Staying hydrated at the 947 Cycle Challenge

Staying hydrated at the 947 Cycle Challenge

It is going to be an especially hot one! With a heat wave gripping Johannesburg in South Africa, the iconic 947 Cycle Challenge is set to be hotter than ever in 2018. Mark Wolff gives you great advice on how to stay hydrated, on this episode of the 32Gi Sports Nutrition podcast.


You’re listening to 32Gi Sports Nutrition; I’m Mr Active, David Katz, joined by Mark Wolff. A massive week in South Africa, it’s the 947 Cycle Challenge; they’re doing the route in reverse this year, but a big concern is hydration.

It’s always a hot race, especially for people who start late, but this year especially. A heat wave expected in Gauteng, the weather has not been normal, so the guys starting are really going to battle with hydration. Mark, looking at that, with that in mind, what should people be doing in the lead up to the race to make sure that their hydration levels are tip-top on race day?

Mark Wolff: I think the week leading into the race, you’ve got to make sure that you’re hydrating each day. I would avoid drinking alcohol during race week because it is a diuretic, it does cause fluid loss. I would just try to make sure that I hydrate as much as possible each day, because you want to make sure that you do get to race day in a completely hydrated state.

Why you have to start a race hydrated

DK: Mark, race day morning, of course there’s vastly different cycle speeds. Some guys are done before the heat of the day, but for the majority of the people cycling a race like that, they’re starting late, they’re ending in the heat of the day, what should they be doing?

A mass participation event like that, it takes time for everyone to start. There’s batches, you’re stuck on the start line, how should people be adjusting so that by the time they start their race; that they make sure that they also are in the right shape? It’s counterproductive because yes, you need to hydrate, but you also need to make sure that you don’t over-hydrate and then you need the loo and you don’t have that opportunity to go.

MW: I think there’s a number of things to look at. First of all, I would have my race bottles or hydration bottles already stacked on the bike. I would take what I call as a ‘throwaway bottle’, and the reason being is I wouldn’t want to tap into the hydration required from my bicycle before the race.

I would use a throwaway bottle and in that I would utilise a hypotonic solution. I’m talking about like a hydration product. We do 32Gi Hydrate; that would be absolutely awesome because it does help pull the fluid through the system a lot quicker and that would be excellent for hydrating.

There are toilets at the start on the sides and that. I know with pre-race nerves and when the temperatures are slightly cooler people do run up and down to the toilets all the time. Yes, not to overdo it before the time, but small sips frequently is not going to cause an overload of the bladder. Each person will understand what they can or can’t consume.

If you’re standing out there for hours in the starting pen in the heat of the day, it’s very important is to make sure that you do hydrate prior to the start of the race, because you definitely don’t want to be starting the race in an already slightly dehydrated state.

The other thing to look at is also keeping your calorie intake topped up. You want to make sure that you actually are consuming or eating something while you’re waiting in the starting pen, because you don’t want your energy levels to drop either.

Separate Hydration from Fuelling (here's why)

DK: Mark, you talk about that, again, the race has started, the people are on the bikes, they’ve got their two bottles, yes, there are water stops but ideally it’s nice to carry and trust and know what you’ve got. With something like cycling in a race like that, you generally recommend that your hydration, and that your fuelling are separate entities?

MW: I generally recommend that for most events. A lot of people, they try and combine hydration and energy provisioning, which in the form of carbohydrates, they try and provide that in a single solution. Now, the issue with that, sometimes your body cannot absorb that amount of fluid.

You could be losing a lot more fluid in the form of sweat, depending on the temperatures. You might actually land up overdoing it and at the same time, if the temperatures are slightly cooler and you’re relying on carbohydrate intake through a bottle. You’re taking in less fluid, well, then you’re going to land up with a calorie deficit.

My advice to anybody is to actually separate your hydration and your energy requirements completely. Depending on how many bottle holders you’ve got on a bike, or depending on whether you’re going to be taking a liquid fuel or you’re going to be taking a solid fuel. I always advise, have a hydration bottle, it could be plain water or it could be a hypotonic solution like a 32Gi Hydrate, that’s your hydration go-to, that you drink for thirst.

Best options for energy intake

As far as the energy intake goes, you need to keep that separately. That can be in the form of chews, of gels, or bars, or whatever you decided to take with you on the route. In some cases, if you want a liquid feed, some athletes make what I call a concentrated bottle. In other words, they know exactly how much they need to sip out of that bottle per an hour to get the desired amount of carbohydrate feed per an hour, but they still utilise a separate hydration bottle.           

That’s really the way to feed because you’re not over-complicating it, you’re keeping it as simple as possible. Your calorie intake, you know how much to take in, you know it should be time or clock fed and your hydration will definitely be according to the temperatures that you’re experiencing through the day.

Obviously as it gets late in the day and it gets a lot hotter, you are going to lose much more fluid in the form of sweat. You’re also going to have a much higher perceived effort because it does elevate the heart rate, so it can lead to the onset of fatigue. Hydration is very crucial on a very hot day.

