An excellent nutrition plan is critical for cyclists. Eating a well-balanced diet gives your body the energy and nutrients it needs to meet the demands of training. As an added benefit, properly timing your meals will improve your performance and help you recover.
Figuring out what to eat and when to eat it is challenging. Add a busy work schedule and getting the kids to soccer practice and well, take out sounds pretty good.
To help you make sense of it all, we sat down with nutrition expert Dr. Stacy Sims. As an advisor to a list of pro tour cycling teams, Dr. Sims is no stranger to developing meal plans for cyclists.
Keep reading to take your meal plan to the next level.
Four Different Types of Meals
As an endurance athlete there are four types of meals:
- Pre-workout meals: To help prepare your body for the workout.
- During workout meals: To provide adequate fuel for workouts lasting longer than one hour.
- Post workout meals: To help facilitate recovery.
- All other meals during the day: To provide adequate energy and nutrients for a healthy life.
Pre-workout meals serve several purposes. If you are working out in the morning, a small meal will break the nighttime fast, up your blood sugar, and help fuel the first hour of your workout.
If you are training later in the day, a hot cup of green tea or coffee will help wake you up. Because most people tend to be slightly dehydrated late in the day, the drink will also help you hydrate.
During Workouts Meals
If your workout is longer than an hour, you'll want to eat enough calories to fuel your workout. Dr. Sims recommends separating food and hydration, a topic we discussed at length in our article titled "How To Perfect Your Fueling Plan."
Dr. Sims recommends eating basic food like a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. The simple carbohydrates and sugars are quick sources of energy for your body. Payday bars are also a great option because of their simple ingredients. Many protein bars contain high fructose corn syrup making them unhealthy choices.
Post Workouts Meals
Post workout meals are all about recovery. During exercise, your muscle fibers break down on a cellular level. After the workout, your body repairs these micro tears—a process that makes you stronger. This breakdown and repair cycle is why exercise works.
Your body uses protein to repair your muscle fibers, so eating protein after a workout is a good idea. Dr. Sims recommends taking in roughly 25g of protein within 30 minutes of finishing your workout.
All Other Meals
Outside of training, focus on providing your body with adequate nutrients. A well-balanced diet full of single-ingredient foods is highly recommended. Know where your food came from and be sure to have some protein with every meal.
Dr. Sims doesn't believe in telling people not to eat certain foods. Her suggestion is to be reasonable and keep treat food to a minimum. Concerning gluten, unless you have celiac disease, gluten is ok.
Because inflammation is linked to many serious illnesses, a diet that reduces inflammation is a good idea. In general, you should reduce saturated fats and omega 6 fatty acids while increasing omega 3 fatty acids.
Dr. Sims suggests Dr. Weil's Anti-Inflammatory Diet. I follow this diet and love it.
Here are some meal ideas to get you off to a good start.
- Coffee with milk and half a banana
- 1 piece of toast with almond butter and honey
- Cheese and crackers
- Rice with salt
- Hot coffee or tea
- Half a sandwich
- A handful of almonds
- A smoothie
During Workout Meals
Your goal is to aim for 350 calories per hour. You may need to adjust according to the limits of your stomach.
- Almond butter and jelly spread lightly on white bread
- Trail mix
- Salted sweet potatoes
- Payday candy bar
- Luna bars, Clif Mojo bars
Post Workout Meals
Your goal is to get some protein into your system. If you are working out around a meal, then eating your breakfast, lunch, or dinner is all you need. Just be sure to have some protein with your meal.
If you don't plan on eating a meal after a workout, try the following options to get some protein.
- A protein shake
- 1 small container of non-fat Greek yogurt
All Other Meals
- 1 cup steel-cut oats with 12 almonds, 1⁄2 cup berries, and 1 scoop of whey protein.
- 2 egg whites and 1 yolk, 1⁄4 avocado, 1 corn tortilla, 1 oz cheddar cheese, 1⁄4 cup nonfat cottage cheese, with 2-3 tbsp salsa.
- 2 pieces of whole grain toast with 1 tbsp of almond butter.
- 8-10 pieces of sushi with edamame, 1 piece of fruit, and 10 almonds or walnuts.
- 2 x 6-inch whole wheat pitas filled with 1/3 cup hummus, unlimited veggies, 1⁄2 cup tuna or cottage cheese, and 1 orange.
- A large mixed spinach salad with almonds/walnuts (2 tbsp), berries, tomato, cucumber, apple, 4-6 oz grilled chicken, olive oil, and sea salt.
- 6 oz lean bison, chicken, or cold water fish, 1 cup steamed veggies PLUS a salad (listed below).
- 1-1.5 cups cooked rice or quinoa stir-fried with 2 cups of vegetables and 6-8 oz lean protein PLUS a salad (listed below).
- 1 cup of broth-based soup with 6-8 oz lean protein, sautéed mushrooms, tempeh, garbanzo beans, and 1 heaping cup of broccoli cooked with 1 tsp olive oil PLUS a salad (listed below).
- Salad (my personal favorite): 2 cups of mixed greens with 1⁄4 cup berries, 1⁄2 apple, 1⁄2 orange, 10 cherry tomatoes, some black or garbanzo beans, topped with 2 scrambled egg whites, sea salt, and pepper.
- Lowfat cheddar cheese with apple slices.
- 1⁄4 cup nonfat plain Greek yogurt with 6 cherries and 1 tbsp dark chocolate chips.
- A medium flax tortilla spread with 2 tbsp organic peanut butter, and 1⁄2 cup of nonfat cottage cheese and 4 crushed strawberries.
- 1 chopped banana, 1 scoop protein powder (or 20 almonds), and 1⁄4 cup fresh blueberries. Drizzle with honey,
Should You Eat Before Bed?
A lot of your recovery happens while you sleep. To assist with muscle repair, it's a good idea to take in 15-20 grams of protein before bed. As an added benefit, the protein should also help you sleep better. Non-fat Greek yogurt or a protein shake are great options.
Getting To Race Weight
By eating sensible portions of the above meals, you'll be on the path to reaching race weight. For even more information on getting to race weight, read our article Race Weight: A How-To Guide