This month we started digging into the topic of hydration with our friends over at Skratch. In simplistic terms, that process is pretty easy to implement. In reality, the complexity of the topic is usually harder than it may appear, especially with long days on the bike and other environmental variables. So we’ve sat down with some people who have a lot of practical .experience with the subject and gained insight on how to stay hydrated.
- Henrik Orre, former Team Sky chef, a team known for its hyper-focus on details. He is also the author of the Velochef series with focuses on a hydration strategy and how to keep drinking interesting.
- Elena Bris, a professional amateur cyclist in Madrid, Spain, who has plenty of experience riding during long days in the sun.
- Jon Woodroof and Bas Rotgans who both took part in the first edition of the Silk Road Mountain Race. Quite possibly one of the most remote and toughest bicycle races in the world.
SILCA: Henrik, in your experience, is there a big difference between the hydration needs of pro athletes, amateur cyclist and ultra endurance athletes? Does intensity, weather conditions and personal needs make a big difference?
Henrik: I don’t think there is a huge difference in hydration in these three different categories. At Team Sky they had a very calculated drinking strategy. Weather, distance, expected race time, and altitude meters all would be counted in to lay down a strategy for a stage race or a longer classic.
The pros would always start a race with a protein drink in their bottles before switching to carbohydrate sports drinks. This is because the protein helps you absorb the carbs later. Also, water is of course in the mix as well. On a normal stage race they would consume 75-90 grams of carbohydrates every hour, and around 50 grams of this would be coming from the bottles.
I don’t think amateurs need to be so calculated for their training or racing. But I think it’s very important to stay properly hydrated if you are to succeed with long rides like Transcontinental Race. Learn to know your body and what it needs to endure the road ahead is key knowledge.
SILCA: Both for pro athletes and amateurs drinking the same energy/ electrolyte enhanced drinks can be boring, hard to keep up and difficult to take with you when you’re on the road. Do you have any tricks?
"A really rocket fuel mix is coffee and Coca Cola, it’s like a liquid gel!" - Henrik Orre
Henrik: There are a lot of different things you can make yourself. Lemonade, syrups, and some more salty drinks as well. A really rocket fuel mix is coffee and Coca Cola, it’s like a liquid gel! I prefer to make drinks my own, and a favorite is pineapple juice mixed with water.
Next we asked Elena Bris, a lady who is not your average ‘amateur cyclist’. She took first place at the Mallorca 312 and placed 6th during last year's Taiwan KOM challenge. Her training grounds are near Madrid, Spain, which is notorious for its relentless heat.
SILCA: Elena, you are obviously very used to the Spanish heat, do you have tricks to keep hydrated during your rides? How do you make sure you consistently empty your bottles?
Elena: Yes, sure. Riding in the Spanish heat seems to give you unique experience when it comes to hydration. Of course, there are many brands with tons of great alternatives, which I also use from time to time: like electrolytes, carbohydrates… However, I like to prepare my own food for the ride and I like being creative when it comes to what I drink.
SILCA: What you’re talking about is something we’ve noticed on your Instagram feed. And that's the fact that you like to mix your own drinks when you’re on the road. What are your favorite recipes?
"three-quarters of orange juice (of course, natural, ready squeezed), with water and a pinch of salt" - Elena Bris
Elena: I have some favorites, easy and quick to prepare, nothing too fancy.
I love to mix about three-quarters of orange juice (of course, natural, ready squeezed), with water and a pinch of salt. For that extra sugar addition in longer days, I blend some dates into the mix. Then I put it in the freezer and it’s ready in the morning (I don’t fill the bottle to the very top, just leave a few cm and fill it with water just before leaving).
Another option, a last-minute solution that I often turn to, is simply putting some fruit, ice, and salt into the water. A piece of watermelon, mango, orange or lemon peel… Just get creative and try new things.
