Few things can taste better after a hard endurance effort than a cold, sugary drink, and Coca-Cola is one of the most popular options for amateurs and professionals alike. So what makes Coke so great, and is it really safe to be drinking before, during, or after your race?
We looked into why Coke has become a go-to drink for endurance athletes and other important things to know about using soda as a fuel source during a race.
Is It Okay to Drink Coke After or Before Cycling?
It can be okay to drink Coke before or after your ride, but you’ll likely want to test it out to see how it sits in your stomach before introducing it in a race scenario. Coke is most often consumed in the later parts of a race, especially those lasting two to six hours. (Source)
The biggest reason is the easy and immediate sugar spike. Some researchers say this may be mostly a psychological benefit, giving racers an added mental boost in the final stretches of a grueling race.
Of course, a race shouldn’t be the first time you try it out. You’re better off testing it during a training ride to see if it gives you the boost you’re looking for or if it leaves you feeling uncomfortable.
Some riders and racers will find that the carbonation causes too much gas, which can be especially uncomfortable when you’re bent over in an aero position on the bike.
For others, though, it’s the perfect fuel for staving off a bonk, especially for those times when gels or chews just aren’t cutting it.
What Happens if You Drink Too Much Coke?
Drinking too much Coke in your everyday life can lead to some major health complications like Type 2 diabetes and tooth decay. There are 37 grams of sugar in a single can of Coke, which is equivalent to 10 teaspoons (10 tsp) (Source).
For context, the World Health Organization (WHO) recommends consuming no more than 6 grams of added sugar per day. In other words, drinking a single can of Coke is like consuming nearly two days worth of your recommended added sugar.
While you may feel great immediately after drinking a can of soda, the sugar crash that comes later will often make you wish you hadn’t had it in the first place. Or worse, it’ll make you reach for another one in an attempt to combat the slump, creating a frustrating cycle.
Does Coke Hydrate the Body?
While Coke can certainly quench your thirst, it won’t provide nearly the same amount of hydration as drinking water would. Drinking soda won’t necessarily cause you to become dehydrated, but the consequences definitely outweigh the benefits (Source).
Caffeine can have a diuretic effect, meaning you end up needing to use the restroom more often. However, you may feel like you aren’t thirsty because the soda is so refreshing, which can ultimately lead to a lack of hydration.
Using Coke or other soda as a periodic treat or a way to get through a difficult race can be a helpful tactic, but it’s best to avoid relying on it or drinking it daily.
Do Tour De France Riders Drink Coke?
It can be common for Tour de France riders to drink Coke during or after their race. It’s usually consumed right out of a can or from a shaker bottle, which helps release some of the carbonation, leading to more of a flat soda that can be gentler on the stomach. (Source)
It’s primarily used as a pick me up at the tail end of a race or right at the finish line to help fight off cramps.
Of course, Tour de France riders aren’t relying entirely on soda to get them through the race, and they may not even drink an entire can.
Instead, their primary source of fuel will come from drinks with far more nutrition to keep their energy levels up during the race. They also make sure to be properly hydrated in the days before and the hours after so that their bodies can perform at their best.
What Do Professional Cyclists Drink?
Many professional cyclists aim to replace the electrolytes that are lost through sweat, which is why a lot of drinks contain a mix of these necessary nutrients. There are a few different drink types that can help get the job done (Source):
Isotonic drinks will have a similar concentration of sugar as the blood (around 6%) which allows the nutrients to be absorbed fast.
This can be a great fuel source for a cyclist or triathlete looking to maintain their energy on more mild stages (like flat rides), but aren’t necessarily as useful for all out max efforts.
Hypertonic drinks will have the highest concentration of sugar (10% or more), which are great for recovery. They take longer to digest so they aren’t often used during the race or on a ride as it can lead to digestive issues and discomfort.
Instead, most professionals will enjoy these in the form of a fruit juice on their way home from a race.
Hypotonic Drinks have the lowest concentration of sugar (anywhere from 1% – 4%) which means they can be absorbed the fastest.
This can be especially helpful on hot days when athletes are sweating more and able to consume more fuel without as many ramifications for their digestive tract.
Everybody is different and different fuel sources will work differently. It’s always important to test out a new nutrition source on a training ride – never introduce anything new on a race day.
Learning how to properly fuel for a cycling race or triathlon can be very complicated and often involves a lot of trial and error. Drinks (including Coke) are just one part of the equation.
You can also try gels, chews, and even whole foods in order to get the nutrition and energy you need for your race.