boost cycling performance

15 Actions To Boost Cycling Performance In The New Year


By Jim Rutberg,
CTS Pro Coach,
co-author of “The Time-Crunched Cyclist
and “Ride Inside

It’s time for a New Year! Here are 15 things you can do this year to be faster, stronger, and more fit than you have ever been! And don’t tell me that you’re a year older and therefore you’ll have to accept being slower and less fit. CTS Athlete Frederic Schmid won his 44th US National Championship last month, this time in the Men’s 90+ category! Your behaviors and habits as an athlete can improve your performance even as you get older.

So here are 15 actions (in no particular order, and not a comprehensive list) you can take to improve upon last year. If you are doing some of them already, you’ve got a head start on those who aren’t!

Get more sleep

One of the best things you can do for your performance is to focus on recovery by getting more sleep. Aim for at least 8 hours or commit to adding one hour of sleep to your current routine. If you have trouble getting to sleep or staying asleep, take it seriously and focus on your sleep routine. This includes creating a set wakeup time (more important than a set bedtime), establishing a consistent pre-sleep routine, keeping the room cool, dark, and quiet; and turning off screens an hour or more before bedtime.

Commit to training consistency

Training 4 times a week (i.e., twice during the workweek and twice on weekends) is good. Five training days a week is great. Six may actually be too much for some athletes, and 7 is generally not a good idea. Consistency is often more important for Time-Crunched Athletes than the actual workout you’re doing, so make a schedule you can stick to.

Eat thoughtfully

Whether you are focusing on nutrition for energy availability, optimal recovery, weight management, or a combination of all three, thoughtful eating is the key to success. Athletes get themselves into trouble when they eat without thinking. You end up eating more junk food, fewer quality ingredients, and less nutrient density but higher calorie density. Many of the athletes we work with optimize energy balance and reach their body composition goals with minor changes to eating habits. We rarely implement dramatic, proactive weight loss strategies with athletes; we focus on training and thoughtful eating and find that weight management often occurs as a natural byproduct.

Eat more slowly

Many athletes we work with make good food choices, yet still overeat. Eating too fast is part of the problem because you can consume food faster than your brain can register feeling full and satisfied. Slow down, stop multitasking during meals, and focus on enjoying your food. You will likely find that you feel satisfied while there’s still food on your plate.

Eat adequately while you ride

On the bike you should aim to replenish 20-30% of the calories you expend on the bike each hour. So, if you’re riding at 600 kilojoules per hour (roughly equal to 600 calories), you only need 120-200 calories per hour. And for sessions under 75 minutes, you don’t need during-workout calories, just fluids and maybe electrolytes. Read more about nutrition for short workouts.

What about the recent trend of 100-120 grams of carbohydrate per hour? It can be effective for athletes racing or training at high power outputs for prolonged periods, which leads to high hourly caloric expenditures (1000+ kcal/hour). Specifically, the high intensity means a high reliance on exogenous carbohydrate for efforts approaching and exceeding lactate threshold.

For amateur cyclists, 100-120 grams of carbohydrate is more than you need for 60- to 120-minute club rides and solo workouts. The risks for gastric distress increase as hourly carbohydrate intake increases above about 75-90 grams/hour and consuming more exogenous carbohydrate than you are oxidizing per hour is just not necessary. Experimenting with higher hourly carbohydrate intakes for fast or long group rides and races makes sense, but understand it requires gut training and it may not be necessary, appealing, or very effective for everyone in all situations.

Sign up for a big challenge

There’s nothing wrong with returning to events you know and enjoy, but it’s difficult to sustain passion and inspiration from those events. Go out on a limb and sign up for something exciting, scary, intimidating, or exotic! If you’re not excited and nervous about it, how are you going to commit 100% to preparing for it? Need some suggestions? You could join us in Maui, France, or Mallorca!

Get a power meter (or learn how to use it)

Really, at this point power meters have come down in price and there are great options that measure power at the pedal or crank. Here’s some guidance on choosing the power meter that’s right for you. You don’t need to be a racer, either. Power is a valuable tool for athletes at all levels of sport. But if you get one, learn how to use it! Download your data. Track your progress. Ask questions about it.

