Intuitive Eating On and Off the Bike


By Breanne Nalder Harward — Reflecting on the numerous articles I have written over the years as a dietitian, I’d found myself drawing a blank on the next topic. Then, as the world seems to work, I had an appointment with a client that was asking all the right questions at a nutrition consultation. This person was already very healthy yet looking for ways to fine-tune their nutrition to improve performance. This is not an uncommon situation in my profession, however at this time I left the appointment pondering how nutrition is so influenced by intuition. What I mean is that we all know to eat our fruits and vegetables, but when it comes to sport performance, specifically cycling, there is so much more to what we choose to fuel our bodies. It’s my job to help individuals put the food puzzle together using science and research, but right now I want to talk about the concept of intuitive eating.

Breezy’s Granola for Anybody. Food styling and photo by Dave Iltis

The dictionary defines intuition as “the power or faculty of attaining to direct knowledge or cognition without evident rational thought and inference.” How does this apply to nutrition? The first word that comes to mind is cravings. Our body tell us what it needs by sending messages to our brain to say, “I’m hungry” or “give me chocolate” and whether we are conscious of it or not, there is reason behind those cravings. For example, after a ride we may crave chips and guacamole and a soda or an adult beverage. That makes sense when you think about what you deplete during endurance exercise: calories from carbs and fat, water, and electrolytes. It’s no wonder salty food dipped in fat with a carb-rich drink all taste amazing! Answering cravings is also where we should be to be mindful. Just because our body or brain says it wants candy doesn’t mean it’s the best choice to answer the sweet craving. This is where intuition kicks in and a natural source of sugar is the right choice. So, grab a peach or a banana instead!

Another example of listening to your body manifests in food intolerances. When we get stomach upset, GI distress or simply don’t like the taste of something it’s natural to not want that food. The trick is identifying the cause. What I mean by that is being able to decipher the reason for a negative reaction to something. For example, I get asked a lot about sport foods and how certain products cause “gut rot” or cramping or fill in the blank. The intuitive answer is if something doesn’t make you feel great, don’t eat it. But it’s not that simple. You must ask yourself, what all did I consume (or not) that could lead to this problem? Maybe it’s that you didn’t drink enough electrolyte mix so your dehydrated, or perhaps too much dairy in your breakfast didn’t sit well as your body tried to digest the inflammatory food while pedaling. There are so many scenarios possible with various solutions that it can seem daunting. So, let’s bring it back to listening to your body while also applying knowledge of nutrition in the to feel good and perform.

I talk a lot about eating I moderation and fueling your body for what you’re doing. I want to reiterate that we want balance in each day in order to make sure we get all our essential nutrients and the best way to do that is eat in color. Incorporate a fruit or veggie into every meal or snack to get those recommended servings. Also, we want to be sure to time our nutrients around exercise. You don’t need me to tell you that a colorful fibrous salad isn’t the best choice pre-ride, right?! Use your intuition to know that easily digestible carbohydrates are best before a workout and save the higher fat, protein, and fiber foods for recovery time (or as I like to say your “off the bike” food). When you’re thirsty, drink water. And when you’re riding, drink electrolyte mix: it just makes sense when you use that power of rational thought.

Listening to your body is not always as easy as it seems. I’ll be the first to acknowledge that. It takes practice, discipline, trial, and error. The take-away from this article that I hope for you is that you step back and assess your food choices and how they affect your everyday mood, energy levels, and of course sport performance. And if you can’t figure it out, contact me! In the meantime, I wanted to provide a recipe that can help you practice intuitive eating.

Breezy’s Granola for Anybody

No bake, nut free, dairy free, gluten free

  • 1/2 cup sunflower butter (or any nut butter if preferred)
  • 2 tablespoons honey
  • 1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 1/8 teaspoon salt
  • 1 cup oats
  • 1/4 cup Rice Krispies cereal
  • 3/4 cup mix-ins of choice (I like pumpkin seeds and raisins. You could also add chocolate chips).
  1. In a microwave-safe bowl combine the peanut butter and honey. Heat then stir until smooth.
  2. Add in all the other ingredients except for the mix-ins. Mix until combined. It’s thick and messy at first, but just keep stirring until a good consistency is formed. You may need to lightly knead the mixture with your hands.
  3. Add in any mix-ins of choice, stir through more and then use your hands again to form granola crumbles.

A food like granola is easy to mindlessly eat. It has healthy ingredients, yet too much of anything can lead to the issues discussed above. Make a batch but divide it up into appropriate serving sizes. Maybe even put each serving into a separate container to practice portion control. Also think of ways you could make it more balanced like having a smaller serving and adding color with mixed berries and pour on some unsweetened nut milk. Follow that intuition and enjoy with pride that you’re making the best choices for your body.

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