How the Right Fuel Can Fuel the Right Results
Few discussions in the twenty-first century are responsible for raising neck hair faster than diet. Ironically, diet’s gone the way of religion and politics in terms of shit you don’t speak of at the dinner table, if at all. So, I’m inclined to tread lightly here.
No one article could possibly encompass all the seemingly contradictory scientific data around diet and then lay out the perfect roadmap. Nor is there one way of fuelling you body for performance. So this article will attempt to do neither.
Instead, it’s going to look at an important aspect of your cycling journey: recovery. The more time you spend on the bike the stronger the cyclist you become. It’s very simple. And one of the biggest obstacles to getting back on the bike – outside that tiny voice in your skull – is recovery.
And the biggest single contributor to that struggle is inflammation.
Inflammation actually belongs to your body’s natural defence system. It’s typically viewed as a localised protective response to tissue damage, among other things. When we cycle we create muscle damage. And our bodies produce inflammation to repair the damage and grow stronger.
When inflammation occurs, chemicals from your body’s white blood cells enter your blood or tissues to protect your body from invaders. It raises blood flow to the area of injury, and some of the chemicals cause fluid to leak into your tissues, resulting in swelling.
Inflammatory symptoms include swollen joints, joint pain, joint stiffness, joints that don’t work as well as they should. Basically a bunch of stiffness and soreness that impairs our ability to perform optimally. And when that happens, we’re less likely to get back out on the bike.
So, how do you tackle it?
Besides the chow you chug down your gullet, which, by the way, is one of the most effective methods, there are a few key ways to tackle inflammation in the hours between cycling sessions. The top three are:
The jury is still out on exactly how sleep reduces inflammation, but we know that it does. One theory is that during sleep, blood pressure drops and blood vessels relax. So make sure you get your eight – and at least eight – hours of sleepy sleepy night nights.
Booze impairs the gut microflora balance, messing with the body’s natural defences and its ability to regulate inflammation. But fear not. Big things are happening in the non-alcoholic space, and if you’re desparate for a beer after a big day in the saddle, try Heaps Normal. It’s tasty AF and guilt free!
Inflammation is partly caused by cytokines, chemicals that are released through stress. So you gotta relaaax, dawg. While meditation, tai chi, yoga, and raking your Japanese Zen Garden are all super cliche, they do have one thing in common: they don’t include your f&#king phone!
Truth time: unplugging from digital devices will hugely reduce your stress. The reasons behind this are many and require an article all of their own, probably several. But for now, if none of the aforementioned practices pique your interest:
- read a (physical) book
- take the dog for a walk
- or have sex!
These are all proven stress relievers and will help you to get back in the saddle faster.
Now for the food stuff.
Diet has a big effect on inflammation because it turns out that what you put into your body has a huge effect on the performance you get out of it. No shit, right! None of this is exactly news. But what if I told you the effect is so big because you’re body is not solely your body; it’s a host to over thirty-nine trillion other living organisms, most of them bacteria.
More specifically, I’m talking about your gut micro biota – a community of roughly thirty-six thousand microorganisms that live inside you, in harmony, in balance, and with purpose to break down your food and extract the nutrients you need.
There are five main camps:
Now, like you they’re all living organisms, and like you they’re fuelled by the food you consume. Only, they don’t all have the same taste and so variants will thrive or languish depending on the food your feed them.
Here’s where it gets interesting
Certain foods will promote the growth of healthy bacteria that reduce inflammation. But the opposite is also the case. And so there are certain foods that will promote unhealthy bacteria that cause inflammation.
Healthy bacteria, among many others things, transform certain types of fibre into SCFAs (short-chain fatty acids). SCFAs in turn make the colon more acidic, and this prevents the growth of inflammatory, pathogenic bacteria (unhealthy bacteria). The key to this is fibre.
Without getting into the weeds, we’re going to list here some key food groups you wanna target to increase your fibre intake, help promote healthy bacteria, and therefore lower inflammation. Those are:
- Fermented Foods
- Omega-3 Super Seeds
- Aromatics (onion & garlic)
- Cruciferous veggies
Fruit is packed with vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, and fibre – all the good shit. Yes, there’s sugar in fruit. No, it’s by no means the same processed sugar in most of the packaged crap we eat. So chug that stuff down – particularly berries, which are lower in the sugar but packed with fibre.
Fermented foods are badass and should be consumed regularly. They contain exopolysaccharide prebiotics vitamins, healthy acids, bioactive peptides, and polyphenols – basically all the good stuff.
What are fermented foods?
- Sourdough Bread
Not beer, you heathens. Yes, technically it’s a fermented food. But alcohol increases inflammation, not the other way around. So stick to the Tempeh not the tinnies and you’ll do a lot better, champions.
Going green means getting dense: the maximum amount of nutrients – vitamins, minerals, phytochemicals, fibre – per calorie consumed. And the leafy kind like spinach, kale and silver beet are inflammation busters. Get at ‘em.
- Silver beet
- Bok Choy
- The list goes on…
If you want a healthy microbiota (inflammation busting healthy bacteria), whole grains are the foundation of building a healthy gut. Not refined grains like white bread and baked goodies, whole grains. A randomised controlled study showed that consuming whole grains decreased inflammation by 21 percent. That’s massive.
- Oats (they’re sooo good for you)
- Brown Rice
Avoid the white breads, white rice, white flour, cereals, crackers, deserts and pastries. Yeah, they’re tasty… but they’re nasty.
Omega-3 Super Seeds
These bad boys inhibit an enzyme called cyclooxygenase (COX), which produces the prostaglandin hormones that spark inflammation. So get them in your face.
- Chia seeds
- Hemp seeds
I use a ten dollar coffee grinder from K-Mart to whiz up both flax and chia seeds into a powder (better absorption) and store them in jars. Then, I lump a teaspoon of each of the above into a container with half a cup of oats, a teaspoon of cocoa powder, and a cup of soy milk. I’ll make three batches, shake ‘em up, and bang them into the fridge.
This is used as a base for my first meal of the day. I’ll whack on top a banana, berries (blue, black, straw…), almonds, walnuts and Brazil nuts – maybe a granola mix and some cocoa nibs if I’m feeling spicy – and wallah! It’s delicious as ferk and it’s packed with recovery goodness.
Filled with flavour and nutrient dense, these foods belong to a family known as allium vegetables. Allium vegetables contain as many as twenty-four different flavonoid phytochecmicals, and flavonoids have anti-inflammatory effects. Quick tip: the stronger they smell, the healthier you’ll be.
- Bay leaves
Dirt cheap and exceptionally healthy for you, Legumes are packed with fibre. A randomised controlled trial of a legume-packed diet showed a 40 percent drop in an inflammation – 40 percent! Great for blood pressure, cholesterol, blood sugar and fighting colon cancer, Legumes are lethal against unhealthy gut bacteria.
- Brussels sprouts
If you’ve made it this far, congratulations. You’ve reached the super veggies. Cruciferous vegetables are absolute inflammation busters. When you chow down on cruciferous veggies ITCs are released, and, among so many other health promoting things, isothiocyanates (ITCs) shut down pro-inflammatory pathways activated by bacterial endotoxins.
Add as many as you can to your weekly meals and watch your riding take flight.
While there are diets a plenty designed to power you performance, fibre is the anti-inflammatory fuel that will get you back on the bike faster. And the more time you spend on the bike, the better the rider – and the better the human being – you’ll be. So eat well, avoid inflammation, and ride like the weapons you were born to be.