Being well into June 2014 I thought it might be a good idea to address dehydration while riding. Temperatures are already hitting the high 90s and the heat is quite noticeable while riding. The sun is beating down on your body from above, the engine heat is baking you from below. Your body is sweating to stay cool by releasing water. As the body uses that water it needs fluid replenishment. I have personally witnessed people in the horrible condition of dehydration while riding. It's not a pretty sight and can be dangerous. Hospitalization or even death could happen if a rider doesn't address the possibility with preventative measures.
What Is Dehydration
Dehydration occurs when more water and fluids are exiting the body than are entering the body. With about 75% of the body made up of water found inside cells, within blood vessels, and between cells, survival requires a rather sophisticated water management system. Luckily, our bodies have such a system, and our thirst mechanism tells us when we need to increase fluid intake. Although water is lost constantly throughout the day as we breathe, sweat, urinate, and defecate, we can replenish the water in our bodies by drinking fluids. The body can also shift water around to areas where it is more needed if dehydration begins to occur.
What Causes Dehydration
The immediate causes of dehydration include not enough water, water loss, or some combination of the two. Sometimes it is not possible to consume enough fluids because we are too busy, lack the facilities or strength to drink, or are in an area without potable water (while hiking or camping, for example).
Symptoms Of Dehydration
Weakness in muscles
Lack of sweating
Shriveled and dry skin
Low blood pressure
This may seem like a lot to try and remember but it's quite important to be familiar with the signs. Once dehydration begins setting in you may not even realize it's happening. Knowing the signs is also something everyone you are riding with should have a basic knowledge of. If everyone knows about dehydration and what to look for, there will be more eyes to catch it before it becomes extreme.
How To Treat Dehydration
Dehydration must be treated by replenishing the fluid level in the body. This can be done by consuming clear fluids such as water, clear broths, frozen water, ice pops, or sports drinks (such as Gatorade). Lay the person in shade and elevate their feet. Remove as much clothing as possible, pour cold water over the person, apply ice to their skin to help cool their body, and monitor their breathing. Some dehydration patients, however, will require intravenous fluids in order to rehydrate. People who are dehydrated should avoid drinks containing caffeine such as coffee, tea, and sodas.
Begin Hydrating The Day Before A Ride
Obviously, the best practice is just not to become dehydrated. Preventative measures are the best practice and the most important. If you know your going to be riding the next day, begin hydrating the day before. I drink water throughout the day regularly but if I know we're going somewhere the next day and it's going to be hot, I'll drink more water and eat more fruit and vegetables. I'll also pay attention to the coloration of my urine, the darker it is, the more dehydrated my body is. If you're about to take off on a ride and your urine is dark yellow or brownish in color, you might want to reconsider going out for the day.
Alcohol And Dehydration
Alcohol is also a major contributor to dehydration. Have you ever noticed when you go to a restaurant and order a drink they will usually bring you a glass of water? It's to help prevent dehydration from the alcohol. Alcohol has a dehydrating effect by causing increased urine production. Approximately 100 ml of additional urine output occurs for every 10g of alcohol consumed. This translates to you losing an enormous amount of water in comparison to what you're putting in your body while drinking alcohol. Try not to drink alcohol the day before a ride or at least limit the amount of alcohol if you do and you will greatly decrease the risk of dehydration.
How I Stay Hydrated
Something I do to prevent dehydration while on the road is to keep a half-gallon thermos full of ice water in my saddlebag. Our Chapter rides are planned with plenty of stops at which time I'll pull out my thermos and start drinking. It always surprises me that I am the only person that does this. Not even once have I ever seen another rider pull out a thermos and drink water. I'll walk around talking to people sucking down water from my thermos while they are sipping from the bottle of water they just bought from the convenience store.
How much do they spend throughout the day on all those bottles of water? Enough to have bought lunch? And we have all seen the ads that say "Every year enough water bottles are discarded to wrap around the planet". They have those big saddlebags they could put a thermos in, save money from buying water, and decrease the number of disposable bottles that end up in the environment. I'll fill mine before leaving the house, and refill with ice and water from the soda fountains inside gas stations and even at restaurants. Another good thing about carrying a thermos of water is availability along the road if something happens. If you break down, get thirsty, another rider needs water, whatever, I have water for emergencies that could happen. To me it just makes sense.
Stay Hydrated For A Great Day Of Riding
The point to be made is just to stay hydrated. It's not hard to prevent dehydration if you consider the possibility during your ride preparations. Unless some horrible situation happens where you become stranded miles away from anything with no hope of finding water there really is no excuse for a relatively healthy person to suffer from dehydration. The average rider is not taking trips to remote destinations where water might be difficult to find. Most riders plan day trips or weekend trips where there are plenty of watering holes along the way. The largest problem of dehydration among riders occurs because of personal neglect of their own bodies. They just don't think dehydration is happening until it's too late and they didn't take preventative measures beforehand.