Stay in race shape despite the pandemic with these essential training & diet tips
Everybody's in the same boat — the COVID-19 pandemic has forced us all to reckon with entirely new ways of day to day living. That also includes the way we train and stay race-fit, even if there are no bike races on the horizon.
You might be wondering what the point of keeping sharp as a knife is if races are cancelled, group rides have disappeared, and a lot of Strava segments are hiding behind closed roads & trails. At the core of this moment is a question: Do you ride for yourself, or for others?
Participating in a race, group ride, or topping Strava makes us feel accomplished because others see our quality. That feeling is a strong motivator as we get out of bed early in the morning to do another big endurance ride or set of intervals before work.
Now, with that motivator all but gone, we must find something new within ourselves if we hope to keep aiming for a higher level. Remember that bike races will return (more than likely), and your favorite roads or park trails will open again, too.
This, like all other significant events throughout history, is temporary and will pass. In the mean time, staying strong, even without the usual routines is more than doable — it's perhaps even more necessary than before.
Can't ride outside? Use an indoor trainer
Arguably the biggest disruption to your normal training routine is the ability to ride freely outside. If you're living in a dense city, or a country with strong lockdowns in place, then you just can't do that right now.
Not to worry.
Indoor trainers are a great substitute and have improved big time in recent years. We're not here to endorse any products in particular, but still, the Wahoo Kickr Climb deserves a shoutout because with it, you can simulate climbing grades normally found only in the Dolomites.
You don't need to drop tons of cash on a fancy trainer to keep your fitness indoors, however. Even with a very basic trainer, there are few simple tricks you can use to keep really fit.
- Simulate climbing — With your bike on the trainer, elevate the front wheel using a book or two to simulate a climbing grade. Ride in a challenging gear to really emulate the experience, but be careful not to overdo it.
- Use Zwift — When even the best pro cyclists in the world are turning to Zwift for maintaining a modicum of race fitness, then you know the app is legit. Zwift is the closest thing you can get to actual racing right now, and the levels of competition there are high. Looking for a big motivator? Winning Zwift races is it.
- Cross-train — When the weather is perfect and there's no global pandemic happening, putting big kilometers down is second nature. This can lead to overlooking physical basics, like core and arm strength, which causes injury later. Spend more time cross-training with yoga, isometric exercises such as planks, and other practices to build holistic body strength and flexibility.
- Rollers like Eddy Merckx — Rollers are still an effective and inexpensive way to ride without being plugged into a trainer and work on your bike handling at the same time. Some feel that rollers are for the old-school only, but they still make you work hard to stay upright.
No matter what you plan to use for your indoor training methodology, just make sure that you follow an organized plan that prizes volume over intensity. If you need a place to start for developing a training plan, check out coaching legend Joe Friel's Five Fundamentals of Training.
A time for soul-riding
If you're lucky, then your area is still safe for outdoor riding and the only big impact to your normal training regimen is a lack of group rides and races. Since there are no big events coming up, you don't need to hit your peak for any race in particular.
What that means is you can maintain a high level of fitness all year long without having big buildups and breakdowns. It also means you can do things you wouldn't normally do during the race season, like target Strava QOM/KOM segments on a Friday.
- Use Strava to replace racing — Instead of focusing on winning races, try and take Strava segments (although we highly suggest you don't target risky segments or descents). This gives you a way to remain competitive while racing is out of the question.
- Soul riding for base endurance — Soul riding, or aimless wandering, is normally frowned upon when you have specific training targets during the season. But now, just riding for riding's sake is almost all one can do, giving you a great excuse for building a great base of endurance.
- Focus on Z2 and Z3 — Normally, zones 2 and 3 are the bread and butter of cycling training as they form the springboard of fitness used to effectively reach higher zones. Right now, you have all the time in the world to really build these zones so that later, your anaerobic sprint wattage will hit new highs.
Similar to indoor training, this is a good time for creating and following a training plan if you don't already have one. Creating discipline around your cycling regimen is a tried and true method or seeing how far you can take your cycling fitness — a worthy exploration, to be sure.
Don't overlook your diet
With restaurants closed and grocery stores very much open, dialing in your diet now has a twofold purpose.
- Improves your performance on the bike by aiding recovery, energy levels, and strength-building.
- Helps build a better immune systems.
So, in other words, whipping up nutritious and fulfilling meals for yourself is a win-win. You probably already know how to eat healthy in general — big salads, organic ingredients, and emphasis on plant protein sources — but what about the smaller details?
Packing some smaller, lesser-known foods into your diet can deliver big results over time.
- Seeds are small but dense with the goods — Chia, flax, sunflower, and pumpkin seeds (to name a few) are tiny but powerful vessels relaying high amounts of essential minerals, protein, lignans, and healthy fats to your body. Add these into your morning oatmeal or combine with a salad to get the most of them.
- Probiotics improves gut health & performance — Having a strong gut has been shown to improve recovery, lessen fatigue between efforts, and boost your immune system. This last point is pretty essential for cyclists as doing big training efforts actually lowers your immune system, which is the last thing you need right now. Miso, tempeh, sauerkraut, kimchi, kombucha, and vegan probiotic supplements are easy ways to add probiotics to your diet.
- Drink tons of water — This last one should go without saying, but for some reason, it's the most overlooked part of an amazing diet, even by super health-oriented riders. Drink water day in, and day out as well as on the bike and off of it, too. Before your name, job, marital status, nationality, comes one basic fact — you're 80% water.
There's no need to reinvent the wheel when it comes to your diet (at least not right away), just start slowly by implementing some of these improvements with what you already do. It's for the best to make any dietary changes slowly, anyway.
Mix it up
Despite our insistence that you create a cycling training plan and stick to it, remember to keep some humor and stay loose, too. Play with a few of these strategies for keeping fit but without any pressure — there is enough of that in the world as it is.
Instead, remember to treat your bike riding time as personal, free, and meditative. If you can keep these qualities in perspective, then fitness will arrive of its own, and you'll put it to the right use.