Three Ways to Fuel Your Winter Workouts the Right Way – A Triathlete Primer

Coach P
Hello Kitty Lunchbox Image

What’s In YOUR Lunchbox???

You are soooooooo busted. I just caught you running down into your basement workout area with a cup of coffee in one hand, your printed workout in the other and a piece of holiday fruitcake crammed in your mouth. You’re in a rush, hoping desperately to get some portion of your workout done before everyone else wakes up and praying that the imminent sweatfest will also purge some of the alcohol and excessive calories from your system.

Before you even swing your leg over the bike, you should know that you are well on your way to having an awful workout. Terrible. Sure you’ll get it done, but it will be at less than 100% capacity — so you’ll get a limited training dose. And since you aren’t fueling your workout, even your existing fitness won’t be able to fully help you. And without a warm down and recovery food, your body will struggle to absorb the hard work you’ve just done.

Told you fruitcake is evil.

The good news is that with a few simple changes, you can really turn things around. Let’s get started!

“You must be talking about oil heat or something…my workout only lasts 45 minutes so who needs to eat?”

Overview — Who Cares About Fueling in the Winter?

If you are like 80% of our athletes, at some point you’ll find your winter fitness gains tapering off. So you reach out with a sad story of plateauing, and I will inevitably ask you about your nutrition and you’ll tell me that you:

  • Don’t eat anything before your workout.
  • Only drink water during your workout.
  • Don’t eat anything to recover.

In other words, you’re telling me you want to be your best but you are doing nothing other than getting out of bed and getting dressed. Showing up isn’t going to get it done, people. Big fitness gains require preparation and execution!

The OutSeason® is the most critical training phase inside Endurance Nation. We do a lot of hard interval work on the bike and run when you don’t have any volume goals (aka upcoming races), and we use the 24 hours between workouts as a massive recovery window. Buy not doing your part to fuel these sessions, you are literally telling your body that you only want to achieve 80% of your goals for this training block?

No Triathlete Has Ever Said — “I Hope to Get to 80% of My Peak Potential This Season, YEAH!!!”

So, here’s how you can start to improve…today.

Pre-Workout Nutrition — Setting the Stage

Summary: Your goal is to arrive at the warm up for your workout completely hydrated, well-rested and well fed…regardless of the time of day. This requires diligence and forethought, especially if you workout in the early morning hours or after work.

Most of us enter the winter training period really, really excited not to stress about what we are eating or drinking…or how much. But you can still take care of your body’s workout prep level even if you have a few extra helpings of fruitcake.

You’ll want to start your workout well hydrated and not hungry. The hydration needs to happen all day — super helpful for the wintertime anyway — but the food is another issue. Many of you will work out in the early morning and eating can be hard given your time window and getting a decent night’s sleep.

Personally I have two AM pre-workout options. If I get up early enough to have a cup of coffee, then I will eat something like a Nature’s Valley Crunch Granola bar. If I don’t have that time, then a quick trip to the food closet sees me having a caffeinated gel about 10 to 15 minutes before my workout.

Action Steps:

  • For every cup of coffee or glass of alcohol you consume, commit to having an 8oz glass of water.
  • If you have a particularly early workout on tap, have a snack before bed like a banana.
  • If you workout at the office or after work, stock up on a few healthy pre-workout snack options and keep them in your desk or car.

In-Workout Nutrition — Stoking the Fire

Summary: Your workout nutrition process starts before you start the workout; you have to prepare the right amount of fluids and organize the necessary calories. Target the same fluid and fueling amounts that you have used in your in-season training sessions as a baseline!

This is my biggest pet peeve…watching age groupers working so hard but not actually feeding themselves in the process. Newsflash your winter workouts — especially inside the Endurance Nation OutSeason® — are often harder than what you did when you were peaking for your big race last year. Your body doesn’t know the difference between bonking on a 4-hour ride or a 45-minute one…it’s still bad.

Step one is knowing you need real workout food and simply having it available. Then you need to have it on hand for the workout. My drink mix lives in the kitchen right next to my bike bottle and Fuelbelt® flasks. And that cabinet is right above the drawer that holds all my computers and gadgets — I am ready to go, the right way, in less than five minutes.

I consume the same calories in-season as I do off-season. It’s still me. I am still working out. And every workout is still a chance to get better at fueling. Besides I find indoor workouts on the trainer or treadmill require more hydration! So for an hour long trainer ride I have two bike bottles with sports drink and I’ll grab two gels from the shelf next to my bike. Even if I don’t drink the full second bottle I can just use it to rehydrate after the session.

“What if I am trying to lose weight? Shouldn’t I eat less?” Sure you should be mindful of your calories, but do your high-performance engine a favor and focus on the calories outside of the pre-, in-, and post-workout windows. You could probably lose a late-night dessert or improve your lunch choice and have a much better effect!

During the workout, I try to drink about every five minutes — this is my reward for completing each five-minute increment and also ensures I am on track with hydration. My gels are on the :10 and :40 minute marks — yes, before I am even half way through my warm up on the trainer, I am having a gel.

Action Steps:

  • Have ample supply of your preferred workout nutrition on hand, always.
  • Commit to fueling every session like a real workout…because it IS A REAL WORKOUT!
  • Set an “in workout” schedule for nutrition consumption to keep yourself on schedule!

Post-Workout Nutrition — Accelerate Recovery

Summary: Have your post-workout shake, drink or meal ready to go. Ideally you can crush it within 15 minutes of your workout, aka before you hit the shower, so you can hit the ground running for the rest of your day.

Even when you are done with your workout, you aren’t technically done with your nutrition. While your brain is already off thinking about your day and all those TPS reports that are due, your metabolism is still all revved up. In fact this post workout window is your best time to get in good calories.

Aim for a 4:1 ration of carbs to protein. This can be a store-bought mixture, or you can make your own recovery solution with some chocolate milk. Either way, make sure you consume this within 15-minutes of your workout. Depending on the length, duration and intensity of your workout, you might need to supplement with additional calories or fluids.

Let your body be your guide as to what you need to recover, just remember to pay attention to what it’s telling you!



Coach P

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