Sports nutrition is an ominous topic, and one I discuss daily with my coaching clients. I have made and seen many mistakes over the last 15+ years and while I think there are some mistakes we all have to make I do believe that here are some rules of thumb that can help athletes get to their ideal fueling strategy faster and with less discomfort. In fact, The Hammer Nutrition resource page is one I recommend and link to often. In this post, I wanted to share my fueling journey but try and tease out some rules of thumb that might help you find your ideal sooner.
Find something that tastes good and that you will eat
As I transitioned from a teenager jumping BMX bikes and skate boarding to a skinny, slightly-concussed ex-hockey player looking to ride mountain bikes, I started to consider what foods could help me ride longer and faster. My first memories of sports nutrition products were mashed up bars that were hard and super-chewy—basically what I imagine space men would have to eat. The price and the horrible taste had me quickly going back to the kitchen cupboards at home for granola bars and bananas to get my CCM ‘Anvil’ rigid mountain bike around the trails. These simple products helped me progress from a beginner rider and still make up a portion of my fueling strategy today.
Use products that have quality, minimal, purposeful ingredients
As I got older and my training increased, I started looking at products with catchy names like ‘carbo-boom-mega-powder’ to get more carbs and calories into my little 135lb frame so I could ride further. The guy at the local muscle-powder store said they were great for endurance athletes so I bought the expensive tub and started my bulk-up phase. This quickly had me feeling horrible and really didn’t help me get on my bike more. I learned the lesson that even the convenient/supplemental products I used needed to be quality products that enhanced my nutrition, not just a bunch of calories or random ingredients. This first brush with crappy products was also fortunate given the current environment of contaminated products causing doping infractions.
Something to be taken from ancestors
As my adventures in endurance got longer and more frequent I ate more, avoiding mega-boom powder, but following the high carb diets recommended by all the literature I was reading in my university study of kinesiology. Lots of pasta, corn flakes and bagels fueled my training for years and brought moderate results. As University, work and training increased I noticed my stomach didn’t agree very well with this diet and it rebelled frequently. Often these rebellions came in the porta-potty in the hour before races, a time I would have preferred to use for warmup and other more confidence-building practices. As I moved towards a more ancestral (or paleo) diet framework using quality meats, veggies, fruits and targeted/timed starchy carbs (e.g. rice), I got leaner, my gut stopped being a limiter and my results improving dramatically.
Not everything is paleo
With this whole foods approach going well, I also had to come to terms with the fact that riding maximally for 60-240 minutes was not very ‘paleo.’ Kale smoothies just weren’t going to work at Leadville and make-your-own date ‘gels’ are still sugar and way more mess than a Hammer Gel. I needed easy to eat, easy to digest and compact calories to fuel these adventures. These less nutrient dense foods, like gels and powders, are needed to fuel big adventures and if timed well, they are performance-enhancing. Following the research and my own tinkering with things like post-workout whey protein and the ‘classic’ 200-300kcal an hour during strenuous/extended workouts and races left my gut happy and my performances improving.
Not every ride needs to be fueled
While I have found a happy place between real food and well-made products (from Hammer!), there are many days I get on my bike or go for a run and keep it simple with no water or only water. Other days, I might use just Endurance Amino and Endurolytes and, after many years of training and disciplined easy endurance, I can go many hours with minimal fuel provided the intensity does not get too high. These are planned workouts but important in maximizing my ability as an endurance athlete.
Variety and Balance
After many years, many miles, many kilojoules I have found that most things in moderation are fine. Nothing matters as much as we might think but striving to hit a goal and exceed our previous best self does take commitment and consistency daily. Change up your routine, your nutrition and you will find great success in all your adventures.
I am happy to be working with Hammer to promote and support adventures. I look forward to sharing and learning more in the coming months and hope you will reach out to your local Hammer Ambassador or check out events near you.