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Winter training nutrition — get the best fuel for these 4 common situations

Effective refuelling techniques for cold-weather training from OTE Sports’ Performance Nutritionist Annie Simpson

Good nutritional practice is vital for effective winter training, so here’s how to get it right.

Winter training is all about setting a solid foundation to build upon for the next year and that applies whether you're a competitive cyclist preparing for the next race season or someone looking to build on the fitness gains made through summer sportives and commuting. Winter training often makes the difference between winning and losing when race season comes around again and can be the stepping stone to taking your riding to the next level even if you don't race.

With that in mind, your nutrition is important. The call of cake in the off-season tempts us all but remember optimal fuelling and recovery when training are going to help towards bigger training adaptations, so it’s worth sliding that cake to one side.

Pre-training meal

Make sure you set yourself up for long training miles with a good carbohydrate-based meal. Consume this meal 2-3 hours before training where possible to allow it to settle. If you have to eat closer to training then eat a lighter meal and make sure you're on-the-bike fuelling is right. A simple meal prior to your weekend club ride is good old porridge made with milk. Training on an empty stomach is not wise for long or intense winter training. You will not get the desired training effect, and you may even start to break down muscle as an energy source.

Training outdoors

A planned training ride should always have planned nutrition. Make sure you are taking adequate food and drink with you to fuel the whole ride, the last thing you want in the midst of winter is to run out of energy miles from home. Be sensible, eat, drink and fuel. Cold weather should not necessarily mean increasing your energy intake. It’s only when you start shivering that you burn more energy. Keep moving and dress appropriately.

Marrakech Atlas Etape Rob Kitchen 09

Aim to consume 1g of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight per hour (1g/kg/h) to sustain your energy levels at a brisk riding pace. Consuming carbohydrates during training has also been found to aid immune function, which is particularly important in the winter months as the dreaded colds do the rounds.

Example fuelling strategy:

A 70kg athlete would need to consume 70g of carbohydrates per hour. This equates to one of these options:

· 500ml of energy drink + a medium banana
· Medium slice of flapjack + an energy gel
· 2 small cereal bars + medium banana
· Small jam sandwich + small slice of flapjack
· 500ml of energy drink + half an energy bar

Turbo sessions

Sessions on the turbo trainer tend to be a lot shorter and more intense than riding outdoors, unless you are one of those people who can sit on the turbo for hours at a time, in which case we salute you. For sessions that are 90 minutes or shorter it isn’t necessary to consume carbohydrates as you ride as long as you have fuelled well beforehand and consume a recovery snack/meal straight after. For sessions over 90 minutes it would be advisable to take fuel on board at 1g/kg/h as stated above.


What is most notable when doing turbo training sessions is that we all sweat, often profusely. The lack of airflow means your sweat doesn’t evaporate as readily as when riding outdoors, and the warmer environment of training inside the house or garage will also promote sweating. Therefore, maintaining hydration levels when turbo training is very important. You should aim to drink a minimum of 500ml of fluid – many water bottles are 500ml – during a 1 hour session. A lot of people struggle to get their fluid balance right not only during training but also when racing.

A simple method which will give a good indication of your sweat rate is to weigh yourself before and after training to monitor hydration levels. You will often see significant weight losses, sometimes a kg or more post training. Sadly this is not miraculous fat loss, but in fact fluid loss. For every kilogram loss in body mass we would suggest drinking 1.5L of water to ensure optimal rehydration. It’s worth conducting this simple exercise even if you already drink during your session, the difference in weight will enable you to work out how much more you need to drink during and after your session.

Recovery is key

Whether you train outdoors or indoors it makes no difference, getting your post-training nutrition right is going to make a huge difference towards helping your body adapt and improve from the training you have undertaken. So what do you eat? It needs to be a combination of carbohydrates and protein – carbohydrates to replenish the stores in your muscles and protein to aid the recovery of muscle damage.

You also need to opt for something that’s quick to make and ideally something that is rapidly absorbed as our bodies have a 30-minute ‘window of opportunity’ post training. Eating within this time frame has been shown to be the best way to optimise recovery, especially if you have multiple training sessions within a 24 hour period. Basically, the sooner you eat and hydrate the better your recovery and adaptation will be.

Here are some quick and easy ideas for post-training recovery snacks:

· Recovery shake
· Chicken or tuna sandwich
· 2 eggs on toast
· 500ml low-fat chocolate milk
· Bagel with low-fat cream cheese

You only need a small portion of protein with each snack because your body can only process around 25g of protein at one time. Eating more protein than this isn’t beneficial and is more expensive.


If you are riding (or running) to work, using your commute as part of your fitness or training regime, then you should still adopt good nutritional and hydration practices. If your commute takes 45 minutes or more make sure you have a small portion of protein and carbohydrate either before you leave or once you arrive at work. A bowl of porridge once you arrive at work would be ideal. However, if you don’t have the facilities or it’s not an option then a recovery shake will do the job.

Using your commute to work as part of a fasted training regime (not eating before you ride) once or twice a week during the winter months is a great way of turning it into a training session with a specific aim. Instead of riding as fast as you can and racing every other commuting cyclist you come across, be smart and use your commute to a greater effect towards next season’s goals. We’ll run a feature on the different methods and benefits of fasted training in the future.

For even more tips and a more in-depth discussion of winter training nutrition you can read a longer version of this article at

Don’t compromise your winter training with poor nutrition, be sensible and organised. For further information don’t hesitate to contact the OTE team: thebunker [at]

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