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Ask Levi: Diet Analysis For Maximum Performance?

Today’s question is about maximizing cycling performance through a diet analysis and update…

Coach Levi,

First off I love reading your site and feel that I am learning alot! I was wondering if you could possibly address a nutrition question I have as I am struggling in this area.

First a little about me, I am 22 year old male, 6’1″, 145lbs, and currently cycle 50 miles each weekday morning and 60-80 miles each weekend day. I also do some core work each night which consists of planks, jumping jack, and jump squats. I ride very early in the morning before work during the week and when ever I wake up on the weekend. I was hoping you could help me with some suggestions as to what I should be eating to maximize my performance.

Here is a sample of typical day as of now: Cereal with skim milk (approx 3 cups of cereal) before riding, 3 clif bloks during ride with water, 1.5 cups dry oats with a piece of fruit, nuts, and maple syrup or honey mixed in after ride, lunch – salad (approx. 3 cups spring mix, 1 cup mixed veggies), half whole wheat pita with canned sardines, snack – 2 pieces whole wheat bread with peanut butter and a banana, dinner – piece of fish (approx. 6 oz) with medium sweet potato and 3-4 cups mixed vegetables (with spices or sauce), snack – 1 Chobani 0% Greek Yogurt with 2 sliced strawberries and 1/4 cup fiber plus cereal.

Sorry for being so long winded and hopefully this gives you enough info to give me some basic guidance (I understand nutrition is highly individualized but I am hoping you can help with some general advice).

Thank you in advance for any advice you can offer!

Sincerely,
Max Emmeizing

Hi Max,

It’s good that you provided the details – it’s easier for me to break down a large amount of data than it is for me to make assumptions when I have to fill in the blanks! And I think this will be very helpful for all the others in your shoes.

Out of everyone asking for a diet analysis, yours is definitely one of the best. You consume a pretty good variety of foods, lots of carbs for energy, mostly natural foods, and lots of veggies. I think a lot of endurance athletes could improve their performance switching to your current diet, to be honest.

Your diet actually looks a lot like mine did when I was around your age and trained similarly. I was a few inches shorter and a few pounds heavier, and I’ll admit I may have averaged slightly fewer veggies per day, but in the same ballpark. So the same changes that helped me, could help you!

Reading my site, you’ve probably noticed I’m big on personal testing to see what works best for you. So, I can give you some suggestions and you can test them out, take notes, and compare.

So let’s get started…

0. Volume/Amount of Food Intake

This first one is more of a comment than a suggestion. From eyeballing your diet, I’d say the amount of food looks about right.

For the most part, food intake is simply a function of how you feel, and if you find your daily calorie levels allow you to train hard and maintain your normal weight, you should be on target. So if you feel good, that’s what matters.

It sounds like you’re a total ectomorph, and you can eat lots of refined carbohydrates without gaining fat. The body type works well for cyclists, for sure. 🙂

Now for the suggestions…

1. Skip Breakfast.

Try skipping breakfast before your rides, especially on the weekdays where you get up extra early. I forced myself to eat breakfast before my early rides and races for years, only to see my race performance improve when I got too lazy to do that anymore! These days, I usually don’t eat anything till I’m on my bike warming up.

Naturally you’ll have to eat more during and post-ride to make up for it, but for a lot of people, that tends to be easier on their body than eating a traditional breakfast.

2. Try Less-Sugary Pre-Ride Meals.

If you have digestion time before a ride, try a meal that’s higher in protein and/or composed of low GI carbohydrates. Cereal and skim milk is a major sugar rush, and 99% of the time, NOT something you want until your body is in the process of burning blood sugar (i.e. during a ride.)

Switching to oatmeal (especially when made with water or unsweetened almond milk) or eggs could improve your riding as well as your general well-being. I used to go through at least a box of cereal a day, and if I could go back and change one thing, it would be this!

3. Go Wheat-Free (or Gluten-Free.)

I don’t want to jump on the gluten-free bandwagon and preach its goodness, but after giving a wheat-free diet a shot, I’m having a hard time not talking about it! (I’ll be writing about this in more depth in future articles.)

Basically, cut out your cereals and breads, and replace them with more oats, rice, and quinoa. There’s no need to buy anything labeled “gluten-free” unless you have a serious health condition like Celiac disease, so just focus on removing the obvious wheat-based products from your diet.

Try this for at least a week, then go back to eating all the cereal and bread you want, and see how you feel.

4. Increase Protein.

Consider an increase in protein. A lot of athletes go overboard with protein, while endurance athletes tend to neglect protein.

I didn’t estimate the grams of protein in your diet, but since you’re young and putting your body through hell each day, you might need more to reach your maximum recovery potential. Your ideal protein intake could be anywhere from 70-150g per day.

The peanut butter, yogurt, sardines, and fish probably put you in that range, but I’d like you to try to hit at least the 130g mark consistently and see if you notice any difference. You might need to add eggs, protein powder, red meat, tofu, garbanzo beans, etc.

5. Blood Work.

Finally, consider having basic blood work done. This will alert you to any possible nutrient deficiencies, too high blood sugar, etc.

At first you think, “I eat so many calories, how could I be deficient in anything?” But then you realize, you also burn a ton of calories and don’t treat your body like the average person does.

The price will vary, but if you’re serious about testing and tracking your diet for better performance, periodic bloodwork gives you some good data.

 

Hopefully these changes appeal to you and maybe one set off a light bulb in your head!

You can try these changes one at a time or all at once. One at a time, for 2-4 weeks, is best for testing, but not necessary. If your performance improves, great! If it deteriorates, you learned something to put on your list of “what not to do.”

Good luck!

 

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7 Comments
  1. Max is getting his Omega 3’s!

  2. What research paper do you reference linking performance enhancement and protein consumption?

  3. @Jim

    I didn’t reference any research papers here. Actually, I didn’t even link performance enhancement directly to protein consumption. But there’s a plethora of studies on protein out there if you’re looking for one.

    Don’t believe me? Quit eating protein and see how that works out for ya! 😉

  4. If cutting out breakfast what would you recommend for in ride fueling? Considering before I was only eating half a package of clif bloks (3 individual bloks) but was eating a big bowl of cereal.

  5. Yes. I’m interested in reading a research study linking protein consumption and improved athletic performance. Which paper do you recommend?

  6. @Trevor

    Whatever you need to keep moving steadily. Maybe a full pack of Clif Bloks or a bar (something in the 200 calorie range,) each hour.

    Depends what you are comfortable with though. You could eat fewer calories while riding and make up for it immediately post-ride, if that’s your style. You should have plenty of stored body fat and muscle glycogen to fuel you even when skipping breakfast, so you don’t necessarily have to make up the breakfast calories right away.

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coach levi
Hi, I'm Coach Levi. I'm a USA Cycling Certified Level 3 Coach as well as Level 1 Certified with Precision Nutrition. Want to feel better, ride faster, and look great? Let's work together!

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Coach Levi is my favorite child and favorite cycling coach. I'd choose him over Christoper McCarmikael even. Did I mention that Levi can coach you to a healthier lifestyle where you look and feel your best?
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