Hydration status affects performance on the bike and recovery too. Athletes at the Tour de France have to compete at their peak level day after day for three weeks, so having a good fluid management strategy is a must. Let’s look at how they used to do it back in the early days and compare it to the modern approach to hydration.

Hot chocolate and champagne

Until the 1960s, it was common practice to drink alcohol while competing in endurance cycling. Riders drank various drinks from beer and wine to champagne, for both hydration and a more fun ride. For example, the 1904 Tour de France winner, Henri Cornet, consumed 11 litters of hot chocolate, 4 litters of tea, champagne, and 1.5 kilos of rice pudding a day. This might seem crazy by today’s standards of 5-hour long stages but keep in mind that in the early 1900s, riders had to endure 18 hours a day in the saddle during the whole Tour.

While a beer won’t hurt your hydration status, there are much more effective ways of hydrating. Teams have a pretty strict policy when it comes to alcohol these days. “No alcohol during the Tour, or even during the weeks before,” said Judith Haudum, a nutritionist for BMC. “Maybe if you win a stage or have the yellow jersey, you can have a glass at dinner.”

Electrolytes and carbs

A cycling water bottle in the present day does a lot more than just hydrate. Each litre of sweat contains roughly 900 mg sodium, 1 mg magnesium, 300 mg potassium, and 15 mg calcium. A good hydration strategy will replace all of those electrolytes, provide sufficient amount of fluids, and some calories on top, too. The specific contents of a bidon depend a lot on the weather, stage type, and the rider’s physiology. There are three main types of sports drinks used.

Hypertonic drinks – These have the highest concentration of sugars (10 % and more) and are used mainly for recovery. They digest relatively slowly so they aren’t good for consumption on the bike as riders would have to slow down or experience digestive issues. Most often, riders get them in a form of fruit juices on the bus going back to the hotel.

Isotonic drinks – These drinks have a similar concentration of sugars (6 – 8 %) as blood which means they absorb fast while still supplying the rider with quite a lot of fuel. These types of sport’s drinks are mostly used on flat stages to help riders with fuelling when they don’t have to put out their max effort.

Hypotonic drinks – These have the lowest concentration of sugars (1 – 4%) but they allow for fastest hydration out of all three options. These drinks are often used on very hot days so that riders can drink even more without overloading on carbs and experiencing digestive problems.

10 litres of fluids a day

The pros have to drink up to 10 litres of fluids each day. It gets especially intense on the bike where they have to keep drinking roughly 2 bidons or 500 to 1000ml of fluid per hour. Teams usually measure the sweat rates for individual riders so they know exactly how much fluid and electrolytes to replace. They also have to take into account weather and how much climbing there is because the altitude increases sweating and fluid loss too.

It’s not an easy task

Even with all of those made-to-measure sports drinks, hydrations strategies, and domestiques helping out, riders still make mistakes. When the going gets tough, they can easily forget to keep drinking. So next time you’re racing, remember to drink from that bottle!

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