sports nutrition

6 Quick Questions with Pro Cyclist Ryan Anderson

Ryan Anderson is a pro cyclist with Team Direct Energie. He has been a part of the professional peloton since 2011. Ryan is a two-time road vice-champion of Canada. He made his Grand Tour debut at the Vuelta a Espana in 2016. We were able to catch up with him as he is preparing for the spring classics. 

What have been the biggest differences in your training as you have worked your way up from amateur to professional rider?

On the bike my training has not changed all that much in the last few years. I think a big difference is that my race load was at its peak last year, and with that base I feel I can push a little harder coming into this year. I also gain a little more experience year to year, and have recently been doing more off the bike strength work which seems to be helping.  

How do you balance proper nutrition with your ideal race weight?

I do my best to maintain a good weight that works for me all year. I just try to eat healthy and always try to make things from scratch when I have the time as I really enjoy cooking. I have also been trying to do a better job of planning ahead this year with meals when I am at the store. When I am at home in Canada I can go to the store whenever I want, but when I am living in France I find it's easier for me to plan ahead. 

How has focusing on gut health improved your performance?

So I have to say this year is the first time I have focused on gut health and I believe it has played a big part in keeping me healthy! Staying healthy has let me keep on track with my training and racing plans. So far this year I have traveled a lot including long haul flights from North America and I am constantly on short flights within Europe, so there has been no shortage of exposure to germs. But despite this, I have been healthy this whole winter which has been a first for me! I hope to keep this trend going for the rest of the year!

What tips do you have for bouncing back from illness? 

The biggest thing I have realized is to just take the time to get better when you're sick – rushing back to train is just a shortcut that you will eventually pay for!

What kind of things do you do to optimize recovery after a race or hard training block?

I just make sure to stay hydrated and eat well right after a race and also to stay on top of stretching and massage. All of the little things add up; I find once I let this stuff slip it's a slippery slope. 

What race are you most looking forward to this year and why?

Right now I have my sights set on the upcoming cobble classics season as it's about to hit full swing. So much can happen over one of these days; things are good one minute and bad the next. You never really know what's going to happen which makes for some good stories!

5 Questions with Pro Mountain Biker Todd Wells

Todd Wells has been winning bike races for a very long time. In 1996 he won two Cross Country Mountain Bike Collegiate titles and the success never stopped. Todd has won fourteen National Championship titles across four disciplines. He has racked up wins in both the Leadville 100 and La Ruta de Los Conquistadors. Todd has competed in the Olympic Games not once but three times. He currently races for Team Scott and provides professional coaching services in between podium appearances.

You have won the Leadville 100 three times. How has your approach to nutrition during the race changed over the years?

That’s a great question. The first year I did the race I thought it was going to be like a road race where we would take it easy through the feed zone, and I could eat a sandwich. It took me about four minutes to get down one bite of my nutella sandwich. Since then I’ve dialed in my nutrition where I’m eating mostly Clif Shot blocks and bars in the first half of the race and gels in the second half. The pace is too high and the air to dry to get down much solid food. 

I try to eat every half hour and I try to drink as much as I can comfortably get down. I also don’t consume as much caffeine as in the past. I try to eat more 25 mg caffeine gels then one big 100 mg, which seems to be easier on my stomach. 

How has focusing on gut health improved your performance?

I found Sound Probiotics after a few rounds of antibiotics this fall to get rid of a nasty respiratory bug. I was worried about my gut and after talking to some other endurance athletes I gave Sound Probiotics a try. Since using the product I have had less stomach issues on the bike and have felt much healthier overall. I just got back from a family vacation in Mexico where everyone got the stomach bug except me. I firmly believe the probiotics helped to keep me healthy. As an endurance athlete just staying healthy can be a huge advantage not only when I’m competing but when I’m building up to a race as well. 

What advice would you give to a new competitive cyclist about fueling for races?

My best advice would be to try it in training first. Nutrition is so individual that what works for one person could have a completely different effect on someone else. If you have access to hard group rides that is the best place to test nutrition because it’s the closest you’ll get to a real race. When I find something that works I stick to it and try to replicate it as closely as possible each time. If you’re traveling a lot internationally this isn’t always easy but here in the US it’s pretty simple. 

What part of your training have you found works for you, but might be different or unique from your teammates or other cyclists?

I find I do a much larger volume of training then a lot of my competitors. Because I do so much volume I also do less intensity. I find it easier to grow my engine and drop my weight with big volume. If I’m fresh enough to get that super high intensity I usually give some up in my overall motor size. 

Do you have a favorite cheat meal or bad-for-you food that you indulge in?

I love chocolate. Everything in moderation is fine but sometimes I just can’t stop myself once I get started. I also love Nutella so I’ve incorporated that into my prerace meal. I always look forward to race morning because I know I’m gonna have my fill of Nutella. 

An Interview with Jordan Mazur, MS, RD – Sports Dietitian

Being diagnosed at 18 with a rare illness gave Jordan Mazur a new perspective on life. He knew he wanted to help others be healthy, fit and, most importantly, happy. So he got his degree in nutritional sciences, and eventually his masters in exercise science.

“I was always fascinated about how the human body uses food as fuel, all the way down to the microscopic level,” he said.

Today, Jordan is a Sports Dietitian and the Director of Sports Nutrition at the University of California, Berkeley. He believes being successful with nutrition begins with your mindset – and to make nutrition a priority to fuel your life. For athletes that means thinking differently about food. “They aren’t just eating to eat,” he said. “They’re high performing machines who require optimal fuel. All athletes need to think about food as their fuel.”

