Beth McCluskey on Nutrition

Why is nutrition so confusing?

As nutritional science progresses and research methods improve we should know more about how to eat healthily than ever before, yet increasing rates of obesity and diabetes suggest otherwise. For cyclists it can be even more complicated. Carbohydrates were long considered the most important element of the cyclist’s diet, but in recent times high fat, low carbohydrate (LCHF) and Paleo diets have found an increased following among many athletes.

We spoke to Beth McCluskey of Peak Endurance Coaching to find out what she thinks. Beth is a Sports’ Nutritionist with over 20 years’ racing experience & she has been working with cyclists since 2007. In the first of two articles for womenscycling.ie Beth talks to us about nutrition in general and explains to us why it can be so confusing. Next week we’ll get some more in-depth analysis from her on some of the diets that are popular at the moment.

Beth McCluskey

How would you sum up your opinion on Low Carb High Fat diets or Paleo diets?
Nutrition science is far more complicated than most people realise. It’s very easy to reduce nutrition to macronutrients, but there are as many ways to eat badly or really well on a high fat diet as a high carb diet, and it’s really important not to lose sight of what we need for a healthy diet. When a diet is high in one macronutrient it will inevitably be low in something else and this means we are usually missing out on some important aspect of the diet.

One good example is calcium and, given the propensity for cyclists to have lower bone density than non-cyclists, it would be a concern that some people following extreme high fat or paleo type diets are at an increased risk of osteopenia and osteoporosis. No extreme diet nor lifestyle, no matter how compelling the anecdotal or limited evidence is worth risking our future health. At the same time training with low carbohydrate at certain times of the season is a good strategy for some riders to improve endurance but within the context of a balanced diet. It’s all about getting the balance right.

What advice would you give female cyclists?

Optimising your nutrition can help you train and recover better, but also it’s so important to have a healthy diet and not to assume that because you train and eat some healthy foods that your diet is healthy.The recurring issues I see with female athletes relate to energy availability, carbohydrate intake, pre and post training nutrition, and misconceptions around healthy eating. Don’t assume multivitamins make up for shortfall in diet, in fact some vitamins and minerals can be harmful when taken to excess in supplemental form, and don’t assume because you eat lots of healthy foods that you have a healthy diet. You still need to be getting enough calcium, vitamin D, Iron, Omega 3 & MUFA [Monounsaturated Fatty Acids]

Why do some of us still find nutrition so confusing?

We live in a world where technology is king, the latest version or update is always superior to the last and we all favour the newer, better, faster versions. However science doesn’t work like that. Just because a new compelling piece of research is published doesn’t mean that it is the new or better truth. It doesn’t mean we disregard everything we have learned before and all previous research is untrue, it simply means we have another small piece of a giant jigsaw. Nutrition and science is a slow process and the confusion between what’s new and what’s true is a perpetual problem for both athletes and consumers and is compounded by the media desire for new and ‘interesting’ slants on health, disease and performance and the public desire for a quick fix.

My advice is pretty boring and won’t please the extremists, but here it is:

  • Eat real foods
  • Eat a wide variety of fruit & veg, fish, meat, eggs, dairy products, wholegrain, nuts, seeds
  • Prepare all your food from scratch
  • Avoid all processed foods
  • Do not eliminate foods unless you have an intolerance or allergy
  • Choose wisely what you eat today, it will help you train well, recover well adapt well and will also determine your OVERALL health in the future

Lastly, what should we give up for Lent?

All processed food.

Peak Endurance Coaching provide a comprehensive approach to training & nutrition. They also specialise in seminars and talks to groups and clubs.