DK: Mark, there’s also the concern for people is over-hydrating. I don’t think on a bike as opposed to running, it’s as much of a concern, but the best way to counter that is generally to drink to thirst?

80% hydration replenishment rule

MW: Look, each person will know that roughly how much their bodies can handle in the form of fluid as opposed to how much they are losing. Hopefully they’ve tried this out in training. The only ideal way to really test it out is to weigh yourself before and after a training session, See what your fluid loss actually is under different temperatures and to get an idea.

My advice to people is never try and replenish the exact amount of sweat that you’ve lost, it’s impossible. You cannot replenish that amount. If you lose a litre of sweat, there’s no ways you can take in a litre of fluid and expect that fluid to be absorbed. You aim for what we call the ‘80% replenishment rule.’

You can try and aim for that. If you’re losing a litre, you’re talking about trying to get in about 800ml and I would say that don’t overdo it. You can feel if your stomach is bloated and there’s a lot of fluid or liquid sitting inside there. That’s a sure sign that your body is overhydrated because the thing is, that fluid is not being absorbed.

The only way to get rid of that is to add in some minerals or some salt in order to be able to pull it out. In that case, we’ve actually just launched an absolutely incredible product to the market which is called Cramp ASSALT. It is the only electrolyte gel in the market and also has an anti-cramping trigger built into it. A gel like that would actually maximise the fluid absorption. Because of the content of the minerals, specifically the sodium, it will help pull the fluid out of the digestive tracts and really get it into the system.

Why you need Cramp ASSALT on hand!

DK: We did a great podcast on the new product, Cramp ASSALT, I’ll put a link up to that, but just touching on that more. Of course anything can happen on the race day, but generally it comes down to training. Conditions can change things, but people will know, hopefully, that they’re going to ride within their means.

However, there is always that chance that you do suffer from something like cramping. To have a product like that Mark, you’re not necessarily going to use it, but to have that as a back-up could be very, very key for someone.

MW: They’re so small and convenient to carry, I would definitely take a few of them on the route and utilise them as I go along. Like I said, if the fluid is not being absorbed through the system and you do want to drink only water, this is an absolutely brilliant product to take along with water to maximise the fluid absorption.

For those people that don’t understand, from a technical point of view, water on its own does not get absorbed as quickly as, or as efficiently as water with a mineral solution in. By adding salt to water, you will increase that fluid absorption and that’s the whole reason behind looking at a hypotonic drink, to help the fluid absorption.

When it gets hotter and you start losing far more fluid in the form of sweat, and obviously also because of the exercise that you’re currently doing, what will happen is that the fluid loss is greater than the intake of fluid. You don’t want that amount to be too high of a percentage.

You want to try and keep it as close to that 80% as possible. It’s obviously not always easy to do. I’d rather be slightly dehydrated or dehydrated, than over-hydrated; because most athletes do finish races slightly dehydrated. It’s easy to get rehydrated just by taking in some fluid post-exercise or post the race.

How to recovery when you hit the wall (and or get dehydrated)

DK: Mark, lastly a question now, someone has reached the point where maybe they have under-hydrated, maybe they’ve under-fuelled at the same time and they hit that proverbial wall. If someone finds themselves in that state on race day, what would you recommend the first step would be, to be able to get back on the bike and slowly get the energy levels back to be able to finish the race?

MW: Hitting the wall is really depletion of glycogen stores. That would be basically a calorie deficit is too big and basically you’ve chewed up your glycogen stores. The only way to really get over that is to start taking in some sort of a glucose mix, it can be in the form of a gel, with a fluid. I would say, don’t overdo it because overdoing it is just going to lead to more havoc.       

There is a time period where the brain and the body start to adjust and obviously you start to look at other fuel sources within the body and that does take a period of time. I know you feel like you’re in a world of hurt, but if you just persist and you keep pushing through it, eventually you’ll get a second wind and you’ll feel the body is back to strength.

As far as dehydration goes, it doesn’t cause hitting the wall; but it can really need to feeling absolutely terrible, from a completely flat, fatigue state, it is a different feeling when you lose a lot of fluid. I actually experienced this on a training session yesterday, because of the heat and I went out quite late but again, it’s a matter of knowing that the body can cope under dehydration situations. There absolutely is no need to panic, but you just want to try and consume fluid in order to be able to try and get it back into the body.     

Again, water on its own is not going to do the trick. The idea is to take a hydration solution; in our case we would say 32Gi Hydrate is an absolutely incredible product. It’s a tablet, you drop it in the bottle, it pulls the fluid through very quickly. If you do prefer drinking water, then I would recommend taking along a Cramp ASSALT with that water bottle and actually having the two together as well because it will help pull that water through the system a lot quicker.

DK: Some valuable advice as always. If you are riding, have a fantastic race. If you have more questions for Mark, you can email coach@32gi.com and also he will be at the expo ahead of the race.

Back to blog