Touring Tip: Staying Hydrated

Aug 09, 2012 View Comments by

For much of the USA, triple digit temperatures have been the norm this year. Unless you’re touring in New England or the Pacific Northwest, you’ll likely be riding in heat that can be both uncomfortable and potentially dangerous. So it’s a good time to review touring strategies for surviving the heat.

Our bodies need to maintain a relatively constant core temperature. Sweat creates surface moisture on our skin, which produces an evaporative cooling effect. The hotter the temperature, the more riders sweat and deplete their bodily liquids. In very dry climates, the sweat evaporates so quickly that a rider may not realize the rapid rate at which he or she is dehydrating.

The loss of approximately one quart of body fluids can produce symptoms of dehydration which include decreased urine flow that becomes more yellow (more concentrated) in color, reduced physical strength and stamina, drowsiness or even dizziness, slower mental processes, and impaired judgment and decision-making. These symptoms, undoubtedly, increase a rider’s risk of having a serious accident. In more extreme situations, dehydration, itself, can become life threatening.

It’s obviously a good practice to drink water and other clear fluids when you get thirsty, but in hot weather this usually does not rehydrate our bodies sufficiently for two reasons:  (1) humans, unlike most other members of the animal kingdom, do not always get thirsty when they need rehydration and (2) even when we think we’ve consumed enough water, we usually haven’t. While riding in a hot dry climate, your body will need to consume at least a gallon of water each day to replace lost fluids. If you’re riding off-road and exerting a great deal in the process, a much higher level of water consumption will be needed.

It’s important to avoid consuming drinks that contain caffeine, because they can produce an unquenchable thirst and also act as a diuretic, increasing urine production and the loss of body fluids. It’s also important to replace your body’s electrolytes (potassium, chloride, and sodium) with fruit, juices, or sports type drinks to maintain effective brain and neuromuscular functions.

Another important strategy in hot weather riding is to wear the proper clothing. Mesh riding pants and jacket protect your skin from excessive solar radiation while also allowing the sweat to form and produce its cooling effect. Riding with bare skin exposed increases the dehydration rate without producing much of a cooling effect. It’s also advantageous to wear form-fitted synthetic undergarments, which hold perspiration close to the body and allow air to flow through. This maximizes the evaporative cooling effect and comfort.

There, also, are other hot weather riding aids available in the marketplace, including cooling vests, which can be soaked in water, and various types of evaporative neck bands that help cool the blood flowing through the carotid arteries in a rider’s neck.

Many of us stop only periodically to drink water in large quantities, but much of this rapidly consumed water winds up in our small intestines and isn’t absorbed into body tissues. A more effective technique is to carry a water bladder on your back (or in some other location) and sip small amounts from it frequently while riding. This is one time when it’s OK, actually much more than OK, to drink and ride.

Be safe out there and stay


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