Staying hydrated is going to be crucial if you want to perform at your best during Haute Route Alpe d’Huez.
At Precision Hydration we help a long list of elite athletes and teams (including a number of World Tour riders) get hydration right and, as Haute Route’s Official Hydration Partner, it’s our job to help you nail your hydration strategy before you roll out at the Grand Départ on July 12th. Your Rider’s Pack will include a free tube of PH 1500, an extra strong electrolyte drink that’ll help you start each stage properly hydrated and aid your recovery afterwards. You’ll then be able to fill your bottle up with PH 500 (a low-calorie, hypotonic electrolyte drink designed for optimal absorption) or water at the feed stations on the course. We’ll be sending you a full hydration briefing closer to the event but, for now, here’s some advice to help you refine your hydration strategy in your final months of training. Taking some time to get this right will not only mean you’ll be less likely to have hydration-related issues when you’re out in the French Alps, but staying hydrated should also mean you’ll perform better in training which’ll pay dividends in July!
Starting training hydrated (and why that’s so important)
When people talk about hydration, most of the time it’s about what and how much athletes should drink during exercise. These are clearly important questions, but your performance is also massively influenced by how hydrated you are when you start riding in the first place. Starting fully hydrated gives you a much bigger reserve of fluids and electrolytes to draw upon once you start sweating. It has other benefits too. Optimal hydration maximises your blood volume and this helps general cardiovascular function and your ability to dissipate the heat produced by your working muscles. This reduces fatigue and enables you to maintain your performance for longer. Learn more.
Despite the relatively obvious benefits of starting rides well hydrated, a recent study of over 400 athletes showed that around 31% of them were turning up to training sessions dehydrated! For most short/steady training rides, just topping up with a bit of extra water in the hours before you start is all you need to do. But, drinking a strong electrolyte drink before longer, hotter and sweatier rides (including those intense, sweaty turbo sessions) can significantly improve your performance. And it may even help you avoid cramping up late on in the ride, or in the hours after you finish, if that’s something you’re prone to. That’s why you’ll be issued with a tube of our strongest electrolyte supplement, PH 1500, in your Rider Pack. At a concentration of 1,500mg of sodium per litre, it’s around 2-3x stronger than typical sports drinks. That extra sodium helps you absorb and retain more fluid, which boosts your blood plasma volume and reduces cardiovascular strain.
We call this ‘preloading’ and if you want to test whether it improves your performance, follow this protocol before your next long ride…
• Drink a 500ml (16oz) bottle of a stronger electrolyte drink like PH 1500 the evening before your ride
• Drink another 500ml (16oz) bottle of a stronger electrolyte drink like PH 1500 about 90 minutes before you set off. Finish your drink at least 45 minutes before you start to give your body time to fully absorb what it needs and pee out any excess.
• Drink the electrolyte supplement in water you’d have drank anyway to ensure you don’t overdo it.
• Don’t overdo your intake of plain water in the build-up to a sweaty ride. You’ll just end up peeing most of it out and, if you’re not careful, you can even end up diluting your blood sodium levels, increasing the risk of a ride-ruining (and potentially dangerous) condition called hyponatremia. Symptoms include nausea, vomiting and headaches.
If you want to use PH 1500 to test preloading, just use the code HR-ALPEDH-8JYF at precisionhydration.com to get £10 off your first order.
Staying hydrated during training rides
How much should you drink?
