Everywhere we look right now, we’re faced with a message that tells us that being thin is good. There are advertisements on how skinny tea or miracle pills can make you slim and ploys on how to get an Instagram worthy body. These advertisements are being viewed while Love Island rolls out another series in the background.
We are missing out on something so critical; our health. Being thin doesn’t equal healthy, and I can absolutely testify that thin doesn’t mean fast. There are so many times that I have been so preoccupied with trying to lose weight to cycle faster, that the complete opposite happens; causing me to have no power, endurance and no zip. I just feel rubbish. Once that feeling sets in, it’s difficult to shake off and snap out of. It’s not until I do escape this mindset that I find my foggy brain lifts and the zip comes back.
I have recently reflected on nutrition and how it can affect my exercise routine and performance. I have always been interested in food and diet. I do not let mainstream food advertising influence my eating behaviours and food choices.
There are two things, in particular, this year that have really made me sit up and pay more attention to my diet. The first of those was reading a book called “The Endurance Diet”. I’ve read a lot of books and articles on what is considered the optimum nutrition, but this book in particular really resonated with me. It gives multiple examples of how elite athletes from across the globe and across many sports follow five fundamental diet principles.
These are: eat everything, eat quality, eat carbohydrates, eat enough and eat individually.
The book helped me confirm that I was on the right track diet-wise. I have made a concerted effort to include carbs with healthy and nutrient-dense foods like Loch Duart Salmon, which is packed full of vitamins and omega 3, plus tasting delicious.
The thing that struck me about successful elite athletes is how carb-centric their diets are, and this was intuitive for them. I’m convinced that changing my approach to carbohydrates and including them in every meal has dramatically improved my cycling this year. Previously on a rest day, or during a period where I felt like I needed to lose weight, I would start the day with just eggs and some oatcakes. Now, I start every day with porridge, regardless of training load. I pack my jersey pockets with snacks ranging from bananas to bars.
There would be many times that I just wouldn’t eat while training on the bike because I wanted to lose weight. When I say this out loud, I feel daft that my urge to be lighter took over my urge to get better results out of my session. Of course, this restriction would come back to bite me on the bum when I’d reach for rubbish later in the day when hunger ultimately caught up with me. Really, when you think about it, what better time to eat than when you’re already in the midst of a training session!
Now before you think I’m about to reach for the Pledge to polish my halo, know that my diet contains things we perceive as ‘bad foods’ and yes, that is OK! This principle is called the Marie Kondo principle: if it sparks joy, enjoy! Food fosters friendships, relationships, experiences, memories which are just delightful!
When I think back to my recent trip to Girona, one of my lasting and happy memories is cowering under an umbrella during the sudden downpour while eating the most fantastic ice-cream with friends. We had our dinner and wandered around the town trying to find an open ice-cream shop and man, it was worth the walk! Rather than a guilty food pleasure, this experience was just pure joy.
The other principle I have followed is to ‘eat individually’. An example of this for me would be that I’m prone to low iron levels which is very common in female athletes. Every week when I go to work in Stornoway, I make sure I have iron-rich black pudding for breakfast which is deliciously perched on top of scrambled eggs and Loch Duart smoked salmon. Everyone knows Stornoway black pudding is the best black pudding!
As an athlete, I make sure I have an adequate intake of protein via good quality fish, meat, and beans to help my muscles repair. I also consume nutritious leafy greens and plant-based foods. Conversely, I don’t find that pasta sits well with me, so it’s not something I eat very often.
The second sign that really made me pay more attention to my diet, was just my intuitive sense of knowing that what you consume can have an impact on how you feel. I am still in bereavement with the loss of my partner so it is important to me that I focus on maintaining a healthy diet and excelling at cycling.
The best advice I have been given is to crowd out your intake. I always end up overeating or eating the wrong foods when I deprive my body of the nutrition it needs. I eliminate many of the urges to eat unhealthily when my body is nourished and full. If you crowd out your diet with enough good stuff, you’ll have no room and less desire to fill it with the not so good stuff. It’s also far easier to add in rather than feeling like you’re missing out or denying yourself.
Finally, my favourite post-training fast meal that encapsulates the 5 principles mentioned above is as follows:
Soup, followed by salmon with heaps of salad and brown rice.
The best kitchen gadget ever is a soup maker! When I get back from a ride, it takes me 5 minutes to chop up veg and chuck it into a soup kettle. I then sprinkle Cajun spices onto a salmon fillet, stick it in the oven in some tin foil and microwave a bag of brown rice. I eat this with a big nutritious salad, creating a filling, satisfying, and nutritious dish. The soup maker holds enough soup to last me 3 days! Find Kerry’s meal plan here.
So there you have it. Diets, like training, are an ever-evolving picture, which requires trial and error. I’m indeed navigating my way through it. But for sure I feel like I’m slowly steering in the right direction.