Regular readers know that I am a nearly daily bike rider here in Chicago. As such I read some cycling blogs, too. One of my faves is Loving the Bike.
And, one of that blog’s regular contributors is Kelli Jennings, an Expert Sports Nutritionist who writes Ask the Sports Nutritionist.
Kelli is not only a world class athlete, but also a first rate nutritionist who writes clearly and accurately about her healthy and intelligent eating.
She recently wrote an item 5 Real Foods for Every Cyclist’s Pantry that I thought would interest you. Most importantly, you do not have to be a cyclist to benefit from Kelli’s information. I have written about a number of these foods as beneficial to every person. These foods should be in your pantry, too, whether you ride a bike or not.
The world is full of great foods for cyclists. Foods that energize, foods that heal, and foods that reduce risk of illness. As a bonus, many of these same foods taste great. There’s no shortage of great foods from which to choose for everyday eating, and for training fuel. And yet, there are some foods that stand out above the rest.
Here is simple list of five real-food, whole-food options that have specific benefits to athletes. Some help with joint pain, others with energy, and one with oxygen delivery. If you haven’t tried them, this season may be a great time to add them to your diet.
Here are 5 Foods that should be in every cyclist’s pantry:
1) Organic Coconut oil: A saturated fat known for its light coconut taste and high-smoke point, organic coconut oil can serve an athlete by being a great energy source in both everyday nutrition and training nutrition. It is largely made up of Lauric Acid, a fatty acid that hasanti-microbial properties, promotes insulin sensitivity in cells (which discourages diabetes and fat storage), and potentially improves heart health markers.
Before you read further, you may be under the impression that coconut oil is off-limits because it’s a saturated fat. First, take note that not all saturated fats are the same. Just like some unsaturated fats are better for you than others (fish oil vs. corn oil for example), some saturated fats are better for you than others. Organic, extra virgin coconut oil contains a very high percentage of Medium Chain Triglycerides (MCTs). In chemistry terms, this means that the carbon chain has a medium length. The length of carbons chains, where any double-bonds are located, and the amount of hydrogens attached to the carbons drives how nutrients are used in our bodies. MCTs have the advantage of begin very easily digested, without need of extra lipid enzymes and bile salts. They are used directly by the mitochondria (energy producers) of the cells, and seldom stored as fat. Furthermore, they do not negatively affect cholesterol levels or overall health.
How to add organic coconut oil: First, incorporate organic extra-virgin coconut oil into your everyday nutrition choices by using it in stir-fries, baked goods or as a replacement for butter. Second, use it for Training Nutrition as a great energy source before and during training, or as a great replenishment in recovery. You can add it to a pre-training smoothie, mashed sweet potatoes, or mix it with chia seeds, honey and peanut butter. After a hard training, it can reduce muscle wasting by giving your body an alternative fuel source. Take it straight off the spoon, add it to a recovery smoothie or melt it and spread into a peanut butter and honey sandwich.
2) Ginger: Ginger has long been, and is now re-emerging as a go-to supplement and food for health promotion and reduction in joint pain. First, ginger is loaded with anti-inflammatory nutrients, antioxidants, and phytochemicals, which work to reduce risk of disease, reduce chronic inflammation, and neutralize free radicals that can damage cells. Ginger also promotes gut health, may be anti-cancerous, and boosts immune function.
Next, recent studies show that it’s effective in reducing muscle soreness and joint pain in athletes. In fact, in one study, participants took either 2 grams ginger or placebo each day for several days before strenuous exercise, and the ginger participants had a 25% reduction in soreness indicators vs. those on placebo.
How to add ginger: Use it daily in smoothies, stir-fries, salads, and grated into sandwiches. Make your life easier by simply scraping away the skin with the side of a spoon rather than cutting it off. Then, use ginger to reduce soreness (along with rest days and other recovery tactics) by consuming 2 grams per day. You can choose 4 ginger pill supplements per day (check out the label, most are 500-550 mg each), 2 teaspoons of fresh ginger each day, or 1/4 teaspoon ground ginger.
