As an endurance cyclist, you understand the relentless demands of the sport. But when the temperature rises and the sun is beating down, your nutrition strategy might just be your secret weapon.
However, when it comes to cycling in hot weather, additional considerations must be taken into account to ensure your body remains well-fuelled and hydrated throughout the ride.
This blog will take you through the coveted strategies used by elite athletes, backed by peer reviewed literature and cutting-edge advances to take your performance to the next level.
Hydration plan: Staying cool and well-hydrated
Cycling in hot weather increases the risk of dehydration, which can impair performance and jeopardise your health. To maintain optimal hydration levels, follow these guidelines:
Aim to sip drinks (~5–7 mL/kg per body weight) at least 4 hours before exercise. By hydrating several hours prior to exercise there is sufficient time for urine output to return towards normal before starting the event.
Consuming drinks with 500-1000mg of sodium and/or small amounts of salted snacks or sodium-containing foods at meals will help to stimulate thirst and retain the consumed fluids.
Sweat rate and sweat sodium losses are highly individual so hydration guidelines are very broad, and therefore it can be beneficial to know your individual sweat rate and sweat sodium concentration.
Aim to drink 400-800ml of fluid every hour (with the higher rates for faster, heavier individuals competing in warm environments). Consider sports drinks that contain electrolytes (500-1000mg) to stimulate thirst and promote fluid absorption.
After exercise, the goal is to fully replace any fluid and electrolyte deficit. To achieve rapid and complete recovery from post exercise dehydration aim to drink ~1.5 L of fluid for each kilogram of body weight lost over the first couple of hours after your ride.
It is preferable to consume fluids over this period of time (and with sufficient electrolytes) rather than being ingested in large boluses to maximise fluid retention.
Carbohydrate intake: Fuelling your ride
Endurance cycling requires a steady supply of carbohydrates to maintain energy levels. In hot weather, the body's carbohydrate absorption and utilisation may be affected due to increased sweating and higher core body temperature. Consider the following strategies:
Pre-ride carbohydrate loading:
Consume a carbohydrate-rich meal 2-4 hours before your ride. Aim for a combination of complex carbohydrates (whole grains, fruits, vegetables) and a small amount of protein to optimize glycogen stores.
During-exercise carbohydrate intake:
Aim for a carbohydrate intake of approximately 60-90 grams per hour to sustain energy levels during prolonged (2h+) rides. This can be achieved through a combination of sports drinks, energy gels, bars, and easily digestible snacks.
Consume a carbohydrate-rich meal or snack as soon as possible after your ride to begin to replenish glycogen stores. This window of opportunity maximises glycogen synthesis and facilitates muscle recovery. Appetite tends to be suppressed in the heat so a post ride protein smoothie can be a great option.
Nutritional supplements: Enhancing performance and recovery
When cycling in hot weather, certain nutritional supplements can play a role in supporting performance and recovery. While individual needs may vary, consider these supplements:
- Electrolytes: Supplementing with electrolytes, such as sodium and potassium, helps replenish essential minerals lost through sweat. Choose electrolyte drinks, tablets, or powders specifically designed for endurance athletes.
L-glutamine: May help to reduce exercise-induced muscle damage and fatigue.
Do you burn more calories in the heat?
Cycling in hot weather may lead to increased caloric expenditure due to the body's continued efforts to stay cool. However, the precise amount of additional calories burned can vary based on factors like intensity, duration, and individual differences.
It is essential to maintain an adequate energy intake to support your body's increased energy demands during hot weather rides when appetite may be suppressed.
Cycling in hot weather requires careful attention to nutrition and hydration to ensure optimal performance and well-being.
By following evidence-based strategies, you can fuel effectively for endurance cycling, maintain proper hydration, and support your body's energy needs even in challenging environmental conditions.
Stay hydrated, fuel with carbohydrates, consider appropriate supplements, and enjoy your rides while achieving your performance goals.