Best Electrolytes For Cycling A Century

You’ve shopped carefully and found an ideal road bike for beginner cyclists ( After a few rides, you are hooked, and ready to join a bike club. They talk you into preparing for your first, century, road ride.

100 mile on a bike? You’re game.

Your training begins in earnest.

For many years, water was my sole choice for hydration. It tasted great, went down well, and didn’t upset my stomach.

Occasionally, I would try more mainstream electrolyte-infused concoctions like Gatorade or Powerade, but always found that they left my mouth feeling sticky, dry… and craving water.

Last year on a century ride, my legs started feeling it. I was slow, felt hungry and was getting passed by much less fit riders.

It was misery.

Every rest stop I would grab a few more bananas, take some pickle shots and try to rejuvenate. It wasn’t working as well as it usually did.

Maybe it was the heat.

Or maybe it was because I hadn’t trained as much for this century as I had in previous years.

Or maybe it was all that added mileage I had packed on over the previous three weeks in my desperate bid to get into shape.

Seeing my misery, my friend suggested I try some electrolyte powder he had along.

And boy, did that open my eyes! Within 30 minutes my legs were feeling fresh again, and I was pedaling like it was the start of the ride.

When I got home, I started researching electrolytes tablets that are specially engineered for active cardio. These typically are less sweet and designed for your body to process them quickly — even when you are at your maximum effort.

Rate of Electrolyte Loss In Cyclists

It turns out that around 500 mg of electrolytes are lost in each pound of sweat.

So, if you have an intense workout in a hot yoga session or on your bike during a hot day, you might lose 2-3 pounds of sweat.

It’s going to make eating a lot of bacon to get that salt replenished.

Most of us are salt conscious (and we should be) which leads us to eat a healthy, low-salt diet that is ideal for non-athletic people. Read more:

This conservative approach places us at risk when we begin engaging in strenuous activity on a hot day.

And, as I discovered, there is this potential to “bonk” when the salt levels get low enough — even if I am eating sugary foods and drinking enough other fluids.

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Carbohydrate Drinks

A popular trend in cycling is carbohydrate drinks. These enable you to easily premix carbohydrates and electrolytes into your water, providing a steady stream of energy for you as you ride.

The benefit of this method is that it keeps you from over-consuming glucose and getting stomach cramps. At the same time, it delivers the maximum level of carbohydrates that your body can process, providing peak performance throughout your ride.

I’m not as big a fan of the carbohydrate drinks. I’d rather down a gel pack or eat a banana and wash the sweetness away with water.

That said, the Gu Roctane is a mix that seems to work pretty well for me on longer efforts. It has the branched-chain amino acids that your muscles crave. This BCAAs serve to help protect your muscles against catabolism by an over-stressed body:

Then, it has your carbohydrates and electrolytes to keep your engine running at peak performance even on a hot day.

Finally, it delivers caffeine, which has a proven track record of improving performance during an intense workout.

I don’t feel that the Roctane is quite as sweet as the more commercially available drinks, and yet it delivers a complete hydration system for those extremely hot days.

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Electrolyte-only Drinks

The other one that I’ve begun enjoying is the NUUN tablets. They come in a waterproof container that rides nicely in the back of your jersey.

At rest stops, you simply pop one out and put it in your water bottle for an instant dose of electrolyte power.

These also have caffeine and include a little kick of B vitamin for added effectiveness.

At only 10 calories per tablet, the Nuun moves me away from that over-sugary experience that I get with all of the other drinks. Granted, I need to eat more bananas to make up for it, but bananas are pretty cheap, so I’m not complaining

I never noticed how much electrolytes we lose through sweat. It turns out that electrolyte imbalances can create an extremely life-threatening situation for extreme sports athletes (I think pedaling 100 miles on a bicycle qualifies).

Even if you haven’t noticed a decrease in your performance when you stick to plain water, it might be worth trying these tablets on your next workout.

It could be that you are like me and that basic pickle shots aren’t going to cut it for you. Your muscles may need a wider selection of electrolytes to pull from.

Nuun delivers that.

If you have a hard time eating enough on the bike, then get some Roctane to carry with you on your Century.

But, for most cyclists, I think Nuun tablets are the best choice. Just add one to each water bottle as you refill them and enjoy a refreshing jolt of energy with each sip.

You’ll be sending me thank-you notes from Hotter in Hell. I just know you will.

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