I decided I wanted to start doing a series of top-5 tips in the fields that I really find fascinating, and in topics that I’ve researched and written about extensively over the years. So, it makes sense to start with nutrition, since one of my first books, Fuel Your Ride, was all about it—both on and off the bike. These tips are the ones that I find myself using the most for myself, and talking the most about when I’m doing presentations, or answering questions about nutrition basics. Some of them may seem a little ‘duh,’ but a) that’s why they’re my Top 5, because they’re the most basic and important and b) we all need these reminders sometime. I’ll tackle other topics from base training and endurance riding to trail running—let me know if you have a topic you’d love to see my favorite tips and pieces of advice on!
Outside of training matters more
Sure, if you’re doing a century ride, what you eat in training will matter for that ride. But on a global scale, we generally only spend say 8 to 15 hours a week training in whatever sport we do. The other 22-23 hours of each day, and how we eat during those, are where we really make gains. Every time I do a talk about nutrition, I start by saying that whatever you eat in ride pales in comparison to how you fuel outside of a ride. There’s no magic sports drink that can act as a substitute for a healthy, balanced diet. Not to mention, when it comes to overall health and longevity vs. performance, how we eat on a more global basis vs. just during training is how we get healthy. That’s something that seems really obvious to me now, but there was a time where I thought as long as I drank the right sports drink/ate the right number of gels on a run, I was going to perform well, no matter what I ate when I got home.
Lead with vegetables
I can’t stress this enough. But the fastest way to boost your nutrition is by adding a ton of veggies to each plate. Breakfast? Eggs + tons of veggies in an omelette. Lunch? Big salad, or a wrap that’s packed with veggies. Dinner? Steam/roast everything. It’s the simplest nutrition rule, because no matter what diet you subscribe to (except for that all-meat one, I guess), leading with vegetables fits in.
Follow veggies with protein, fat and carbs
Nothing is out of bounds in my diet. Protein has become more important as I do more and more running and need the recovery, but really, I take a pretty balanced approach all-around. We had Lori Nedescu on the Consummate Athlete Podcast to talk about the ‘perfect plate’ for a balanced meal, and I’ve talked about it a few times. Start with a bunch of veggies, add a serving (palm sized-ish) of protein, a thumb of healthy fat (or something like 1/2 a small avocado), and some carbs, like potatoes, with the amount being gauged on if you’re about to train/just trained, or have an off-day. But unless you’re specifically following doctor’s orders, none of the three macro-nutrient groups should be off of your plate entirely. You can play with the amounts and ratios, but especially if you’re an athlete, you need all three.
Drink more water
Don’t guzzle a gallon right now. But sip more throughout the day! (I’ve talked a lot about the big Nalgene to keep a rough gauge of how much you actually drink.) I really think most of us could stand to drink more water (and maybe a little less coffee) during the day—it’s amazing how much better and clearer you feel when you’re adequately hydrated!
Fuel your ride/run (seriously)
I’ll do another 5 Tips about sports nutrition specifically, but this one has really been a gamechanger for me: adequately fueling the work you’re doing. I learned this for real 3 years ago at a camp I was coaching, when I started eating and drinking A TON during rides because I didn’t want to be the bonked rider when I was supposed to be the coach! I thought I was overdoing it at first, but in those weeks, I slowly started to realize that the amount I was finally making myself go through in a ride was making me ride SO. MUCH. BETTER.
Don’t bully yourself
This has been one I’ve learned over the years and I think it really changes how I approach food. I used to eat a ton of crappy food, and I felt terrible about it as I did it. (True story, I used to hide chocolate so Peter wouldn’t see me eating it.) I realized how unhealthy that was: I ended up eating more of it, and I wasn’t actually getting to enjoy it. Now, nothing is off the table for me, and if I want a donut, I eat one. I don’t have a ‘perfect’ ‘clean’ diet: I try to eat a healthy, whole-food based diet but I also don’t judge myself when I want the pizza. Ultimately, if how you eat makes you feel bad—physically or emotionally—it’s time for a change. (More on athlete body image here.)
Whole foods when possible, supplements when necessary
I travel a ton, and that means sometimes, nutrition isn’t going to be optimal. (It can be, in a lot of cases—like our #vanlife $15 huge salad for two!) but I’m nowhere near perfect here. So I do travel with protein powder so I can always have a protein hit when I have a meal—it helps deal with sweet tooth cravings too, and can quickly turn an apple and cup of coffee into a slightly more nutrient dense meal. (I like Klean Athlete and Vega—especially the Vega options that have greens powder mixed in as well for bonus micronutients. I also love fast-dissolving collagen powder from Vital Proteins for sneaking in my coffee.) But when I can opt for a whole food choice, that’s what I’m going to do.