On the surface, hydration for cyclists seems simple. You simply make sure that you are well hydrated for your rides.
This means that before, during, and after cycling you need to take in enough liquid to stay hydrated. Also, you need to replenish the electrolytes that you will expel through sweat and exertion during a hard ride.
The problem is that there are SO many different cycling drink mixes. It can be hard to know what to pick! Some provide hydration, others provide carbs, and still others provide a combination of the two.
Choosing just one can be very overwhelming, and it’s not always obvious which mix works best in which situation. If you have ever been confused about which type of cycling hydration to use and when, read on!
In this article, we share the best cycling hydration mixes we have tried. You’ll also find some tips on what to look for in a hydration drink mix and what type of cycling drink mix you need.
Why Hydration Is So Important
Not only do we need proper hydration simply to live, we also need it for solid performance on the bike. Think back to a time when you were dehydrated.
You probably remember feeling weak or fatigued. You may have had a headache.
On a more scientific level, we know that dehydration decreases cardiovascular function. It also makes it more difficult for you to maintain proper body temperature. Your maximal aerobic power (VO2max) decreases, and blood flow is impaired.
Not ideal, right? The most obvious solution is to drink water consistently throughout the day.
All cyclists should drink water before, during and after their rides. To know how much you should be drinking, check out our hydration guide.
While water is the correct and obvious first step, there are time where plain water doesn’t cut it. Water is not going to replace all of the electrolytes you will deplete during a hard effort, or those lost in the heat when you are really sweating. That’s when a hydration drink comes into play.
What To Look For (And What To Avoid) In A Hydration Drink
The first drink most people thing of when they think of a sports drink is Gatorade or Powerade. Unfortunately, these are the last thing you should be drinking on the bike! They have way too much fructose and sucrose which can cause tummy issues on the bike. Also, they don’t provide any carbohydrates–which you need during a hard effort.
What you should be looking for in a drink mix is sodium and potassium (for electrolytes). For longer efforts, you want to look for a drink with glucose (NOT fructose or sucrose) and a 3-4% carbohydrate solution.
Electrolyte Replacement Mixes
Certain hydration mixes are focused on providing electrolytes without carbohydrates. These mixes are great for everyday hydration (think of when you aren’t even on the bike).
They are also good for efforts on hot days when electrolyte specific replacement is the most important. Additionally, they can be used when you will be getting your carb replenishment from other sources like energy bars, gels, or chews.
Usually these mixes will be relatively low calorie, and low in carbohydrate. They will contain only a small amount of sugar or will be sweetened with a calorie free sweetener.
The main function of hydration mixes is to replace the electrolytes you lose while exercising. This is a great choice if you are being conscious of your calorie intake and aren’t doing an incredibly intense/long ride.
I know of so many female cyclists and athletes who absolutely swear by NUUN. NUUN comes in a bunch of different flavor combinations (the Strawberry Lemonade is awesome!), and provides electrolyte replacement.
It is low calorie, and comes in a small convenient tube. It’s small enough that I actually carry it in my purse. Then, I just drop a tab into my water bottle whenever I fill up.
The tablet has a really pleasant flavor. There’s also wonderful effervescence for those who are fans of hydration with a little bit of fizz. The fizz is definitely moderate enough that it doesn’t upset my stomach during rides.
This drink is so delicious that I work my way through bottles of water even faster than I would otherwise.
GU is a very trusted brand in sport nutrition. Many cyclists I know use GU gels for before/during ride carbohydrates.
GU’s Hydration drink tabs are a great way to get your electrolytes replenished while your GU gels take care of your carbohydrate needs.
Like NUUN, these are also low calorie, and come in a fizzy tab. The flavor tends to be pleasant enough, but in my opinion has a slightly more artificial flavor than NUUN. Because of this, I find myself gravitating to the NUUN hydration tablets over the GU.
Hydrant focuses on everyday hydration for everyone–regardless of whether or not you are active. So many of us are dehydrated regularly without even knowing it, and Hydrant’s marketing strategy is geared towards encouraging everyone, not just athletes, to be hydrated and replenish electrolytes.
Hydrant focuses on having a really small ingredient list with all natural ingredients, and no artificial ingredients or sweeteners. They use real sugar, but it’s a very small amount so it doesn’t add a significant source of calories or carbohydrate.
If you don’t like any kind of artificial taste in your drink mix, and would prefer your mix to not have carbonation, Hydrant is a great choice. The grapefruit flavor is wonderful, and some flavors even include caffeine which can give you an additional boost.