Drink more when you train

Most of us ride the same set of routes and drink the same amounts on those routes. The “Hanover Loop” in Colorado Springs is a 3-bottle ride, for instance. This year try consuming an additional bottle on your 2- to 4-hour loops. It can be water, electrolyte drink, or sports drink. That will depend on the rest of your nutrition strategy (i.e., if you are getting calories and electorlytes from food). Look at your power meter data and record your perceived exertion. I can all but guarantee you’ll feel better and your power will drop off less in the final hour of your ride!

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Schedule a training camp

Eat. Sleep. Ride. Repeat. Carve out some time and make training, recovery, and nutrition your top priority for a week. Consider a CTS Cycling Camp or build your own by taking two long weekends with a few half-days at work in between. Here are some additional benefits of a cycling camp.

Record data consistently

There are a lot of tools out there you can use to collect and analyze training and biometric data, but consistency is the biggest hurdle we see in data management. Heart Rate Variability (HRV), for instance, is more valuable when you have consistent, daily measurements taken at the same time of day (morning), with the same equipment (phone camera with HRV4training app works well), in the same position (sitting up). Similarly, training information in TrainingPeaks and even Strava works off of long-range averages. Chronic Training Load (CTL) in TrainingPeaks is a 42-day running average of Training Stress Score.

The quality of the analysis you get from software (and AI) is only as good as your data collection and/or data quality. Coaches are able to account for some of these anomalies and make decisions based on greater context, but even we can do a better job if your data set is more complete.

Learn to descend

Descents are like free money, yet everywhere I go I see cyclists riding the brakes on descents. You don’t have to take huge risks or be a daredevil. Yet, working on your descending skills can save you a ton of time without requiring any additional energy expenditure. You work hard to build the fitness to be faster on the climbs. Don’t give it all away by riding the brakes on the descents. If you need help with descending, talk with a coach about cycling skills clinics or lessons. You take ski and golf lessons…

Fall in love with this workout

3×10 SteadyState Intervals (3×20 for advanced riders), with recovery between intervals 5 and 10minutes, respectively. It’s not sexy or complicated, but sustained time-at-intensity increases sustainable power at lactate threshold. This the performance marker that leads to higher climbing speed, less taxing rides in the pack, and faster bike splits in triathlons. Intensity: 90-95% of CTS Field Test power, 92-94% of CTS Field Test Heart Rate, or an 8 on a 1-10 exertion scale.

But… isn’t that Zone 3-4 and the current trend is to stay in Zones 1 and 2 all the time? Yes. If you listen to the Zone 2 gurus long enough, they will invariably admit that higher intensity work is necessary. What we all agree on is that the majority of your time should be spent doing aerobic (Zone 2-ish) intensity riding. Intervals are what creates the differentiation between “keep your hard days hard and your easy days easy”, and 1-2 days per week that incorporate purposeful, higher intensity intervals can be great for your aerobic, lactate threshold, and VO@ development.

Lose your power meter

I know I told you to get one, but it’s also important to lose it every once in a while. You must learn to gauge your efforts by listening to your body, not just by the numbers on your handlebars. Too many athletes sit up and drop themselves from a group, not because they couldn’t hack it, but because their power output number climbed to a number that seemed unsustainable. The only way you’ll truly know what you can do is to dig deep and try.

Jump into a faster group

You’ll never work as hard as you will when you’re fighting to maintain contact with the back of a group of athletes faster and stronger than you. You’ll improve your drafting and positioning skills, too. If you ride indoors, consider jumping into faster groups on indoor cycling apps like Zwift. There is plenty of research that shows athletes push themselves harder in groups and with partners, so take advantage of the group dynamic when you can.

Work with a CTS Coach

Self-serving? You bet. But come on, you spend too much time and energy on your sport to make minimal improvements year after year. Work with a professional coach and make substantial, measurable, and noticeable gains this year! Here are some of the reasons I believe in the value of working with a professional coach.


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Comments 1

  1. Great article. Wonderful reminders. In particular, I’m going to take a couple of the suggestions to heart. Here’s to improved performance in 2024.

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