9 Superfoods for CyclistsKelsey Knoedler
To support the training, performance, and recovery needs of a cyclist, it’s important to have a daily fueling plan built around proper hydration and high-quality food selections. But what about the elusive superfood?
There’s a lot of talk about Superfoods—from pomegranates and their antioxidant powers to the preventative powers of exotic foods like chia seeds and mangosteens. But what is a superfood? And what superfoods should you know about if you’re a cyclist?
Whether you’re heading out on an active cycling tour, training for a century ride, or just trying to get in shape by spending some time in the saddle, superfoods can aid in your recovery and performance and can provide so many other benefits to you as a cyclist. We’ve gathered the knowledge of three California nutritionists to put together a list of the nine best superfoods for cyclists and some recipes and meal ideas to incorporate them into your super meals.
What is a Superfood?
While there’s no scientific definition for “superfoods,” most dieticians will label a food “super” if it has high levels of vitamins and minerals and offer preventative properties beneficial to your health. “The addition of superfoods can help add a focus of nutrient-dense, colorful food choices to support performance, recovery and health,” says Meg Mangano, sports dietitian and owner of REJOOV.
1 / ENDURANCE / Chia seeds
Chia seeds are a great source of omega-3 fatty acids, fiber, protein, calcium, phosphorus, magnesium, and antioxidants. Mix your chia seeds with water to create a gel that coats the stomach. This gel-like coating will slow down the digestive process of breaking down carbohydrates into sugars, providing cyclists with increased endurance. The “gel” can also prolong hydration ability and electrolyte retention of the body during endurance rides.
Energy Bomb Recipe
from Dorothy Bernet, MS, RDN, CPT
Healthy 4 Life Nutrition in Santa Monica, CA
- 1 cup oats
- ¼ cup almond meal
- 1 TBS cinnamon
- 2 TBS chia seeds
- 3 TBS mini chocolate chips
- 1 cup canned pumpkin puree
- 1 medium banana, mashed
- 1 TBS honey
Mix dry ingredients together. Add the wet ingredients and mix well. Divide batter into 4 equal parts. Roll each section into 8 walnut-sized balls for a total of 32 energy bombs. Eat them raw or cooked. If eating raw, flash freeze for 15 minutes and then transfer to an air-tight container and store in the refrigerator. If cooked: bake at 375 degrees for 10 minutes. Let cool and transfer to air-tight container.
Serving size = 4 bombs
2 / MUSCLE BUILDER / Salmon
As a cyclist, you always need a foundation of grain foods to fuel the muscles and protein to rebuild the muscles. Try to shoot for about 70 to 100 grams of protein a day. With that in mind, salmon is the perfect combination of high gain with very little caloric intake. Just 3 ounces of salmon packs 22 grams of protein with less than 5 grams of fat.
Salmon is also loaded with omega-3 fatty acids that reduce inflammation in your arteries, and research suggests that omega-3 acids may enhance blood flow to your muscles, which could keep you riding longer and stronger. One of Dorothy Bernet’s favorite combinations is 3-4 ounces of baked, wild salmon with spinach and a medium sweet potato. “Focusing on carbohydrates and a little healthy fat is the way to go,” says Bernet. “The carbs will fuel your muscles, give you sustained energy, and keep your blood sugars balanced while the fat will add satiety for that long ride.”
3 / LOWER EXERTION RATE / Coconut oil
The fat found in coconut oil has a range of performance-boosting benefits. Medium-chain triglycerides (MCT) in coconut oil digest quickly and form an immediate source of energy. MCT intake has also been shown to help reduce blood lactate levels and perceived exertion rates among cyclists. Coconut oil also contains micronutrients including zinc, vitamin C and electrolyte.
“Although MCTs are fat and feel like fat in your mouth, they resemble carbohydrates more than they do fat,” says nutritionist Carrie Gabriel from Steps 2 Nutrition in Los Angeles. “This is because they have fewer carbon atoms than LCTs (long chain triglycerides), so they are more easily broken down.”
One of Carrie’s favorite ways to incorporate coconut oil into your meal is to drizzle it over a sweet potato with a little cinnamon and brown sugar for a delicious alternative to butter. “You can also use coconut oil on popcorn, in baking, or even add a tablespoon to a smoothie as a way to get more healthy fats into your system.”
4 / CIRCULATION / Beets
Meg Mangano says one of her favorite superfoods to add to your pre-ride prep is the beet. “Beets are a great source of antioxidants and dietary nitrates, which can promote extended endurance and support healthy blood pressure levels and circulation,” says Mangano. “The dietary nitrate in beets helps dilate blood vessels, increasing blood circulation and oxygen delivery to the cells.” This helps promote an athlete’s capacity for sustained exercise and endurance.
