Hydration Strategies For Summer Sportives

Summer is the time when we all dream of escaping work for long days in the saddle. Alpine ascents let us push ourselves to new limits as we conquer cols with friends or indeed with thousands of others in sportives. With temperatures currently around 40 ºC in the Alps, staying properly hydrated while riding is of maximum importance. With temperatures set to remain high ahead of the Étape and holiday season for most of us, we've put together some best practice for staying safely hydrated on summer rides.

We asked our training and nutrition expert Dr. Chris Bartlett to give us some advice, especially relating to sportives and the long Alpine routes many of us will be tackling in the coming weeks.

"This past weekend saw thousands of riders compete in the Marmotte; the 40 ºC heat combined with the huge physical exertion and low air speeds typical of climbing caused many riders to suffer heat stroke and dehydration.

To give oneself the best chance of coping in such conditions, a considered hydration strategy needs to be in place. Feedzones are at designated places, so plan where you will stop to rehydrate. In such hot conditions, it would be prudent to refill often.

Ensure you are adequately hydrated in the days leading up to the event. Drink little and often to avoid the potentially severe condition of hyponatremia (low sodium levels in the blood).
Sweat rates are typically 1-1.5 litres an hour in summer, but can reach 3-4 litres per hour in extreme conditions. To maintain performance, this needs to be replaced.
Water is better absorbed by the body when it contains sugar and electrolytes. (Molecules of sugar and salts take water across the intestinal walls as they pass through). So for high rehydration rates, use energy drink.

In such hot conditions, overheating can become a real danger. Body temperature can go over 40 ºC, and cause real damage. DO pour water over your self to help with cooling (if it is in ample supply, i.e. drink first!). Floyd Landis used this to great effect during stage 17 of the 2006 TdF. Taking 90 or so bidons to pour over his head from his team car. The sole reason for his 6 min solo win."


"Muscle cramp is often not related to dehydration. It is commonly due to overuse of the neuromuscular system, i.e. to ask too much from your legs, to ride faster and longer than you have trained them to do so. If your legs begin to 'twitch', overuse is likely the cause. It is not likely due to low salt levels; indeed, people cramping in this way have even been shown to have higher blood sodium levels. In such cases, there is much anecdotal evidence to support that sour foods (pickle, Haribo Tangfastics) alleviate the symptoms. However, If you suffer an all-over cramp, that is more likely to be due to low sodium levels and consuming electrolytes will help."

So, make sure you are properly hydrated in the days leading up to a big ride in extreme heat. If you are traveling, make sure you drink plenty of water on your journey. Maybe those free inflight drinks are not such a great idea after all?

When riding, plan your water stops to refill bidons in advance. Refill often, drink often. Make sure to use energy drink or electrolytes (ideally both) to aid in rehydration. You can always carry some small electrolyte tabs with you wrapped in clingfilm.

If there is plenty of water, don't be afraid of pouring it all over yourself! Probably best to avoid doing this with sports drink...

Ride well, drink lots of water, enjoy your summer!

Photos courtesy of 40 Cols and 1330 Road Cycling .