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Getting Recovery Right in Winter

Updated: Dec 21, 2018

Jill here - winter hours are some of the toughest on the bike.

It's harder to hydrate (who wants to drink cold fluid when you're cold) and it's harder to eat because your hands are cold and your nutrition bars get cold. It's often easier to just keep going and log the hours.

If you make the decision to miss some fuelling on the bike (and Joe frequently does too) then it's critical to get your recovery right because I bet you don't decrease your training effort along with your fuel... after all, the season is calling.....

So lets talk recovery. You need to nail 3 things:

1. Glycogen Replenishment - this is the storage form of carbohydrate that's found in your muscles and liver. If you're well stocked you probably have about 2500 accessible calories and if you are riding 3+ hours with poor fuelling you'll have used a substantial amount of them. Of course you'll also be burning fat as fuel and you'll burn more fat if you fuel less and for many folks that's a desirable outcome. However, more and more studies are showing that low carbohydrate levels negatively affect performance.

For endurance cycling building back your glycogen stores day over day is simply smart.

Within 15 mins of you stepping off the bike your body has created the most optimal environment to manufacture and store glycogen. At 40 mins this environment starts to shift and your ability to manufacture and store glycogen steadily decreases. If you want to keep logging hours on the road, use this window wisely.

Aim for 0.8-1.2grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight. The longer and more intense the training effort the closer to 1.2 grams you will need.

2. Protein intake - studies are clear that consuming some protein within the same critical window (15-40mins) promotes muscle fibre repair and synthesis but maybe more importantly for endurance athletes, supports training adaptation within the muscle tissue.

So if you want your muscle to make the most of the training you just did then support it by ingesting 0.3-0.4grams of protein per kilogram of body weight.

3. Hydration & Electrolytes - If you know it's going to be a cold one then please start your ride hydrated. Simple.

Post ride rough rule of thumb is to aim for 20-24 oz fluid per pound of body weight lost. In the winter months, this rule may be more applicable to your trainer sessions.

Electrolytes are always important - sodium, chloride, potassium, magnesium, calcium - all of them , not just sodium. Aim to replace each with 100mg-300mg post training. This isn't too hard to do with a nutrient dense diet. I would only focus on specific electrolyte replacement if you are doing high intensity trainer sessions day after day.

Note that the ratio of carbohydrate to protein within the 15-40 min window is either 2-3 : 1. Many endurance athletes, however, should go as high as 4:1 depending on duration and intensity of training. The more glycogen you have used due to poor fuelling, the higher the carbohydrate need in recovery.

A low-tech but near perfect 2:1 ratio can be found in plain old 1% chocolate milk, and if you want to change that to 4:1 just add a banana. Now it may be hard to drink the volume required to fully replenish but getting 125 ml immediately is a great start and remember you still have 40 mins in the window so sip away or you can get the additional carb/protein by blending a scoop of whey protein and a banana in some water or skim milk.

There are also many good high-tech recovery drinks, powders and shakes on the market specifically formulated in a 3:1 ratio. You can add extra carb if aiming to make it 4:1.

It's about doing recovery consistently when your on-bike fuelling is inevitably challenged with long, cold hours. Bring on the Spring. Quick!


Interested in endurance cycling? Check out The Endurance Workshop by Team Joe Barr. We teach you the art and science of going further.

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