, put some extra salt on your food or drink a sports drink.

Emily's Pro Tip:

I don’t like to put anything but water in my hydration pack. However, I know I need carbs and electrolytes for proper hydration too! To get around this problem, I over concentrate the sports drink in my water bottle. For example, if my drink mix powder says 1 scoop is a serving, I double it and put 2 scoops in my bottle. Then, I alternate between drinking that and from my hydration pack. Or, I pack salty snacks like peanut butter pretzels and eat a few of those every so often as I sip on water. Just remember, carbohydrates, water and electrolytes together are the key to proper hydration.

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Emily Werner

Emily is a Sports Dietitian who is passionate about helping others improve their health and athletic performance through proper nutrition. She races cyclocross professionally. She lives in Roanoke, VA with her husband Kerry and their beagle Sherman.

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