When I first started riding I noticed a disturbing phenomenon – especially after a long ride. Sometime turning the night I would develop severe cramps – usually in my ankles, but often in my quads as well. I was in so much pain I would have to get out of bed and pace around until the cramps died down. I figured it was just one of the things you had to deal with while getting into shape. But when the cramps continued, even after I was in better condition, I asked my more experienced cyclist friends about it. They all said the same thing – “you’re not getting enough electrolytes!”
Okay, I said, so what exactly does that mean, and how do I get the proper amount? They explained that sweating so much over hours (i.e. long rides) causes your body to lose a lot of the natural salts that it needs. This, in turn, causes the cramps that I’ve been experiencing. (I’ll save the physiology details here – I’m not exactly how your body uses salts to keep your muscles working properly, but it clearly does!) So, you have to replace the salts as you ride. That could be as simple as eating pretzels along the ride (not a very attractive idea to me, since something dry and salty is the LAST thing I want on a ride, despite the fact that I love pretzels!), or adding an electrolyte supplement to your water.
Various electrolyte supplements
So, I opted for the supplement plan, but then the obvious question was, which supplement? If you go to your local bike shop, you’ll find they have a ton of options. Most are in tablet or powder form. They dissolve in your water and add electrolytes and sometimes even carbohydrates to the water. The only problem with this method, in my opinion, is that all of these tablets and powders add flavor to the water. You can get lots of different flavors, but so far I haven’t found one I particularly enjoy. I really don’t want any flavor when I’m riding – I just want the taste of plain, cold water!
I also discovered the another option – pills. You can buy several varieties of electrolyte pills that you take every so often during a ride. This didn’t appeal much to me either, since I really don’t want to be taking pills of any sort – and you have to take a lot of them! …One of my riding buddies swears by them, however, so I may have to try them one of these days. (His particular favorite, by the way is “Endurolyte” by Hammer Nutrition.) One advantage of the pills, I must admit, is that you can continue your electrolyte intake even after you’ve refilled your bottles. With my chosen method, as I’ll describe below, you are done once you run out of your two water bottles. Not exactly the best method, I’ll admit, for really long rides where you need more than two bottles!
Hammer Endurolytes electrolyte supplement tablets
In the end, I finally asked one of my local bike shops what they had, besides the tablets, powders and pills. The guy showed me a bottle of something called “Elete” electrolyte supplement drops. You simply put a few drops in your water before you ride. And, the best part of all, there was no added flavor! So, I gave the Elete drops a try and I’ve been sold ever since. I combine the Elete drops with Carbo Pro carbohydrate powder and they kind of offset each other to make my water pretty much taste like plain water! (The Carbo Pro makes it very slightly sweet and the elete drops make it very slightly salty)
elete electrolyte drops
So, I encourage you to find your own personal electrolyte solution – whether it be tablets, powder, pills, drops, or simply pretzels. You’ll thank me in the end, and you’ll get a much better night’s sleep because of it!