Some fluid intake is definitely required to maintain your performance when you’re riding for more than about 2 hours and it’s crucial when you’re riding for longer than around 4 hours, especially in hot/humid conditions and in the later stages of the ride. It’s always tricky to nail down exactly how much you should drink because everyone’s individual needs differ - you have to experiment and learn to listen to your body to get this just right. To give a couple of examples from the extreme ends of the spectrum, we work with Team Sunweb rider Jan Bakelants, who won a stage of the Tour De France and held the Yellow Jersey back in 2013. Jan has a very high sweat rate and a well ‘trained’ stomach, so in the heat of high intensity racing on very hot days he often consumes almost 1.5 litres (51oz) per hour on the bike. We’ve also worked with smaller female athletes with much lower sweat rates who can get by on as little as 400ml (13.5oz) per hour or less, even in really hot conditions. With that said, most riders end up needing something in the range of 500ml (17oz) to 1l (34oz) per hour, about half of which might contain electrolytes to replace what you’re losing in your sweat. So, that’s probably not a bad range within which to start your own experimentation to figure out what will work for you. Feeling thirsty? Have a dry mouth? You may not be drinking enough. Try to respond to the early signs of thirst and not leave it too late. Bloated? Fluid sloshing around in your stomach? Need to pee often during the ride? You might be drinking too much. Don’t force fluids down if you don’t feel you want them.
A few words on fuelling and what to drink
The composition of what’s in your drink bottles will make a big difference to how well it hydrates you and how easily it’s absorbed from your gut into your bloodstream. For long, challenging rides, a hypotonic drink (i.e. one low in carbs) is highly likely to outperform anything more calorific. That’s mainly because it’s way less likely to cause you stomach issues and sickness as the ride goes on and you satisfy your high requirement for fluids and electrolytes. Learn more.
We’d recommend largely viewing your bottles as a source of fluids for hydration rather than a source of significant calories/energy. Ideally aim to get most of your calories from solid foods, gels, bars, fruits and whatever else you’re carrying in your pockets (or can pick up from the feed stations on the Haute Route course). Learn more.
By taking this approach to fuelling and hydration you maximise your chances of keeping optimally hydrated whilst keeping your stomach happy and getting in enough energy to see you right to the end of the ride, even in the most extreme conditions.
What makes sodium so important to hydration and performance?
Your sweat is mostly made up of sodium and water (which is why it tends to taste salty and leave white marks on your cycling kit). It does include potassium, magnesium and calcium too, but in relatively small amounts. When you sweat, your blood volume is gradually reduced as the sweat is drawn from your blood plasma.This increases the strain on your cardiovascular system, making it harder to pump blood to your skin (to cool you down) and to your working muscles. This obviously has a negative impact on your performance. Other issues like a general feeling of fatigue, a loss of concentration and even muscle cramps can also be experienced if your losses are allowed to go uncorrected for long enough. Learn more about why athletes cramp up.
Up to a certain point, taking in plain water is enough to mitigate sweat losses. But, as those losses start to mount up, you need to replace the sodium you’re losing too to avoid your blood becoming too dilute (hyponatremia). The thing is, everyone loses a different amount of sodium in their sweat, from as little as 200mg of sodium per litre of sweat, to as much as 2,000mg/l. And everyone sweats at different rates, which means that your net sodium losses over a Haute Route stage could be as much as 10-15x higher than the rider next to you in the peloton.
So, how much sodium should you be taking in with your fluids?
How much salt you lose in your sweat is largely genetically determined and doesn’t vary significantly for factors like diet and acclimation to a new environment. This means that, whilst you can only find it out by getting Sweat Tested, you only need to get tested once. At Precision Hydration we have an Advanced Sweat Test, done at rest, that tells you exactly how much you lose and we combine this data with information about how you train and compete to personalize your hydration plan. We also offer a free online Sweat Test that helps you get started with personalising your hydration strategy through some good old fashioned trial and error in training. If you need help understanding your sweat rate, this blog will help you measure it and we also have a useful guide on estimating how salty your sweat is.
[ Take the free Cycling Sweat Test ]
Hopefully you’ll find this information useful as you refine your hydration plan over the next few months. If you have any questions at all, just reach out to us at [email protected] and we’ll be happy to help.
And remember, if you want to give the on-course hydration drinks a try in training, just use your voucher code HR-ALPEDH-8JYF at precisionhydration.com to get £10 off your first order.
Enjoy the ride of a lifetime…
Andy Blow has a degree in Sport and Exercise Science and was once the Team Sports Scientist for the Benetton and Renault F1 teams. He founded Precision Hydration to help athletes solve their hydration issues and perform at their best.