Food can be (and for cyclists, usually is) an emotional thing, which is why within an hour of meeting Shari, a sports nutritionist with River Valley Health, I felt like everything I thought I knew and loved about fueling for riding was under attack. All the foods I loved, both vices like pastries, lattes and more, as well as some of my training staples like stroopwafels and san pellegrinos among others were out the door. Or at least to be limited as much as possible. It was like a war was being waged on my favorite dietary habits!
I was wary about how much of a difference the changes she was proposing for me would truly have. The amount of protein she was suggesting, as well as some of the examples she provided seemed like something only body-builders would do, so I thought my skepticism was well founded. However, I was lucky enough to be receiving professional guidance - I'd be foolish to not at least give it a chance!
Coffee, thankfully still an integral part of my nutrition. Especially to kickstart early morning trainer sessions.
Now, over 4 months into her guidance, I have a pretty well-founded opinion on her expertise. During the first two visits, she made some claims that I greeted with a healthy does of skepticism, however now that I've been implementing her dietary tips for long enough to see the results, it's become apparent she knows what she is talking about! (I don't know why I would've thought any different, I guess I am just cynical when it comes to food/health/nutrition) Without giving away her most valuable advice (most of which is individually tailored to each athlete anyways), I wanted to dive into a few claims she made up front that most cyclists would scoff at:
WRONG: Carbs should be your main fuel while cycling
RIGHT: Carbs are not even close to the most important fuel
What's the first thing you think of when you talk about eating the night before a race? Most of you probably said 'carb loading.' I was certainly on this program in my past years of cycling. Race tomorrow morning? Nothing like a big plate of pasta to top up the energy stores. However, Shari told us we were setting our body up for failure, with unstable blood sugar spikes that would be difficult to manage. Instead, we should try to get much more protein during our cardio workouts, even under intensity.
I was more skeptical of this than anything else Shari suggested we try, however it didn't take long to find a mix of proteins, healthy fats, and minimal carbs that worked for me and left me more focussed and energetic on my rides. No more managing the spikes of endless sports gel intake. It did take some work to find the right mix, especially when the intensity ramped up. It took a few tweaks with Shari to find how many simple carbs to fuel with under efforts while still suplementing with protein, but now that I've nailed it, I couldn't go back to fueling exclusively with sugar. I get queasy just thinking about it!
WRONG: Craving junk food is just part of healthy eating
RIGHT: The majority of cravings will be a thing of the past if each meal is well-balanced
When I said I was skeptical of what Shari was throwing at us, this was another claim that I just didn't think was possible. A donut is a donut, I thought, there's no way the cravings for that kind of post-ride treat will go away. Again, I was proven wrong. When everything is dialed in nutrition-wise for the day, I go the entire day always feeling satisfied, and very rarely craving the junk foods I usually indulge in.
Thankfully, there's still room for my vices in my diet from time to time, but it's always on my terms - those uncontrollable cravings as you ride past the regular donut spot are gone.
WRONG: Go to bed hungry to make race weight
RIGHT: Going to be hungry is a bad idea
The recurring advice of going to bed hungry was something I'd read on various cycling websites and books. When I told Shari this, she laughed (hopefully at the advice and not me) and then dived into an explanation of why that is such a terrible thing to do to your body. Going to bed hungry encouraged your body to steal from your muscles, not an ideal scenario for any athlete. No more going to bed hungry? Sign me up!
In the mornings I wake up ready to eat, but also ready to workout almost instantly. I used to struggle with eating so close to any sort of workout, but not anymore. My metabolism wakes up as quick as I do, which means if I'm eating the right things, I can jump right on the bike, which was never a strength of mine.
4 months later, I'm entirely sold on her program. I've learned my lesson - no matter how outlandish a claim she makes, I won't be skeptical of her again! I've been proven wrong time and time again, so now I leave it to the expert.
In the first few weeks alone, I dropped 2 pounds of body fat, all while eating more then I ever have before. For those of you that know me, I wasn't exactly in need of losing weight, yet somehow I did. My teammate, Coleman, is a bit huskier than me (however, by no means was he 'overweight' or even close to), and he saw more dramatic fat loss results than I did. Add to that increased consistency of energy levels, less bonking, and faster recovery, and I can safely say working with Shari has been a huge advantage.
Some of you might not care, others might be wishing I could provide more details, but it's not a cut and dry formula - any tips I could pass along would barely scratch the surface. Shari is constantly tweaking things with our diet and fueling based on energy levels, activity levels, and all the other rigors of day-to-day life. If you're interested, give River Valley Health a call - it's worth it!
With 14 days until race day, it truly is the homestretch. Depending on how busy we are with our last minute prep, this might be the last post you read. We'll make sure to post the rider tracking information as soon as we have it for those who want to follow along.
Thanks for following us in our lead-up to the Cape Epic! Stay tuned for race updates soon.