As an Interactive Producer for KQED Science, I've always been drawn to cover a range of subjects about the natural world. Health and wellness-related stories interest me in particular -- and this month happens to be National Nutrition Month -- as I'm an avid cyclist. When I'm not behind a computer, you'll more often than not find me riding one of my bicycles.
One challenge I decided to undertake this year is completing as many of the routes organized by the San Francisco Randonneurs as I can. (Randonneuring is a type of cycling endurance event that originated in France; check out this website for more info.) My third event on the calendar is the Russian River 300k coming up this Saturday. My husband and I will be pedaling 186 miles within a 20-hour period. That's a lot of time on the bike -- and we'll need to eat a lot of calories to keep us going.
I'm generally not a fan of sports drinks, energy gels or bars that athletes typically rely on during training sessions or competitive events. (There are some exceptions I'll make when it comes to bars, see my list further down in this post.) Many of them have a lot of artificial ingredients, additives and preservatives and frankly, aren't really that appetizing to me. Some of them disagree with my stomach, especially ones that contain stimulants like guarana. I prefer to eat food that looks like, well, food -- so that means I'll avoid purple sugary liquids, gelatinous packets of goo and waxy energy bricks. For me, a big part of enjoying a meal is the psychological aspect. I just don't feel as nourished when I eat junk food or a lot of processed, prepackaged products (although pizza and burgers definitely hold a dear place in my hopefully healthy heart.) So lately I've been brainstorming ways to make healthy, portable meals in the small amount of spare time that I have during the evenings or weekends.
I recently acquired a copy of sports physiologist Allen Lim's book, "The Feed Zone," a cookbook specifically geared towards serious cyclists (although his recipes can be used by anyone who leads an active lifestyle.)
"There is an overwhelming amount of scientific and real-world evidence that demonstrates that a diet rich in carbohydrates is critical to success in endurance sports," Lim writes in the introduction of his book. "Carbohydrates are stored in the body as liver and muscle glycogen. Without it, an athlete's ability to perform at high intensity is severely diminished, and when it is depleted the dreaded bonk is a distinct possibility."
Many athletes 'carbo-load,' or build up their stores of carbohydrates in advance of an event. But are there carbs that are better than others? Lim feels there's really no one-size-fits-all strategy and also discusses one of the more popular trends within health circles today -- gluten-free eating -- and his experimentation with the diet professionally.
"In the 2008 Tour de France, the Garmin cycling team did something that no other team had done before -- the team went almost entirely gluten-free, or, more correctly, wheat-free. The idea came about when some of our doctors hypothesized that going wheat-free would help reduce the inflammatory load on our riders over the course of the race."
Lim concludes that the results were mixed and it's best for individuals to listen to their own bodies to determine whether a bowl of pasta or quinoa will provide the best energy source in the long run.