Whenever I advise athletes about nutrition, I tell them that they don't need a special diet to fuel performance. The one that's best for health is also the one that's best for strong results. If you want all your systems firing at 100 percent, you need to feed them the best-quality fuel possible (while avoiding these Top 7 Diet Myths). Follow these three simple rules and you'll be well on your way to becoming a faster and healthier cyclist.
Rule 1: Real Food Doesn't Need a LabelEver see an ingredient list on a tomato, almond or egg? Packaged foods are often loaded with added sugar, salt, and fat that stimulate the brain's pleasure centers, which encourages us to keep eating even when we're full. Plus, the body processes nutrients more efficiently when they come from whole foods. There is a synergistic effect when vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals (substances that give produce its color and may provide health benefits) and other nutrients interact with one another. It's easier for your body to absorb the vitamin K in spinach, for example, when the greens are paired with a monounsaturated fat such as olive oil. One easy way to take advantage of this benefit: Eat a salad that contains a variety of colors.
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Rule 2: Eat Less Meat
The populations that live longest consume a more plant-based diet than the average American does. Some pro cyclists, including Levi Leipheimer, eat no meat at all. Aim to get 50 percent of your calories from vegetables and legumes, 20 percent from fruits, 15 percent from whole grains and 15 percent from protein sources like nuts, dairy products or meat.
Rule 3: Fill Up on Nutrients, Not CaloriesOne of the biggest problems with processed treats like cookies is that they're light on nutrients yet pack a high number of calories into a small volume. Stock your kitchen with foods that contain more water and fiber (think a baked potato versus potato chips). Some healthy foods—like nuts and avocados—are also calorically dense, so you should eat them in moderation.
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Made from organic whole-grain wheat, flax seed, pearl barley and oats, Samurai Cereal will keep you full for hours. Serve it hot and top it with berries, agave nectar, nuts and almond milk.
More: 6 Eating Habits That Sabotage Your Cycling
On the Bike
Sick of packaged bars, gels and chews? Try a real-food energy source on your next ride, such as baked sweet potatoes, Fig Newtons or fingerling potatoes with a bit of salt.
A fresh smoothie is an easy way to pack nutrient-dense foods into your diet. One of my go-to combos: kale, baby carrots, celery, cucumber, frozen berries and a banana (you can also add protein powder).Search for a cycling event