Avoiding dehydration - riding in hot
It always seems to happen. One week I'm riding around wishing I had
the heated jacket plugged in, then we get a few days of "scorchio"
weather and I'm struggling to stay cool.
Temperatures over the weekend and early in the week hit the high 20s
and humidity went through the roof. Monday in particular was very
uncomfortable on the bikes. One of the main dangers of the unique
combination of overheating and the cooling breeze we're generating
as we ride is a high risk of dehydration.
Dehydration occurs when the body tries to maintain a steady
temperature of around 37 degrees by sweating. The result is that
body fluid and electrolytes vital to the function of the body's
organs are lost. One of the best signs that you are dehydrated is
not that you are thirsty but that you don't need a pee! If you ARE
thirsty, and have dry lips and a dry mouth, you are well into the
first stages of dehydration.
What are the dangers of running short of body fluid? In the early
stages, you just get fatigued and lose concentration. In the later
stages more serious confusion can set in, as well as heat stroke.
Most UK riders are oblivious to just how real a problem this is - in
the US where they ride long distances in hot conditions, they are
much more aware of the risks.
So what can you do to prevent dehydration? Planning ahead is the
answer. Start by drinking before you go out. For sports like cycling
and soccer, it's recommended that you drink around 500-600ml of
fluid a couple of hours before you begin. Then around 15 minutes
before you set off, drink another half litre.
Once on the move, you need to keep replenishing fluid, so you need
to either stop and buy something, or take a bottle with you. For
sportspersons, the recommendation is that you take around 100-150ml
(about 1/5th of a cycle bottle) every 15 minutes or so.
OK, now this may not be entirely straightforward on a motorbike, but
particularly on group rides there are usually short breaks at
regular intervals, so use the opportunity to top up, and if you are
doing it right, you should be making a loo stop too. You should
certainly drink something when you stop for fuel, and if you have a
250 mile tank, you should definitely make intermediate stops -
remember, if you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. And don't
forget to top up when you stop too - this will improve your recovery
time from fatigue.
Any cycle shop will sell you a bottle for under a fiver and they are
unbreakable and will squash - the plastic bottles with Evian, Volvic
etc. are liable to split and leak. A few quid more will buy you an
insulated plastic cycle bottle - bung some ice cubes in it and you
have cold drink for a couple of hours.
A neat alternative is a Camelbak or a cheaper copy. These are
plastic bladders that slip in a pocket or are worn in their own
backpack which hold a couple of litres. They have a plastic pipe
which you can stick in your mouth and suck when thirsty. With one of
these you can stretch your other stops a bit further.
So what to drink?
The one thing you need to steer well clear of is alcohol. It might
be tempting to sink "just one cold pint - I'll be well under the
limit". The alcohol will be absorbed faster, and even more
disorientating than normal.
I'm not fond of fizzy canned drinks because they are too sweet and
sticky. Remember that coffee in particular and tea to a lesser
extent are diuretics (ie they make you pee more) but they are better
than nothing at all - at least they can top you up again!
A big fuss is made about isotonic fluids - these are basically water
plus the electrolytes you lose in sweat, so they have the advantage
of keeping the chemical balance of the body right. Lucozade Sport is
one example that you'll find in most service stations, or Gatorade
if you happen to be Stateside. Isotonic drinks also come in powder
form - you can buy tubs of the stuff from any cycle shop and make up
a couple of litres for the ride.
However, they all cost a lot more than plain tap water!