Diets Demystified — Bike Magazine Australia

Eating to ride shouldn’t be complicated. Here’s the lowdown on the latest nutrition trends
– and how they can help you fuel up and feel good on the bike. 

If you’ve been kicking around the idea of radically changing the way you eat but are wondering how it will affect your energy when you ride, here’s some food for thought. David Zabriskie rode the 2011 Tour de France on a vegan diet. And the entire Garmin-Transitions team went gluten-free while training for the 2010 Tour de France. The key is to find yourself a fuelling plan that includes a healthy balance of nutrients, carbohydrates, protein, fat and fluids – even if it doesn’t feature piles of pre-ride pasta. With any diet, “the right foods can mean the difference between finishing first and bonking,” says dietitian Esther Blum, author of Cavewomen Don’t Get Fat.

All five of the following popular eating approaches can provide the health and performance benefits you need as a cyclist – as long as you’re willing to follow (and possibly bend) some rules and make a few tough sacrifices. Here’s what you need to know.


This plant-based diet nixes all animal products, including meat and dairy – even honey, whey and gelatin. Research shows that filling up on fruits, vegetables, whole grains, legumes, nuts and seeds can fend off chronic disease, lower blood pressure and increase longevity. And there’s evidence that diets based on these foods, which are typically high in antioxidants, can reduce injury and speed recovery, says Virginia Messina, author of Vegan for Life. But you miss out on key nutrients like protein, iron and vitamin B12, which are critical for athletes. The B vitamins, for example, help repair cells and convert protein and carbs to energy, especially during hard workouts. “Vitamin B12 comes from animal foods, and getting enough can be tough,” says Michelle Babb, a nutritionist in Seattle.
FUEL UP! The best vegan sources of B12 include fortified breakfast cereals and soy products, nutritional yeast products, and dietary supplements. Protect lean muscle mass with protein sources like tofu, almonds, black beans and oatmeal. Preserve your iron stores by pairing iron-rich foods with vitamin C for better absorption: a bean burrito and salsa, steel-cut oats and strawberries, spinach salad with citrus.


Fans of this throwback plan eat only foods that were available before the invention of agriculture. These include grass-fed meats, pastured poultry and eggs, fruits, vegetables, fish, nuts and seeds. The idea is that by eating like your Stone Age ancestors you can shrug off modern-day disease, not to mention lose weight, improve sleep, get better skin and gain more energy. Starting the day with meat and nuts for breakfast does raise levels of feel-good hormones like dopamine and serotonin, says Blum. “You’ll feel energised, focussed and ready to ride.” But take note: the diet is short on the complex carbs you might rely on for energy on the bike, says Babb. Also, coffee is discouraged – that means no post-ride espresso.
FUEL UP! Fill your plate with wild salmon, wild meat (such as kangaroo), free-range eggs, greens, coconut and sweet potatoes. For sustained energy, you’ll also need to eat plenty of complex carbs such as grains, dairy and beans.


Put your stove on ebay. Nothing in this diet can be heated above 46°C. Proponents claim that heat destroys the natural enzymes and nutrients in food that promote good digestion and optimal health, says Guzman. Raw foodists boast of having boundless energy, glowing skin and mental clarity – as well as needing minimal sleep. Some stick to a vegan approach (see that section for how to make up for missing animal-based nutrients); others allow raw fish and meat, and raw (unpasteurised) dairy. Since nothing is cooked or processed, you’ll dodge the nutritional void of certain prepackaged foods. Devotees rely on preparations that add variety to the diet by including juicing, fermentation and dehydration. Whether or not the benefits are real, there’s nothing inherently wrong with going raw – as long as you’re vigilant about preventing food-borne illness. Make sure you wash and store your ingredients carefully.
FUEL UP! Prepare to eat a lot. Not only is raw food naturally low in kilojoules, its water content is higher than that of cooked foods, so you’ll have to eat more to get enough kilojoules, carbohydrates and protein, says Messina. Fill up on fruits and vegies (spaghetti squash and raw kelp noodles can replace pasta), nuts and seeds, sprouted beans and grains, fresh juices, dates and other dried fruit, plus cold-pressed extra-virgin olive oil and virgin coconut oil.


Forgoing gluten, a protein found in wheat and other grains, provides relief for people with coeliac disease, an illness in which the protein triggers an autoimmune response that affects digestion and overall health. But plenty of people who are not gluten sensitive have embraced the diet because of claims that it improves well-being and energy. Avoiding the protein isn’t easy, however, especially for athletes. In addition to being an ingredient in such ride-fuelling staples as bread and pasta, it’s found in many energy bars and other surprising places like salad dressing and soup. The good news? Steering clear of gluten encourages you to bypass processed and packaged foods, which are often high in sugar and kilojoules and low on nutrition, says Anne Guzman, a registered holistic nutritionist and sports nutrition consultant in Toronto.
FUEL UP! Switch to carb sources like bananas, sweet potatoes, almond flour, brown rice, polenta and pastas made from rice and quinoa. Plenty of packaged energy snacks are now available gluten-free.


This low-fat, high-fibre approach to nutrition is more than an eating plan; it’s part of a lifestyle meant to balance mind and body. What you eat: roughly 50 per cent whole grains, 30 per cent local in-season vegetables and 10 per cent beans and seaweed (such as dried nori and kelp). Fermented foods like miso, tempeh and sauerkraut are also encouraged. You can cheat, a little: meat, fish, dairy and other normally forbidden foods are allowed occasionally, but artificial sweeteners, chemical additives, heavy spices and caffeine are not. “A plant-based diet that relies on whole foods means more nutrients, less inflammation and better recovery,” says Guzman. That’s a plus for athletes. Fibre and fermented foods promote good gut bacteria for better nutrient absorption and a strong immune system.
FUEL UP! Good options include millet, oats, brown rice, quinoa, seaweed, fermented soybeans and sauerkraut. But when half your diet consists of high-fibre foods, digestion on the bike can be an issue, so cheat as needed for rides and recovery.

For a boost of on-bike energy, substitute these recipes for packaged riding fuel

POWER GEL2 tbsp raw organic honey

2 tbsp raw almond butter, apple butter OR ½ banana

1 tsp lemon juice

Combine in blender until smooth and creamy. Transfer to a fuel belt bottle or EZ Squeezees pouch ($15/three-pack; and carry.

SPORTS DRINK1 cup coconut water

½ cup pomegranate juice

½ cup waterPinch organic sea salt1000mg carnitine tartrate (found in vitamin and health food stores)

Combine all ingredients and shake well.

Recipes created by Esther Blum, author of Cavewomen Don’t Get Fat