cycling utah July 2000


Fatigue is a concern for cyclists and is preventable

By J. R. Smith

Effective cycling must include proper hydration to keep fatigue at bay. Physical activity stresses the body and proper hydration allows the body to meet the demands of exercise.


To maintain your plasma level you need fluids. Approximately 67 percent of your body contains fluids. To maintain this percentage you need to replenish these levels during a ride. Water is O.K. but studies indicate that an energy replacement drink is more effective.

Your blood delivers oxygen and nutrients to your muscles and also removes the heat active muscles generate. During an intense ride as much as half a gallon of perspiration can be lost every hour. This water comes from your bloodstream (plasma). Since approximately 45 percent of all body fluids are stored in the muscles, the drop in plasma affects them affects them in the form of cramps and fatigue.

The simple solution is to drink early and drink often. Don't go longer than 10-15 minutes without consumption of liquids. When you get thirsty it is too late. Thirst is not a good indicator of fluid needs.

Studies indicate that just a four percent reduction in the amount of fluids in your body can result in an approximate 40 percent reduction in aerobic capacity.


Concentrate on taking deep, rhythmical breaths rather than shallow quick ones. Climb in an upright position to fully expand your lungs. Make sure your bike fits properly. Being on a too small frame causing you to be bent over or on a too large frame causing you to be too stretched out can reduce your ability to breathe properly.

Lack of concentration or concentrating too much sometimes causes you to hold your breath (i.e. in tight corners or a fast paceline when riding close together). This almost causes hyperventilation, which is very fatiguing. Focus on being slightly relaxed and smooth in your pedal strokes and movement. Ride with your arms slightly bent not stiff.


Riding increases your energy use by as much as 10-20 times than at rest. As your intensity increases the muscles rely on glycogen (stored carbohydrates) as its primary fuel. After approximately two hours of fast riding this fuel is almost depleted. At this point your muscles try to use stored fat which can result in your body only sustaining 50-60 percent of its aerobic capacity.

Use an energy replacement glucose drink on all hard rides and rides greater than one hour in duration. Emphasize endurance training which gives your body the ability to use stored fats so that you can use glycogen later in the ride. Build a proper diet with the use of fruits, vegetables and pasta to increase carbohydrate intake when activity level or intensity increases.

Lactic acid

This is usually caused by intense effort, and normally occurs during sprints or a long climb. This buildup affects the muscles' ability to turn food into energy. It also interacts with other substances to cause fatigue. It also can absorb water which lowers blood volume, which makes it more difficult to deliver oxygen to the muscles for sustaining effort.

Keep your effort and pace at a level that prevents the rush of lactic acid buildup. By keeping your pace smooth through the use of proper gearing, especially when riding hills, you will prevent the lactic acid buildup and therefore reduce fatigue.


Proper stretching will increase flexibility and delay fatigue, especially on long rides. Ease into stretching when muscles are warm. Do not bounce as injury may result. You can also stretch when riding by standing and moving head and back. Changing hand position on the bike also helps.


Ultraviolet rays, even on cloudy days, can cause eye fatigue and headaches. The air rushing by also causes drying of the lenses, which can cause decreased vision and make you feel tired. Use proper eyeware that protects you from ultraviolet rays and wind.

J.R. Smith is a licensed U.S.A. Cycling Elite Coach, Category 2 Official and masters racer. He has been involved in cycling for approximately 20 years and has worked with previous U.S. National Team members and National Champions as well as managing a professional women's cycling team. He also has instructed at Bicycling magazine and Olympic Training Center cycling camps. He presently operates a consulting business and performs services for coaching, bike fit, body composition analysis, and performance testing. He can be contacted at (801) 944-2456 or via e-mail at [email protected]

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