The days are getting shorter and the mercury is plummeting. Winter is here. Maintaining a consistent training load during the British winter can be diffiult. The cold, dark days envelop us in a battle with both the elements and our motivation. As the weather worsens (yes, sorry, it will) and your training load changes as you embrace winter routines, there is something else to consider beyond keeping warm and dry: should your fuelling habits change too?
With fewer races and events on the calendar until spring – unless you’re a fan of cyclo-cross – most cyclists tend to reduce the intensity and focus on building their base. With a switch to base training, nutrition changes too. For endurance rides, the minimum recommended intake of carbohydrate is 40g per hour.
It’s not all about carbs per hour. There are more considerations when it comes to energy expenditure over the winter months. Many of us reduce our training volume, discouraged by the inclement conditions. On the other hand, training can become more energy-intensive owing to the gruelling nature of winter riding. Sports nutritionist David Starr (eatdrinkwin.co.uk) explains: “Extra clothing, stronger winds and higher rolling resistance can all make winter training a little harder than you anticipate. Very cold weather may increase your need for carbohydrates, if only to fuel the shivering!”
For calculating your energy requirements, most modern head units provide a good estimate of the energy you have used during a ride. It’s important to match your energy intake with your expenditure. ‘’If your intensity has decreased, then you will require less carbohydrate in your diet,” notes Starr, “but for many athletes training volume increases, so the overall amount of energy needed remains the same.”
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to planning nutrition; it calls for a little bit of planning. My personal technique is to estimate the duration and intensity of the ride. If it’s going to be three hours in Zone 2, I’ll take 150g of carbs – 50g per hour.
Keeping an eye on energy expenditure and intake is vital to ensure consistent training, and it is better to be slightly over-fuelled than under-fuelled. As soon as you get home from a ride, aim to consume a mixture of carbs and protein – a protein shake is perfect. If I still feel like I could inhale the fridge having downed my shake, I know I haven’t eaten anywhere near enough during the ride. When that happens, there is usually a knock-on effect: the body’s equilibrium has been unsettled. This could easily disrupt a multiple-day training block.
Over-fuelling inevitably raises a question about weight. In our weight-obsessive sport, it can be hard to put it out of our minds. We’re often a little heavier upon starting winter training, after the offseason, so it can be tempting to cut down to get back to ‘race weight’. Don’t fall into this trap.
“Race weight for elite athletes should be sustained only for a very short period in the season where they focus intensely on achieving a peak power to weight ratio,” clarifies Starr. “For the rest of the year, athletes are typically a few kilos heavier – which has benefits for their health and gives them extra energy to help with adaptations to training.”
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