I like to leave one of my two bottles with just plain water though. To alternate flavors, refresh my mouth or simply throw some on my neck to lower the body temperature. But I always try to avoid drinking just plain water to prevent dehydration.
Mixing your own drinks on while you’re on the road seems like a great solution to keep things interesting and maintaining your level of hydration. But in special situations, you don’t have the luxury to walk into a gas station and buy whatever you fancy. If you find yourself totally off the grid, the idea of actually finding access to water (and clean) can be tricky. Some riders have experienced this in-depth, like Jon Woodroof and Bas Rotgans. They both participated in the first edition of the 2018 Silk Road Mountain Race in Kyrgyzstan and shared with us the challenges they encountered.
SILCA: You both did the first edition, Silk Road Mountain Race, without any expectations. How hard was it to prepare for the conditions? How difficult was it to stay hydrated?
Jon: Yes. some sections (and the organization warned of this) went many, many, miles without access to ANY water. Most of the time filtering water was required. I was carrying a 3-liter reservoir in my frame bag and a regular water bottle on the underside of my downtube.
Bas: In the race manual it stated that water would be easy to come by if you made sure to have a way to filter it or clean it otherwise. Even though I consider myself an experienced outdoor person, I have very limited knowledge or experience of water filtration or purification. I brought a small filter from MSR called the Trailshot, from which I would fill my three 800ml water bottles, this would take about 5-10 minutes each time.
I decided at the last minute to buy a third bottle cage in Bishkek (I had brought a third bottle in my luggage), and the cage broke on day 3 on the relentless washboard roads. So I had to improvise on storing that third water bottle for the rest of the race. The filter worked relatively fine until day 4 or 5. I’m still not sure if the filter clogged up, or my hands were too cramped from holding onto the handlebar (you need to squeeze the Trailshot to make it pump, I know nothing about milking cows but I can imagine it’s kind of like milking a cow).
Filling up three water bottles would get very slow. So more and more I’d scoop water straight from a stream when it seemed like there weren’t any cattle above. I was pretty fine for water for most of the trip, the only section that was very dry was in the south-western corner of the course, where you hit the tarmac going into the border control zone. I went for 50-60 kilometers running on a few sips. I should have asked for water at the checkpoint, but forgot. Right when I started losing hope (I was already flagging down trucks, but they wouldn’t stop), I passed over a trickle of a stream that went under the road. After that, I was good again.
SILCA: So when you need to find drinkable water in the most remote areas in Kyrgyzstan, what are the key things to pay attention to in order to stay safe?
"I used a number of Chlorine Dioxide purifier tabs throughout the trip." - Jon Woodroof
Jon: Initially, I was quite paranoid and would filter with a Sawyer mini water filter; but, was envious of the MSR pumps I saw. (haha) A lot of people commented on how the filters clogged up after a few days and the amount of water that would come through slowed down. You would have to flush and clean them much sooner than normal out there. That being said, once you got higher in the mountains, I got more audacious about not filtering. If I was in a rush and didn't filter, but wasn't totally confident. I used a number of Chlorine Dioxide purifier tabs throughout the trip.
"I was filling up my bottles and only by the second bottle I noticed that there was a decaying goat in the stream only three meters upstream from me." - Bas Rotgans
Bas: I guess you want the water to be as clean as possible, but it’s almost impossible to tell how clean it really is... So I stuck to running water in streams (no still-standing puddles). I tried to pick a stream that didn’t have animals grazing above me, and filtered all my water. Having said that, at one point, I was filling up my bottles and by the second bottle I noticed that there was a decaying goat in the stream only three meters upstream from me. I didn’t touch that bottle again until I had a chance to wash it out in one of the towns we went through. If I were to go again, I’d bring some purification tablets as a backup to a filter. I would also get more acquainted with how my filter works and being able to troubleshoot it when it clogs up.
Learn more about how to stay hydrated and prevent dehydration from Skratch Labs here.
Be sure to check out our bottle cages,
SICURO Ti and SICURO Carbon.