What I thought was common knowledge, turned out to be a mystery for many people. When I posted the questions sticker on my IG account about the interesting topics, nutrition kept coming in, and a lot of various questions.
What do I really eat after training and before training? How do I manage my weight? Does it affect my hormones and my menstrual cycle?
On top of those questions, I immediately got a lot of flashbacks from my past relationship with food, especially as I got a lot of anonymous messages from probably very young cyclists. Number one lesson I learned the hard way, you need to fuel your body for training, not deprive it from the nutrients in order to have a “perfect power to weight ratio”. From all the things you need to do to increase your performance, losing 1-2 kg of weight is not even in the top 10. When I was young I had five kilograms more, but my problem was not that number. My problems were unhealthy eating habits that simply come from eating traditional foods from Bosnia and Herzegovina combined with a lot of bread and sweets. I was very focused on improving every aspect of my performance, which included healthy eating. But as I wanted to make everything perfect, I restricted a lot of food, started counting calories and planned my meals so I was unintentionally being under fueled for a long time. What did not help is that I love vegetables, so I had way too many vegetables at the wrong time of day (after training) which ultimately led to me not recovering optimally from my training.
While many things in nutrition for athletes are well known, I set some ground rules of nutrition that help me avoid the mistakes I did in the past, so everybody should work around their bad habits and adjust their plans accordingly. For example, I noticed as many other athletes, I have a sugar craving on my rest days and I tend to eat less, so I always make Nutrend protein pancakes with peanut butter and banana for breakfast. After I introduced this habit I never had sweet cravings again. Eating a piece of cake is not bad for you, but I have absolutely no control with sweets, so one cake today means I have a craving for cake tomorrow. After training I always eat only a small plate of green salad, which doesn’t have much fibre so I can quickly absorb my nutrients, and then for dinner I eat the vegetables as much as I like. I accepted my weak spots and worked around them by setting some ground rules that work for me.
The best thing you can do is to think “what gets me to recover faster for tomorrow's training” rather than “what will not make me gain weight”.
This is very important. Numbers are just numbers when it comes to weight, so I always focus on recovering and don’t look at the scale much. In winter I gain about two kilograms of weight and accept the change, because that weight is what builds my strength as long as I am eating healthy. “Nobody got fat from extra white rice and chicken” is what my coach always told me, so when I feel hungry before sleep this is what I binge on, white rice and chicken. But really, I always have it prepared in the fridge so this is a great solution, which I have to admit, has to grow on you a little. But if you’re a hungry athlete, this is really a tasty snack haha.
To add another thing before I get to the examples of my meals, it is even more important for women to fuel well. Women hormones are very sensitive when the body percentage goes under 14%, it is important to track your menstrual cycle together with your doctor. Long term consequences like osteoporosis, infertility, Hashimoto and many other hormonal imbalances are not worth it. We are first of all human beings with life that goes way beyond our cycling careers, and we should respect our future selves too. It’s a bit selfish to dedicate our whole life to a cycling career.
Main thing I look after when making a weekly food schedule is to have adversity, and a meal prepared to eat quickly after my training to recover as fast as possible. I have chicken and fish prepared on my rest days, sometimes cooked and sometimes only seasoned and in the freezer, ready to put in my oven and ready in 30 minutes. Rice, pasta, potatoes and other carbohydrates I prepare in the morning before my training.
For breakfast I have rye bread with egg, avocado or hummus. After that I have oatmeal with nuts and fruit. Before I only had oatmeal but it was not enough to fuel my training and I quickly got hungry, so I always make an additional small sandwich with healthy fats. On race days I substitute the sandwich with pasta and I eat the bread with jam.
During training I eat every 40-50 minutes to avoid big sugar drops and to have constant energy. I eat many Nutrend bars, but you can also eat a banana, dried fruits, peanut butter and jam sandwich, the options are endless. This is the part of cycling I really like. Riding snacks is what keeps me riding
For lunch I have white pasta, white rice, potatoes combined with white meat or fish and a small plate of green salad. You can of course have any other carbohydrate, but when I tried with something else I never ate enough and was quickly hungry which then lasted throughout the whole day. You can also eat any other protein source, vegan or red meat, for me these sources slowed down the digestion. It’s important to eat 30-40 minutes after your recovery shake, this will avoid you being too hungry and speed up the recovery by a lot. For snacks I have fruit with nuts, or rice cakes with peanut butter and banana. Sometimes also a Nutrend protein bar if I am lazy and want to eat something sweet.
For dinner I love eating eggs. It’s strange but I love it combined with couscous and vegetables and can always make it interesting with various types of omelettes. It also always keeps me full and sleeping well with a light but full stomach.
On my rest days I eat almost the same except the breakfast which is protein pancakes, and I do not restrict my food because this is when the body is recovering for another hard week of training. Also our bodies are not counting calories, they are recovering from the hard efforts.
Reading this you might think I have perfect nutrition, but that is not the case. If you’ve been following me you know my favourite food is pizza, and I am always in search of a good pizza after my race. Also I enjoy eating healthy, but I also enjoy a barbeque and ice cream with my friends and I count that in as part of my recovery and mental well being, which is also a big part of training. There is no perfect nutrition on paper, but if you are eating nutritious foods and training consistently then you are doing everything right.