I have read a number of books about nutrition, and regularly read online articles as well. Some of this has yielded some fascinating (to me) concepts about food and how our bodies respond to it.
Here's a list of good books I highly recommend:
- The Omnivore's Dilemma, by Michael Pollan
- The Paleo Diet, by Dr. Loren Cordain
- Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes, by Monique Ryan
Anyway, I have come up with what I consider to be the "perfect" race-day breakfast, based on knowledge I gained from these experts. It is a meal I have eaten countless times, and can be adjusted in size and ingredients to suit your tastes, timing of the meal, digestion, and race length. It provides a great balance of high-, medium- and low-glycemic index (GI) ingredients and protein/fat/carb ratios to provide tons of sustainable energy for long, intense exercise sessions. The healthful micronutrients, like omega-3 oils, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents, prevent disease and sports injuries. And it provides outstanding acid/base blood balance to prevent long-term health problems like osteoporosis and muscle loss. I like to eat it 2 or 3 hours before my race so it's adequately digested.
The major ingredient is buckwheat (or quinoa). Unlike, say, wheat and oatmeal, buckwheat is not a grain but a pseudocereal (more like a fruit). That means that it doesn't have the antinutrients common in grains, or their blood-acidosis problems. It's also lower-GI so the energy is released more slowly (great for long races!) and the chances of developing insulin resistance are lower.
I'll keep it simple from here on... here's the recipe!
Dennis's Cooked Buckwheat Cereal Breakfast
- 1/4 cup dry buckwheat cereal, or 1/3 cup dry quinoa cereal (moderate-GI carbs, blood alkaline, protein, soluble fiber)
- 1 tbsp blackstrap molasses (carbs, calcium, potassium, iron)
- 1 tbsp honey (anti-inflammatory)
- 1 sliced banana (calcium, potassium, fiber)
- 1/8 cup goji berries (carbs, anti-oxidants, beta-carotene)
- 1 scoop whey protein powder (protein, zero-GI)
- 1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder (12 calories, antioxidants, taste!)
- 1/4 cup milk or almond milk (optional for texture, low-GI)
This provides: 531 calories, 103 g carbs, 29 g protein, 6 g fat (1 g saturated), 8 mg cholesterol, 2,116 mg potassium, 9 g fiber, 158 mg sodium, 7 mg iron.
I put the cereal and cocoa powder in a non-stick saucepan first, and usually add cinnamon (prevents insulin resistance, a problem even for thin athletes) and ginger (anti-inflammatory). Since I try to avoid unnecessary salt I use salt substitute (potassium), but on very hot days real salt is a good idea. I then add a cup of water, bring it all to a boil, add the molasses and honey. After about 8 minutes it's ready and I mix in the protein powder, berries and sliced banana, and, if you wish, butter, milk and oil (see below). Ready to serve!
If you need fewer calories just omit the oil, milk, honey or banana as needed to get it right. I like to drink coffee (caffeine, antioxidants), and various juices with the cereal, assuming I need the extra calories (pomegranate juice is very high in antioxidants, as are most juices).
That's it! Well, mostly. I often add some other items too:
- I like to add local berries when they are in season (blueberries mostly, though raspberries add a great taste here), or when I can't get goji berries. They are all high in antioxidants. Apple sauce is another healthy idea, and it also adds a nice, smooth texture.
- The one ingredient that provokes incredulous stares is cod liver oil. Yes, you read correctly. Cod liver oil! I get the Nordic Naturals variety from New Leaf Market, and it has virtually no flavor because it is pharmaceutical grade. It adds tons of vitamin A, and omega-3 oils to prevent joint inflammation (a common problem for cyclists). Also lowers the GL of the meal. [I recently started to use their "Omega-3D" fish oil instead, most of the time, as there seems to be some cause for concern over the possibly excessive (maybe even toxic) levels of vitamin A that cod liver oil can cause if consumed too often. And vitamin D is more important than vitamin A anyway. I will use the cod liver oil just once a week henceforth. Oils and fats help with vitamin absorption too. ]
- Butter is an alternative if you don't add oil; it adds nice flavor (whole milk, or cream in your coffee, do the trick too).
- Uh, a big dollop of whipped cream is nice too. :-)
If you are racing less than 2 hours after you eat, especially if it's a short race like a criterium, I would reduce or omit the protein, oil and fats. I wouldn't increase the cereal portion for races lasting longer than 3 hours, because it's really hard to digest that much food! Instead add extra honey, some maple syrup, sugar, or other high-GI food, and slam sports drink during the ride.
[I've also experimented with cooking the cereal and taking it with me in a tupperware bowl to eat during the drive to races, and it works well. When time is really tight (like when I have to leave the house at 4:30AM!) I have found it works well to mix everything except the fresh fruit together in the saucepan the night before and mixing it well. The next morning I just heat it up for a minute or two, then add the fruit. Works great and has a smoother texture. ]