3) Beets: By now you’ve likely heard about beetroot juice and its effects on time trial times. Research on beetroot juice and performance began after it was shown that nitrates could increase nitric oxide in the body, which in turn dilates vessels to improve the delivery of oxygen and uptake of oxygen by the muscles. Preliminary studies showed a reduction in oxygen cost during moderate and intense training, increased time to exhaustion, and improved performance with beetroot juice. More recent studies have shown benefits of beetroot juice when taken in both a 6-day (16 ounces per day) regimen and a one-time pre-training dose 2-3 hours before training.
Beets are very rich in nitrates, and beetroot juice, beetroot freeze-dried powder, and new beet performance gels and supplements are a concentrated form. They are truly a natural food that has direct and specific benefits on performance!
How to use beets: For everyday nutrition, add beets to salads, roast ‘em, or slice them onto sandwiches. They are full of antioxidants, phytochemicals and all-around good-for-you nutrients. For training, take 16 ounces beetroot juice, 6 teaspoons freeze-dried powder or a beet training shot, gel, or supplement with at least 300 mg nitrates. If using the juice or powder in a smoothie or pre-training snack, consume it about 2-3 hours before training. If using a commercial beetroot training gel, follow the manufacturer’s instructions.
4) Yogurt and probiotics: Plain yogurt is a nutritious ancient food that naturally contains healthy bacteria called probiotics. Probiotics can also be found in other fermented foods and probiotic supplements. In either form, probiotics can aide an athlete in three ways.
First, they improve nutrient absorption, which can specifically help in recovery nutrition by increasing the delivery of antioxidants, vitamins, minerals, carbohydrates and proteins to the cells. Next, they boost immune function and can decrease the incidence of mononucleosis in athletes in particular. Third, they can significantly reduce digestion issues both acutely and chronically. This can mean less nausea during and after training in athletes who experience it.
How to add yogurt: For everyday nutrition, plain yogurt topped with berries, nuts and honey makes a great breakfast or lunch. You can also add it to smoothies, use it as sour cream, or eat it with fruit for a snack. For training nutrition, I recommend a pre-training or recovery smoothie or parfait with honey and fruit for carbohydrates, the yogurt for protein and probiotics, and nuts or chia for healthy energy-supplying fats.
5) Chia seeds: Anyone who’s read “Born to Run” is likely already on the chia-seed-bandwagon. And if you haven’t and are not on it yet, consider adding these healthy-fat, protein, and nutrient packed seeds to your diet. In addition to providing long-lasting, slow-and-steady-digesting carbs and soluble fiber, Chia seeds are wonderfully versatile and have a lot to offer nutritionally. They are absolutely a great choice for everyday nutrition and training nutrition.
First, chia seeds provide minerals like phosphorous, manganese and calcium. Next, you’ll find a large amount of plant based omega-3 fats. And, while these cannot replace the omega-3s from fish and seafood, they still promote reduced inflammation and overall health. Then, chia seeds are a great source of fiber at six grams per one tablespoon! Soluble fiber promotes digestive health, steady energy and blood sugars, reduced cholesterol, improved immunity, and overall wellness. Fourth, chia seeds are loaded healthful antioxidants that combat oxidative stress. And fifth, chia seeds, like quinoa seeds, contain complete proteins with all essential amino acids. Every tablespoon of chia provides 2-4 grams of protein.
What’s remarkable about chia seeds in training nutrition, though, is that high fiber foods don’t usually work well immediately before or during training. However, these seeds are special, and their soluble fiber seems to settle just fine for most cyclists while providing long-lasting, low-glycemic carbohydrates for energy. If you’ve never used them, you may want to practice some caution by adding only one tablespoon at a time; but, you’ll likely find that they work great in both everyday and training nutrition for you.
How to add chia seeds: In everyday nutrition, add chia seeds to yogurt, smoothies, cereal, oats, salads, sauces, puddings, and more. For training, try mixing honey, peanut butter, organic coconut oil and chia, adding to pre-training and recovery smoothies, or adding chia to honey and sea salt for an on-the-go natural gel.
This list is not exclusive. There are many, many great foods out there for cyclists. Keep trying new whole foods, in both daily nutrition and training nutrition to find what you like best and what works best for you. There’s an abundance of opportunity to eat well, feel great, and fuel right with real, whole foods.