Why is proper hydration important? Why would a motorcyclist even need to worry about hydration? It’s not like we’re exercising or exerting ourselves. Anyway, I drink plenty of water when I’m out riding, so I’m good…right?
I am going to start by telling you a personal story of enlightenment. I was in my early 20s and I decided to participate in a two-day, 150-mile bicycle ride to raise money for Multiple Sclerosis. The course for day one was primarily flat for the first hour through the desert and then a grueling uphill stretch to Yucaipa, where we camped overnight. The ride was well supported. They offered juice, water, Gatorade, bananas, orange slices and Power Bars approximately every 20 miles.
Sounds great right? Well, I don’t like oranges, overly salty things or Power Bars. I love water and bananas, but never really ate any of the bananas because I was not hungry. (Clue No. 1.) But I knew how important it was to stay hydrated, so I gulped my water like a good girl every chance I got. That night they served spaghetti for dinner at the campground, but I still was not hungry. I just picked at my food and then, exhausted, crawled into my tent and fell fast asleep.
Breakfast the next day was oatmeal. Again, I was not very hungry. I ate a few bites and began slamming my water—one thing I knew for sure was how important it is to keep hydrated!
The next day was hot and breezy, but mostly downhill. I was definitely feeling the fatigue, but I knew all was well because I was doing so good, drinking my water. When I finished I could hardly keep my eyes open. I picked up my bike, loaded it onto the car and promptly headed home.
Amazingly, I was still not hungry. Again, because I knew it was the right thing to do, I continued to drink my water!
Day three: this is where the fun really starts! I got up for work and poured a bowl of cereal, but took just a few bites because I didn’t have an appetite…weird. It just didn’t appeal to me. I was really tired but I figured that’s normal for what I just accomplished.
I got to work and called in the first patient. As I was performing an ultrasound on the patient, I started to feel this queasiness overtaking me…oh no…. I quickly excused myself and just made it into the bathroom. I pulled myself together, shook it off and went back to the patient to finish the ultrasound. I barely finished and here we go again, back to the bathroom! I told my boss I needed to go home because I was sick, but at this point I still had no clue what was wrong with me. I got myself home (with several stops), and when I tried to sip water it wouldn’t stay down.
When I got home, all I wanted to do was to lie down. Also, I had not gone to the bathroom for a very long time. It was not registering to my foggy brain that all of these things were related.
When I woke up—and from what I know now, there was a decent possibility that wasn’t going to happen—I was craving a popsicle. Luckily, I had some fudgsicles, which contain sodium, calcium and some trace magnesium since they contain chocolate. At the time, I did not realize these humble fudgsicles possessed some of the important electrolytes I needed to save my own life. The one I ate stayed down, so over the course of the rest of the day, between naps, I would get up and eat another fudgsicle. By late evening I actually wanted real food and it stayed down. It was amazing how fast I turned around!
It wasn’t until months later that I learned what I’d done wrong: I’d been careful to stay hydrated, but I neglected the other half of the equation—electrolytes.
So what are electrolytes? According to the U.S. National Library of Medicine:
*Electrolytes are minerals in your blood and other body fluids that carry an electric charge.
*Electrolytes affect how your body functions.
*You lose electrolytes when you sweat. You must replace them by drinking fluids or consuming foods that contain electrolytes. Water does not contain electrolytes.
Four of the most important electrolytes are:
Sodium. Found in basically any smoked, cured, salted or canned meats, and salted nuts.
Potassium. Good sources of potassium are baked potatoes, sweet potatoes, bananas, canned clams, spinach, lentils and milk.
Calcium. It really does your body good. Sources include milk, kale, yogurt, broccoli, watercress, cheese, bok choy, okra and almonds.
Magnesium. This overlooked element is necessary to the cellular functions of all known living organisms. Spinach, chard, salmon, cashews, avocados, dark chocolate and pumpkin seeds are all good sources.
The pendulum can swing both directions when we are talking about electrolytes. It’s possible to have too much or not enough. Your risk of overdoing the electrolytes is small as long as you consume sports drinks in moderation and balance your intake with plenty of water.
The key word is balance—one of the most dangerous problems, and the one I learned about in the story above, is called hyponatremia, and it can be life-threatening. Hyponatremia is a big fancy word that means you over-hydrated with water (because you were being really good and drinking your water) and now you have depleted your electrolytes. What is really happening is you drank so much water that you have diluted the sodium in your blood and overwhelmed your kidneys.
Some symptoms you may experience when this happens are:
1) Lethargy—a lack of energy.
2) Confusion (mild or severe)—“Wait, is that my horn? I meant to set the cruise control.”
4) Muscle weakness—“Wow, this bike feels extra heavy. I must be tired!”
5) Muscle twitching/spasming/cramping.
6) Digestive cramping/diarrhea/constipation.
7) Swelling—“Geez, my fingers feel so tight when I try to bend them. They feel like sausages!”
9) Feeling very thirsty.
10) Change in appetite.
11) Sudden drop in body weight. (Don’t celebrate…this is NOT a good thing.)
In very severe cases seizures and coma or death can occur.
So when do you need to replace your electrolytes?
As a rule of thumb, if you have been sweating (not necessarily profusely or even exercising, just sweating) for more than 60 minutes, you probably need to hydrate and replace some electrolytes. This means drinking a sports drink, or water along with some of the foods listed above. (See below for more insight on sports drinks vs. natural juices.)
Your body’s rate of electrolyte loss will depend on many factors, such as metabolism, age and even what you ate for breakfast. But you are more prone to lose electrolytes more rapidly (and therefore need to replenish more often) or your body already has a higher water-to-electrolyte ratio if you are:
*Over 55 years of age.
*Taking prescribed diuretics, antiepileptics, Benzodiazepines or some psychiatric medications.
Another side note is to try and stay away from tea, coffee and sugary drinks while trying to accomplish anything that requires endurance, i.e. road trips of more than two hours in duration. If you do partake in more than one cup of tea, coffee or a sugary soda then you may need to add a few more electrolytes to your intake.
How do we get electrolytes?
Of course there are many sports drinks out there that will fulfill the need. These drinks are not the first source I reach for. However, they are very popular and many claim to be electrolyte replacements. Here is how they stack up.
Note: Values can vary based on size, flavor and sub-brand (i.e. Gatorade vs. Gatorade G2). Remember there is often more than one serving in a single bottle, so read the label carefully!
How you decide to replace your electrolytes is up to you, what’s important is that you do it! It takes more focus to ride a motorcycle than it does to drive a car, and is prudent that we follow good nutrition and proper hydration that includes water and electrolyte replacement on long journeys.
Travel not to escape life, but so that life does not escape you….
Mad Maxine Moto