What’s in your Bottle: Part 5: H2o’s Crucial Nature

The most critical component of nutrition is water

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  • You should be training like you intend to race; that counts for nutrition, too
  • Are you a “sugar burner” or a “fat burner?”
  • The length of the event, the intensity of the event, your fitness, and your weight are the factors that determine your race nutrition
  • You can’t process what you can’t tolerate
  • Without carbs, you bonk. Without water, well, it’s more dire than that.
  • During-event nutrition isn’t the only thing to think about: pre-event and post-event are critical considerations, too
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Water, water, everywhere. Drink as much as you can…

[dropcap style=”default”]You can’t go without water.[/dropcap]

Your body can go for days without food, but just a couple without water puts you in serious jeopardy.

In a race situation, your body will just refuse to continue at more than a crawl — especially if it’s hot — in a very short amount of time.

Let’s spend some time talking in practical terms about the critical importance of water as it relates to your performance nutrition.

Start with water, first thing.

If you, like me, use mornings as your primary workout time, do yourself a huge favor. Pour a big glass of fresh, filtered water — upwards of 16 ounces, and keep it bedside. Consume it as soon as you wake. For an added boost, no matter if you’re a sugar burner or a fat burner, have a 25–30 gram carbohydrate snack sitting right next to it. It could be a gel, a banana, or anything else that is easily and quickly consumable.

The reason is twofold:

  • Overnight, it’s not unusual to dehydrate quite a bit
  • You maintain muscle glycogen overnight, but liver glycogen keeps your body’s energy systems going…and it’s pretty well spent by the time you wake. That little hit of carbohydrate upon waking helps clear the brain and prep you for your workout.

[callout icon=”hb-moon-bike”] Once your workout has started, you need to consume 16 ounces of water — bare minimum — per hour of workout or race effort. 24 ounces per hour is even better.[/callout]

You want to do this first thing because it simply takes time for your body to do the conversion process. Get the water and carbs down, then get ready for your workout.

Your body desperately needs that water to enable whatever carbs you’re ingesting to get processed in your system. Woofing down thick, gooey energy gels (or even more dense, healthy, “real food” alternatives such as honey and almond butter) will be a challenge for your system to convert. It needs water to get the nutrients to your muscles for that workout.

Once your workout has started, you need to consume 16 ounces of water — bare minimum — per hour of workout or race effort. 24 ounces per hour is even better. If it’s hot, you’ll need even more. 

Replace what you kick out

Additionally, you need to replace most of the fluids — not to mention the minerals, such as sodium — that you lose during sweat. One way to make sure you’re hydrating enough during a workout or race is to weigh yourself immediately prior to the workout. Then, weigh yourself immediately afterwards, before you’ve had any sort of recovery beverage, snack, or meal. For every pound of weight you have lost, you’ll need 24 ounces of water.

So, if you weigh in at 168 before a workout or race, then, after hydrating as you usually do, you weigh in and discover that you’re 166 pounds, you know you’ve under-hydrated by 48 ounces. Get into the habit of the pre and post-event weigh-in, and start taking in the necessary water. You’ll find that your energy is better, and your post-event recovery goes better, too.

You might want to consider riding with 2 different bottles: In one, have your favorite carb / electrolyte mix. Make sure it has the proportion of carbohydrate required for your expected ride time, ride intensity, and tolerability levels. If you’re also carrying solid food or gels, calculate those carbs into the total.

For your other bottle, have it contain only water.

The reason for this is to avoid over-carbing, or overcompensating for exercise calories. If your bottles contain only carbohydrate-rich mixtures, you run the risk of taking in more than you need. Remember the caveat about too much carbohydrate sloshing about in your stomach? Having one bottle with plain water allows you the ability to titrate, or modulate your carbohydrate intake.

[icon_box icon=”hb-moon-bike” icon_position=”left” align=”left”]Question: Drinking enough water helps your carbs and protein do their jobs better. Are you drinking enough on your rides? Did you have any “a-ha” moments to help you realize how much is enough?[/icon_box]

Sam Lowe

I've been a road cyclist with a penchant for speed ever since my first-ever paycheck holiday. I blew the whole wad on a turquoise Schwinn Tempo with then-new Shimano 105 indexed shifting way back in 1985. I've been a voracious consumer of racing-oriented information ever since. Training, nutrition, bike fit, racing techniques, and all manner of "kit." Between nearly 30 years of riding, racing, and reading about racing, I'm ready to help you get ready to race.

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