8 ways cyclists can boost their nutrient intake
From sprinkling chia seeds into porridge, to adding turmeric to scrambled eggs, cyclists can easily enhance their nutrient intake to enrich their health both on and off the bike.
For every athlete, it becomes all too easy to view food simply as a source of fuel, providing you with the carbs, protein and fat required to energise your workouts and repair your muscles. But your daily diet should also be rich in vitamins, minerals and other health-boosting nutrients which will enhance your immunity, improve your gut health and keep you in good overall health.
Here Jenny McGuckian of Go Nourish (www.go-nourish.com) – a registered nutritional therapist who empowers her clients to improve their health, vitality and longevity through quality daily nutrition – reveals eight simple ways for hard-training cyclists to optimise their daily nutrient intake without giving up their regular meal plans.
Sprinkle more seeds
Seeds are underutilised little powerhouses of nutrition. They are a simple way to add some protein, fibre and healthy fats to your meals. They’re so versatile, and they can add a lovely crunchy texture when sprinkled on salads or mixed into dips like hummus or guacamole. I love chia and flax seeds, in particular, for regulating bowel habits and for helping to balance hormones and cholesterol. Whole or ground chia and flax can easily be added to a protein shake or smoothie, or to porridge. Pumpkin seeds are also a favourite for their high magnesium and zinc content – both important minerals for athlete health.
Nuts are an easy ingredient for athletes to incorporate into many meals. They are full of really beneficial fats and fibre – and some protein too. Nuts are my top suggestion for eating with fruit as a snack. They help to regulate blood glucose, as well as having lots of other cardiovascular benefits. Despite being higher in fat, not all of it is absorbed due to nuts’ high fibre content. Ground almonds are brilliant mixed with egg and mashed bananas to make a really healthy pancake. And there are all kinds of nut butters available too that are lovely when mixed into yoghurt or added to stir fries.
Hit the herbs
Fresh, dried or frozen, herbs are packed with vitamins and minerals and can really add some oomph to the flavour of your daily meals. They can be helpful for stimulating the digestive system, by increasing digestive secretions which reduce bloating and digestive discomfort. Mint is well known for this effect. So try adding chopped herbs to any meal. I love parsley in soups, loads of fresh coriander on a curry, and fresh basil and mint are lovely in a salad.
Spice it up
I always encourage liberal use of spices as they are really high in antioxidants and wonderful polyphenols (plant chemicals) known to have amazing health benefits. Cinnamon is fantastic for regulating blood glucose, and turmeric is a potent anti-inflammatory for athletes. Top tip: always team turmeric with black pepper to increase its absorption and availability to the body by up to 2000%. I love adding turmeric and black pepper to scrambled eggs, or mixing with olive oil as a marinade for chicken. Cinnamon is lovely on some Greek yogurt, or simply on sliced apple.
Try sprouted seeds
I’ve already mentioned seeds but another way of eating them is to sprout them first. A lot of supermarkets have packs of sprouted seeds which you can buy in the fresh vegetable section, or you can easily do this at home with a seed sprouter. There are additional benefits to sprouting, as it makes the nutrients of the seeds more active and bioavailable. I particularly love sprouted broccoli seeds to enhance detoxification and to help with hormonal balance. A great way to eat them is on salads or by adding them to pitta and wraps stuffed with other healthy goodness.
Try more fermented foods
Fermented foods can have a huge impact on your health, by increasing the balance and diversity of the gut microbiota, and by providing beneficial fibres for them to feed on. This can improve your digestion and immunity and reduce inflammation. Some popular fermented foods are kefir, kombucha, sauerkraut, olives, kimchi and live yogurt. Kombucha is often a good alternative to sugary fizzy drinks or alcohol, particularly in the summer. Kefir is a great option for adding to smoothies with fruit or for making into ice lollies.
Opt for oily fish
Omega-3 fats which are found in oily fish are really important for our health, particularly the brain and nervous system, but also for our cell membranes and hormone signalling. They are also wonderful anti-inflammatories for athletes. Unfortunately, not everybody loves them, but I encourage clients to play around with interesting ways of including them weekly.
Oily fish includes salmon, mackerel, anchovies, sardines and herring. A hack I often use is to put anchovies into a tomato based pasta sauce when cooking. They just melt away into the sauce, adding a nice salty tang. Another nice way to include oily fish is to make them into a pâté or fish cake with mashed potato. Although you can get omega-3 fatty acids from some plant sources, the conversion of these plant source omega-3’s into the forms we need as humans (EPA, DHA) is usually quite poor.
Stick to good quality salt
Salt has a bad reputation, but using moderate amounts of good quality salt can offer essential electrolytes for athletes. Good quality means something like sea salt or Himalayan pink salt. These salts are loaded with minerals. Heavily processed table salts and salts in processed foods are problematic and to be avoided. Use a good salt when cooking healthy whole foods to balance your fluids and blood pressure, support your adrenals, and ensure your muscles are able to work efficiently.