He recommends an 80/20 approach: 80 percent of the time, fuel with a purpose, while the other 20 percent of the time eat just to eat. “You have to allow yourself to eat the foods you enjoy because after all, food’s meant to be enjoyed!”

What are the biggest challenges facing sports dieticians today? What tools and/or resources do you use to address them?

The media and social media have an enormous impact on body image and food choices. I spend a lot of time debunking myths my clients ask about because they heard it from a doctor on TV or from an Instagram friend who once ate a salad and now gives nutrition advice. It’s important for registered dietitians (RDs) to advocate for themselves as experts. As RDs, we are the nutrition experts.

Does your approach vary based on an athlete’s given sport?

Every sport and individual have unique needs. Every sport has different energy demands, requiring different fueling strategies. Each athlete starts with a nutritional assessment to get a better picture of them and what they need to achieve their goals. The assessment includes five domains:

  1. Food/nutrition history

  2. Anthropometric measurements

  3. Biochemical data

  4. Nutrition-focused physical findings

  5. Client history

How has your approach to nutrition changed over the years?

It’s more individualized. Sports dietitians need to become nutrition coaches. It’s not enough to only speak on nutrition or lecture on carbs or hydration. It takes consistent reinforcement of that info to build habits. Sound nutrition doesn’t happen overnight. It starts with the nutrition assessment. Some athletes are ready for a complete diet overhaul; they can use a meal plan that breaks down their macronutrients. Sometimes it’s getting an athlete to drink more water or eat one less fast food meal per week. Little upgrades over time help create solid nutrition habits.

What do you eat in a typical day?

It always begins with coffee. And I never skip breakfast. It usually consists of vegetables, protein, carbs and some healthy fats. That can be a veggie omelet with fresh fruit and Greek yogurt. Or it’s avocado toast with two hard boiled eggs and a green smoothie with chia seeds. A pre-workout snack – usually an energy bar (KIZE is my favorite) – follows breakfast. Post-workout is always a protein shake and a carb source. Lunch is my biggest meal – veggies, protein and some type of carb (today was salmon, mashed sweet potatoes and broccoli). My afternoon snack is usually Greek yogurt and almonds or trail mix. Dinner is lean protein like chicken, turkey, fish or lean beef with a lot of veggies. And I always get some protein before bed. This helps rebuild and repair muscles overnight.

What are your thoughts on the USDA food pyramid?

The food pyramid has changed as science has evolved. It’s now called MyPlate. I use a variation of this with my athletes called Performance Plates. These contains parts of MyPlate (grains, veggies, protein, fruits and hydration), but reflect more how an athlete’s plate should be. These also vary depending on their training phase. For example, a plate for an easy training day looks different than a plate for a hard training day. It all goes back to individual nutrition. We’re all different with different nutritional needs. Our fueling must reflect that.

Do your athletes have any misconceptions about nutrition when you start working together? Do their views change after working with you?

Almost always! This is where nutrition coaching is important. Building relationships and being present with athletes goes a long way. Athletes then learn to trust you and ask questions. I’ve heard them all, too – from detoxes to alkaline diets.

One of the biggest misconceptions is how much they need to eat and how often they should eat. Most nutrition info in the media is geared for weight loss. Most athletes don’t need to worry about this. Their fueling strategies are a lot different than someone who’s sedentary and has a weight loss goal. Once they start to fuel like an athlete and see and feel performance benefits, then there’s buy-in.

What’s the easiest thing to correct nutrition-wise?

Two things for athletes:

  1. Hydrate. It impacts performance almost immediately. Hydrate early and often throughout the day. It’s key to functioning right.

  2. Eat more veggies. Eat the rainbow – aim for a variety of colors and get a serving at every meal.

What are the five best foods to incorporate into your diet?

  1. Oatmeal. It’s a great source of carb energy for athletes. It’s also high in fiber, which keeps you full longer and helps maintain glucose levels.

  2. Olive oil. Its monounsaturated fats have anti-inflammatory benefits. And it’s easy to cook with or drizzle on salads or veggies.

  3. Salmon. It’s packed with protein and anti-inflammatory omega-3 fats, which can help you recover faster.

  4. Nuts and (natural) nut butters. They’re a natural combo of protein and healthy fats.

  5. Berries. They contain antioxidants, which help protect against oxidative stress and free radicals that form in the body during strenuous physical activity.

What’s one change an athlete can make to their nutrition plan that will get the best results?

Eating protein at every meal. Research shows that 20-35 grams of protein initiates protein synthesis in most athletes, depending on their size. Our bodies are in constant flux of protein breakdown and synthesis, so if we can give our body amino acids – the building blocks of protein – during the day, we can maximize our protein balance.

How do you teach your athletes about gut health?

I speak to athletes about the importance of gut health for performance and well-being. I always recommend a food product or supplement to make sure they’re giving their gut good bacteria and getting its benefits. I also show them how overtraining and exercise can break down and cause “leaky gut,” making them more susceptible to illness.

What nutrition trends are you paying attention to?

  1. A low carb/high fat diet for endurance athletes to improve fat metabolism

  2. Super foods like kale, açai berries, chia seeds, matcha and kefir

  3. DHA and brain health, particularly for post-concussion recovery

  4. Supplements, including phosphatidic acid as a potential supplement for strength gains

  5. Regulation of supplement safety

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