Setting yourself up for success
So you have signed up to cycle around Lake Taupo, awesome!
It’s my job to make that amazing challenge a little easier to achieve. I am going to walk through the fundamentals of endurance nutrition and how you can apply them to your training. Using nutrition in the right way can help everyone, whether you want to get around fast, just get around, or get around whilst having the energy to admire the views.
We are going to start with the foundations for endurance training - optimising your day-to-day intake.
Having Enough Gas in the Tank
Providing your body with enough energy to fuel your normal day-to-day life and your training is essential. If you don't put enough gas in the tank, you won't get to your destination. Illness, injury, and fatigue will cut this journey short.
Now is not the time for restrictive "diets" or a focus on weight loss. Instead, understand that you are acting like an athlete, and you need to fuel yourself like one.
Whilst everyone is different and individual circumstances need to be taken into account, here are a few tools to help you on your way.
My Plate Checklist
Ensure each meal has:
Carbohydrates - cereals, grains, starchy vegetables
Proteins - meat, lentils, beans, fish, eggs, dairy, tofu, nuts and seeds, pulses
Fruit or vegetables
If practical, eat something prior to exercise
Eat an extra snack (with protein, carbs, fruit/veggies) after exercise
If you train early in the morning, not eating prior is fine, but make sure you have an extra snack afterwards in addition to your usual breakfast.
If you do like to eat something before an early training, try a small portion of something you tolerate well. Ideas include a banana, bread and jam/honey, tinned fruit, muesli bar, juice, baking.
It can be tricky to figure out how much to eat with all the messages we receive, especially when you throw training into the mix.
I think guidelines do have a place because exercise can suppress appetite, but these need to be applied individually.
One tool that can help everyone work out how much to eat is simply to listen and trust your body. Instead of outsourcing your portion control to an app, a friend, or even a dietitian, becoming in tune with your body and listening to its appetite, hunger, and craving signals can inform your portion sizes. Check in with your body, before, during, and after meals, and regularly throughout the day to build a picture of how you feel. Are you constantly hungry? Hungry at certain times? Use this information to teach yourself when you need to fuel, and where you might be underfuelling.
There is a cost to endurance training, and we pay for that cost with good self-care habits. Nutrition wise the following can help you stay healthy and allow you to keep up with your training programme:
Enough calories/energy/macronutrients. To operate optimally you need enough overall calories, carbs, protein, and fats.
Eat a lot of vegetables and fruit!
Think about gut health - veggies, fermented foods and pre/probiotics.
Mental health - don't overthink your food or aim for 'perfection'. Think of food as your friend, embrace it, eat mindfully.
Good hygeine - wash your hands, be careful with leftovers, cutting meat etc.
I am possibly not doing these topics justice by squeezing them in at this point, but in reality, most things you read online are generalized and not aimed at individuals, so if you think a particular issue applies to you, it does pay to do more research.
I want to touch on two main minerals that I see lacking most often. Calcium and iron.
Calcium is particularly important for cyclists, as cycling is not a weight bearing activity, and cyclists are therefore more protein to poor bone health than other athletes such as runners.
Also, there is trend to consuming less dairy in the diet, one of the major sources of calcium in the traditional Kiwi eating pattern.
If you are vegetarian, "plant-based", vegan, or dairy intolerant, it is important to ensure that your milk replacement has calcium added to it. You may also be missing out on additional calcium through cheese and yoghurt, so need to be mindful of this and up your intake of beans, green leafy vegetables, and in particular tofu, which is a great source of calcium.
Iron is another important nutrient that is often lacking in my clients. Red meat is obviously a good source of iron, but iron is also added to breakfast cereals which bumps up a lot of people's intake. If you avoid red meat and make your own muesli, it might be worth getting your iron levels checked.
Caffeine also inhibits iron absorption, so check when you drink tea and coffee in relation to meals.
Ensure that you include vitamin c containing foods (fruits and vegetables) at meal times which enhance iron absorption.
As always, if you think that you are at particular risk of any sub-optimal dietary habits due to any circumstance, a closer look by a dietitian at your meal patterns and requirements will be beneficial. I have a bunch of great deals available on the Cycle Challenge website that might be worth checking out.