training boosters

Best Training Boosters for 2024


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

There are no shortcuts to superior fitness, but there are ways to leverage the fundamentals to boost the effectiveness of training. If you have set ambitious goals for this year – and we hope that’s exactly what you’ve done – then it’s time to supercharge the ROI from your efforts!

Start earlier

Giving yourself a longer training runway is one of the best ways to improve your race-day or event-specific performance. Time is a training superpower. It allows you to direct more focus to specific areas of your fitness and performance. More important, time creates space for things to go wrong (and they will) and get back on track.

“I don’t want to peak too early.” Don’t worry about that. It is much easier to back off or feather training to extend the timing before you reach a peak than to make up for lost time. Especially for Time-Crunched Cyclists who have unpredictable lifestyle demands (work trips, sick kids, that trip with your in-laws you forgot about, etc.), it’s better to err on the side of building peak fitness too early.

Add training hours

Adding training volume, mostly in the form of moderate aerobic endurance work, is a great strategy for boosting fitness and performance. You don’t have to make massive changes. Adding 30 minutes to two weekday rides and an hour to a weekend endurance ride can get you from 8 hours to 10 hours per week. Let’s say you’re able to do that for 48 weeks per year. That takes your annual hours from 360 to 480, a 33% increase for the year. Even if you’re able to do half of that increase, a 16% jump in training volume (mostly aerobic endurance hours) will make a meaningful difference in aerobic conditioning, durability, and the amount of higher intensity training you can support and adapt to. Just remember to pay attention to recovery time.

“I can’t add training hours at all.” Obviously, adding volume is not feasible for everyone. If you are time limited and using all the hours you have available, you may be able to rearrange your training time to concentrate training stimulus. For instance, reallocating weekly time to extend the duration of long aerobic rides or make more space for longer interval workouts can be beneficial.

Improve sleep duration and quality

Before you buy the latest recovery gadget, invest in and protect your sleep. Research doesn’t conclusively say sleep hygiene strategies are universally beneficial, but if you’re going to splurge on something, get the nicer mattress (Cunha et al. 2023). Buy the blackout curtains to minimize light coming into the room. Get the nice sheets and luxurious pillows. Cool down the room. Leave your phone in another room before going to bet. And if you need an alarm clock, find one that’s not constantly lit. I use a battery-powered, analog travel alarm clock that emits no light.

“What if I know I have late nights coming up?” Anticipated sleep deprivation is a fact of modern life. You might have a big travel day coming up or an ultraendurance event that goes through the night. Recent sleep research supports the practice of “sleep extension” prior to anticipated period of sleep restriction (Cunha et al. 2023). Simply one hour of sleep to your normal duration for 7-10 days beforehand, preferably by waking up one hour later than normal. The result should be a reduction in sleep pressure (i.e., less desire to sleep during the activity, delay of exhaustion requiring sleep) during your trip or event.

Right size carbohydrate intake during exercise

One of the big topics of discussion among the coaches at CTS is how to apply recent research and trends regarding carbohydrate intakes during exercise (Podlogar et al. 2022). It has been well publicized that pro cyclists are increasing their carbohydrate intakes to 120 grams of CHO per hour during strenuous training sessions and competitions.

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The question has been whether such high CHO intakes are necessary or even beneficial for amateur and masters athletes. The new research shows that the upper limit of CHO consumption is higher than previously thought. Pragmatically, though, more isn’t always better or necessary if your energy expenditure is not extreme. The wiser approach is right-sizing your CHO consumption during training and competition based on the demands of your goal event, how well you can train your gut to accommodate the calories, and how eating more makes you feel. Maybe that’s 90 grams of CHO per hour instead of 60. Or maybe it’s less if you’re going longer at a lower intensity. The point is, arbitrarily aiming for 100-120g/hr may not be worth the effort, cost, and risk of GI distress when total energy expenditure and the percent of that expenditure coming from CHO are both relatively low.

Diversify your training

This is a deliberately broad recommendation. Diversification should include addressing all zones in your training, for instance. The current hype around easy aerobic conditioning (Zones 1 and 2) has merit, but it misleading. Lots of volume at Zone 2 will increase aerobic conditioning, increase power at lactate threshold, and improve VO2 max… to an extent. But there’s a difference between fitness and performance. If you want to perform by leveraging power at lactate threshold or efforts at or near VO2 max, you must address these aspects of performance in training. You must train all zones to use all zones effectively. How you organize that training, and the amount of time spent on each is a whole different discussion.

Diversifying your training also means cyclists should address general fitness, incorporate weight bearing activities, and engage in year-round strength training. This type of diversification makes you a more adaptable athlete and opens up more opportunities for activities outside the narrow scope of pedaling. There are sport-specific benefits from strength training, but just as important, strength training and weight bearing activities reduce “days of sport-specific training lost to injury”. In other words, by training off the bike you’ll miss fewer days intended to ride.


Cunha, Lúcio A et al. “The Impact of Sleep Interventions on Athletic Performance: A Systematic Review.” Sports medicine – open vol. 9,1 58. 18 Jul. 2023, doi:10.1186/s40798-023-00599-z

Podlogar, Tim et al. “Increased exogenous but unaltered endogenous carbohydrate oxidation with combined fructose-maltodextrin ingested at 120 g h-1 versus 90 g h-1 at different ratios.” European journal of applied physiology vol. 122,11 (2022): 2393-2401. doi:10.1007/s00421-022-05019-w

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Comments 8

  1. For you readers: Scienctific study on Olympic winning performance and the ‘trend’ toward zone 2.

      1. Post

        Well aware of the reference, thanks. Nothing has changed about the role of long term aerobic conditioning in the development of elite athletes. It’s the same basic methodology behind 80/20 training, polarized training, and whatever we’re going to call it next. Lots of aerobic conditioning plus some high intensity = long term development for endurance sports. Even HIIT relies on the same science, it just focuses the message on the interval training. But on balance, they all come out roughly the same: lots of aerobic conditioning plus some high intensity. You’re arguing about marketing messages not the substance of what athletes actually do. – Jim Rutberg


    I went ahead and found some supporting evidence.

  3. Interesting how you keep saying zone 2 is a trend, and 120g of carbs per hour gets a research paper / study. Seems like you have it backwards… and didn’t bother mentioning to stay away from cheap fructose corn syrup (Gatorade) at all costs. I suggest writing an article on fructolysis and relating the trend of increased carb intake to the inferior source of the carbs, and reducing fructose as you recommend by intensity or GI distress issues. Thank you.

    1. Jason, the Jang mouse study seems at best a slightly plausible hypothesis for readers here ie the study is in mice, feed the fructose for 8 weeks and not exercising intensely.

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