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Electrolytes are essential for nerve and muscle communication for cycling.
Yuli Seperi/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images
Although a typical bike ride at the park wouldn't make you feel dehydrated, high-intensity cycling can make you sweat like you're in a dry sauna, causing you to lose a lot of electrolytes. While it's necessary to rehydrate frequently during a long bike ride, especially in the Texas heat, water alone is usually insufficient to give you all you need to reach your destination efficiently. Without electrolyte replenishment, your muscles may not have the power to pedal anywhere.
Function During Exercise
Electrolytes regulate the rate of skeletal and cardiac muscle contractions. These minerals, including sodium, potassium, magnesium and calcium, give an electrical charge that your body needs to conduct nerve impulses and balance the water concentration in your tissues. However, electrolytes are lost during exercise via perspiration, which causes a fluid imbalance in your body. Without replenishing the lost electrolytes, muscle cramps, fatigue and dizziness can develop.
Performance Intake and Replenishment
Sports drinks with sodium and other electrolytes should be consumed during cycling if you exercise longer than 60 minutes, although these aren't necessary if you ride between 20 to 60 minutes, says Shawn Dolan, assistant professor at the Department of Kinesiology at California State University, Long Beach. Currently, there is no recommendation for the amount of electrolytes you should take before exercise. However, if you anticipate to sweat heavily during training, consume a salty snack and a sports drink instead of water. Likewise, a salty snack and a sports drink should be consumed after a bout of cycling to help you retain water in your body and to restore electrolyte balance.
Deficiency and Toxicity
No electrolyte, however beneficial it may be, should be consumed in excess. Likewise, a deficiency in any electrolyte can cause harmful side effects that decreases your performance and vital functions. A deficiency of electrolytes can cause muscle weakness, muscle cramps, a lack of appetite, nausea and dizziness. Too much sodium can lead to diarrhea, vomiting and hypertension, while excessive potassium intake can cause hyperkalemia, which is an abnormal heart rhythm. There is no one-size-fits-all rule for the amount of electrolyte consumption you should maintain during cycling because everyone has a different perspiration amount, health history, fitness level and lifestyle, all which influence the rate of electrolytes lost during exercise. Consult with a sports dietitian for your specific needs.
Don't Forget Your Carbs
Electrolytes are like the spark plugs that start your car, while carbohydrates are the gasoline that produce energy to perform work. In a study published in the "International Journal of Sports Medicine," cyclists who consumed a carbohydrate-electrolyte solution before and during exercise completed their training session with an average time time of 58.74 minutes. The placebo group that consumed a water solution that contained a trace amount of sugar and sweeteners completed their session with an average time of 60.15 minutes. Therefore, the first group improved their performance by 2.3 percent. To prevent muscle tissue loss after cycling, consume a meal consisting of lean protein and carbohydrates within 45 minutes after training, recommends exercise physiologist Len Kravitz.