Why Cyclists Need Carbs and the Rice Bowl that Helps Us Recover
Having carbohydrates sprinkled out during your day is the best way to ensure that you’re getting enough to support an active cycling lifestyle; perhaps you have multi-grain toast with almond butter and banana for breakfast, a leafy-green salad with super-powered quinoa for lunch, and a rice bowl - like that below - topped with colorful vegetables, protein and plenty of texture, for dinner.
It’s been an undertone of popular nutrition conversations for years in magazines, cookbooks and even sometimes from teammates, spin instructors and friends: eat fewer carbohydrates. No matter how well we know our bodies, or how well we understand the importance of carbohydrates as macronutrients for vital functions, these messages get into our minds and, sometimes into our meals. But, as avid cyclists, eating fewer carbohydrates isn’t necessarily a strategy for peak performance or recovery. In fact, sometimes it’s straight-up sabotage. Cyclists need carbs.
I didn’t always recognize this. Training and racing as a professional endurance athlete, I was always under the impression that eating fewer carbohydrates meant that I had more space in my diet for healthful proteins, leafy greens, and vibrant seasonal produce; all foods containing nutrients that I couldn’t eat when I was out training. There was some sense to this thinking; eating plenty of seasonal produce and proteins is important for vibrant athletes. What I didn’t recognize was how quickly I blamed a heavy training calendar for my general low-energy.
It wasn’t until I found myself working as a chef on the Skratch Labs food trailer that I started to see just how carbohydrates, as fuel for sport and as an aid in recovery, improved the way my body felt and the way my mind worked. Much of the time, we were cooking carbohydrate-rich recovery meals for athletes, which meant sometimes on a long day, rice was all we had on hand for lunch. I first enjoyed small, colorful bowls as a last resort but quickly found that by consuming more carbohydrates (and specifically, savory, delicious rice bowls) into my diet, all of a sudden riding 200-miles on a week (that I was also working 8 to 12 hours in the trailer cooking and serving food) wasn’t out of the question. I was approaching my work, and my ride, with more excitement and energy than I ever had as an athlete, even if my workload was greater. I didn’t feel like a puppet without a puppeteer; I felt like an athlete with a passion again.
This is just real-world evidence that a diet rich in carbohydrates is critical to success in endurance sports, and in life in general. But, there is also overwhelming scientific evidence that supports this. Carbohydrates are stored in the body as liver and muscle glycogen. Without it, our ability to perform as athletes at high-intensity is severely diminished and, when those glycogen stores are depleted, the dreaded bonk (ie: the puppet without the puppeteer) is a distinct possibility.
How to Prepare Delicious Rice Bowls for Bike Riding Recovery and Performance
I never follow a recipe when I make rice bowls at home. I just use what I have on hand, always striving to strike a balance between salty and sweet, round and sharp flavors, and soft and crunchy textures. As an example, I add both savory tamari sauce and a drizzle of sweet maple syrup to the rice before serving, as well as a sharp, tart squeeze of lemon juice or rice vinegar with a round little splash of sesame oil. Savory and sweet, sharp and round.
The same is true for all of the contents of the bowl. In the recipe below, I suggest you add crunchy radish slices and soft avocado, bright massaged kale and a homey, yolky fried egg and some crunchy pumpkin seeds for added texture.Play with textures and flavors; find what turns your taste buds on!
This recipe makes 3-4 large bowls, or 2 bowls with leftovers for lunch
• 1 cup // 210g sushi rice
• 2-3 tablespoons Bragg’s Liquid Aminos, tamari sauce or soy sauce
• 2-3 tablespoons rice vinegar
• 1-2 tablespoons sesame oil or olive oil
• 1-2 tablespoon maple syrup
• Fine grain sea salt
• 1 small bunch lacinato kale, stems removed and chopped coarsely
• 2-3 green onions, sliced thinly
• 2-3 fresh carrots, sliced thinly into rounds or sticks (*I like to quick-pickle them!)
• 4-6 raw radishes, sliced thinly
• 1 whole, ripe avocado pitted, and sliced thinly
• 2-4 fried or poached eggs (one per bowl)
• Black sesame seeds, raw pumpkin seeds or togarashi seasoning (optional)
In a medium pot or bowl, rinse the rice three times. Each time, fill the pot with water, polish the rice with the back of your hand to remove the starch, then carefully pour out the water and repeat. Then, in a rice cooker or in a lidded, medium pot over medium heat cook the rice according to package directions. (Typically, sushi rice cooks well in a 3:1 water to rice ratio.) In the meantime, prepare your other rice bowl ingredients.
In a small bowl, place the shredded kale and sprinkle with a pinch of salt, add a small drizzle of rice vinegar and oil. Massage with your fingers just until the kale starts to wilt. If your kale stays quite firm, add a little bit more vinegar and oil but be careful - you don’t want your kale swimming in dressing, just coated very lightly. Then set aside.
Make sure your onions, carrots, avocado and radishes are prepared. Prepare the eggs as you like them - I love poached eggs but fried eggs with runny yolks are also delicious here.
Once the rice is steamed and plump, you’re ready to make your rice bowls.
Scoop ¾-1 cup of steamed rice into each bowl. Drizzle roughly 1 tablespoon each Bragg’s or tamari and vinegar over the rice. Add a drizzle of maple syrup to each bowl. Then, divide the kale evenly amongst the bowls, filling about half of the bowl. Top with green onions, radishes, carrots, and avocado as you like. Place an egg on each bowl, then finish with raw pumpkin seeds and black sesame seeds. Finish with just a small drizzle of sesame oil or olive oil and serve.
Serve with extra Bragg’s or tamari and rice vinegar, so everyone can make the bowls as savory or tart as they like.
*To quick-pickle carrots: slice the carrots as you like. Then place all of the carrots in a pint-sized jar with a lid. Fill the jar containing the carrots½of the way with hot water, and then another⅓with rice vinegar. Add a little glug of maple syrup and a sprinkle of fine grain sea salt. Place the lid on the jar tightly and shake vigorously. Allow the carrots to sit and pickle while you prepare the remaining ingredients, then place on bowls and serve!