What Should I Drink While Cycling? Water vs Sports Drinks

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Sure You Can Drink While You Drive (Your Bike)!

Even if you snoozed through your science classes back in the day, you may remember this important fact: The human body is composed of 75-percent water and without it, the body in question can’t survive.

How bad can it get? We turned to Medical Health Today for scary details about what happens to our bodies when they are deprived of liquids and the process of dehydration kicks in.

For everyday folks, not staying hydrated is problematic. For cyclists, it can be catastrophic. While immediate fluid intake can reverse a body’s state of deprivation, “severe cases of dehydration require immediate medical attention” as cells and blood vessels begin to “dry out.”

Worried? You should be. Your ride and your health both depend upon liquids—but perhaps you wonder, which liquids? The answer is a little more complicated than it once was when your beverage choices were water and water.

Photo by Marcin Kempa on Unsplash

How much hydration do you need during your ride?

Eight small glasses or about 2 liters of water a day should work well for folks going about ordinary tasks. But let’s not forget that cycling is not an ordinary task – especially if you are on a long-distance ride.

“For most people, thirst is a sufficient indicator of hydration status. It’s a very reliable instinct that developed through our evolution to keep us hydrated and alive,” Kaloc from WeLoveCycling notes, extolling the virtues of the human response system that responds to the urge to “drink to thirst.”

But Kaloc warns against exceeding, “800 ml of fluids in a temperate environment,” even if you train more than once a day.

Add Aussie cyclist Alan McCubbin’s opinion on the subject to the mix: Your starting level of hydration is more important than you realize, he notes. Start your ride partially dehydrated and performance decline will kick in earlier than it does in athletes who drink up before they hit the road or trail.

How important are electrolyte-infused beverages?

You’re not imagining things if it seems the “beverage” aisles at your local stores are getting longer. Thirst-quenching products keep multiplying like rabbits.

The international beverage industry knows that people of all ages are spending a fortune on fitness and nutritional products, which has led to this phenomenon.

Health reporter Makayla Meixner explores the topic of electrolyte-infused water for Healthline.com, finding “evidence-based” data she shares with readers.

Defining this class of drink as beverages formulated “with charged minerals important for maintaining optimal body functions,” Meixner recommends electrolyte-infused drinks to replace critical minerals lost due to sweating and urinating.

“Common electrolyte beverages include mineral-infused waters,” she notes, adding that “while it’s unnecessary to drink electrolyte-enhanced beverages all the time, they may be beneficial during prolonged exercise, in hot environments or if you’re ill with vomiting or diarrhea.”

Don’t want to spend a fortune on these pricey drinks? Follow her recipe for homemade electrolyte water on the aforementioned Healthline page.

So, do carbonated drinks contribute to performance?

Carbonated drinks tend to start lively conversations when added to discussions about whether or not they help or hinder the performances of athletes. Bottom line is that they don’t always earn rave reviews from coaches and nutritionists, says Livestrong.com writer Andrea Boldt.

“Soda offers no vitamins or minerals to bolster performance,” she says. Carbonated beverages not only add unnecessary calories, but they can stop athletes from consuming healthier beverages once soft drinks slake their thirst. Is there an exception to the rule? Yes, says Boldt. During high-endurance events, like day-long triathlons, cyclists usually benefit from drinking carbonated soft drinks near the end of the event. These products can give you the boost you need to make it to the finish line.

Fascinated by this subject? Read about the study published on the Peak Performance website if the topic of using Coca Cola as your go-to drink intrigues you and you want to know more.

Photo by Daniel Brunsteiner on Unsplash

Why water remains the king of the hill in most cases

Patrick J. Skerrett, the former executive editor of Harvard University’s health blog, remains a cheerleader for water over all other beverages, and his belief in its power was reinforced after reading a British Medical Journal research conducted by Deborah Cohen studying water v. sports drinks. Her advice? “Drink when you are thirsty and don’t waste your money or calories on sports drinks–choose water instead.”

Skerrett agrees. “Before the rise of sports drinks, athletes (and the rest of us) drank water when we exercised or got sweaty. How did we know when to drink, or how much? The way humans have known for eons–thirst,” he adds.

Need a mantra to remind you of this basic, essential message? Skerrett recommends this one: “Trust thirst, drink water.” If you agree, perhaps you should have those words embroidered on the towel you use to mop your face when you’re in hot pursuit of a personal best.

If you are in need of buying a cycling water bottle you should definitely consider our top picks for the best bottles in the market for 2020.

When to consume sports drinks

If you buy Gatorade or another sugary sports drink by the case and drink it like water, we would like to save you some money by suggesting that there are specific times, places and events that are appropriate for sports drink consumption.

We turn to director of research at the University of Connecticut’s Korey Stringer Institute Luke Belval as our authority on the topic published in Bicycling.com: Belval concludes that sports drinks are best avoided—unless you are “exercising for longer than 60 to 90 minutes or at a very intense level for 45 to 60 minutes.”

Citing boosts of energy and performance enhancement as a direct result of consuming sports drinks when high intensity is a priority, his recommendation is to drink them, but choose products that are packed with at least 30 grams of carbs/sugar to fuel your ride.

Will sugar help or hinder your efforts? The answer could surprise you. “When cyclists drank a sugar-heavy sports drink over a 60K ride, they finished 6.5 percent faster than those who drank carb-free flavored water,” Belval concludes, citing a Journal of the International Society of Sports Nutrition study that takes you inside the scientific research done on this topic.


In our desire to keep you healthy, cycling and hydrated, we turn to a final resource for your peace of mind. You can drink anything you like when you ride as long as you justify your pick. Water remains the standard bearer for all activity and turning to enhanced beverages when you need a boost just makes sense.

But according to MoneyCrashers.com, chugging sports drinks because you got into the habit is no reason to keep throwing money away. Editors recommend enhanced products only when performance demands call for them, especially if these products are crashing your budget big time.

“Ignore the hype,” editors conclude. “There are some things Mother Nature does best, and simple re-hydration is one of them.” Translation? Stick to water and you can’t go wrong—-especially if you can put the money you save on cases of sports drinks into a bank account that underwrites the new equipment you’ve been craving!

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