How to Fuel for Winter Training

If you train outdoors during winter, you’re putting your body under extra stress so you’ll benefit from a good fuelling plan. By building some healthy eating habits now you will ensure you’re fit and ready for the dark months of training ahead.

Winter endurance training demands a lot of energy from your body and it’s all too easy to underestimate your needs. I see a lot of people fuel up on sugary snacks and drinks instead of a well-planned meal. When this happens, your body doesn’t get the proper fuel, nutrients and fibre that it needs to perform at its best. Instead of getting stronger and faster, you’ll find it harder to recover after workouts and become more susceptible to illnesses and injury.

Focus on nourishing your body with nutrient-packed foods that will support your training plan.  Replace highly processed foods with wholesome, unprocessed foods, such as fruit, vegetables, whole grains, nuts, seeds, dairy products, lean meat and fish. As you step up your mileage, you’ll need to eat more calories and carbohydrates to support your training.

Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred fuel, especially during high-intensity exercise, and can be easily accessed for energy soon after consumption. Carbs also allow the body to burn fat for energy so some carbs are needed even for easy runs.

I always advise fuelling for your workout, eating more before long, hard sessions; less on easy or recovery days. For moderate or high-intensity sessions longer than an hour, aim for roughly 5 – 7g/ kg a day. For a 65kg runner, that’s 325 – 462g.

For long training sessions, your pre- and post-workout nutrition become more important. Here’s what to eat and drink before, during and after your workout:


Have a meal that contains a combination of carbohydrate and protein, as well as a small amount of fat between two and four hours before you exercise. Suitable meals include a bowl of porridge with fruit and nuts; a jacket potato with cheese and salad, or a chicken or tofu stir-fry with rice.

If there will be a gap longer than 3 – 4 hours between your last meal and your workout, have a high-carb snack (such as an Energy Bar, a banana or some dried fruit) and a drink 30 – 60 minutes before your run to ensure you have enough energy to compete your workout.


You should drink to thirst. As a guide, aim for 400 – 800mL per hour (if exercising longer than 30 min) but adjust according to how much you sweat. Also, when you exercise more than 90 minutes, you should consume 30 – 60 g carbs every hour from about 60 minutes onwards (which equals 1 – 2 fruit and nut bars, 1 – 2 energy gels or 4 CLIF BLOK Energy Chews per hour).


Follow the three golden rules for recovery:

  1. Rehydrate with plenty of fluid (replace each ½ kg weight loss with 450 – 675mL fluid)
  2. Refuel with carbohydrate to replace your body’s glycogen stores
  3. Repair your damaged muscles with protein (aim for around 20 g)

Recovery meals and snacks should contain carbohydrate (for fuel), protein (for muscle repair), and plenty of fluids and electrolytes to replace sweat losses. Try to eat soon after finishing your workout, remembering that recovery nutrition extends well beyond the initial hours after your workout. If you plan to exercise again within 8 hours, then take advantage of the 2–hour ‘recovery window’. Otherwise, simply eat your usual meals at regular intervals throughout the day. If there will be a gap longer than 2 hours, between your run and your next meal, then consume a snack.

Suitable post-run snacks include 500ml of milk, a recovery drink, or 250ml strained Greek yogurt with fruit and nuts, or a CLIF Builder’s Protein Bar (which has 20g protein).

Training Tips

Fuel up before your early morning workout

If you plan to do a long, hard workout early in the morning before breakfast, you may find that a small high-carb snack (such as a banana or a slice of toast and honey) and some water 15 – 30 minutes before you exercise useful. It will raise your blood glucose levels and increase your endurance and performance.

Boost your performance with caffeine

Caffeine can give your workout a boost! Research shows that caffeine before exercise can improve your performance by reducing the perception of effort and helping you keep going longer. The optimal amount is around 3 mg/ kg of body weight (that’s 195mg for a 65kg athlete), equivalent to a double expresso. One CLIFF SHOT energy gel with caffeine contains 25 mg. You can take caffeine before a workout or race for an early boost, or mid-way if you want an energy boost for the final stages. Everyone has an individual response to caffeine so make sure you experiment in training before using it in a race.

Avoid Stomach Problems

Gastrointestinal upset (including the ‘runner’s trots’) during hard runs is common among distance runners. Many runners prefer to run on an empty stomach, but you can train your gut by regularly eating carbohydrate foods or drinks during training. Start with very small amounts then gradually increase the portion and frequency. Avoiding high-fibre foods before hard training sessions may also help reduce symptoms. Here are some more tips on avoiding gut problems.

Eat protein at each meal

If you train more than three times a week at a moderate or high intensity, then you’ll need more protein. This extra protein helps to repair and build muscle cells damaged during hard exercise. Aim to have between 1.2 and 2.0g per kg body weight a day (that’s 78 – 130g for a 65kg athlete). Target 0.25 – 0.4g per kg of body weight at each meal (older athletes need more than younger athletes), which equates to 16 – 26g for a 65kg athlete.

Boost your immunity

Winter brings its own onslaught of problems in the form of colds and viruses. And it’s thought that the increased levels of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline associated with hard training inhibit the immune system.

Other factors, such as lack of sleep and a poor diet, can only make matters worse at this time of year.

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