Add beets to your salad or blend beet juice into a fruit smoothie.
5 / IMMUNITY / Red peppers
Most people know that Vitamin C boosts your immune system, but did you also know it can help you recover faster? Vitamin C reduces soreness in overused muscles, making it great for cyclists to stay healthy and recover strong.
You could stick to your citrus fruits to get your Vitamin C, but you may end up overdoing the sugar intake. Try a red pepper instead. Just one cup of chopped red peppers contains 142 milligrams of Vitamin C. That’s twice the amount you’d get from a medium-size orange!
“Red bell peppers contain several phytochemicals and carotenoids, specifically beta-carotene, which is known for lavishing the body with its anti-oxidant and anti-inflammatory benefits,” says Gabriel. “Bell peppers also contain Vitamin B-6 which is essential for the health of the nervous system and helps renew cells.”
6 / RECOVERY / Turmeric
Turmeric is a yellow powder with an earthy taste and mustardy smell. It contains curcumin, which enhances muscle repair. It’s a powerful anti-inflammatory and antioxidant, as well as being great for the liver—all of which are important in muscle recovery after exercise. A study from the University of South Carolina found that it reduced muscle inflammation by more than 20 percent within 24 hours of an endurance ride!
“Not only is turmeric found in many Indian dishes (curries), but I have also seen people grind up the actual root in smoothies and juices for the added benefits turmeric gives our bodies,” says Gabriel.
7 / FUEL + PERFORMANCE / Sweet potatoes
Sweet potatoes contain high-energy complex carbohydrates for steady riding fuel and boost blood flow for better cycling performance. They also contain the antioxidant beta carotene, which protects your muscles against riding-related damage.
A study from Louisiana State University found that 15 mg of beta carotene (the amount in a medium sweet potato) each day for 30 days helped runners run about 3 percent faster and take 30 seconds off their 5K times! Apply that to your next long-distance ride, and you’ll be beating your century records in no time!
Photo courtesy of the Cherry Marketing Institute
8 / STRESS RELIEF / Tart Cherries
“Tart cherry juice or tart cherries are known for their anti-inflammatory properties, but new studies are suggesting that tart cherries have the ability to reduce muscle pain, damage and weakness, as well as improve multiple measures of sleep,” says Mangano. “Tart cherries have a powerful combination of phytonutrients, vitamins and minerals.”
According a new U.K. study published in the journal Nutrients, cyclists who drank tart cherry juice before a three-day simulated race experienced less inflammation and oxidative stress compared to those who drank another beverage!
Cherries are a great snack before your ride on their own. Toss some dried cherries into your salad or oatmeal, pack a healthy trail mix for your wellness vacations, or make these Cherry Chocolate Chip Protein Bites from Montmorency Tart Cherries for longer rides.
Cherry Chocolate Chip Protein Bites
- ¼ to ½ cup dried tart cherries, coarsely chopped
- 1 cup old-fashioned rolled oats
- 1 cup coconut, shredded
- ½ cup all-natural peanut butter
- ½ cup ground flaxseed
- ½ cup mini chocolate chips
- 1/3 cup honey
- 1 teaspoon vanilla extract
Stir all ingredients together in a medium mixing bowl until thoroughly mixed. Let chill in the refrigerator for half an hour. Once chilled, roll into balls of whatever size you would like. (A small cookie dough scoop works perfectly!) Store in an airtight container and keep refrigerated for up to one week.
9 / HYDRATION / Water
It may seem like a no-brainer, and it may not fit the bill for an official “superfood,” but we can’t talk about best food practices for cyclists without reminding you to drink water. Eating nutritious foods and being well hydrated go hand in hand, especially on active cycling tours. Dorothy Bernet, from Healthy 4 Life Nutrition says that hydration is critical to prevent dehydration and injury. “Be sure to drink before, during, and after your ride,” she says. “If this is the leisurely ride, water is the beverage of choice. If the ride will be longer than an hour and you are working up a sweat, coconut water, diluted juice, and sports drinks are best.”
Some Excellent Combinations
Now that you’ve got our Top Superfoods for Cyclists, here are some meal and snack ideas to pack as much superfood as possible into your pre-ride eating, from Meg Mangano.
- Grilled salmon seasoned with turmeric, paired with roasted sweet potatoes and a kale and beet salad
- Recovery shake: Tart Cherry Juice blended with Greek yogurt and chia seeds
- Steel cut oats with fresh, frozen or dried tart cherries, coconut milk, almonds, chia seeds
- Side dish: lightly sautéed beets and bell peppers with coconut oil
More Tips for Cyclists:
CATEGORIES: DuVine Style