Ted King shares some simple yet extremely valuable advice about the food you eat to fuel yourself for the long days in the saddle.
It’s hot this week in California and for an eight-day stage race like the AMGEN Tour of California, this means that nutrition and hydration are especially important. While the pros are racing, Skratch Labs and Strava are challenging you to tackle your own personal stage race by riding sixteen hours during the same eight days as the big event. But not without a little neutral support from the pros themselves. Skratch Labs founder Allen Lim shared his perspective from racing, coaching and providing support: Eat Real Food & Bacon. Now as you head in to the weekend, Ted King shares some simple yet extremely valuable advice about the food you eat to fuel yourself for the long days in the saddle.
Ted King: Okay okay, admittedly outlandish, if you could teach a baby to pedal a bike, the lifestyle is effectively the same as that of a professional cyclist: rest, ride, eat. At its core, cycling is a starkly simple sport.
Resting is straightforward. It’s that thing that occurs from about 10pm until 7am, plus or minus a few hours — you’d be equally correct to call it sleep. Yes, there’s also napping, stretching, massage, or yoga, which are additional components of resting. By and large, this facet is the recharging of your batteries.
Riding is riding. Interval this, sprint that, climb here, draft there, stand, sit, smash a big gear, spin to win, watts watts watts! You can very easily over complicate riding, but at the most elementary level, bicycle riding is one pedal stroke after the other.
Eating, though, is the most dynamic aspect of the cycling lifestyle. Fueling the ride is the biggest window of creative opportunity — not to mention that it can be incredibly fun. And it doesn’t begin in the dining room, but at the grocery store. The ever-evolving world of sports nutrition is at a really exciting place for the cyclist-slash-home-cook. Rather than mindlessly noshing bars and gels while furiously pedaling away, there’s a back to the basics movement being discovered in grocery aisles.
I won’t deny that factory made bars and gels offer a ton of on-bike needs all conveniently prepared in their nifty plastic wrapping. Certain riders operate well with this mechanized fueling where eating is rote but a necessary cog in the wheel. Others though, myself included, thrive on exploring nutrition first-hand. We’re curious in the grocery store, we play around in the kitchen, and at the end of the day we’re intrinsically curious how to fuel our ride. Best yet, there are immediate, tangible returns to your performance.
Just as cycling is based on this simple trifecta, properly fueling a ride should be a simple, not intimidating aspect of your day… but still enjoyable. Use real foods and simple recipes with unprocessed ingredients and your nutritional needs — vitamins, minerals, electrolytes, amino acids, antioxidants — will be met. Namely, pay attention to the macro and the micro will take care of itself.
Let’s take breakfast for example. A place for simple creativity, but critical for sustained work at a race like the Tour of California. I’m a huge proponent of oatmeal to kickstart the day, so use that as the blank slate for your breakie. Years ago I was introduced to the idea of throwing an egg into the bowl and have since convinced countless friends and colleagues of this trick. It gives it an amazing custardy texture in addition to the nutritional blast of the incredible, edible egg. From there, savory or sweet, you have artistic license. How about a spoonful of cornmeal, dice up a couple pieces of bacon (…yes, bacon), and a dash of ghost pepper salt. Divine. Chop an apple, throw in walnuts, and spice it with cinnamon. It’s like a freakin’ bowl of (healthy, well rounded) pie!
Maaaaybe you’ve heard about my affinity for maple syrup. As the sole New Englander on the World Tour level, I’ve taken it upon myself to spread the word of maple syrup’s natural goodness. Yes, I emphatically love the flavor, but it’s also surprisingly healthy. Rich in electrolytes, amino acids, and antioxidants, it also has a great carbohydrate profile providing energy for both the short kick and sustained for longer efforts. Surprise surprise, again it’s pure 100% maple syrup that provides all of these things, rather than a lengthy list of individual factory extracted supplements. So take your plain oats, add a spoonful each of 100% pumpkin puree for flavor and yogurt for gut-healthy probiotics, plus a handful of almonds, then drizzle with maple syrup: bon appetite you’ve just had my perfect bowl of breakfast. Or take maple syrup shots along the way, like we did on Mt. Diablo this week.
An alternative to all of the above, you could eat a bowl of heavily fortified boxed cereal drowned in cold milk. Mindless. Rote. Admittedly effective, but boring.
The most significant change to your first hand sports nutrition comes with mentally digesting nutrition at this elemental level. So just as you bring a mental component to your riding, do the same with the fuel for your rides. Think about what you’re eating, why you’re eating it. Think about real food without nerding out on the minutia of nutrition and supplements. Bringing that cerebral aspect to the kitchen will directly benefit your cycling as a whole.