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First Aid


By Dr. Robert Portman, exclusively for Performance Bicycle

As the weather turns colder, serious cyclists will be moving indoors to stay in shape. Indoor workouts requires multiple decisions. Which trainer to buy, since there are many options, and, what are the best workouts. All too often, in the selecting the best trainer and workout regimen, fueling and hydration issues are neglected. Generally hydration is even more important during an indoor session, and neglecting fueling will negatively impact the quality of your workout. Here are some considerations.



Hydration is the cornerstone of any athlete’s regimen. Working muscles generate enormous amounts of heat. In fact, without any ability to cool, 25 minutes of hard exercise could bring your body temperature to 106°, which is a life-threatening temperature. To prevent an unhealthy rise in temperature your body has developed a sophisticated system of cooling in which heat from muscles is transported to the surface of the skin as sweat. During outdoor cycling air flowing over the skin causes evaporation and cooling. Indoor cycling lacks air flow which is why you sweat much more on your trainer. The effects of even moderate dehydration, as little as a 2% loss in bodyweight due to sweating, are an increase in fatigue, an increase in heart rate, and a decrease in endurance performance. For a 150-lb individual, that 2% translates into about three pounds. It’s not unusual to drop three pounds during a hard indoor training session.

Water is still the preferred hydration drink for most athletes. However water is not ideal in replacing fluids lost through sweating. A water-electrolyte combination is more effective, but is certainly not as effective as a sports drink that contains electrolytes and carbohydrate or better yet a sports drink that contains electrolytes, carbohydrate, and protein in a 4:1 ratio.


We tend to think that the addition of carbohydrate or simple sugar and protein is important for fueling, but these nutrients play an essential role in improving rehydration.  In a study comparing rehydration properties or different beverages an electrolyte/carbohydrate/protein beverage was shown to be 15% more effective than a carbohydrate/electrolyte beverage and 40% more effective than plain water. Rehydration is dependent on sodium transport. Electrolyte sports drinks activate a single sodium transporter, the addition of carbohydrate activates a second one, and the further activation of protein activates a third. Three is better than one.



Cyclists who obsess about their nutrition needs during an outdoor workout frequently overlook nutrition during an indoor one. It’s a lot more difficult when you bonk 20 miles from your house than when you are only 30 feet from your refrigerator. Nutrition considerations should not be a function of how far you are from your food source but rather insuring a quality workout. Unlike water a sports drinks provides a consistent and continual source of energy for working muscles. During a hard indoor workout, your muscles can expend up to a thousand calories or more. Without adequate fueling you will notice a drop in endurance, particularly in the latter stages of your workout. The best workouts are when you maintain intensity throughout.

In indoor workouts you’re constantly working against the resistance of the bike. Thus indoor training sessions are usually harder than outdoor ones. Both a carbohydrate and a carbohydrate-protein sports drink provide nutrient energy that water does not. Similar with hydration, the advantage here again goes to a carbohydrate-protein sports drink. Studies show that a carb-protein sports drink, extends endurance up to 24% more than a standard carbohydrate-only sports drink.

Additionally, when protein is added to a sports drink in a 4-1 ratio it dramatically improves recovery. In high intensity exercise bouts lasting more than 45 minutes up to 20% of the muscle’s energy needs can come from muscle protein which has a detrimental effect on recovery. As measured by indices of muscle damage, a carbohydrate-protein sports drink such as Accelerade, compared to a conventional sports drink, reduces post-exercise muscle damage by 83% and, more importantly, increases endurance in a subsequent workout by 40%.


The bottom line

  1. Your hydration and fueling needs during your indoor workout should be an integral part of your total regimen which includes selecting your workout and the TV program you will be watching.
  2. It is better to consume your sports drink in smaller but frequent sips, which is far easier to do on an indoor trainer. This puts less stress on your GI system and improves the efficiency of rehydration and fueling.
  3. Don’t forget about recovery. Consumption of a specific recovery beverage after a moderate to high intensity workout of 45 minutes or more can pay dramatic dividends in terms of reducing muscle soreness and enabling you to come back stronger the next day. Although a recovery beverage such as Endurox R4 I has been shown to be superior, for less intense workouts of shorter duration, Accelerade is an effective recovery drink.

Dr. Portman, a well-known sports science researcher, is author of Nutrient Timing, The Performance Zone and Hardwired for Fitness.

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