Food is fuel and instrumental in riders achieving the best results. Eating right while competing is as important as warming up.
Faye Sanders is a nutrition coach based in Paris. She said, “Put plain and simply, for a human to function, they must eat well. If you want more performance above and beyond, without energy or fuel, your performance will suffer, you will get injured.”
To achieve marginal gains, it’s not just about calories, but the nutrient density (quality) of the food.
Faye advised opting for slow-release energy, the food which takes longer to digest such as complex carbohydrates (oats, grains) and protein. She said, “If you are on the go all day, you need a steady state of energy. Slow releasing foods will help you feel fueled without the proverbial crash mid-afternoon. Start the day with a good base of breakfast.”
Follow your gut instinct, if you excuse the pun. There isn’t a ‘one size fits all’ solution. Faye said, “Some people are fidgets and can’t sit still, snacking and grazing might be a more natural way for constant energy. Some people prefer three meals a day with a snack mid-afternoon.”
Hydration can make a massive difference to concentration and energy levels. The timing of when you eat is important to make sure your digestive system is settled before you perform.
Pre-competition nerves play a part in rider nutrition. Faye said, “If you are nervous, it might be preferable to reassure yourself by having a decent meal the night before. Something which contains complex carbs, such as wholegrain rice, quinoa, or potatoes, plus protein and fats. People have a fear of fats, but they are super important for an athlete in terms of anti-inflammatory benefits, for your recovery, hormones, joints, skin and hair.”
If you are jostling your digestive system around, it can sometimes be too much. Faye said, “If you want something light in the morning, try a banana, or low-fat yoghurt with honey and banana. A sweet drink like a smoothie or sugary tea gets the appetite going. If you are anxious, drinking your food with steady sips can help, rather than chewing it.”
Coffee is fine before 2pm to avoid it affecting your sleep; try to avoid a sugary blended beverage from the coffee shop, that will mean significant calories without much nutrient quality.
For lunch and dinner, Faye suggests batch cooking. Making in advance a colourful looking meal which includes roast vegetables, raisins, seeds and salad leaves, with cheese or beans/legumes, some chicken, beef or fish for the protein and a thumb portion of a fat dressing like oil or butter.
Faye said, “Roasted root vegetables like sweet potatoes, carrots, parsnips and beetroot and some fibrous greens such as kale and savoy cabbage.”
As for snacks, you are allowed some chocolate if you’re good with your main meals. Don’t be hard on yourself. Snack clever to sustain yourself such as Greek yoghurt with a handful of muesli, or berries, or a rice cake with a topping, nothing that sits too heavy. You can relax a bit about snacks if your diet is based on minimally processed, natural foods.
Practice good habits. It’s not what everyone thinks you should have. Your diet depends on your goals and activity, your likes and dislikes.