The days are getting shorter and the mercury is plummeting. Winter is here. Maintaining a consistent training load during the British winter can be difficult. The cold, dark days envelop us in a battle with both the elements and 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 cyclocross – most cyclists tend to reduce the intensity and focus on building their base. With a switch to endurance training, nutrition changes too. There is a tendency among cyclists to under-fuel on the bike, all year round.
For endurance rides, the minimum recommended intake is 40g of carbohydrate per hour. So unless you’re deliberately limiting carbs (or calories), then aim to eat the equivalent of two bananas per hour on the bike – it’s a useful rule of thumb.
It’s not all about carbs per hour. There are more considerations to account for 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 nature of winter riding.
Sports nutritionist David Starr (eatdrinkwin.com) 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 because shivering is mainly carb-fuelled!”
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 may increase so the overall amount of energy needed remains the same.”
There is no one-size-fits-all when it comes to planning nutrition; it involves 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.
I check the carbohydrate level of each product I’m taking, count them into my pocket and then always take one or two bars extra. You never know if you’ll drop a bar or end up tagging an extra loop at the end.
Read the full feature in this week’s Cycling Weekly magazine, on sale from Thursday December 2. You can buy CW in store and online, or take out a subscription and take advantage of our Christmas offer.