Cycling’s Downside – Dehydration, Insulin, Free Radicals and Antioxidants

There is more than enough evidence around demonstrating that cycling at any level will have a beneficial effect on your health and may even change your life.

To achieve the benefits, though, you need to be disciplined and consistent; that discipline and consistency paves the way for the second, the potential for major life-change. I can claim no special knowledge when it comes to the physical effects of consistent cycling. But a few facts that have stuck with me from haphazard, assorted reading over the years really resonate.

One is that cycling leaves you dehydrated — a little even if you drink enough; a lot if you don’t drink enough, which we would want to avoid. This amounts to a temporary reduction in blood volume, which in turn reduces your blood pressure.

Consistently cycling at your own pace — once again consistency is important — over a period of time, and the longer the better, produces a cumulative positive affect on your cardiovascular system by quite significantly reducing risk of stroke and heart problems. A little dehydration, then, has a positive effect.

The other aspect is the cumulative reduction of blood sugar, and therefore insulin, over time has a beneficial effect on overall health. I can’t recall the details of what I read in relation to that point, but here is a recent article with some authority on the issue. Both of these are on top of all the other benefits that general fitness allows us to enjoy.

A recent post by Ian over at Missing Saddle on a physical ailment brought on by cycling that will see him no longer participating in racing and Johnathan’s crash woes at Low Cadence remind us of the potential downside, however.

What I recall reading about over and above these varied consequences of cycling detailed by these bloggers ( Ian’s story is particularly relevant),  are the chronic, cumulative side effects, the negative flip-side, if you like, to the benefits briefly touched on above.

One that really gave me a surprise was that hard exercise produces “free radicals” that zoom around causing potential cumulative damage over time. And there’s the seeming antidote to this in the consuming of antioxidents in large numbers.

When I return from a ride the first thing I think about is stretching. I probably may be emphasizing this at the expense of other things that may take priority. One of these is consuming carbohydrates within 30 minutes of finishing the ride ie. the intense exercise, in order to assist my body in efficiently replacing glycogen stores, particularly important if there is to be any riding the following day.

Now, it seems I should be adding a blend of fruit and vegetables high in Vitamin C, E, and beta-carotine. The thing is that I mainly eat fruit for breakfast which is high in all of these ingredients. Does consuming high levels of antioxidants before intense exercise amount to the same thing as consuming them in a recovery phase after the event? I like to think so. If anyone has an answer to this or further insights on this whole area to share, I would be  most interested.

5 thoughts on “Cycling’s Downside – Dehydration, Insulin, Free Radicals and Antioxidants”

  1. In short, I have recently read in an article somewhere that the health benefits of cycling negate the negative impact of free radicals, carbon monoxide inhalation, and UV exposure.

  2. That’s just the news I was hoping to hear! Participating in cycling is simply going to have a net positive benefit and best not to give the negatives too much weight….low probability of a negative outcome anyway.

  3. There are so many different opinions when it comes to nutrition and fitness….but one thing I do recommend is consuming protein and carbs within 1 hour of completing a ride. This combination will help your recovery and get you ready to ride the next day.

    I agree with what Andrew said about negating the free radicals. Just eat clean and ride strong. The rest will take care of itself.


  4. I think if the focus is on racing and cycling in more difficult terrain, then there is a risk. As for cycling’s lack of ie. strengthening upper body muscles, etc. : we know that and need to complement it with other exercises.

    It still is the healthy form of transport, fitness and travel that makes you forget..quite often, about “exercising”. It’s just moving and liberating yourself to see stuff along the way on your speed and on the routes you choose.

  5. Thanks for those points Jean. Yes, one great thing about cycling is that there’s much more about it than exercise even though this is the greatest benefit.

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