There are a lot of things that happen in the sport of cycling and in life that you can’t control. I did not choose to flat out of 3 very important races this season. And I certainly did not choose to get a concussion and be diagnosed with thyroid cancer just days before starting my freshman year of college.
So what can you control? Sure you can control how many of your workouts you do, but even that can get out of control if you get sick or over-trained. Ken Lundgren has been saying since day one, “Diet is the only thing that you can control”. I have to say he says a lot of things that go in one ear and out the other but that has always stuck with me along with a few other things.
When I had just gotten my pro license, I looked for whatever way I could to make the jump from local pro/open rider to someone capable of getting into the UCI points. The biggest difference between myself and the top guys in the way we lived our lives was what I was fueling my body with. The disconnect was not with sleep or what I was doing for training.
Ken suggested, that I switch to a pescatarian diet. For whatever reason, I agreed. The intent was to be vegetarian, but I would be open to fish if I went out with the family and there were no good vegetarian options (plus yanno, sushi J ). When I moved back into the dorms I went full vegetarian because of the lack of fish I would be willing to put in my body. It only took one grocery order for it to become natural. I quickly discovered the meals that worked for me. We are creatures of routine so the more repeatable diet can be, the better. I quickly shed useless and unhealthy white fat, and replaced it with healthy brown fat and lean muscle. I was recovering from workouts faster and beating personal power numbers every week. It wasn’t long before I found myself trying to play games with myself to see how tasty I could make a vegetarian meal that had more nutritional benefit than a grilled cheese or a bowl of cereal. Now I prefer a vegetarian meal to going out and getting a burger or a steak.
Anybody can argue with me about the science of it, because honestly, I have no idea about physiologically what switching to a vegetarian diet does. However, what they cannot argue with is the fact that after switching to this diet, I immediately had breakthrough results, a whole lot of UCI points, with negative drug tests (shoutout to dopers suck). I may not be able to explain the science, but I definitely can back up this diet with results. If I had to guess I would say that the diet inevitably has people consuming more carbs and less protein which mean that there is less protein going to waste and more fuel to top off your glycogen stores. We do not need nearly as much protein in our diets as we thought we did a long time ago. However, we burn a lot more carbs as endurance athletes than we thought previously. As it turns out, anything over 20 grams of protein in a single sitting just goes to waste. A single serving of even a lean protein like chicken, has over 30 grams as a point of reference.
When you train or compete, you burn through carbs first, then fats, then proteins. When you bonk, it isn’t because you are out of fuel and are burning up muscle tissue. 9 times out of 10 it is because you failed to keep your glycogen stores topped off by eating during your ride and you have not specifically trained your body to switch its fuel source. As a point of reference, during races, I’ll consume anywhere from 4-7 gels in a 90 min xc race or a waffle/bar every hour during hard training. I will also do fasted rides to teach my body to run off of fat if I get caught up in the race and miss a hand-up or just forget to eat.
Another benefit of a vegetarian diet is that you get to eat………A LOT. If you are doing it right and not eating French fries, typically the foods that you will be eating are lower in calories so to close that deficit, you get to eat more. It’s a nice feeling to come home from a long training day and just spend an hour shoveling veggies into my mouth. I leave the dining halls feeling like I just ate Thanksgiving dinner, and am getting leaner at the same time. If you are someone who likes to eat way more than you should, switching to this diet may be a good way to gain extra watts by turning extra empty calories into rocket fuel for your body.
When people ask me about what my diet is like. I tell them I’m a vegetarian, but I often get the response “I would do that, but I feel limited on options”. I personally think that the diet just allows me to get creative. Of course there are the staples to the diet like peanut butter, bananas, eggs, rice, beans, veggies, etc, but the fun part is figuring out how many different ways can you make them and how delicious can you make them. I have listed some of my favorite recipes below.
If you made it this far, you are either curious about the diet, or waiting for me to tell you why you care. Training is taken care of by your coach. If they didn’t know what they were doing they would be out of business. All you have to do is do the workouts they tell you to do. Believe me when I say that EVERYONE else that you race with is doing that! More training is usually the wrong answer (if you are working with a reputable coach). The only way to differentiate yourself from your competitors is through lifestyle. The first and easiest step towards making yourself faster is to tweak your diet. Like Ken said, “diet is the only thing you can control.”
- Sliced (extra thin) potatoes, onions, and peppers sautéed with 2-3 eggs cooked however you would like
- Rice, Black Beans, 2 over easy or sunny side up eggs
- Oatmeal, peanut butter, banana, 100% grade A maple syrup
- Plain greek yogurt, granola, any fruit that you would like to add. I recommend strawberries and pineapples
- Stir fry – Throw all kinds of veggies and either tofu or seitan into a pan with some oil, soy sauce, and teriyaki. Add Sriracha for a nice kick if preferred and serve over a bed of rice.
- Veggie Wraps – lettuce, Tomato, spinach, pepper, onion, and hummus in a sandwich wrap (tortilla)
- Veggie Burgers – I go through probably 10-14 veggie burgers a week. Not only are they a good lunch when time crunched but they have a solid carb-fat-protein ration and can also be cut up into tiny pieces and be used as a substitute for sausage in breakfast dishes
Cheesecake – A little treat never hurt anyone
I know that is not a lot of different options but it could get you started on this diet in a tasty manner. Part of the fun of it is to try different variations of these. Experiment with different sauces, spices, and veggies.
The last word of caution I have to anybody who would like to get started on this diet is to not rush into it. I transitioned first by preferring vegetarian alternatives first, then going pescatarian, and then finally vegetarian after about a year, I feel I am in a spot where I can sustainably hold this diet correctly. Not being a vegetarian is definitely better than trying to live on a diet of grilled cheese, Mcdonald’s French fries, beer and ice cream.
Have fun and Good Luck!