I’m terrible at refueling and hydrating on the road. Actually, not just on the road. I’m terrible at eating before exercising, period. I’m a morning person, so getting up for a 6am yoga class is preferable to lugging myself to spin after work. The problem with that, though, is I have very little in the tank at 6am.
For the long ride on my weekly training schedule, I got on my bike around 7am last Saturday and headed towards SFU at the top of Burnaby Mountain. You’d think the name would’ve tipped me off that this was going to be a big climb, but I’m from Saskatchewan – for years, we skied on a “mountain” made from a mound of garbage so my frame of reference is, at best, skewed.
While I don’t think I “hit the wall” on the ride, I’ll admit there were points on that climb when I desperately wished that I had… I don’t know, a banana? A protein shake? A pepperoni stick? Just something to take the edge off, because another fun fact about me is that I’m really prone to “hanger,” the unlikeable combination of ravenous hunger and uncontrollable anger. It wasn’t until I was on my way home from the mountain that I realized I’d sunk into a pit of hunger-induced anger. I lost my mind on a pothole that I hit, shrieked at a person who turned across the bike lane without looking, and threatened to hit a pigeon that I felt was in my way.
For the sake of my training, and those who happen upon my path during a long ride, I need to get a handle on this, stat. So I hunted down someone who knows how to fuel before a ride: John Irvine. He’s MEC’s Director of Sports Marketing and Public Relations, and is a roadie who does crazy things like finish the Whistler GranFondo in 3:35. We sat down to talk food, eating on the road, and a little something called the Paleo diet.
I give John a snapshot of my current diet, which can be easily broken down into three main themes: red wine, peanut butter, and sushi. How do these measure up against what you’re eating, John?
“In general – whether it’s the off-season and I’m trying to stay lean or it’s training season and I’m trying to be fast – I follow the Paleo diet, but with a few adaptations,” he explains. “The concept around the Paleo diet (a.k.a., the caveman diet) is that we should eat as our hunter-gatherer ancestors did. In an evolutionary sense, the human body hasn’t changed much – the blend of foods our bodies need now is the same as it was 10,000 years ago: 35% fat, 40% carbs, and 25% protein, comprised of whole vegetables, fruits and lean animal protein.” Yep, this sounds logical, though it also sounds fairly whole-foods-based, unlike the Alaska roll I ate last night. You mentioned adaptations; maybe crabmeat, salmon lox and avocado wrapped in sticky rice could be mine?
John continues, “My twist is that I like to get my protein from vegetable-based proteins and legumes, which are a no-no amongst strict Paleo followers. I also mix in some grains, but I work hard to make sure they’re not overly processed.” Mmm, so what I’m hearing is that sushi is going to be a stretch. But sounds like peanut butter could squeak by. Natural peanut butter, of course.
“According to this diet, the foods that really aren’t ideal for athletic performance are all grains (especially when overly processed), most sugars (except for those found in fruit), dairy, starchy root vegetables like potatoes, and of course, alcohol.” You’re killing me John, killing me.
Maybe we need to focus on the fun things this diet enables you to eat. What ingredients do you look for? “Lots of nuts – almonds, cashews, walnuts – and avocado for the good fats and oils. Lots of fruit and vegetables, which are always tastier when they’re organic – I try to choose fruits based on their seasonality, so blueberries, strawberries, raspberries in the summer, and apples, peaches, plums in the fall. And also proteins like fish, chicken, and lean beef; if you’re a vegetarian like me and need to break the Paleo rules, stock up on beans and legumes.” So I’m not going to starve while channeling my inner cavewoman, that’s a comfort.
Can you walk me through what a pre-race Paleo meal looks like? “This is where I shift things up a bit and eat more carbs – fruits, veggies, and low glycemic index root veggies like sweet potatoes – while still making sure I get lots of good fats and proteins.” The day before a race, John eats:
- Breakfast: Muesli (whole oats, nuts and dried fruits) with almond milk, and a fruit salad or fruit smoothie
- Lunch: Super salad, meaning greens with a lot of fruit and nuts
- Dinner: Three-bean chilli with wild rice or quinoa
And after a race? “The first 30 minutes, post ride, are key,” he states. “Get eating and drinking, and focus especially on good carbs to replace all those that you burned off during your ride.” For post-ride eating, John mentions that:
- A good recovery drink is important. Try a smoothie made with fruit and protein powder for a mix of carbs and protein to repair muscle damage and replenish what was lost on the ride.
- His meal following a race is back to his regular diet, still focused on carbs and protein to replenish, repair, and keep his immune system up to speed.
I think I can handle that nutrition advice for before and after a ride, when I’m sitting still and hand-eye coordination isn’t so imperative, but motion sweeps my best intentions to the wayside. How do you refuel during the ride?
“I drink sports drink,” says John. “I love Nuun tablets for electrolyte replacement (they also add carbonation) and I get my carbs from Probars, which are little whole-food powerhouses! My bike has two water bottles holders on it, so my goal is to down a bottle of Nuun and a Probar every 45 minutes to an hour, and then plan a feed person every 30–50km (John’s wife helps him here, and he’s quick to explain that he supports her the same way when she’s running a race). And I use something like Clif Shot Bloks if I’m really running out of steam and I have a short distance to the finish. These have high glycemic index sugars, which give you a quick boost to get you across the line. Some have caffeine in them to really get the job done.”
I could definitely warm up to the idea of consuming a carbonated bevy and power cookie every hour. And I already know that more quinoa and protein powder, and less white rice and soy sauce, will go a long way. It’s actually kind of exciting to make the connection between what I’m putting into my body and how it correlates with my output. But I’m not abandoning my red wine.
John’s Insider Tips:
- I live by a book called The Cyclist’s Training Bible. It has more detailed info on all of the above, and lots on training and prep in general.
- Favourite smoothie recipe: Frozen fruit, orange juice or almond milk, and protein powder. In a word: awesomeness.
- Protein powder of choice: Vega Sport Performance Protein. I like it because the protein is plant-based as opposed to whey.
Happy long weekend wishes, and I’ll see you back here on Friday, May 24!