Hydration packs aid cycling performance

Credit: Ned Bonzi /Allsport
Staying hydrated is critical to enjoying yourself while cycling. Today's hydration systems make it easier than ever to get the fluid your active body demands.

Compact hydration packs with fluid delivery tubes allow you to quickly and conveniently drink without breaking your pace. And they allow you to do so without taking your hands off the handlebar.

Why hydrate?

Proper hydration is one of the key elements in cycling performance. Over 60 percent of the human body is water.

In the bloodstream, water helps serve as an energy supply line to deliver oxygen and nutrients that allow your muscles to perform at their peak.

Water is also the primary element in your body's cooling system. During cycling, your body loses fluids as it works to maintain a healthy temperature. Your muscles generate eight to 10 times more heat when you work out than when you're at rest. High-intensity cycling you can cause you to lose two or more quarts of body fluid per hour! And if you don't replace that fluid, you'll suffer from dehydration.

Dehydration has a dramatically negative impact on cycling performance, and this can happen long before you get thirsty. At the extreme, dehydration is a dangerous condition that can lead to severe cramps, exhaustion and heatstroke.

It's difficult to reverse the effects of moderate to severe dehydration in time to salvage good physical performance or even a good time. To sustain performance, drink plenty of water before, during and after any vigorous activity.

Solutions for sports drinks

Some cyclists carry plain water in their hydration packs and sports drinks in the bottles on their frame. Mix the sports drink so it's a bit more concentrated than the manufacturer recommends. When you ride, take a drink of sports drink followed by a few good sips of water from the hydration pack. The water will dilute the concentrated sports drink and you'll end up with the suggested 6 to 8 percent solution in your stomach.

You'll be getting a shot of glucose and carbohydrates without having to go to the bottle so frequently. You'll have water conveniently when needed through the hydration pack.

The hydration pack sits on the rider's back like a backpack. The rider drinks from a tube with a bite valve. Depending on the size, these hydration packs can hold 50 to 100 ounces.

When the ride is over, it's much easier to get sticky sports drink residue out of bottles than from your system's reservoir. The hydration pack also will keep the water colder, which will encourage you to drink more often on the ride.

However, some cyclists prefer to carry sports drink in their hydration system instead of carrying bottles. You can clean the reservoir after a ride by rinsing it out in hot water in a sink.

Hydration-system maintenance tips

Rinse the reservoir with hot water after every use and allow it to air-dry special hangers are available.

For more thorough cleaning, use specially made hydration-system cleansers and brushes. To sanitize, add a teaspoon of household bleach to a water-filled reservoir, then rinse with hot water. To reduce residual taste or odor, add a teaspoon of baking soda to the water-filled reservoir. Let it sit overnight, then rinse with hot water. Always rinse well with hot water. Separate the sides and allow to drip-dry.

If you cannot air dry it properly, then roll up the reservoir and put it into the freezer. Freezing the reservoir this way means that it won't turn into an incubator for mold caused by the sugar oxidizing from heat and oxygen.


Edmund R. Burke, Ph.D. is professor and director of the Exercise Science Program at the University of Colorado. He served as coordinator of sports sciences for the U.S. Cycling Team leading up to the Olympic Games in 1996 and was a staff member for the 1980 and 1984 Olympic Cycling Teams.


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