Thursday, June 30, 2011

Cycling and Hydration

It's Summer....and it's HOT.  What does that mean to a cyclist?  Well, it means that they should be properly hyrdated while out cycling.  But what about using hydration tabs to help out with the process?  Is it a good idea?  How much should you take?

We turned to Kelli Jennings (RD) from Apex Nutrition for help on this one, and here is what she had to say:

This one depends on 3 things: 1) How long are you training? At what intensity? At what heat/humidity (will you sweat a lot)? 2) What brand of electrolyte tablet are you using and what are the mg of sodium, potassium, calcium, and magnesium? 3) How much fluid do you typically drink per hour during your training (in ounces, the whole bottle, ½ the bottle, etc)?

Okay, so that was more like 7 questions (it’s always a can of worms with me!). For any moderate or high intensity workout, more than 60 minutes, here’s what you need (optimally) the replenish fluid and lytes:

20-32 oz. fluid, 400-700 mg sodium, 100-200 mg potassium, 80-120 mg calcium, 40-60 mg magnesium per hour. Of course, you also have to consider any other fluids or foods you’ll be consuming and the lytes in those. I usually find that athletes get in ~20 ounces per hour when they are really trying, but of course, it varies widely. So, now what you’ve got to determine is how many ounces you’ll drink, and how many mg of lytes your tablet provides. Then, you can mix the right amount of tablets in the right amount of water. This is a more individualized plan than just following the manufacturer directions (although that will get anyone who’s not real serious about the training/replenishing through).

You may have noticed that the “target” amounts above are big ranges. Usually, I consider the weight of the athlete, history of sweating (do you SWEAT or just glisten?), the temperature and humidity, and past individual experiences when targeting within these ranges.

As far as time: electrolytes are often most important, in terms of improving performance, for trainings greater than 120 minutes, depending on all the other factors…
Simple, right? Right.
Here’s the amounts of lytes in popular electrolyte tablets:

•NUUN Caps: 1 tablet = 360 mg sodium, 100 mg potassium, 13 mg calcium, 25 mg magnesium
•Camelbak Elixir: 1 tablet = 340 mg sodium, 125 mg potassium, 0 mg calcium, 0 mg magnesium
•Hammer Endurolytes Fizz: 1 tablet = 200 mg sodium, 100 mg potassium, 100 mg calcium, 50 mg magnesium

I’m a fan of also using salt and Milton’s lyte to fluids when they don’t contain as much sodium/potassium as I’d like. These contain:

•Salt: 1/8 tsp = 300 mg sodium
•Morton’s late salt: 1/8 tsp = 146 mg sodium, 176 mg potassium
•Calcium/Magnesium tablets (crushable or liquids) supplements in a 2:1 ratio (many tablets are 500 mg calcium/250 mg magnesium)

Some athletes also use capsules that are swallowed whole before, during, and after training. I prefer those that are dissolved into fluid for a couple reasons: 1) you have to drink the fluid anyway…taking a capsule + fluid (as opposed to “in” fluid) adds one more thing to remember and 2) the electrolytes consumed are subject to our guts’ rate of absorption – taking more at once doesn’t usually mean more absorbed – small amounts over time usually increase absorption.

Lastly, don’t forget the carbs. You need 40-60 gm carbs per hour when training over 60 minutes. For my time and money, I choose a fluid with carbs and lytes. If you want an easy and inexpensive recipe to get all the fluid, carbs, and lytes you need, try my homebrew at – it’s a free recipe.

For anyone else reading this that’s still on the fence about whether or not they even need to add electrolytes to fluid, review all the good reasons at

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