Light your Barbecue Fire! Healthy Food for Road Cyclists

Image: Stefan Rachow

Feast without regret after the tour! You can get both: Food that is healthy and tasty. Alpecin Cycling explains what you put best on the grill and how to prepare it.

Pork belly, sausages, pasta salad with mayonnaise, marshmallows – sounds delicious, but… with such dishes on the menu, it is no surprise the barbecue will turn out to be a big fat gluttony. Nutrition experts, however, consider grilling as a way of preparing food as a suitable method to stay slim, lose weight and thus stay fit.

After all, eating food prepared on a modern fireplace can not only be delicious and convivial, but also healthy and relatively low-fat – as long as the food is cleverly selected and carefully prepared.

That’s why barbecuing also offers endurance athletes such as road cyclists a very good opportunity to eat well after hard training rides or long tours – and prepare a tasty recovery meal. “Meat, fish or grilled cheese offer high-quality protein to support repair processes of the musculature.

The carbohydrates from grilled potatoes, corn on the cob, bread sticks, and ‘smart’ pasta- and potato salads help to replenish the empty glycogen stores in the muscles. Vegetables, salads and fruit also provide plenty of micronutrients,” explains nutritionist Corinne Reinhard from Powerbar. In addition, preparing food on the grill calls for relatively little fat.

Alpecin Cycling explains how to barbecue in a “sporty” way.

Meat – quality instead of quantity

Not only do many like the taste of meat, it is also packed with precious “inner values”. It provides high-quality protein for the muscles and several micronutrients. “Meat is a good supplier of B12, which in turn is important for the formation of red blood cells and a well-functioning energy metabolism. Iron supports oxygen transport in the body and the formation of haemoglobin and red blood cells. Zinc is an essential building block for a well-functioning immune system, explains Corinne Reinhard, who holds the renowned Diploma in Sports Nutrition of the International Olympic Committee.

If you want or need to count calories and macronutrients, the following comparison will help you: Grilled beef steak (100 grams) contains 29.1 grams of protein and 8 grams of fat. Grilled turkey breast (100 grams, without skin) offers 35 grams of protein and 1.7 grams of fat. What both have in common is the carbohydrate content of zero grams. The difference in calories is 33 calories in favour of poultry – 155 kilocalories for the turkey breast versus 188 kilocalories for the beef steak.

You can read more about the protein and nutrient content of certain foods here.

So, you don’t need to devour 500 grams of T-bone steak, a small piece of rump steak or turkey breast is sufficient to cover the protein requirement per meal. Quality instead of quantity in every respect – and this credo should already apply when purchasing the meat: Regional meat from livestock that was raised in line with animal welfare standards that is chosen carefully.

It is best to buy meat from an organic farmer or a trusted butcher. In addition to ecological advantages, this meat offers a better balance of omega-3 fatty acids and is also less contaminated by chemical synthetic drugs and antibiotics.

Beware of burnt grill meat

In order to not only buy “more sustainably”, but also grill the food in a healthy way, the meat should be placed gently over the embers. “This is because so-called heterocyclic aromatic amines can form in the crust of seared meat, especially in the crust. These are classified as carcinogenic – so do not eat them,” says Reinhard.

Also pay attention to the neither the meat juice nor the marinade dropping onto the embers or the charcoal. This will cause smoke that contains harmful polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons that contaminate the grilled food. Therefore, grill gently and use stainless steel bowls. Another no-go: grilling salted meat.

Fish provides healthy fats

Whether “fatty” fish such as salmon or a “lean gilthead” – certain types of fish are perfect for barbecuing and taste really good. “In addition to protein and iodine, they also provide a good portion of the very important omega-3 fatty acids.

Eicosapentaenoic acid and docosahexaenoic acid are important for heart function and probably have anti-inflammatory effects in the body,” explains Corinne Reinhard. Her tip: Salt, lime and freshly chopped herbs make the taste of grilled salmon even better.

Vegetables & salads – spice up your barbecue, not only if you are a vegan or vegetarian

Those who do not like fish or meat can still find a taste for barbecuing. There’s no need to stick to bread and barbecue sauce or “ready-made” pasta salad only. Grilled fresh vegetables offer a tasty alternative. “Best in all kinds of colours, because depending on the colour the vitamin- and mineral rich veggies supply different secondary plant compounds”.

Skewers with yellow and red peppers, onions and mushrooms or vegetables wrapped in parchment paper are not only nice to look at. If you want to get some protein power out of the vegetables, pimp them with feta cheese, for example.

Salads are typically not put on the grill but serve as side dishes. “Athletes can also prepare them easily according to their calorie and macronutrient requirements. Potato- or rice salad, for example, are rich in carbohydrates, a lentil-chickpea salad is high in protein, lettuce cucumber or tomato salad are low in carbs,” says Corinne Reinhard.

Make sure to use home-made sauces

Avoid ready-made marinades and dips. “They often contain lots of additives such as flavour enhancers, thickeners and added sugar,” warns Reinhard. It is healthier and better to prepare them yourself. Marinate the meat with high-quality oils and herbs, prepare the dips yourself, e.g. guacamole (made from avocado, lemon juice, salt and pepper) or fresh herb curd (made from yoghurt, low-fat curd, parsley, salt and pepper).

Roasted fruit for dessert

Those who crave something sweet can also grill fruit that gets a unique aroma when put on the barbecue. Peaches, pineapple or watermelon, for example, are great barbecue items, which get even more tasty when seasoned with lemon, lime or orange juice as well as some mint, basil or cinnamon.

If you did not eat your banana while on the bike, you may now make a great dessert out of it. Reinhard’s tip is to refine this classic barbecue dessert on the grill. Not with chocolate, but with sugar-free peanut butter.

Cheers to water – alcohol slows down recovery

There is no barbecue without beer? Alright, but in moderation, please. Do not use it to marinade the meat, i.e. don’t splash beer on it, this will only cause unhealthy smoke – see above. And if you keep an eye on your calorie intake or pay attention to your health when barbecuing, too, remember that alcohol contains seven calories per gram and thwarts fat loss.

“The latter is, because our organism’s first priority is metabolising alcohol when it is in our system. Furthermore, alcohol is known to disinhibit and tempts us not only to drink more of it, but also to eat more,” explains Corinne Reinhard and adds: “Excessive consumption can impair the so-called muscle protein synthesis and thus inhibit training adaptations – i.e. the desired adjustments – and recovery.