It goes hand in hand that if you ride, run, or swim, you have an unnatural obsession with food. I often find myself contemplating my next meal from the moment I’ve finished the current one. In the final hour of a ride, I’ve pretty much planned every element of my recovery food and the order of its preparation so that I can get it in my belly as quickly as possible upon my return.
My exposure to many different athletes over the years has revealed a further trend. They all worship at the holy trinity of endurance sports. COFFEE. OATS. NUT BUTTER.
Those not devoted to all three are either allergic / intolerant to one of them, or not proper sportsmen. That’s why all club runs are Sunday morning; whilst others are in church singing hymns, we are rejoicing at the altar of our own magical trio.
Whilst I’m only just a proper sportsman, I definitely adore all three. They’re without doubt in the top five of things I choose to stuff down my gob. Here are my thoughts on why these humble ingredients are so worshipped.
There’s been plenty written about the way caffeine enhances performance through the mental and physical stimulus it provides, so I won’t dwell on that too much. However, it is certainly true. The minute I feel a bonk coming on, a caffeine gel is slurped, and unless I’m too far down the journey to the knock (refer to the timeline here), it nearly always saves me, or at least keeps me going to the nearest coca cola and snickers vendor.And of course, we all know that the best caffeine gel is Mule Bar’s Cafe Cortado gel; an amazingly textured molasses and coffee flavoured packet of joy.
However, there’s more to coffee than just the caffeine. Nearly all cyclists (I can’t speak for those who only run or swim, as I try to avoid them, they’re not trustworthy) are geeks and obsessives that enjoy the rituals of preparation as much as the act itself. They are aware of how every element plays into the whole. And for me, this is not just in preparation for a ride or the mechanics of the bike. I am a true coffee geek with an espresso machine, aeropress, dripper, mokka pot, cafetiere, and back up jar of instant granules. I’m not quite at full Shoreditch coffee aficionado / bore territory yet, but I have a preferred coffee preparation method for my mood and know the difference between a cortado, double macchiato, and flat white.
And of course, for many, a coffee is resonant with the café stop; the rest and refuel point and time of laddy ‘banter’ and chat about watts and wheels that is actually slightly embarrassing when considered from a viewer’s perspective.
The mental buzz of a coffee is definitely addictive, and certainly my main vice. If i’ve not had at least two in the first hour of waking i basically can’t be communicated with. And i really struggle if i’ve been out on a proper training ride in the afternoon and get home just before dinner to not have a coffee after. A coffee after a ride is nigh on essential for me to get my head back into the world of normality, however, i try to avoid coffee after about 3pm or it doesn’t really do me any good.
Well, porridge. Nuff said. I’d like to stake a minor bet that at least 90% of athletes love a bowl of the stuff, and will willingly eat it in height of summer or depth of winter. Not only is it a warming and comforting blank canvas upon which you can add all sorts of additions depending on mood, ranging from warming spices like cinnamon and allspice to sweet energy rich gloop like jam or honey, but as a low GI low fat carb, it’s pretty much perfect before a ride. My porridge love has recently moved me towards cooking extra porridge so I can leave some to cool in the fridge into a weird gelatinous lump to be later mixed with whatever sweet things I fancy, be it nut butter, fruit, greek yoghurt, seeds and nuts etc (or most likely all of these), and devoured later.
Of course, oats are not only found in porridge, but in muesli and granola (both of which are up there in the league table of pre-ride breakfasts), the café stop favourite staple that is the flapjack, and many of the more natural mass-produced energy bars on the market, such as Clif bars. So, what I’m getting at is that oats permeate a cyclists diet through a number of ways: the stealth carb. No matter how hard you try, you probably can’t avoid it. And why would you want to?
Incidentally, one of my favourite Clif bars is the peanut butter variety, a delicious chunk of oaty goodness intespresed with rich lumps of peanut butter… which leads me on to..
This used to be dismissed by many as the junk food of the overweight American, but seems to have made a resurgence in recent years as people are realising that the ‘healthy fats’ in nuts, avocado, proper yoghurt etc is actually very good for you.
This is a mixed blessing as it means these awesome things are now more readily available, but it also means that you get lots of idiots taking instagrammed pictures of a piece of toast with an avocado mushed on top. WHY!?
Anyway, I like to think I’m a bit ahead of the curve on this one and have loved nut butters since I were a wee lad.
It begins with peanut butter; the gateway product. Like cannabis to crack if you get me. You start simple and put it on toast. Then you start to contemplate what else it may work with and go a little more adventurous, maybe smeared onto a banana, or dolloped into a smoothie.
Before you know it or can control it, your experimentations lead you to moving onto pro level products like almond or cashew butter (almond is best by the way). You begin to crave it. You find yourself eating marmite, cheese and peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast (or is that just me?), not seeing the point of eating an apple unless it’s layered with almond butter, or of course, just eating whatever nut butter you have with a spoon from a jar, yoghurt style. I’ve got to the point where I have a small jar of both peanut and almond butter at work. If I had a car, I’d probably have a stash in the glove box. I need it to be near me, like a comfort blanket (or air bag??). And of course, I always have at least a 1kg tub of each at home.
Like porridge, nut butters are hugely versatile, and the more you experiment with them, the greater the reward.
And of course, the flavour isn’t everything. Nut butter is laden with energy and is a great fuel for your ride. There’s been many a time when I’ve gone out riding with a peanut butter and mashed banana sarnie in my jersey pocket should the mood take me. If it’s been a long week or I’m feeling particularly extravagant, I may throw some Nutella in there too.
Please note that PB and banana sandwiches must be carefully wrapped before insertion into pocket and ideally eaten whilst stationary for health and safety reasons, and to maximise enjoyment. The mutton takes no responsibility for PB and banana sandwich related incidents.
Combining the three
When riding, particularly when on long wintery base chugs, I try to mix my food types between simple stuff like bananas and fig rolls, to purchased energy bars and gels, and, my favourite things, home made goods (some of which you can see here).
One of my favourite home made energy foods is of my own recipe; the banana, peanut butter, dark chocolate, coffee bean and date flapjack. Thus, a combination of all three of the trinity.
It very basically consists of all of the above ingredients being mullered in a blender, added to honey and oats and then baked. The stickiness of the banana and nut butter means you don’t need to laden it with butter to make it stick together, and the honey and dates means it’s sweet enough not to need to add big dollops of refined sugar. The result is an awesome combination of slow burning oats, crunchy chunks of nut and coffee bean (also giving you that caffeine lift), and sticky, chewy sweetness from dates. I was actually going to post a full recipe guide for it when I made the last batch and then forgot, but here’s some of the (very unappetizing) images:
I’d like to point out that anyone using this recipe owes me £1 per flapjack made. Thanks.