Experimenting with Hydration Options - Water vs Scratch


Over the last year I’ve been experimenting with water only in my longer indoor rides. Overall I don’t think I can properly hydrate by drinking water only when the ride is longer than 2 hours.

Basically, when I’m sweating a lot I cannot replenish what I need by drinking water only. I’ve been testing this theory on longer, Sunday rides. What happens is I end up drinking a ton, maybe too much, and I start to feel pain in my stomach. The feeling you get when you drink too much water. My body is telling me to drink more, but my stomach cannot absorb it. It’s a very strange feeling.

I was speaking with @Coach_Theia about this and I’m pretty sure I need more electrolytes when I’m sweating a lot. Water alone does not cut it. I’m going to transition to scratch on rides longer than 2 hours for a while and see what happens.


@dfriestedt, that is pretty common. @Coach_Flo covered this pretty extensively in his In the Feed Zone show. Depending on your sweat rate and the concentration of electrolytes/minerals in your sweat, you may not be able to adequately compensate during your workout with food alone.

Personally, I really like Skratch Labs, Nuun, and EFS Pro as electrolyte drinks. The absorption rate is pretty good for me, much better than sugary ones like Gatorade. Although, Gatorade Endurance is a pretty good sports drink for very long days compared to what it used to be.

Just make sure that you don’t overdo it. I have found when I make my drinks too strong, I get a similar gut issue, bloating, as when I only take water. @cullenac also has some good insights, I am sure.


Agree. You can do water up to about 90 minutes…regular workout, no Zwift races.
Nuun is ok for 90-120 minutes if you have a bunch laying around. I doesn’t have any carbs, so plan accordingly.
My go to is Skratch for anything over 90 minutes. Finding the big bag of lemon lime is tough, and they don’t make any other flavors in a bag that large. I don’t really cramp on it when I use it…maybe some stupid long Zwift race, but I can’t remember cramping outside with it.


I feel that adding electrolytes to the water for longer rides is a good strategy for a few reasons. the hotter and longer the event and the more you sweat and the sweatier you sweat then the more importance for including electrolytes (and sufficient water)

  1. electrolytes and sugars to some degree improve water absorption. this is probably only significant when there is a need. normal day to day we dont need to have an electrolyte in our tea and coffee LOL.

“The inclusion of electrolytes in fluid replacement beverages is important to offset the losses in sweat and urine during prolonged exercise in the heat; but, perhaps more importantly, electrolytes should be incorporated into these beverages because they play a pivotal role in glucose, water, and salt absorption, which, in turn, is essential for the maintenance of plasma volume and osmoregulation. Glucose-stimulated Na+ absorption is a well-accepted biological phenomenon in the human intestine.”

  1. when you drink water alone, it drives the need to pee (blood Na dilution effect - brain perceives that you are too hydrated! and sodium levels are dropping and it wants to maintain ideal sodium levels as sodium is a critical electrolyte for cell function); so you arent hydrating (with only water) as effectively compared to when the water has electrolytes. ie you drink water and you pee more water… in and out… a reason i recommend never drinking water along before a race, you will only need to pee more.

  2. electroytes aid water absorption somewhat, so do carbs; this is why diarrhoea formulation have electrolytes and sugars. albeit in different dosages as diarrhoea and sports dehydration are separate issues. that said, electrolytes improve hydration more (drive absorption across the gut wall due to concentration gradient),

  3. while the theories on cramping may be wrong re electrolytes (or imcomplete), dehydration and electrolyte loss may impact sports performance and I believe, cognitive function. sometimes some salt can be as effective as taking some sugars on board!

  4. better hydration while training = less stress response. also electrolytes are important for adrenal function, stress exacerbates electrolyte imbalance so it is a chicken and egg re stress and electrolytes and training and physiological stress.

  5. depending on the ride and the duration and the temperatures/ humidity we need to tailor our fluids, electrolytes and carbohydrate intakes.

this questionnaire is fun https://www.precisionhydration.com/pages/why-personalise-your-hydration-strategy

hope my morning ramble above makes sense.

there are so many hydration options, sodium and chloride are the most important, some magnesium can be helpful. i think formulation with bs and other vitamins are a nonsense especially as they are usually in a cheap synthetic form. re carbs, glucose/ maltodextrin/ sucrose alone are all sufficient for intakes <60g per hour (maple syrup and “food” falls into this bracket. honey is mostly fructose i believe so not as good. intakes above 60g carbohydrate per hour need 2:1 glucose/ maltodextran to fructose ratio to avail of multiple transporter systems to achieve peak absorption rates in the gut. slow release specialist formulas are another topic.

sugar free options are only worth while if you need no sugar, to be honest i would rather people have a small bit of sugar than an artificial sweetener… makes no sense; you are burning carbs anyhow!!



Sometimes on the indoor bike i have only water, but a bottle of saltstick chews nearby and i chew on one if i feel that i need it. or… i use salt

funny, i was training a few months back and drinking my “water” kept saying to myself this water tastes so good, why… and i was drinking away loving it having forgotten i had put a twist of celtic sea salt in the bottle… my body loved it!!


makes total sense. What you wrote is exactly what I’m experiencing… Looks like I’ll get back to scratch on anything longer than 90 minutes. Thanks for explaining this!