Fueling for Winter Training, by Kristen Arnold MS, RDN, CSSD

Each chunk of the season comes with its own challenges and opportunities. For endurance athletes, winter is often the time of year for long, slow, distance endurance miles, strength training, and indoor trainer or treadmill workouts. Proper nutrition and fueling is essential to enhance performance and get the most out of training and to prevent illness and stay healthy.

Here are 5 key factors to consider when approaching your winter training plan.

Maintaining a Strong Immune System

Taking a week or even a few days off of training to recover from illness can be detrimental to an athlete’s progression in training, not to mention work productivity. At the same time, pushing through illness and continuing to train without proper recovery can worsen the illness and contribute to even longer lasting negative effects. Fueling and adequate nutrition are essential for maintaining a strong immune system and preventing illness.

Incorporate these foods to enhance your body’s ability to prevent and fight illness.

  • Whole Grains – amaranth, millet, oatmeal, whole wheat, quinoa
  • Antioxidants – berries, garlic, pumpkin, acorn squash, citrus, turmeric, ginger, carrots, green tea, cocoa
  • Omega-3 fatty acids – salmon, tuna, mackerel, herring, sardines, seaweed, flax seeds, chia seeds
  • Zinc – oysters, chuck steak, chicken leg, tofu, lean pork chop, hemp seeds, lentils

Fueling for Long Slow Distance Endurance Miles

Athletes often underestimate the exertion and effort it takes to complete effective endurance miles. Exercising for over 2 hours even at a low intensity becomes taxing on the body and mind. Therefore, it is essential to fuel well to gain the optimal adaptation to training. Athletes should end the workout as strong as they started it.

To optimize the body’s response to these long hours, it is important to fuel the muscles and mind with carbohydrates, fluid, and electrolytes.

Consume electrolytes, 30-45 g of carbohydrate, and 15-30 oz of fluid per hour for these workouts. Eating 7-10 g of protein during these rides can also be helpful to ensure lasting energy levels and decrease muscle breakdown. Try adding ½ scoop of Cocoa Elite’s Everyday Whey to your bottle or adding it to a homemade bar recipe.

Examples of ~30 g of carbohydrates:

  • 2 scoops Cocoa Elite, Elite Endurance drink mix (get carbohydrates, fluid, and electrolytes all in one!)
  • 3 large figs or 5 small figs
  • 2 medjool dates
  • 1 medium sweet potato
  • 1 medium potato
  • Half peanut butter and jelly sandwich
  • 1 medium banana
  • ¾ Clif bar
  • 1 Larabar

Fueling for Indoor Trainer Sessions

Athletes often underestimate fueling needs for trainer sessions thinking they are short enough that they can tough it out or that fuel is not needed. On top of indoor trainer workouts often being intense and the body needing fuel for them, they are also hot due to the lack of wind resistance and temperate indoor climate. These hot temperatures increase sweat rates and fluid needs.

For workouts under 90 minutes, it is not essential to consume calories, but it is still essential to maintain good hydration status. Drink 20-30 oz of fluid per hour ideally with electrolytes. Try 1-2 scoops Elite Endurance drink mix for a 30- to 60-minute indoor trainer or treadmill session. For workouts longer than 90 minutes, consume 30-60 g of carbohydrate, 20-30 oz of fluid, and be ready for the next workout later in the day or the next day.

Fueling in Cold Temperatures

The most common mistake athletes make in winter training is not eating or drinking enough while training outdoors. It may not be appetizing to eat and drink on the bike when it is hard to move the jaw and the body is cold. But the cold weather doesn’t stunt energy or fluid needs.

In fact, the cold weather increases the body’s metabolism, and the body needs even more calories to perform and function.

Tips for training in cold temperatures:

  • Get insulated water bottles and fill them with hot to warm drinks. (Elite Endurance tastes great even warm, like hot chocolate!).
  • Put ride food in the pockets closest to the body to keep them warm and soft enough to eat.
  • Hydrate and fuel well before the ride with plenty of water and carbohydrate-rich foods.
  • Plan long rides with a gas station or coffee shop stop in the middle to warm up and fill bottles with warm to hot liquid.
  • Cover the neck with a neck gaiter or scarf to keep the esophagus from constricting to make breathing, eating, and drinking easier.
  • Open wrappers before starting the workout and choose easy-to-access foods to grab and eat easily with gloves on

Fueling for Strength Training

Approach strength training like indoor trainer workouts. Always have a water bottle with you when at the gym and sip small amounts often. If gym sessions are longer than 90 minutes, consider using a drink mix with carbohydrates and electrolytes such as Elite Endurance, and start drinking this early.

Don’t wait to start consuming calories. 

During longer workouts, the body takes time to absorb and digest food for it to be useful. This way you can finish strong even at the end of your workout.


Kristen Arnold MS, RDN, CSSD has a Master’s in Human Nutrition from The Ohio State University. Kristen also owns a private practice nutrition counseling business focusing on performance nutrition for athletes.

In addition, shea coaches for Source Endurance and is  a professional bike racer and team nutritionist for ButcherBox Cycling . Kristen coaches entry-level to national elite-level cyclists in mountain, road, and cyclocross bike racing. She competes in national-level races across the USA and Canada.

In 2016, Kristen placed 4th overall in the Intelligentsia Cup powered by SRAM. In addition, Kristen earned a 7th place finish in GC at the Green Mountain Stage Race.


Contact her here: Kristen Arnold.

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