Tanell Pretorius on a photo shoot in California. (photo by Stefan Eisand)
Top athletes are quick to attribute their success to many hours of training. While it’s true that it takes hard work to be a successful athlete, the importance of good nutrition and rest is often overlooked. As a lifelong sports enthusiast, I learned the hard way that if you neglect these elements in your fitness program, you’re heading straight for injury. In 2009, after months of excessive training, my left knee joint stopped functioning altogether. With my training schedule seriously debilitated, I resolved to learn to exercise intelligently and study sports and nutrition.
Nutrition & Recovery: Two Keys
Optimal nutrition is necessary to maximize the body’s potential, and rest days enable your body to turn your hard work into a stronger physique. Whether you’re a Sunday rider out for a casual jaunt or an experienced cyclist training for your first 100-mile event, if you want increased performance, make sure to incorporate these two essential elements into your routine.
Good Nutrition Begins Long Before the Race
Balanced nutrition underlies the foundation of any successful training program—and it supports a healthy and happy life as well. How your body copes with an extra workload depends not only on what you ingest during an event, but also on everything you’ve been putting into your body up until that point.
A good diet should be based on getting a balanced amount of protein, which can be vegetarian or non-vegetarian; carbohydrates, such as fruit, vegetables, and whole grains; and healthy fats from nuts, olive oil, and avocados.
Two big markers of health are digestion and energy levels. Any digestive discomfort like bloating or acid reflux indicates that your system is not functioning properly. If this is the case, consider changing your diet or seeking out professional advice. Variable energy levels or a weakened immune system indicate that a change in diet and lifestyle is necessary.
A good starting place is simply to not eat more than about two-thirds of your stomach’s capacity. Our bodies are capable of strength, endurance, and self-healing beyond our wildest imaginations. If we simply take the oath not to abuse them by overeating or consuming unsuitable foods, they will reward us with abundant energy and good health.
Never start a ride dehydrated, as it’s impossible to make up for it during a race. The best way to avoid dehydration is to get in the habit of regularly sipping water during the day and increasing your water intake during exercise. If you will be sweating a lot, consider adding concentrated mineral salt drops to your water. I like the brand ConcenTrace, which can be bought at most health food stores. I take it on those days when I can’t seem to get hydrated no matter how much water I drink. Taking in a lot of water flushes minerals from the body, which can impair micro-functions in the cells. So during any ride or physical endeavor, take electrolytes. Sodium and potassium are electrolytes essential for muscle and nerve function. Most sports drinks contain electrolytes, but watch out for those with too much added sugar.
Keep Your Energy Up
To ensure that you have enough energy during an event, eat at least two to three hours before you start out. Avoid eating heavy meals just before or during the ride, since digestion will interfere with the necessary flow of blood to the major muscles of the legs, the quadriceps.
During the race, opt for snacks that are easily digestible. I recommend Saquito Mix, since it is completely natural, contains plant-based protein, and avoids the sugary binders found in most energy bars. Honey-based products or real fruit rolls are also good since they slowly release sugar into the blood stream. Former pro-cyclist assistant Amanda Reed recommends preparing a snack of boiled potatoes, olive oil, salt, and Parmesan. The recipe offers a mixture of electrolytes, carbohydrates, and easily digestible protein.
You’ll find many energy bars and sports drinks on the market. Take the time to read labels, familiarize yourself with ingredients, and experiment with different products and recipes while you are training, so you’ll know what works for you by the time you take part in a race.
Make Time for Recovery
Rest days are periods you take off from working out, also known as recovery days. Rest days can also include stretching and massage or lighter activity, known as active recovery. Both recovery and active recovery days should be scheduled into your routine.
Active recovery starts the moment you get off the bike. Eat a protein-based meal or drink a protein shake as soon as possible. That evening, take a warm bath with Epsom salts and get into bed early. If you take a few days off after an event but are desperate to get back in the saddle, opt for an easy ride and cycle to your favorite coffee shop or restaurant. If you want to avoid the bike, try a restorative yoga class or do some stretching at home.
Massage & Stretching
Manual therapy or massage is one of the foundations of active recovery and can help prevent or heal injury. Manual therapist Tyson Dimmitt, owner of Fulcrum Bodywork in Fairfield, says that every time you get on your bike, you are essentially getting into a mold. To counterbalance the fixed positions required during cycling, stretching is crucial. The forwardly flexed position while riding strengthens but also shortens the hip flexors and psoas muscles, which pull the pelvis forward and can result in lower back pain. (See Tyson Dimmitt’s recommended post-ride stretches.)
Going for a massage is not always an option, so self-massage is a wonderful alternative. Start at the extremities and move towards the heart. Using a foam roller to roll out the quadriceps is another effective way to flush out the muscle tissue, increase circulation, and spur recovery.
Tyson Dimmitt demonstrates using a foam roller to flush out muscle tissues. (Photo by Tanell Pretorius)
If you are more of a recreational rider, all of the same principles apply, simply to a lesser degree. But no matter what your level, take recovery and nutrition into consideration to extend the life of your riding career and reach greater fitness goals than you could ever have dreamed. By making these tips part of my life, I surpassed my injury and feel stronger than I ever thought possible.
Tanell Pretorius is an Ayurvedic Wellness Consultant, Yoga Teacher, and Crossfit L1 Trainer. She has worked as a fashion and fitness model in various countries around the world.