What’s in your Bidon? Currently in mine you’ll find a sludgy, gritty, out-of-date, powder based drink which I make up usually the night before so it gets overnight in the fridge in order to be cool for my ride. But what’s the difference between the main options?
You have a number of options: Isotonic which is a sports energy drink containing similar concentrations of sugars and salts as the human body. Hypertonic which is sports energy drink containing a denser concentration of sugars and salts as the human body. And Hypotonic which is a sports energy drink with a lesser concentration of sugars and salts than the human body. Just to clarify the sugar contents of each: Isotonic is in the middle with about 30-40 grams of sugar per half litre serving; Hypotonic contains less sugar while Hypertonic contains more. The final option is water.
So let’s start with water. The bottom line is that it’s been good enough for humans since day one and it should be good enough for you too. It’s estimated, and this depends greatly on how much you sweat, that you need to drink anything between around 400ml to 1000ml per hour of exercise. The dangers of over or under hydrating range from under-performing all the way to death so getting it right is a must. But does water offer you everything you need? Not necessarily…
Electrolyte tablets are the next step up from water, and also hypotonic. You can buy readymade electrolyte drinks, but for value you can’t beat those tablets, which you pop in a glass of water and then drink. The main issue with water is that you are not replacing any of the minerals also lost through sweat. Of course these minerals are replaceable through what you eat, but for ease and speed of replenishment drinking before, during, or after exercise is very convenient. The main minerals are Sodium (salt), Potassium (readily available in bananas), Chloride (also salt but can be found in veg also) and more. The most common problem from failure to replace these is cramp; we’ve all had it, not nice.
Powder based drinks combine water, minerals, and carbohydrates and come in both isotonic and hypertonic. It is not always necessary to replace any carbs spent during exercise, where the duration is less than one hour. This is mainly because you should have enough stored in your muscles to cover it, and potentially any additional carbs could be stored as fat. Drinks, much like energy gels just more dilute, and far less messy, are a must for anyone exercising longer than an hour. Ensuring you don’t “bonk”, cycling term for the feeling and/or moment your body depletes it’s stores of energy and fatigue sets in, is important regardless of whether you are time trialling or just on a Sunday club ride, again, I’m sure we’ve all had it, not nice.
Readymade drinks are, perhaps, the Rolls-Royce of sports energy drinks which mainly come in isotonic. Combining the same sets of ingredients as their powder based brethren but with substantially better taste (in most cases) and even more convenience (available at your local corner shop) doesn’t come cheap. In fact, if we take a look at cost per litre; water clearly comes in at the cheapest (get it from your tap!), electrolyte tabs come in at less than £5.00 for 20 (25p per litre), powder based drinks set you back between 50p and £1.00, but a litre bottle (or perhaps 2x 500ml) will be at least £2.00. So remembering to take enough money on your ride in case you need to purchase a readymade drink is essential, and finally again, it’s happened to us all, not nice.
Whatever option you chose the bottom line is that even a percentage drop in body weight due to dehydration can cause cardiovascular problems that may lead to developing heart related injury so it’s important that you work out how much you will need, if you will be stopping to refill and how much spare change to take in case of emergency. And don’t be put off by people saying they won’t take a second bidon due to the additional weight because on a long hot ride you’ll be begging for that extra half a kilogram.