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A new study in the journal Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise found that male cyclists who hydrated during a two-hour ride, even if they weren’t thirsty, biked faster and produced a higher power output compared to those who went without.
Fluids are just as important a fuel source as food, says Rachel Vaziralli, senior manager of group fitness cycling at Equinox, adding that women have the same physiological response to dehydration as men. “Dehydration makes your blood more viscous, which means less blood and oxygen are reaching your muscles,” says Matt Berenc, director of education at the Equinox Fitness Training Institute.
Cycling is an aerobic activity, so the primary means of generating energy in that setting is oxygen, he adds. If you can’t get enough of it to the muscle, you can’t create the same amount of force. “The ideal time to start drinking is when you’re not thirsty, because once you start feeling like you need water, you’re already dehydrated,” he says.
Berenc suggests you come to class hydrated and well nourished, and aim to drink three to eight ounces of water every 15 minutes during a session lasting up to one hour. If you need extra nutrition, add an electrolyte tab like Nuun to your bottle to replenish your energy reserves, Vaziralli says.