How to Optimize Your Nutrition for Indoor Cycling

By Zach Nehr

Everything you need to know about fueling for MyWhoosh workouts and races

 Nutrition and hydration may be the most overlooked differences between indoor and outdoor cycling. Of course, there are other differences, like the lack of wind, drafting, corners, and traffic. But many riders forget about fueling, which can often be the difference between a good workout and a bad one.

In this article, we’ll tell you everything you need to know about fueling for indoor cycling. We’ll examine the differences (big and small) between indoor and outdoor fueling and tell you how to optimize your nutrition for indoor cycling.

The Carbohydrate Equation

Carbohydrate consumption has marked one of the biggest changes in modern cycling. Only a decade ago, riders were cutting as many calories as possible, trying to lose weight and ride on a low-carb diet. Since then, both science and practice have shown carbohydrate consumption to be one of the largest contributors to cycling performance.

In other words, the more carbohydrates you eat, the better you will perform on the bike (up to a certain limit). Where is that limit? Somewhere around 120-140 grams of carbohydrates per hour. But that’s only recommended for professionals and those who have trained their gut to process that amount of carbohydrates in an hour.

For reference, the average banana has approximately 25 grams of carbs, while a sports nutrition gel might have 20-60 g of carbs.

Beginners should aim to consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour during a hard workout or race. That’s your starting point. Once you’ve trained your gut and you feel comfortable trying more, you can consume 80, 100, or 120+ grams of carbohydrates per hour.

You don’t need to fuel your training when it is low intensity or less than 45 minutes. Your body will have enough stored carbohydrates and fats to power through those workouts.

Heat and Humidity

The human body burns more carbohydrates in hot and dry conditions. We also sweat more in humid conditions. Thus, we need to adjust our nutrition and hydration in hot and humid conditions.

Depending on your indoor training setup, you might be riding in hot conditions every day. Not everyone has the luxury of training in an air-conditioned studio. In fact, some of the worst indoor training experiences I’ve had were in the summer when the sun was shining directly through my window. The temperature and humidity increased so much that I completely bonked.

To combat heat and humidity, it’s important to increase your carbohydrate intake on the bike, especially during hard workouts and races. Refer to the summary below if you’re unsure how to calculate your carbohydrate intake on the bike.

Hydration and Electrolytes

When it comes to hydration, cooling is crucial to performance. Aim to consume 1-1.3 bottles (18-26 oz) of water, electrolytes, and sports hydration drinks per hour. The cooler the liquid, the better since cool liquids can help decrease or maintain your core temperature while riding.

Studies have shown that increased core temperature can lead to performance implosion. In one study, simply adding a fan to an indoor cycling setup helped double the riders’ endurance during a ramp test.

Electrolytes are another crucial factor in cycling performance. Thankfully, they’re easy to find and consume before, during, and after your ride. For the highest level of precision, you can use a sweat test kit to measure the amount of sweat and salt that you lose while riding. But most of us can fuel our performance with some simple rules.

Light sweaters should consume one serving of electrolytes (tablets or sports drink electrolyte mix) before or during their workout. Note how your stomach reacts and how you feel during the workout.

Heavy sweaters should consume one serving of electrolytes before and two servings during a hard workout or race. Sweat rates are highly individual, so it’s important to experiment with your own fueling to see what works best for you.

You can do a basic sweat rate test on yourself at home. Ride at a medium pace without any fans or cooling for 20-30 minutes. This should cause you to sweat for an extended period of time. If there is a pool of sweat on the floor at the end of your ride, then you’re probably a heavy sweater. But if you felt hot but didn’t sweat that much, then you’re probably a light sweater.

Also, check your bibs and jersey for starchy white streaks. These streaks are created by the sodium and salt in your sweat. The more salt streaks on your kit, the more electrolytes you need to consume in order to replace them.

Key Takeaways – Nutrition and Hydration for Indoor Cycling

  1. Carbohydrates

    Beginners: consume 30-60 grams of carbohydrates per hour during hard workouts and races. Slowly increase your carbohydrate consumption over time to “train your gut.”

    Professionals: consume a maximum of 120-140 grams of carbohydrates per hour

  2. Heat and Humidity

    Increase your carbohydrate and fluid consumption in hot and humid conditions.

  3. Hydration and Electrolytes

    Consume 1-1.3 (18-26 oz) of fluids per hour on the indoor trainer.

    Measure your sweat rate and experiment with different levels of electrolyte consumption before, during, and after your rides.

About the Author

Zach is a freelance writer, professional cyclist, and the owner of ZNehr Coaching. He writes about everything related to bikes and endurance sports, from product reviews and advertorials to feature articles and pro data analytics. You can find Zach racing the Sunday Race Club on MyWhoosh every weekend.

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