It’s not even June yet, and I’m already doing my usual summer hydration stuff when I exercise. Beating cramps and the dreaded post-exercise headache is a huge undertaking. For me, getting it right is the result of trial and error.
Not everybody is riding 60 miles in 100-degree heat. But that doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from some hard-won knowledge to stay healthy or to stay alive. Let me share some of my secrets.
Summer Hydration Doesn’t Just Mean Drinking More Water
There’s more to hydration than water, especially when you’re sweating during the hotter months. Sweat leaches your body of electrolytes. And that doesn’t just mean salt. Potassium and magnesium are two other important ones.
You will not function as well if you only replace the liquid and not the electrolytes.
But figuring out which ones isn’t always easy.
What to Know About Sports Drinks
When I say “sports drinks,” I don’t mean Gatorade or anything else you can buy in a convenience store (though convenience stores have some helpful stuff, which we’ll get to later).
I’m talking about the good stuff. Skratch Labs, Nuun, Trace Minerals, Gnarly, Hammer Nutrition and even Sprouts are just a few brands I’ve used.
Over time, I learned what worked well for me. After a ride, you can see streaks of salt all over my face. The muscles in my calves would twitch like there was some sort of alien just waiting to burst out of my skin.
Apparently, that was a sign that I needed more magnesium. So magnesium became the number-one priority in my drinks.
Surprisingly, the sports drink industry doesn’t agree on a ratio of electrolytes. They’re all over the board. Almost all have some salt. Many skimp on magnesium. Others try to say the key is potassium, while skimping on nearly everything else.
I haven’t seen any sports drink maker say “If you have these problems, you need these electrolytes for summer hydration.”
This means you’re in for some trial and error, especially if you exercise hard in the heat.
My Summer Hydration Formula
I’m going to include magnesium per serving here since that’s a big deal to me.
For a typical hot-weather ride, I’ll freeze three bottles three-quarters full with a mixture of one Nuun tablet and a Trace Minerals Magnesium tablet. My ratio is one tablet of each per bottle. You can use any flavors you want, but the strawberry lemonade Nuun and orange Trace Minerals Magnesium tabs pair nicely. I find them both easily at Sprouts. That’s 42% USRDA of magnesium.
Electrolytes in tablet form are also handy – you can take a tube with you for longer efforts. My three bottles won’t get me even two hours in the dead of summer.
For races or other special occasions, I’ll use Gnarly Hydrate. Their orange-pineapple flavor is packed with magnesium, as well as being one of the tastiest drinks out there. It’s pricey next to my other mix, as well as harder to find. I’ve always had to get it online. That’s 23% USRDA of magnesium.
I’ve also had good results with EFS mix, another big-time magnesium monster. My wife digs Carborocket Half Evil, which is especially good for people who don’t like to eat while exercising; it packs 333 calories per serving. Half of 666 … get it? These are 38% and 28% of USRDA of magnesium, respectively.
I still have to be careful: It’s possible to get carried away with magnesium. The result of overindulgence is pooping like a banshee for several hours.
Thoughts from the Grocery Store
Is there anything good you can get a grocery store for summer hydration?
Not so much for during the ride. But there are some great post-ride options. Pickles are amazing for rehydration, and straight pickle juice is almost as trendy among endurance folks as bone broth is among CrossFit bros. Apparently, the real magic is in the vinegar, not even the salt. It’s also more appetizing than it sounds when you’re low on electrolytes.
Then there’s my dirty secret: V8 vegetable juice. The only race I ever won was a three-person, 12-hour relay. V8 was part of my between-laps fueling protocol (along with chocolate milk and Pepsi – it was not pleasant, but it worked for 25-year-old me).
That brings us to a far tastier option. Watermelons are full of magnesium. They also happen to be delicious and versatile. Use them to make your own sports drink, or just devour one after you exercise.
What If I Can’t Find Anything?
In my last blog post, you’ll remember that I mentioned the couple who went for a “5-minute hike” without any water? Don’t do that.
Bring more water than you think you’ll need. Bring something salty, too. Potato chips will do. Just don’t overlook doing something for summer hydration outdoors.
And remember that you may need to experiment to find what works for you, even under the best circumstances. The harder you exercise in the heat, the more likely you are to uncover some specific needs of your own. Plow on, ask for help, look things up on the Google machine (or DucKDuckGo, if you’re the paranoid type). You’ll figure it out!