Today I write to you from the team hotel in South Africa. We are based here for the Para-cycling Road World Championships, which take place next week. Fortunately it is quite a nice hotel and one of my main priorities, the food, is good. We are not always this lucky. In my 8 years of travelling away to races, I have experienced a lot. Food considered suitable for athletes to eat has been interpreted very differently across the globe. Ranging from bowls of plain boiled pasta at breakfast, to a tiny quail for dinner; my experiences have been vast. I can laugh about it now, but at the time, when I am preparing for an important race and my nutrition is key, then it can be a lot more stressful.
Controlling the Controllables
In my first blog, I wrote about how important controlling what I eat is to me. When at home, the ability to plan my meals and weigh my portion sizes helps. In hotels this is not possible. This used to be something that would really stress me out, but over time I have developed several coping mechanisms to reduce my stress levels. When working with a sports psychologist, they got me to focus on “controlling the controllable” rather than wasting needless energy worrying about the things I can’t control. Now, whenever I go away, I control what I have for breakfast by bringing it with me.
Breakfast is the most important meal of the day. It provides you with the energy to tackle whatever the day has in store. On a race day, the last thing I want is to miss out on important energy, that will help to get me through the race. Furthermore, on a race day, my stomach isn’t the best. I am frequently vomit after high intensity efforts, and so have to be very careful about what I eat in the hours before I race. The inevitable pre-race nerves don’t help either!
The squad generally has access to a fridge, wherever we go we have what is called a carer room. This is where we keep our on-bike nutrition, as well as off-bike healthy snacks. Included in this are things like yogurts, fruit and cereal bars. Lunch, if it isn’t provided by the hotel, is also made and kept in this room. Generally lunch consists of a ham and cheese wrap or roll with salad. Quick and simple to make, this is ideal for everyone. Because there is generally a fridge I am able to store a carton of almond, or coconut milk in the right conditions. This allows me to make overnight oats for my breakfast each day. I buy long-life milk so that it can either travel out in the team van with the bikes when racing in Europe, or like this trip, get packed in one of the large storage containers that travel out with us.
The reason I use almond or coconut milk is purely personal choice. Cow’s milk contains more protein, and so would be a better choice for me. From a young age, the taste of milk is something I haven’t enjoyed; I just can’t bring myself to drink it without disguising the flavour. I also bring oats and a mix of dried fruit, nuts and seeds to make up my breakfast. Using my measuring cup I can control my portion size. One cup is approximately 40g of oats, I put this in a bowl, then add a cupful of the fruit, nut, seed mix. Next the contents of the bowl are covered with the milk and left to soak overnight in the fridge. I will then supplement my breakfast with some fresh fruit if it is available from the hotel’s breakfast buffet. And coffee of course! I am very grumpy if I don’t get my caffeine kick.
I vary my dried fruit, nuts and seeds up each trip I do, so that I don’t get too bored. This week I’ve gone with cranberries, blueberries, cashew nuts, sunflower and pumpkin seeds. Blueberries and cranberries are high in antioxidants, including vitamin C, which help strengthen the immune system and fight infection. In the run in to a World Championships, the last thing I want is to pick up an infection. When travelling to a different country, the risk is always greatly increased.
One of the many health benefits from eating cashew nuts, is that they are very high in copper. This is a mineral which aids the body to absorb iron, which I talk about being important in my previous blog. Copper also helps the body to produce red and white blood cells, as well as being involved in building strong bones. All important for staying fit and healthy. Cashew nuts also contain some protein and mono-unsaturated fat, which is healthy fat. This is both good for your heart and for transporting fat soluble vitamins (A, D, E and K) in to the body.
Sunflower and pumpkin seeds are also rich in unsaturated fat, as well as containing a small amount of much needed protein. Sunflower seeds contain high levels of fat soluble vitamin E. This is an antioxidant important for fighting against free radicals, which are a biproduct of exercise and can cause oxidative damage to living cells. Pumpkin seeds are rich in the mineral magnesium, which plays several important roles in the body. One of these is the creation of ATP (adenosine triphosphate), the basic energy molecule that all muscles use to contract, vital in sport. We need our muscles to have a good supply of ATP so that we can provide the muscles with all the energy they need to work.
Making Overnight Oats
If you wish to give making overnight oats a go, simply place oats and any dried fruit or nuts you wish to use in a bowl the night before. Pour over your milk of choice covering the other ingredients. Place a lid, or clingfilm, over the bowl and leave in the fridge, ready to enjoy the next morning. It is very much a case of personal taste, so feel free to experiment with how much milk you use. A variety of combinations of dried fruit and nuts can be used. A tasty addition to overnight oats is Greek yogurt. Add a spoonful to the mix to give it a lovely creamy texture.
The Para-cycling Road World Championships take place next weekend. The time trial is on Friday and the road race on Sunday. I am now going to go get plenty of rest and recovery, but I hope you have enjoyed reading this blog and I will get working on my next one soon. If you wish to follow how the racing is going next week, then you can access the live stream from the following websites:
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