This is a great time of year to focus on the rider you want to be next season. We’ve already given you some advice on how to prep your bike for a harsh winter and how to dress for every condition, and now we are turning the focus to nutrition. However, in an effort to avoid rehashing a lot of general nutrition information we’ve written about before, I am going to share some winter-specific tips to help you combat the cold while still meeting your nutrition and hydration goals.
Before Your Ride
Use sports drink to avoid frozen bottles
While essential sports nutrition guidelines don’t change much for winter training, you might change the types of drinks and foods that work for you. You might find that bottles of plain water are prone to freezing. Adding drink mix should lower the freezing point for the fluid by a few degrees, so your bottles won’t freeze as quickly.
Combine nutrition and hydration in cold weather
Normally we advocate keeping your hydration in your bottles and your calories in your pocket, and while we still advocate that approach, we also know that behaviorally athletes tend to eat and drink less in cold weather. Getting food is more cumbersome, and drinking cold fluid is less appealing, so both happen less frequently than during warmer weather. Sports nutrition can only work if you consume it, so separating calories from hydration isn’t as useful if it means you consume less of either, or less of both. As a result, a carbohydrate-rich sports drink in the winter may help you achieve hydration and nutrition replenishment in one step.
Splurge for insulated bottles
Insulated bottles are great for starting with warm or hot liquids. Most insulated bottles will keep your fluids from freezing for about 2 hours, long enough that you’ll be stopping to refill before they freeze. You can also start with one of your bottles in a jacket pocket, which will further slow its cooling and warm you some. If you ride in arctic conditions, consider this bottle. Wearing a small hydration pack inside your jersey, against your body, is another way to keep fluids from freezing. Be sure to insulate the hose, though.
Incorporate more variety in ride foods
Again, since the winter is a great time to experiment with new nutrition strategies, consider making some bars of your own. Spending Friday night in the kitchen making some ride food for the weekend is a fun family activity. Plus, the healthy snacks you make for yourself are also good to send with your children on their weekend outing or in their lunch box. Things like rice bars, potato cakes, and date balls are great winter ride food options that are cheap, store well, and taste great on even the coldest of days. Here’s a great rice-and-granola bar recipe from CTS Athlete and Michelin Star Chef Matthew Accarrino. CTS Coach Jason Koop’s Secret Rice Balls are another incredible easy and tasty option.
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During the Ride
Accessibility is key
A really important aspect of winter training is making sure that your food is accessible. One common mistake athletes make is putting their food in a pocket they can’t easily access. Make sure you have food that you can reach and that you can easily open, even with winter gloves on. Some people will pre-open their bars, but you may find your own solutions. The goal is to be comfortable with eating while riding.
Don’t stop on shorter rides
If you are going to be out for 1-2 hours it is best to power through and get the whole ride done with the food and drinks you start with, even if that means using bigger bottles or carrying a third bottle in your pocket.
Plan your stops on longer rides
If you are riding longer than 2 hours, plan your ride so that you have store stops where you can refill bottles and potentially grab some extra snacks if you need to. Knowing there are stores where you can stop is also important if the weather takes a turn for the worse. You know a few places on a ride where you can seek shelter.
There are two approaches to the winter store stop. The first – and preferred one in my experience – is to be lightning quick. If you can get in and out of the store quickly, then your internal thermal engine keeps going, you won’t get chilly, and you can quickly get back to pedaling.
The second approach is to take a long store stop. If you are really cold or wet and need to do some serious warming up, then you’ll need to find a stop where you can take off damp layers and let them dry off while you warm up by a heater.
The worst scenario is somewhere in the middle: long enough that you’re not generating heat anymore, long enough that you’re starting to get chilled in your sweaty layers, but too short to dry off and actually warm up. In this scenario you leave the store and feel really cold for miles until you can generate enough heat to warm up again.
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When You Get Home
When you get done riding in the cold follow these steps:
- Clean while you’re still cold If it was wet outside, go ahead and wash your bike while you are already wet. Get that necessary chore over with. If you’re as dirty as your bike, point the hose at yourself and wash any significant muck off.
- Warm up slowly If was a really cold ride, warm back up slowly. If your toes are numb from a cold ride, do not jump into a hot shower, it will mostly likely be excruciating! It’s much more pleasant to slowly defrost your extremities. Take off your cold or wet clothes, put on a bathrobe, and…
- Eat and drink for recovery Grab a recovery drink or meal and a mug of your favorite warm beverage. Getting some hot calories into you will start the recovery process and begin to warm you up from the inside. Once feeling has returned to your little piggies, then get in the shower.
There isn’t any evidence that spending time outside in cold or damp weather is going to cause you to get sick. It’s more likely that all the extra time we spend indoors in close quarters with others increases susceptibility to getting sick in winter. Good recovery from hard training, proper rest, and eating lots of fresh fruits and veggies are all good practices to help keep your immune system healthy in winter.
Don’t let cold or gloomy weather be an excuse for not doing what you love. Get outside and enjoy the cool air and quiet roads!
Reid Beloni is a CTS Expert Coach working out of our Brevard, North Carolina training center. With a Masters degree in Exercise Science from Appalachian State University and a ton of experience riding in mucky and nasty East Coast winters, Reid is the perfect coach for this series on winter riding.