Carbohydrate/Electrolyte Combo Mixes
When you have a harder and longer effort, just replacing electrolytes is not enough. It’s important to be sure that you have some sugar to help refuel your depleted energy stores.
Mixes with a combination of carbohydrates and electrolytes are excellent for this purpose.
Osmo Active Hydration (Optimized for Women)
One of the things that drew me to Osmo immediately is that it has a version of its hydration mix that is designed especially for women. Specifically, it is formulated to help women avoid any fluctuations in performance during their premenstrual period.
The flavor of Osmo is so incredibly pleasant. I tried the lemon/lime version shown here. It was mild and very natural tasting, and wasn’t too sweet or overwhelming.
When you are pedaling hard and want to replenish your carbohydrates and electrolytes this is an awesome product. It mixes into the water so well, and it really does what it says.
I actually just used Osmo on my ride last night. It wasn’t a very long ride, but it had a decent amount of climbing. I found that the energy I got from Osmo was sufficient and I felt no need to supplement with chews or any other carbohydrate.
Skratch Labs Hydration Mix was the first mix I have ever tried, and it is definitely a favorite. Scratch has done an incredible amount of research into developing a natural hydration mix with real sugar that fuels athletic performance.
Skratch Labs was created by Dr. Allen Lim, a sports scientist and cycling coach who developed natural products with less sugar and increased electrolytes. Lim’s quest was to better fuel his riders without upsetting their stomachs, and out of this Skratch Labs was born.
The flavors of the Skratch Labs Hydration Mix I have tried are all great. If I had to pick just one, however, I’d say that Fruit Punch is definitely my favorite.
I do have to mention, though, that I find the recommended mix to water ratio to be a little much. The flavor is a bit too strong for me. Additionally, I feel that the mix doesn’t dissolve in the water as easily as some other mixes.
This may very well be because of their emphasis on only including the most natural ingredients, and for that reason I still highly recommend it.
I was so excited to try the CLIF hydration mix because CLIF is well known for having delicious products.
The CLIF hydration mix is no exception. The lemon-lime-ade is just the right amount of sweetness and lemon-lime flavor. It did an excellent job keeping me hydrated throughout my ride.
I find CLIF products to always be a solid and natural choice. CLIF uses a lot of organic ingredients. Moreover, the ingredient list is always a short list of items you can pronounce.
The CLIF hydration mix definitely follows this format of a tasty and natural product.
If you are an endurance athlete, or if you race regularly, you will find that it’s sometimes difficult to find a drink mix that really suits your needs.
It’s possible that the carbohydrate/electrolyte mixes aren’t going to give you all of the carbohydrates you will need for your effort.
Cyclists who race in particular struggle with replenishing their carbohydrate stores in races because eating can be cumbersome, if not relatively impossible.
For example, if you are in the midst of an intense cyclocross race, you might not be able to stop to eat at all, and a hydration mix that is rich in grams of carbohydrate is going to give you the fuel you need to perform at your best.
FLOW Formulas is a Colorado based company that created an endurance drink mix specifically for endurance athletes engaging in 60+ minutes of exercise.
This is a carbohydrate replacement product with a short ingredient list that does not emphasise electrolyte replenishment. In other words, you are essentially getting your sugars replenished from FLOW so that you don’t have to fumble with food during a race or a ride.
FLOW is designed to be easy on the stomach which is really helpful if you experience stomach upset when you are nervous about a hard effort or a race.
The calorie count of FLOW is significantly higher than other drink mixes reviewed here, so it really should be used during harder, longer, more intense efforts when eating is just not feasible or possible.
The flavor is very mild and pleasant, and definitely easy on the stomach. When I used FLOW I felt like I could pretty much ride for miles and miles, which is exactly what I was hoping for from such a carbohydrate-dense product!
Now Go Ride!
So there you have it! 3 different types of cycling hydration/drink mixes for every kind of ride.
At the end of the day, the best course of action is to select a drink mix that meets your hydration/fuel needs and that tastes great to you. It is so important to stay hydrated and fuel properly for your rides, and the right hydration or drink mix can go a long way to help you achieve your cycling goals.
More Advice On Keeping Fueled And Hydrated On The Bike!
- Everything You Need To Know About Cycling Hydration
- Fueling for a Century Ride: 7 Tips to Keep You Riding Strong
About The Author
Stacy Ann Smith is a New England-based cyclist who strives to stay upright on her bike. She is the founder of Sascy Cycling, and her mission is to encourage women to love their body and focus on what it can do, not what it looks like. When Stacy’s not cycling she is teaching high school history and eating pizza with her husband and son. For awesome women’s cycling tips and to learn more about Stacy, visit Sascy Cycling at www.sascy.com.