As most athletes will tell you, the food you eat can determine how well or how poorly you perform almost as much as your training does. As the years have passed, I have taken an increasing interest in nutrition and the benefits many foods hold for us whether before/during/after exercise; as well as in our everyday long-term health. Although I do research foods and herbs, use them as my routine preventive care along with using the best products to train and race with; I haven’t had the opportunity to really mentor others about this particular part of a healthy lifestyle. Oh, I’ve had discussions at work or with patients, attempting to help them ‘fix’ how they may currently fuel their bodies. The idea of nutritionist intrigues me! So when I was given the opportunity to speak not only about on-the-bike fuel, but also the how to’s of off-the-bike, to a great group of high school mountain bikers coming into their own..I was stoked!
After some very important, core busting, off-the-bike workout with Coaches Kit and Tom, I get to sit down with the group and chat about one of my favorites things..food. What a cool bunch a kids these guys are! Totally open about what they do and don’t do and gobbling up suggestions from the experienced.
There are all levels of knowledge among these kids. A few of the more seasoned ones had some kind of idea for what worked for them on-the-bike, others had nothing to pull from and almost none of them knew how to make good choices in their everyday lives. Of course, all things come in experience which several of the boys are newcomers to sport and many of our choices are a product of our environment (and what families can and do provide). We learn by what we see done around us.
I put together an interactive presentation that the kids could participate in. I created some handouts providing information I have found extremely useful thru my own experiences, to help remind them when no one is around to help and to help keep the language and science at a kids level, I got to use cartoons! It was fun to design! I also enlisted the help of my go-to bike fuel, GU, to help provide some product for the group to sample and GU came thru with a great array of tasty goodies. I think the GU crew was as excited to get the kids involved in the pursuit of proper nutrition as I was!
We started with on-the-bike nutrition. Simple things like When you need to start thinking about more than water and how often you need to eat and drink during exercise. How to time your intake as opposed to waiting until it may be too late. We touched on important things for our particular environment..the heat of Tucson summers. How dehydration affects you, how that can change based on temperature, effort or altitude; things such as when the GU Brew with extra sodium (and my fav..Blueberry!) is most appropriate and how/when to add extra sodium using the new Roctane capsules. We touched a little on how important recovery is and what the right ratio of protein and carbs assists in muscle recovery, the easy ways to hit that ratio with Recovery Brew or even chocolate milk. The kids asked a lot of really great questions and genuinely were interested in how to improve their performance with nutrition.
With so many choices in product out there, we discussed what GU had to offer for different situations because its what I have found works best for me and its what I rely on for both training and racing. We examined how to sample food, gels and drink mix during training to decide for themselves what will work for their bodies. Try it before you race with it! The GI tract is always a fun subject..and especially with teenage boys! One aspect of endurance fuel I did leave out was the use of caffeine. Although I am an advocate for what it can do and many products do contain it, these are young kids who are superiorly elastic to adults and not in need of added caffeine in their growing bodies. With this in mind, the high school league has actually banned the use of it during racing. We touched on bonking and what that means and how to eliminate that with the use of GU fuel. This may be especially important on a mountain bike where your focus and decision making ability can mean the difference between a successful and fun race or training ride or ending up with your face in the dirt or lying mangled in a pile of rocks. The kids and I both offered up some of our own experiences in the bonking topic…this always makes for some interesting stories!
We also talked about their nutrition at school and at home. How to make good decisions with what choices lie in front of them; such as in the school cafeteria or learning how to pack a lunch; helping their parents choose foods at the grocery store. I was pretty amazed when I asked how many of them felt they had trouble making healthy food choices, every single hand went up. And when asked if that difficulty was a of lack of knowledge versus feeling there just wasn’t a healthy enough choice offered…the answer was the latter. As we dug a bit deeper, the most difficult place for these kids to choose a healthy food seemed to be at school.
I find it very interesting, and a little scary, when a 14 year old tells you there are no healthy foods in the school cafeteria. Many of these youngsters do not yet possess the understanding or experience of how to choose between whole foods or processed, how to make the best of what is available; they rely on their role models for guidance (parents, teachers, athletes..). Shouldn’t the school cafeteria be an easy decision for these kids instead of an unnecessary dilemma? Should their only choices really be greasy, processed, fatty-meat filled pizza slices; glutinous, artificial mac & cheese or pink-slime filler burgers? Or if you don’t like those, maybe try the vending machine for a candy bar and soda. As healthy, athletic adults, we wouldn’t choose to put these things in our bodies on a daily basis (or maybe ever in some of those examples), why should we force our kids to ingest them five days a week, nine months out of the year? Something to think about..
So we did a lot of talking about how to choose the better of what is offered when both option A and B seem to fall short on healthy ingredients. This doesn’t always mean it will be an ideal choice, but it will be a better one. Eating a turkey sandwich on white bread with a piece of fruit is a way better choice than fried chicken and instant mashed potatoes with globs of gravy or one slice of vegetable pizza rather than three slices covered in meat and extra cheese and those choices are certainly better than eating nothing at all (which has often been the decision of at least one kiddo). As a young teenager, you aren’t frequently granted the opportunity of running yourself to the grocery store and picking out your own foods to pack and store in a fridge at school-of which most schools do not even have a refrigerator accessible to students-so having the capability to think about how to make a better choice or how to brown-bag it with minimal tools (ice packs!); these can be pretty important things for a kid to learn and they do need their parents to show interest and to teach them. There were a few parents present during the kids’ workout and our discussion. They added in opinions and asked questions and got to hear their child’s concerns, maybe some for the first time. These are the parents that encourage their kids and have a real interest in what they’re doing…Way to go mom and dad! That is how I grew up, successful and independent and healthy because of my parents and I believe all kids deserve that same attention. Don’t you?
I really enjoyed doing this nutritional clinic! On and off bike nutrition is something I have learned to understand over the years and it feels pretty awesome to share this with others; and especially young, knowledge-hungry, moldable minds. And, not having kids of my own, I was definitely educated on how a teen thinks these days and what sort of things are thrown at them. I can’t wait to follow up with these guys later in the year and find out what they have improved upon, learned and discovered for themselves so maybe we can push the envelope even a little further!
A big thanks to GU for helping provide their trusted and reliable on-the-bike nutrition for this new generation!
Food is a wonderful thing! It can heal you and it can kill you. Enjoy everything in moderation…and eat REAL food!