The Cheapest Way to Drop Pounds off your Bike, Ironman Hydration 101

I always wonder why someone would drop $10,000 dollars on the lightest most aero bike on the planet and then load it up with a gallon of fluid and a box of energy bars. On the other hand, whenever anyone sees me cycling during an Ironman, they always ask,  “What the heck are you using for hydration?”.  I get the same question as I set up my bike in T1. They seem to think I have some magical or invisible liquid stashed in my shorts or downtube.  Truth is…I don’t.  I have never carried any fluid at any Ironman labeled race, the Big Island included.  “How do you manage that?”, you ask.  Well, here’s the skinny on how your VeganTriathlonCoach pulls this off. It may or may not be something that you can do, but in general, most people over hydrate, and/or carry waaaay too much liquid libations on their bike. (unless, of course, you really are planning an offering to the Gods of Triathlon, which theoretically may improve your overall time)  I do believe, by applying these principles, judiciously, you should lighten your load over a difficult 112 mile time-trial and shave off some precious time on your road to Kona and enlightenment!


No fluid on the front end…


A few basic principles come into play.  You can absorb only about 17 to 34 ounces an hour…so obviously you don’t want much more than that whether you are feeling thirsty or not.  It really doesn’t matter if the extra fluid is on your bike or in your gut, it is not making you go any faster or feel any better.  I find there is a psychological component to thirst.  One tip I would offer is don’t drink anything 1 hour before race time.  “What!!” you scream, “I should be getting every drop I can get before the gun goes off!!”  Have you ever seen the lines at the Porta-Potties before the start??  The lines go around transition at least once, and guys are disappearing into the bushes like a mass alien abduction is in progress!  At Ironman Louisville you start lining up at 3 AM and are threatened with arrest if you are caught answering the “call of nature”.   (With all the over-hydrated bladders, the urine produced is probably a lot cleaner that the Ohio River, But I digress) The point is, drink as much as you want until an hour before start, and let your body get rid of the excess. It is usually pretty chilly at 6 AM no matter where you are, and you are probably not losing a lot of fluid through sweating. If your throat gets dry (mine always does), it’s a good bet it is your nerves and not your circulatory system that is causing it.  Maybe, a swallow to calm your nerves and whet your pallette, but you will be in the water soon, and I don’t seem to ever feel thirsty in the H2O!  It is nice to start without feeling bloated…you can wait for the run for that, it is much more pleasant!  I do keep my first bottle of fluid on my bike for transition, usually attached to my aerobars with a rubber band or 2…do some experimenting to see what holds it in place long enough to get into your shoes and up to speed before you can annihilate it and toss off the remains!  You have been swimming for an hour or more, and besides accidental doses of the Ohio River, you probably haven’t passed by any aid stations.  Try to get at least 20-32 oz, in or right after transition, toss the bottle and rubber bands in the trash, and you have a clean cock-pit to power you the next few miles to the first oasis, usually only a few miles away.  This is a great chance to get your favorite hydration!  I always have something that is spiked with a nice plant-based protein when I hit T1, after you leave you are going to be dependent on whomever paid the most to be the Ironman Official Sponsor on race day.  Of special note, you can’t depend on your special needs bag, especially on the bike, unless you are willing to slow down, or stop, to get it.  I usually turn one in, but probably have a less than 10% chance that someone will be ready to hand it off to me!  I consider these libations another sacrificial offering, but occasionally I am surprised to see an eager volunteer shouting out my number with a smile on their face….I always say thank you for this unexpected bonus!

No fluid on the back end.  But notice the 72 oz or almost 5 pounds of fluid on the Shiv behind me leaving transition….this is  only a 70.3 and a pretty chilly morning!


Obviously, to make this work you have to be able to chug a good amount of H2O or other liquid quickly and efficiently without throwing up… if you can’t do it, you can probably quit reading now.  You also have to sacrifice a bottle or two to the Triathlon Deities, but since you probably had to mortgage your house to pay the entry fee, it’s really not that big of deal, just roll that into your 30-year fixed rate. And lastly, you have to be able to stomach whatever is  on the course on race day, unless you go for all water, and carry enough calories in the form of gels, bars, or whatever to keep your fuel tank on full! Biking fluid-free is a liberating experience…kind of like living off grid at 20+ miles an hour.  You are leaving yourself at the mercy of the cold cruel world, but fortunately Ironman races always have 10 to 13 aid stations along the course.   That is usually about about 1 every 10 miles, or a little more than a half-hour per station, if you are cruising along at a descent clip.  You may want to know where they are in case you get nervous, and remember a dry mouth does not necessarily mean you need fluid!  What it comes down to is you can max your capacity to digest fluids at about 10 to 20 oz at every aid station. You may need far less if it is colder, I skip aid stations regularly if I feel bloated, am not thirsty, or there is just too  much traffic to get a clean grab.  If you can’t miss a station you may need to slow down and make sure you get what you need, I have also missed stations because I couldn’t grab a bottle going downhill at 30+ miles an hours. (Ironman does not always pick the most logical places for a feed zone) Also, if you can’t grab a bottle while riding, this is not going to work very well, it may take some practice!

Decide in advance how much water, or electrolyte drink, you are going to need per station.  Once again, I assume about 2 stations per hour, which can be adjusted if you are going faster or slower than expected.  Know how much fluid is in the container you are grabbing for and drink the percentage of the bottle you want.  For example,  I shoot for the highest end of the digestion spectrum on a hot day, or about 34 oz an hour.  So, if the electrolyte bottle is 24 oz (you can ask at the expo before the race) than I want about 3/4 of a bottle at every station.  I don’t mind over-hydrating a little at the beginning, just in case I miss an aid station for whatever reason, also being a little bloated on the bike doesn’t bother me…but it really bites on the run, so don’t get crazy at mile 100!  I want to get off the bike running smoothly without the slosh of fluid in my gut!

The last thing to keep in mind is calorie consumption.  Common race day electrolytes have about 50 calories per 8 oz serving, or a little over 100 if I am hitting my max goal.  The human body can take in about 100 to 250 calories per hour during exercise…so once again, aim high.  I am close to the max with just Gatorade or whatever happens to be out there, so I can usually supplement this with a gel or chew every hour…whatever is easiest to get down.  There is nothing worse than chewing on the same energy bar for half the race!  If you are going to take water,  (it doesn’t leave your mouth feeling sticky and you can dump the rest over your jersey), you will have to take more calories with you on the bike.  I do both, but sometimes I don’t want to waste stomach space on anything that has no calories!

Nothing  like riding a clean bike….

Last of all, consider that fluids weigh about 8 pounds per gallon…and I have seen well over a gallon on several set-ups!  Just walk around transition and count how many people could have bought their bike at Wal-Mart (not ever recommended) and still saved weight if they followed my advice! And we haven’t even gotten into aero disadvantages!  Ironman races have plenty of aid stations along the way…others typically, not so many.  Soooo, if you have a well supported race and don’t need anything special, make the most of your outrageous entry fee and make them foot the feeding bill for the whole 140.6 miles!!  It just might punch your ticket to the Big Island!




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