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“Take me to the river, drop me in the water.” – Al Green
I have a friend, and I’ve talked about him on this site before. His name is Steve. He’s a pretty smart guy, maybe one of the smartest guys I know. I’ve been known to go to Steve when I can’t figure out something on my own. He always seems to be the voice of reason. When it comes to fitness, he generally takes my advice. There’s only one area where he failed miserably. I mean when it comes to riding the bike and being properly hydrated. Filling bottles for him seemed to be an afterthought. At times, he didn’t even have bottles. There was another problem. He would get severe leg cramps on almost every ride. It was so consistent that I had a running bet with our third riding partner, Jonathan, as to when Steve would cramp up. Jonathan and I would consider the weather and the amount of climbing, then decide on a number. It was always between 35 and 45, which meant miles. If Jonathan went with 35, I would usually go with 36. I figured if he got close to that number, I could coax him into another mile. These cramps were like watching the engine seize up on a car. When I would tell Steve to drink more water and put some electrolytes in it, he would shrug it off and say, “This has to be something else, these cramps are bad.” And year in and year out, the cramps would come. Steve tried to blame it on everything, like he only rides every other weekend and maybe he needed more potassium. He eats a balanced diet and takes vitamins. I knew the only culprit was water. For whatever reason, Steve decided at some point to carry more water on his bike and to use electrolytes. Since he started this practice earlier this summer, I’ve only seen him cramp once and it wasn’t that bad. He worked his way through it. The only thing he does that is different is he drinks more water and puts electrolytes in it. I told you that to tell you this. Steve only suffered cramps on his rides. If he had gone any further, he would have suffered dehydration. If you dehydrate, you can become sick, and there is no way to battle back. If you are in a race, you’re done. Drink early and often, and have electrolytes. I guess it is a good time to bring up what electrolytes are. That sport drink that you think is good for you – Gatorade, Powerade and the like – is crap. Those products are nothing more than sugar bombs. They should call those products “Decelerade.” To get good electrolytes, you can take it in two forms. Most companies make a capsule. These are good because you can measure exactly how much you are taking. The only problem is you have to stop when you are on the move to take them. I much prefer the ones you can put right in your water bottle. Hammer Nutrition and Lava Salt make a powder you can put into your bottle. A couple of companies I like make a product that comes in a fizzy tablet you can drop into your bottle. One is called Nuun, another is Elixir. All of these products will help your muscles hang on to water longer and replace the electrolytes lost through sweat. How well does this work? After 110 miles of riding with tons of climbing a couple of weeks ago, Steve said, “You know what, I think I got another 50 in me.”