Five food and drink tips for indoor training
“The most beautiful time of the year”? Not for cyclists, winter rides can be fun but shorter days, extra clothing and bike maintenance make them more difficult to squeeze in. Many of us turn more regularly to indoor training to keep moving, especially as tech has made it so much more fun. Indoor rides are often shorter, more intense and sweaty, all of which leads to a few adjustments to what you eat and drink. Here are five tips to help you to use food and drink to make the most of your time in the pain cave.
Maximise intensity with extra carbs.
For high intensity training it is critical to get into top gear in order to get the most out of it. Maximise intensity on short rides by making sure you start with a good store of glycogen. Eat a meal containing carbohydrates before your ride. The choice of carbohydrates is personal but 150g to 200g is a target for a 70kg rider. Just as for an outdoor ride this meal should not be too close to your ride, 3 hours before or the evening before if you are doing a morning ride. Top up glucose by eating a small portion of extra carbohydrates within 45 minutes of your start. A Kalkman Bite is perfect for this, 15g of carbohydrate is just enough. If this snack isn’t possible then try a carbohydrate mouth rinse or drink for some of the same effect, especially for shorter sessions and when you haven’t eaten. Experiments testing mouth rinses have typically used a concentration of 6% carbohydrate, 6g sugars per 100ml if you are looking at the nutrition table of a drink or mixing your own.
Drink before you ride
Most of us have to manage without a cooling fan on our indoor setup. Wind helps cool you when cycling outside. However, when indoors the conditions are usually less than ideal so extra sweat is common. In order to prepare for your workout drink at least 500ml of water with added electrolytes during the two hours prior to riding. If you have a morning ride then do your best to drink the night before as well as before getting in the saddle. This drink will help you to start the ride hydrated and stay minimise performance loss even as you begin to lose water and electrolytes during the workout. Avoiding a fluid loss of even 2% of your body weight will prevent the 10% athletic performance loss that studies indicate. More serious dehydration, 5% of your body weight, is indicated to cause a 30% performance loss. Also be aware that lower levels of dehydration may not even trigger thirst but can still reduce performance.
Caffeine is a safe and well tolerated way to enhance performance and help habitualise training. Studies typically show a performance gain of at least 1% in high intensity tests after a dose of caffeine. Caffeine helps endurance through encouraging fat metabolism. Caffeine also acts as a “reinforcer” of habits, consuming it near a training session will increase the perception of reward and therefore help you to develop the habit of training.
A typical dose is 3mg per kg bodyweight, 200mg for somebody weighing 70kg. As always we prefer real food, so rather than take a capsule try a large coffee or double espresso. Types of coffee that have a longer brewing time, such as filter or french press, contain more caffeine. When taking caffeine an overdose will usually lead to anxiety and jittery feelings, if you feel this then try a smaller dose next time. Caffeine takes a while to work so drink your coffee at least 15 minutes before your training begins.
Drink an electrolyte drink
Dehydration has a serious effect on exercise performance, certainly in warm environments. Experiments show that losing 2% of your body weight can reduce athletic performance by up to 10%. Do not wait until you get thirsty to drink, by the time that you feel thirsty you will be mildly dehydrated. Try to regularly sip a drink before and during the training. When you sweat you lose electrolytes (potassium, sodium, chloride, magnesium and calcium). Adding these electrolytes to your drink helps to maintain your fluid balance, regulate blood pressure, and support muscle and nerve function.
You can even go further and use concentrated electrolyte drinks to help increase your performance during a training session. This strategy is known as preloading with salt and fluids. Blood volume drops 8% to 10% within 5 minutes of vigorous exercise. High doses of salt and fluids are used by some athletes just before your training to increase blood volume. If you want to experiment with this then try taking 2g to 4g of salt (half a teaspoon to a teaspoon) dissolved in 500ml of water 30 minutes before you start.
Use protein to maximise adaptation
Training works by stimulating your body to adapt to the stress and grow back stronger. This adaptation happens in the days after the training session. Make sure that you eat enough protein after the training session so that your body will begin to repair and grow the muscles and other tissues that you have used.
Typical advice is to eat 20g of high quality protein, meaning sourced from eggs, dairy or meat. Higher quantities of plant based protein will be generally required to achieve the same effect with soy isolate being the most effective type of plant protein for muscle protein synthesis. Note that a gram of protein is not a gram of high protein food, you can read the protein percentage on the nutrition table for a food. Lean meat, for example, is typically around 20% protein while low fat quark or cottage cheese are around 10% protein.
The New Carbohydrate Intake Recommendations, Jeukendrup, Nestle Nutrition Institute workshop series, April 2013 https://www.researchgate.net/publication/237843717_The_New_Carbohydrate_Intake_Recommendations
No dose response effect of carbohydrate mouth rinse on cycling time-trial performance, James et al Int J Sport Nutr Exerc Metab. 2017 https://journals.humankinetics.com/view/journals/ijsnem/27/1/article-p25.xml
The Effects of Acute Caffeine Supplementation on Repeated-Sprint Ability in Healthy Young Non-Athletes, Belbis et al, International Journal Exercise Science, 1 June 2022 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/35992181/
Caffeine ergogenic: Time course of tolerance to the performance benefits of caffeine, Beatriz et al, PLOS One 23 January 2019 https://journals.plos.org/plosone/article?id=10.1371/journal.pone.0210275
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Does Hypohydration Really Impair Endurance Performance? Methodological Considerations for Interpreting Hydration Research James et al, Sports Medicine, 6 November 2019 https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s40279-019-01188-5
Dehydration Impairs Cycling Performance, Independently of Thirst: A Blinded Study, J D Adams et al, Medical Science Sports Exercise, August 2018 https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29509643/
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Plant vs animal protein: The Skeletal Muscle Anabolic Response to Plant- versus Animal-Based Protein Consumption, Stephan van Vliet et al, The Journal of Nutrition, 29 July 2015 https://academic.oup.com/jn/article/145/9/1981/4585688