Updated: Sep 15, 2022
Complicated Relationship with Food?
Over the years we have worked with many athletes who've had a difficult relationship with food. The daily struggle of calories in
versus calories out is common amongst athletes.
We are not qualified nutritionists, do not take this as gospel. This is simply our balanced and understanding approach to helping athletes manage their thoughts and feelings around food.
In this post we attempt to address some of the concerns we have heard throughout our time as coaches to beginner and professional riders.
"I always went to bed hungry. I'd heard that's what the pros were doing”
Going to bed hungry is highly likely to result in poor sleep quality and therefore high levels of fatigue. Fatigue increases the likelihood of sugar cravings as the body's response to energy deficit. In short, going to bed hungry will likely result in a calorie surplus as opposed to deficit as you reach for the Ben & Jerry's the next evening! Being well rested is essential when it comes to making healthy, rational choices surrounding diet.
Have a pre-bed snack if you are hungry. We recommend oats with yoghurt for slow release protein and carbohydrates to support bodily functions throughout the night.
“I feel guilty after I've eaten junk food and immediately start planning how I am going to burn it off."
Training and eating is all about balance. You should absolutely allow yourself "unhealthy" treats now and again. There is no harm in timing these before a big ride so the energy stores are full, but this should not be a prerequisite. An unhealthy meal does not automatically equal weight gain, actual weight gain is seen over weeks and months of calorie surplus. Enjoying the foods you love helps keep the mind fresh and motivation high. Being strict with calories all the time usually results in burnout.
“I would eat nothing on long endurance rides in order to burn as much fat as possible”
Don't under fuel sessions. It is the biggest mistake riders make when managing their nutrition. Under fuelling rides on a regular basis can be extremely detrimental to physical and psychological health, not to mention catastrophic in terms of performance. Ignore the fad diet advice, the key is keeping yourself topped up with carbohydrates- carbs are your rocket fuel and are needed on and off the bike for performance and supporting the body's natural processes of recovery and adaptation.
Long rides without sufficient fuel almost always results in poor nutrition choices later in the day, and following days if you really smash through your reserves.
Fulling your training is absolutely vital!
Signs of chronic under felling include:
Drop off in power numbers
Disrupted menstrual cycles
Stress and anxiety
Feeling light headed and weak
"It got to a point where I would not go out for meals or eat with my family because I could not control what was in the food”
Again the key term here is balance. The zero fun, constant calorie calculation approach is only leading one way and that's to poor performance and burnout. This approach is not sustainable!
Be kind to yourself, don't worry if you had cake on Tuesday and pizza on Wednesday. Embrace life's ebbs and flows with the general aim of eating well most of the time. Focus on the bigger picture of your season as opposed to getting hung up on a "bad" few days nutritionally.
We by no means wants to undermine any anxieties surrounding control over food and fully encourage you to try and open up to
those around you. Ask for help from family and friends.
"My best performances came in 2017 when I was at my lightest- I have to try and get back to that weight!'
Weight and its impact on performance is an incredibly complex and deceptive issue. Take the time to dig deeper into past performances in order to establish the facts before drawing any firm conclusions.
- Did weight loss also come hand-in-hand with a period of consistent training and appropriate rest and recovery!?
- More often than not this is the case and the latter has far more to do with the good performance.
The human body changes with age and adapts to training stimulus, this means aiming for a previous season's weight can be
incredibly risky for young or new cyclists whose muscle mass is constantly changing. While 65kg in 2017 might have been safe and reasonable for performance, it may be dangerous in 2022 with actual fat percentage being far lower than before - muscle is heavy!
Consider whether your life has changed off the bike from one season to another. If in previous seasons you had plentv of free time to relax and recover then a slightly lower body fat percentage might have been manageable. A busy life off the bike, combined with consistent training and an attempt to maintain a low body fat percentage will likely result in burnout.
Hopefully this has helped explain our understanding of nutrition from years of racing at a high level. We have helped many athletes overcome entrenched negative feelings towards food and their performances have exceeded expectations as a result. But, we wholly encourage you to seek specialist help from nutritionists should you be experiencing persistent difficulties surrounding vour relationship with food.