Eating is very individual, and everyone has different strategies based on what works best for them. And of course it’s important to follow guidelines for healthy eating developed by nutritionists. With that said, here are some things that I do to stay nourished during training for cycling events.
First thing in the morning, even before breakfast, I always have a piece of fruit like a banana or some berries to raise my blood sugar, since sleeping is really a fast. I also drink a big glass of water to hydrate. I have a really high metabolism to start with and an above-average fitness schedule, so calorie consumption is really critical for me.
I eat a big, well-balanced breakfast every day that includes protein, carbs, and fats. Before a ride, I might make a scrambled egg dish that includes potatoes, a little bit of sausage, and toss in some spinach and mushrooms. I take this same balanced approach every day, but on weekdays it might be a smoothie with an egg, banana, nuts or chia seeds, strawberries, and sometimes spinach or parsley. The greens give you the nutrient content but, with all the other ingredients, you can’t even taste them. Sometimes I’ve ended up with some pretty bizarre colors, though!
Another benefit is that maintaining a routine like this helps you shop better and more thoughtfully. I notice if I’m running low on Greek yogurt or bananas, and there are staples that I always make sure to have in the house.
I pack plenty of snacks during a bike ride, too. I always have a bag of raisins and nuts, usually almonds, and a piece of fruit such as a clementine or mandarin orange, which helps with sugar and hydration. For a longer ride, if there isn’t a place I’m planning to stop somewhere and buy food, I’ll pack a sandwich with meat, cheese, and whole grain bread, so again you’ve got your protein, fat, and carbohydrates. Some people worry about how they’ll keep a sandwich cool when they’re in the sun for several hours, so here’s my trick for that: I put ice cubes in my CamelBak, turning it into a mini cooler, and then stash my sandwich in the CamelBak pocket.
And speaking of CamelBak, I do recommend wearing one on long rides. Once I dropped my water bottle early on in a ride and realized how that can really startle you, plus there’s the risk it can roll back and get in the way of another rider. I put electrolytes tablets in the water as well. For really long rides, I’ll sometimes carry energy gels, and I like Odwalla bars and other brands that are more “real food” than the ones that have a long list of chemicals in the ingredients.
To restore blood sugar levels right after a ride, I have a piece of fruit. And I rehydrate with a glass of water and an electrolyte tablet, because riding really drains your muscles. I was getting a lot of aches and pains after workouts and a trainer I know suggested adding electrolyte tablets to the water to neutralize the lactic acid. I prefer Nuuns, which are electrolyte tablets that don’t contain added sugar. After a ride I’ll throw half a tablet in a glass of water and I find I have a much more rapid recovery.
If I can, I eat a meal immediately. If it’s not mealtime, I’ll have a snack that again has a balance of carbs, fat, and protein, such as peanut butter on whole grain toast or a brown rice cake. I also love sardines on whole grain crackers. Unlike many kinds of seafood, sardines are low on the food chain so they don’t have a lot of mercury and because they contain bones, they’re high in calcium. But if you don’t like sardines, you could eat tuna instead. A favorite combination of mine is a brown rice cake with hummus, sardines, and avocado slices. It’s incredibly satisfying.
I try to eat avocado almost daily! It’s so great when an incredibly tasty food like guacamole also turns out to be good for you, with all that onion, garlic, and tomato. And I use lots of cilantro, which is an antioxidant powerhouse. In fact, sometimes when I want to throw something green into a smoothie, I’ll use cilantro. A watermelon slushy with cilantro is delicious.
I don’t know if it’s psychological or not, but I find when you eat the right things there’s this amazing feeling of well-being!