For years, the mantra of many cyclist was about carbo loading, high carb meals, and carbs fuel your ride. But recently, with the popularity of low carb diets, some cyclists have begun to doubt the mindset that a high carb diet is the solution for them.
Instead, they are turning to diets like the Paleo diet, Low Carb, High Fat, or even Ketosis (very low carb) diets. A lot of the thought about getting away from high carb is that your body cannot store enough carb energy (glycogen) to fuel endurance activities. If you rely on carbs for energy, you have to take in a lot of carbs to sustain that on a long bike ride. And for some, that proves difficult for the stomach and the result is bonking.
There is also a lot of info that points to carbs as the reason for the increase in obesity and heart disease in the US over the past few decades. Of course, taking in a lot of processed carbs can also lead to a risk for diabetes in some people.
It can all be very complex, and many studies are not conclusive. But after reviewing a lot of different information I have come up with something that works for me. It isn’t really a diet, but just how I eat.
Couple of books for more info:
Paleo Diet for Cyclists – http://amzn.to/2FAFgcH
Primal Endurance – http://amzn.to/2HRvPWY
My Eating Guidelines
My basic guidelines can be summed up as lower carb, less processed, nutritious food.
My guidelines in more detail:
Avoid sugar and other processed carbs
This was probably the biggest change for me. I loved bread, pasta, sugary soft drinks, cookies, etc. But now that I avoid them, I feel like my energy levels don’t have the peaks and valleys like they did before.
Although fruit is all natural and can contain some fiber, for the most part, it is a sugary treat. I do have some fruit each day, but I just don’t go crazy with it. I have also completely eliminated fruit juices. That is just basically sugar water.
Vegetables at every meal
I make sure I have veggies for breakfast and every other meal during the day. Sometimes this just as simple as adding spinach to my morning smoothie. I was never very fond of veggies, but now that I eat them more regularly, I find them to be delicious.The key for me was to find recipes and dishes that I liked (and didn’t involve coating them with cheese).
“I ain’t afraid of no fat!” Seriously, for so many years, everyone said we should be afraid of fat. Now I focus on good fats – avocados, nuts, lean meat, fish, and eggs — yes, eggs. These are very filling and don’t hurt your cholesterol levels in moderation.
Lean, Unprocessed Meat
Lean meat is a great source of protein. I also try to cook it in a healthy way (i.e. no frying in unhealthy oils).
Limited and select supplements
I try not to go too crazy with supplements. I do use protein powder in my morning shakes along with a couple of other additives. Before I use anything, I check on Examine.com to make sure the benefit claims are supported by scientific studies. The key is to use what works for you and don’t go overboard. I’ll list my in a future blog post.
While I don’t think I have a particular gluten intolerance, I don’t need gluten either. There is also some evidence that gluten damages the gut even for those without gluten sensitivity. Gluten is in lot of processed carbs so it is already being avoided by my processed carb rule.
One thing I realized in my quest to eat better is that I generally had portion sizes that were too big for stuff like sweets, butter, and bread, and two small for veggies. This is a pretty good simple guide. It is pretty easy to follow when you prepare your own food, but more difficult when you are eating out. But it can be done. I had to get used to ordering a 6 oz. steak and extra veggies, but it was worth it. I now leave the table filling full, not stuffed.
80/20 or better
These guidelines are useful, but we all have times when it is difficult. So I do occasionally eat outside these guidelines. That doesn’t mean I splurge with a plate of nachos, followed by a burrito, followed by ice cream. It means that I might have a scoop of ice cream or maybe a couple of slices of pizza once a week or so – more like every other week.
Examples of my eating habits
That’s a lot of info. But how does it look in my daily life? Below are examples of how I eat on a gym/short ride day, a long ride day, and a regular day.
Pre-workout drink at 5:15am – (before I hit the gym at 5:30am) 6 oz of coffee, 18 ounces of water, 1 scoop of protein powder (chocolate flavor)
Breakfast shake – (after gym) Blend 8 ounces of almond milk, 2 scoops of protein powder, ½ to 1 cup of spinach – frozen, 1 teaspoon cocoa powder, ½ banana, a bit of stevia (Sometimes I add berries, peanut butter, nuts, or other things to change the flavor up)
Lunch – Usually I have something I prepared on Sunday night in a mass meal prep session. Examples: chicken breast and chickpea curry, faux spaghetti (turkey meatballs with a no sugar marinara sauce served over zucchini noodles), roasted chicken breast with lima beans and roasted brussel sprouts on the side
Dinner – Example at home – Sous vide prepared sirloin steak, roasted green beans, cauliflower mash or Roasted chicken and a mixed greens salad with avocado, tomatoes, etc.
Snacks – handful of cashews, or cheese stick, or slice of turkey (deli meat without preservatives or home cooked). When craving something sweet: a bite of dark chocolate
Pre-ride – An egg frittata (sometimes store bought and sometimes homemade ahead of time) and maybe a protein bar (homemade if I can)
Ride – During the ride, I usually go with two water bottles. One with just water, and one with a lower carb electrolytes drink (like Gatorade G2). I try to eat a mix of carbs, fat and protein on the ride. My homemade power bars are great — they are about ⅓ fat, ⅓ protein, and ⅓ carbs. Other options: Carb heavy: Peanut M&Ms, store bought energy bars (RX Bars are delicious and low ingredient), pretzels, potato chips (the salty snacks make me thirsty and I drink more). Fat heavy: My favorites are the single serve pouches of almond butter (unflavored or chocolate), on colder days I can bring Baby Bel cheese with me. Protein heavy: Sometimes I’ll have just a bit of beef jerky or a meat stick.
I try to drink around one water bottle per hour — more if it is hot. If it is cold, I reduce that some but I still drink. Some people set timers to remind them to drink. My advice is to get to know your body and learn to drink enough to keep you going strong. Too much or too little can make your performance suffer.
Eating during a ride was a challenge early on. I wasn’t used to exercising AND eating. The key for me was to take in the calories slowly. Our bodies can’t process more than 120-240 calories per hour. So if you take in more than that, it is just sitting in your digestive system causing problem. And if you don’t take in enough calories, you bonk, get grumpy, think more slowly, etc.
So my advice is to just keep a regular stream of calories coming and listen to your body. Sometimes you get it wrong and you need a sudden burst of energy. Those are the times you can reach for one of those gels.
Post ride – I try not to use the fact that I am eating post ride to go crazy. If the ride is an hour or so, then I may not even eat a special post ride meal. For anything between a couple hours and around five hours, I may have a burger with cheese, bun, etc. But I will probably still skip the fries. Anything longer than that, I will eat whatever I want. This is partly due to the fact I usually don’t have a huge appetite after really long rides.
Aha… see this was a trick. My Recovery/Rest/Normal day isn’t much different than my gym days. I skip the pre workout drink, but other than that, it is pretty much the same. On gym days, I may grab an extra handful of nuts or some other snack, but I try to keep them the same.