Toolbox: The occasional or seasonal use of virtual cycling training apps like Zwift have increased in popularity in the last couple of years and as such, nutrition and hydration may need to be adapted accordingly. What’s best to eat and drink through the day for indoor training?
Van der Poel on Tour de Zwift
In most countries in the past couple of years, the mandatory covid restrictions have changed the way we are riding our bikes. The stunning views of the mountains have been replaced with videogame-like graphics on a screen and our friends and teammates are now virtual.
For many athletes engaged in different sports it may be tough to keep on working out as covid restrictions have impacted group activities. But we cyclists are surely fortunate to have indoor trainers and platforms like Zwift and Xert that allow us to realistically simulate training outdoors.
Training indoors has become the standard way of working out for many of us. While our priority should be to keep ourselves healthy in order to maintain immunity, adapting our nutrition to these specific sessions can contribute to maintain optimal performance and promote training adaptations.
A visual infographic to summarize the current recommendations for indoor nutrition
Hide the Snacks
In the current scenario it is to be expected that you will spend more time on the sofa watching Netflix, which may inevitably lead you to crave some salty snacks. Now more than at any other time, it is essential that high-calorie foods that may lead to compulsive consumption such as crackers, cookies, potato chips and chocolate are limited in your household. Instead, focus on having a wide variety of fruits, low–fat yoghurts, low-fat protein bars to ease your cravings.
If you decrease the volume of training substantially, you might want to reduce your carbohydrate intake, but not abstain completely from carbohydrate-rich foods since immune function relies on a minimal amount of daily carbohydrate and energy to be consumed and fruits are a powerful ally to have on our side more than ever.
Keep the Protein
Another important misconception that we must clarify is the idea that dietary protein is less need since we are working out less. But I’d say that this particular context is where protein excels in its function: to minimize lean body mass loss and increase satiety in between meals. It is much more difficult to recover lost muscle mass than fat mass gained, since you can even lose 1 kg of muscle in a week, but to (re)gain that 1 kg of muscle mass, it may take more than 1 month.
Match Nutrition to Workout
Not that we got this out of the way, let’s move to the specifics of cycling training indoors. We’ve designed this infographic with four different types of workouts that may be similar to some of those you’re performing in your pain caves: Intensive VO2 Max, “sweetspot training”, endurance workout and fasted training sessions.
Indoor versus Outdoor
While we may think that there may be some new magic recommendations for indoor training, the truth is that not much changes regarding carbohydrate and protein requirements and most of the recommendations can perfectly apply to this context. However, it should be noted that we may be significantly less active throughout the day and energy intake needs to be adjusted accordingly.
Considering that you may workout before lunch or dinner, both these meals have been joined together. The carbohydrate content would be the main variable factor in these meals and it should depend on the duration and intensity of the next day’s workout according to the framework of Fueling for the work required previously presented here on PEZ.
The information contained here pretty standard and can assume dozens of variations according to your objectives and training status. Still, one particular issue I would emphasize would be regarding hydration, which a lot of people pretty much assume that we “sweat more” indoors and it might not be the case.
We simply lack scientific data that established hydration guidelines for training indoors. Therefore, we should rely on the basics of weighing ourselves before and after the workout (after emptying our bladder) and correcting to the fluid consumed during a 1 hour training session for example. This will allow us to assess the volume lost per hour so we can adjust our drinking plan and replenish the remaining volume lost during recovery.
The aim of this article is not to have you follow this examples religiously, but rather to have a reference to guide you and help you understand how you should adapt your nutrition according to different workouts. You should always resort to a Registered Dietitian / Nutritionist to design a nutrition plan tailored to your needs.
But at a time like this, perspective is imperative. If you are just riding and performance is not important for you, then nutrition is also less important as long as you have a healthy overall diet and minimize the processed snacks. If you are training to challenge yourself and increase performance for when this all ends, nutrition will become more important.
- Focus on having a consistent provision of protein throughout your day to help you maintain your lean body mass and increase satiety.
- Measure your fluid losses by weighing yourself before and after training.
- Adapt your carbohydrate intake to the intensity and duration of your workouts.
- If you’re having lunch or dinner right after working out, then simply focus on replenishing the fluid lost during exercise.
- Include a wide variety of fruits and vegetables on a daily basis.
- Caffeine supplementation or simply coffee ingestion can be useful to support higher training intensities.