Winter riding can present a number of challenges, from sorting your bike out with mudguards and lights, to finding your overshoes and looking for warm gloves that still allow you to change gear.

Aside from that, it’s a great time to settle into some sound training habits and lay the foundations for solid winter riding.

Unfortunately, it can also be a time of year where illness, injuries and poor eating habits can catch up with us. Trying to set a precedent now with a balanced diet and some key seasonal considerations can help us stay healthy and keep building the fitness up gradually into the new year.

Emma Barraclough, a sports nutritionist at Science in Sport, in on hand to take a look at the key nutritional factors that will help keep you fit, healthy and riding through winter, from calorie consumption, to diet and hydration, and cross training and recovery.

Science in Sport, winter, cycling, training, gravel, off-road, Giant, Helen Jenkins (Pic: Science in Sport)

Steady base miles at a slower pace mean that you will generate more of your energy from fat, but you won’t burn as many calories overall.

This may reduce your carbohydrate requirement to closer to 30g per hour versus the usual 60g, but you will still need to take some additional carbohydrate if your ride is longer than 90 minutes. Even when riding steadily you will still deplete your glycogen stores over time and could potentially bonk, so you need to take on some fuel, just perhaps not as much as when riding for longer and at a higher intensity.

You could also put your immunity at risk if you don’t adequately fuel with carbohydrate. Prolonged or intense endurance rides causes a slight drop in your immune system’s ability to fend off infections. Your immune function depends upon carbohydrate to work properly, leaving you more vulnerable to coughs and colds after training if you don’t take on enough carbohydrate fuel during and after a ride.

Sipping an electrolyte and carbohydrate drink keeps your fluid levels in check, while maintaining your mineral balance and keeping your energy levels topped up  (Pic: Sirotti)

Eating a wide variety of fruit and vegetables is very important. As a general rule, the more colours you eat, the greater the variation in vitamins and minerals will be that you consume.

Try to have at least five servings of fruit and vegetables a day, which can include fresh fruit, smoothies, vegetable soups or frozen fruit. This will further support your immune system as colder weather sets in, helping you avoid the common colds that can cause you to miss your training rides.

Reduced sunlight hours and the additional layers of clothing we're forced to wear in winter means that you’ll receive less UV exposure and, therefore, produce less Vitamin D. It has been long established that Vitamin D plays an important role in bone health as it aids calcium absorption, but in more recent years the impact on our wider health has been better understood, including the key part it plays with the immune system. The only foods that are naturally high in Vitamin D are cod liver oil and swordfish, with other fish such as tuna and salmon also containing some. Fortified foods such as breakfast cereals, milk and yogurts are also worth considering consuming during the winter months.

Hydration is still very important in winter. It’s tempting to layer up immediately as the dark nights come, but heavy winter jersey and rain jackets can actually increase your sweat rates if the weather is milder, causing you to lose vital fluids.

For low intensity rides in cool conditions and less than two hours long, you can usually get away with using only water in your bottles. However, even if you don’t need any additional carbohydrate, electrolytes are still key in maintaining hydration. Your body retains fluid better in the body if your drink contains sodium, so electrolyte sports drink tablets are a great option as most contain 30mg of sodium per 500ml serving.

Emma Barraclough, Science in Sport nutritionist (Pic: Science in Sport)

Winter also gives you the opportunity to add in some cross training in order to plug any gaps in your fitness and to maintain motivation when the prospect of riding is less than inviting.

Weight training is particularly beneficial to include in the winter when you have a bit more time on your hands and you’re doing less frequent, shorter outdoor rides. The aim isn’t to do heavy weights as that will build large, bulky muscles. Instead, just do muscle conditioning exercises which promote lean body mass and aid in injury prevention by loading the tendons and muscles with weights that they can cope with.

Recovery is still key in winter. To maximise physiological adaptations to the training that you’re doing you must recover properly, and the gains you make now will help you into the start of the new year. The first 30 minutes after training is the optimal time to replace key nutrients as your metabolic rate remains lifted. Carbohydrate is needed to replace muscle glycogen, and protein is needed to support the growth and repair of lean muscle mass. Whey protein in particular is useful in stimulating the production of lean muscle mass due to its high leucine content.

As you build towards the higher mileage months of the spring, paying attention to your ride nutrition now will maximise your chances of staying healthy and will keep you riding strongly into 2015.

Emma Barraclough is a sports nutritionist at SiS. She has worked with Great Britain Ice Hockey since 2006 and provided nutritional consultancy support to athletes in a range of sports including running, triathlon and rugby. She regularly represents Great Britain as an age group triathlete and has completed six Ironmans.