3 cunning ways to get your body ready for the cold
Maintaining the right body temperature while cycling in low temperatures is essential for getting the most from your training. Holly Seear, Casquette training editor and Level 3 British Cycling Coach, shares three essential tips for getting it right…
Cycling in the cold is a necessity if you want to keep riding all year round, so knowing how the cold affects your training is essential if you want to make it count. After all, the more effectively you ride during the winter, the better your fitness will be once the cycling events calendar – and hopefully the weather - starts hotting up.
1) Feast not fast
Being a cyclist, your body fat (a very good insulator) is probably relatively low, which makes you more prone to feeling the effects of the cold than your sedentary counterparts. The taller you are the worse it gets, too, owing to your higher body surface area to body mass ratio.
Here’s the good bit! Because our bodies burn a lot more energy when cycling in the cold (and from resting to peak exercise your metabolism can increase by up to 25 times), it’s more important than ever to keep your calorie levels topped up in a bid to keep warm.
Although energy gels and bars are convenient, I would recommend using real, unprocessed foods for your longer rides when possible. Bananas, homemade flapjacks or even Christmas cake make good on-the-bike snacks. Don't forget to drink, too. When it's cold we tend to drink less, but it’s vitally important to stay hydrated. (Get Niomi Smart's raw fig and baobab bar recipe - image above - here.)
2) Dress for success
Along with food, the best way to keep your muscles performing at their peak is through the right clothing. This means that you need clothing that strikes the right balance between maintaining optimal core temperature while not making you overheat. Too much insulation leads to sweating, which in turn leads to wet clothes. Not nice and not helpful, as you’ll just be back at the problem of cold, underperforming muscles.
Because air gets trapped between them, which heats up to keep you toastie, layers are key. They’re also easy to shed and add back on as you see fit. We cover the science of layering for winter in more depth here.
Pay close attention to your extremities too. Icy air nipping at the tops your ears, and slowly numbing your fingers and toes isn’t a pleasant feeling and will send you heading for home earlier than intended.
Then, of course, there's your head. While the whole ‘you lose most body heat through your head’ thing is actually a myth, approximately 10 per cent still wends its way out through your noggin, so it’s worth keeping it well wrapped up either in a skull cap or a snood, which will also keep your neck warm.
3) Warm up
We know, we know. After faffing about getting all that kit on, you want to jump straight on your bike rather than stand swinging your legs and arms around for ten minutes. But a warm-up elevates your body temperature and heart rate, as well as increasing the blood flow to you muscles. Start warm and it’s easier to get up to a comfortable temperature on the bike, too. Once you get on the bike, make sure you start your ride gently, in an easy gear, and slowly build up speed/intensity (not going for Strava segments in the first 15 minutes!)
So, there you have it. Eat right. Dress right and spend a bit of time warming up before you get out there and your body will thank you for it.