It Takes More Than Water

Summer temperatures are here in Texas now. Austin got its first 100-degree day (38C) this week, although thankfully, we’re way behind last year’s ridiculous 90 days of 100 degrees or more.

So I’ve been making sure I have plenty of water while out on my rides. But the advent of the really hot temperatures reminds me that water alone isn’t enough. If I needed a stark reminder of that fact, all I had to do was take note of this news item:

SAN ANTONIO, June 12 (UPI) — A 30-year-old man who fell ill during an endurance boat race in Texas has died, authorities said.

Brad Ellis, who had become ill Sunday during the Texas Water Safari race on the San Marcos and Guadalupe rivers, was the first participant to die in the event’s 50-year history, the San Antonio Express-News reported.

Ellis died of hyponatremia, or low sodium, said Allen Spelce, president of the Texas Water Safari.

“It goes against logic,” Spelce said. “You think, ‘Drink water, drink water,’ but you’re expelling all of that sodium, through sweat and using the bathroom, and not getting the replacements.”

I plead guilty. I get by just fine with two bottles of water for rides of 30 miles or less. Part of the reason I bonked last weekend is that I was just drinking water and not replenishing my electrolytes on a ride about an hour longer than I’ve been doing lately. It’s time to start carrying some kind of electrolyte replacement again.

I’ve never been picky about what I use. Often, in the middle of a ride, I’ll stop at a convenience store and pick up a bottle of G2 — the low-sugar Gatorade. I have used Nuun in the past, and like it, although I know people who don’t care for the fizzy tablets you add to your water.

Most sports drinks have a variety of electrolytes — sodium, potassium, chloride and more — it appears that sodium is the one to be most concerned about. The Mayo Clinic’s website says sodium is important to the body, because it “helps maintain normal blood pressure, supports the work of your nerves and muscles, and regulates your body’s fluid balance.” If the sodium level drops too much, extra water enters your cells and swells them. It can even cause you brain cells to swell, and since the brain’s ability to enlarge is restricted by the skull, swollen brain cells could trigger more dangerous symptoms.

In lieu of a sports drink, you could munch on something salty. I’ve always liked a Payday candy bar. The peanuts that surround the nougat center of a Payday contain plenty of salt. A small bag of pretzels would work just as well.

The main thing to be aware of, though, is that water isn’t enough. The Mayo Clinic says you should only drink as much fluid as you lose through sweat during exercise. That would be about 34 ounces — or one liter — of water an hour. That’s about two water bottles. Uh oh — I usually drink only one bottle per hour. So hyponatremia wouldn’t seem to be a particular worry for me. I need to boost my fluid intake, and now that it’s really hot outside, make sure I replenish my sodium, too.

Just use the common sense guidelines you’ve been following since starting to cycle, and you’ll be fine.



  1. says

    This is a good reminder as summer hits… I had horrible fatigue after Saturday’s 30 mile in 84 degree heat. And I drank like a fish… I’m wondering if I didn’t have this exact issue? Regardless, Gatorade for me from here on out on decent length rides.

    P.S. I’m a new follower!

  2. says

    I have found that Hammer Nutrition makes a couple of VERY effective electrolyte replacement products, Endurolytes and Perpetuem Solids.

    I have used Endurolytes for about 7 years both when cycling in hot/humid conditions. There are some things to pay attention to with any electrolyte replacement product and the first is that sodium and potassium are not enough and in fact, getting too much sodium can actually block absorbtion of other essential electrolytes. While it is tempting to gobble salty foods (potato chips, tortillas and peanuts, for example ), they actually can reduce the benefit of products which would otherwise be lifesavers. I minimize consumption of salty foods for a couple of days before and big ride, or racing my little Sunfish in hot weather, then I take 2 endurolyte capsules before starting a ride/sail. In the course of a ride I drink enough water to need to take a nature break at least once every two hours and I take one endurolyte for every half liter of water. If I begin to notice weakness or the early signs of cramping, I double up the endurolyte for a coupe of cycles. This works very well.

    The only real shortcoming I have seen is that I also need carbs and protein in the course of rides over about 30 miles. I have tried several approaches, including apples, almonds, peaches, honey stingers, GU Roctane ( which some of my riding pals call Cyclocrack, due to its amazingly quick kick ).

    For about a year fruit, endurolytes and Roctane were my staples, but the 35mg of caffiene in Roctane added up on longer rides to keep me awake for hours after even 70-100 mile rides. Which is what has led me to Hammer Perpetuem Solids. They combine a good spectrum of electrolytes with many of the other nutrients needed on longer rides in the Hill Country in the dog days of summer. So far, the results are encouraging. I will keep you posted as I get more experience. I do still eat some fruit and almonds along the way, but carrying as many apples as I would need for energy is not practical and I would still need the Endurolytes.

  3. Paul Jakma says

    Obvious thing to do: put some salt in your water bottle. I put a quarter tea-spoon of a potassium+sodium salt (e.g. “LoSalt” is one brand, 66% KCl, 33% NaCl). I also add a couple of tea-spoons of sugar, and a pinch of anhydrous citric acid (for taste primarily).

    Also, the SI unit is “litre” – it’s a precisely defined scientific unit for good reason, including how it is written. 😉

    • says

      Paul, you are leaving out other VERY important salts. Calcium, magnesium, and manganese are depleted as well. To aid soaking your electrolytes back up vitamin B6 is supposedly also essential.

      You may get by without these, but you will “get by” feeling much stronger with them and the time may come that you get so depleted of them on a long hot ride that you will not “get by”.

      • Paul Jakma says

        You need those elements in much, much, much lower concentrations. I get them from eating a good bowl of muesli with nuts and milk each morning. Also, you need to be quite careful about calcium supplementation – too much greatly increases risks of kidney stones.

  4. says

    Yeah, well, we’re ‘mericans, and we still haven’t figured out this metric stuff.
    Funny you mention adding salt to water, tho. I did that this afternoon before my ride in 95 degree (35C) heat.

  5. Jeff says

    I’ve mentioned Allen Lim before, and all the research he has done into these exact areas. Anyone interested should check out a few of the video interviews at He’s a big proponent of natural solutions, which I like. He’s got some homemade energy food recipes that are easy to make, and also the Skratch Labs drink mix (formerly Secret Drink Mix) which addressed almost all of the issues above. Other than the negative of the cost, I think it’s easily the best stuff out there, especially for those of us in hot climates. And a reminder, they offered readers a 15% discount with the code Bike Noob. Might be worth a try…

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *