Readers who know me personally, will be familiar with my love for rediscovering old fashioned methods in training and nutrition. Examples might be the recent resurgence in bodyweight exercises, which has been used in military training for more than a century. In nutrition (in the UK at least) there’s an old saying of “go to work on an egg” which certainly precedes my lifetime and supports the recent moves away from high carb, cereal based breakfasts, toward natural wholefoods and a paleo way of eating.
But neither of those are today’s topic. I’m going to draw on a frequently used saying of my grandmother’s, which is supported anecdotally by one of the greatest cyclists of all time and is something that I recently put into practice.
When I was a boy, particularly during summer months when I might have been outside for hours running around, I’d come indoors looking for a drink. As I guzzled down two pints of water, my grandmother might say to me that she always found that a cup of tea would quench her thirst better than water. When you’re young, you might feel that all you’ve come to know supersedes all that has gone before and the idea that a hot drink would outstrip cool water sounded ridiculous. I didn’t bother to enquire further.
Recently, in a discussion with an athlete about hydration, I recollected the ‘old wife’s tale’ of tea being more thirst quenching than water. Not a week after that, while watching the Tour de France, on Euro Sport, Sean Kelly commented on one of the riders taking a drink from his bottle and suggested that it would be a carbohydrate and electrolyte combination (no surprise there) but followed up that in the old days, riders would rely on cold tea! I sat up straight to listen further but Sean didn’t elaborate. More discussion with the same athlete followed. Could tea be used effectively during a ride to hydrate effectively? The short answer is yes, of course it can, given its 99% water but what might it be like compared to what we’ve become used to?
Usually on a short ride, I’ll take plain water. On longer ‘two bottle’ rides, I’ll use an electrolyte like High Five Zero, or Nuun. So last weekend, with a recovery ride in mind after a completing a long distance triathlon the weekend before, I decided to try tea. Making a standard half pint mug, I prepared a cup of tea to the strength I’d normally drink it (pretty strong, Yorkshire tea) but omitting the usual splash of milk. Adding the tea to a 750ml drinks bottle, I topped up the bottle with cold water and for good measure added the smallest squeeze of juice from an orange. I’d have used lemon but didn’t have one on hand.
Making up a bottle of Zero and taking it along with my warm bottle of tea, I headed out on the bike, drinking the cold electrolyte first and only switching bottles to the tea once I’d run out of zero.
With some trepidation, I went to take a drink from my second and only remaining bottle. Considering the colour and temperature of the bottle when I’d slipped it into the bottle holder, you might understand my hesitancy. Thankfully, the bottle had cooled while I rode, so I took a slug in the hope that all would be well and I could ride the last 20 miles home without dehydrating.
In short, it was the best thing I’ve ever had to drink while sitting on a bike. Now cool and refreshing with just the slightest hint of citrus, it was much subtler than any of the pre-mixed drinks I’d used before.
So, that’s it, I’m a convert. When riding from home, its diluted tea in the bottle for me from now on. Turns out (yet again) that my grandmother knew a thing or two, as does Sean Kelly of course.
When you’re next going out for a ride, take the time to prepare cold tea with a dash of fresh juice. For certain it won’t be what’s offered by the race organiser of your next ‘A’ race but the touch of nostalgia while thinking of those early racers drinking the same thing as they pushed themselves to the limit, makes the drink and the ride all the more enjoyable.
GI Tri Coach