Every year for the past 10 years, U.S. News & World Report ranks the Best Diets Overall. Their goal is to evaluate dozens of the most popular diets in America and use input from nutritionists and other health and weight loss specialists, rank them according to which ones are actually best for your health and fitness goals, as well as long-term weight loss and/or management.
Thats all well and good, but we all know that a diet that is good for someone who gets the bare minimum of exercise out of a sense of obligation is not necessarily the right eating plan for someone who rides as much as they can.
So we hit up Leslie Bonci, M.P.H., R.D., owner of Active Eating Advice and co-author (with yours truly) of Bike Your Butt Off to sort through this years Best of list, which included 35 diets for 2020, and winnow it down to the best of the best for everyday endurance athletes like us.
Here are the 10 best of the Best Diets Overall for Cyclists. (Note: Any of these diets can work for endurance athletes; they are not ranked in any order.)
No surprises here. The Mediterranean Diet was ranked #1 by U.S. News and was Boncis first suggestion for a way to eat that is really good for pretty much everybody, especially active people.
This diet is based off of the eating habits of people who live in the Mediterranean region, including those in France, Greece, and Spain. Its foundation is built on a wide variety of plant foods including fruits, vegetables, whole grains, beans, nuts, and legumes. It includes eating fish and seafood at least a couple of times a week; moderate amounts of poultry, eggs, cheese, and yogurt; regular use of olive oil and herbs and spices; small amounts of sweets and red meat, and moderate amounts of red wine (if you drink).
The Mediterranean Diet is good for decreasing inflammation, which is important if you are an endurance athlete, Bonci says. Its also easy. You can buy hummus at any grocery store. You can make a pasta dish with canned tomatoes and cannellini beans with olive oil and garlic, and youre not only giving yourself the fuel you need to ride, but also are helping keep yourself healthy.
DASH stands for dietary approaches to stop hypertension. The diet emphasizes fruits, vegetables, whole grains, lean protein, and low-fat dairy, which are rich in blood pressure-lowering nutrients such as potassium, calcium, protein, and fiber. It discourages foods that are high in saturated fats such as fatty meat and tropical oils, as well as sugary drinks and sweets. It also limits sodium intake to the American Heart Associations 2,300 mg daily limit. The National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute promotes the DASH diet; U.S. News ranked it #2, and Bonci gives it a thumbs up for cyclists, as well.
Some people are at higher risk for high blood pressure because they are, no matter how much they exercise, and medications can have unwanted side effects, Bonci says. DASH has performed as well as the anti-hypertension medications on the marketplace and it provides the energy you need to do your sport.
Day to day, the DASH diet provides plenty of sodium even for endurance athletes, Bonci says DASH emphasizes potassium, which has blood pressure lowering effects by shifting the potassium to sodium ratio in your diet. If youre riding, training, or racing in the heat, youll need to take your sweat loss into account and use sports drinks accordingly. You may need to add extra salt or salty foods to optimize your electrolyte intake, she says.
This flexible vegetarian diet, which is mostly, but not exclusively plant-based, tied for #2 in the U.S. News rankings. The diet became popular in 2009 after the release of The Flexitarian Diet: The Mostly Vegetarian Way to Lose Weight, Be Healthier, Prevent Disease and Add Years to Your Life by registered dietitian Dawn Jackson Blatner.
The Flexitarian Diet encourages plant-based eating, including non-meat proteins like beans, peas, eggs, and other dairy foods. The diet allows 9 to 26 ounces of meat per week, or two to five meatless days per week, depending on your wants and needs. Bonci likes it because many athletes need that flexibility.
People dont train the same way every day. There are people who feel like they need meat during heavy training or after a hard ride. They want more than a salad or vegetables, Bonci says. This way, they can put salmon or chicken or a chop on their plate without feeling guilty, and give themselves the protein they personally need to perform well for strength, speed, and stamina.
Plus, there are also some environmental benefits to reducing your meat consumption, which is one more thing to feel good about.
MIND is short for Mediterranean-DASH Intervention for Neurodegenerative Delay. This mash-up diet was developed based on clinical trials published in 2015 that found that older adults who rigorously followed key brain-protective elements of the Mediterranean and DASH diets slashed their risk of Alzheimers by 53 percent. Those who stuck to the hybrid eating plan only moderately well still decreased their risk by 35 percent.
Key elements of the MIND diet are beans, berries, whole grains, fish, green leafy and other vegetables, nuts, poultry, olive oil, and wine (if you drink alcohol). It steers people away from sweets, fried foods, cheese, butter and stick margarine, and red meats. It came in at #5 in the U.S. News rankings. Bonci believes its worth a look, especially for older athletes.
We want to be able to ride into our 80s and 90s and that means not just fueling your legs, but also fueling for the neck up, she says. Food that keeps your mind sharp also improves your ability to perform, and MIND certainly does that.
Coming in at #9 on the U.S. News list is the Nordic Diet, based off a 2017 book The Nordic Way. Strictly speaking, it focuses on foods common in the Scandinavian region such as elk, lingonberries, and Icelandic yogurt. But you can follow the basic tenets, which include eating locally-sourced, nutrient-dense foods, low-glycemic carbs, and protein-rich foods wherever you live.
The diet was developed by scientists in Denmark to improve public health, and the mission extends beyond nutrition and includes a nod to environmental wellness. It emphasizes eating more fruits and vegetables, whole grains, and foods from seas, lakes, and wild environments. It also focuses on eating organic, avoiding additives, cooking at home, and producing less food waste.
This is a feel-good as well as do-good diet, and thats really resonating with people today as we think more about sustainability and limiting what goes into landfills, Bonci says. Even if you do not live by water where you can get fresh seafood, there are still good options. You can use frozen and canned foods from quality sources to get fish and seafoods into your diet. And the extra omega-3s are good for lowering inflammation.
Short for therapeutic lifestyle changes, the TLC diet was created by the National Institute of Healths National Cholesterol Education Program to help people keep their blood lipid levels in check for better heart health. It is grounded in whole grains (at least six servings a day from complex carbohydrate foods) and vegetables and legumes. It also includes a couple of servings of fruits and low-fat dairy a day. TLC limits eggs and animal proteins, as well as fats and oils.
Though the science on eggs and other cholesterol-containing foods is by no means settled, this eating style can be good for endurance athletes because its centered on complex carbohydrates, Bonci says.
The TLC diet has an allowance for more carbohydrates, which is good for endurance athletes who sometimes unnecessarily shortchange themselves on the carbs they need for their sport, Bonci says. Theres an emphasis on legumes, which pull double duty as protein and carbohydrate sources, as well as helping lower cholesterol. You can ride until the cows come home and still have elevated lipid levels. This diet may help fuel your riding and lower your cholesterol.
Tied for #5 on the U.S. News list, Volumetrics is a diet based on a book of the same name: The Ultimate Volumetrics Diet by Penn State nutrition professor Barbara Rolls, which was designed to help people feel fuller on fewer calories.
The food plan categorizes foods based off of energy density and water content, with the focus on building the base of your diet around foods with low energy density and high water content such as fruits, non-starchy vegetables, and soups, and going easy on the highest energy density foods such as sweets, butters, and oils.
Obviously, as an athlete, sometimes you need high-energy foods to fuel your ride (especially since they tend to be the most portable for a jersey pocket). But otherwise, we often want to eat more food than we need, which is where Volumetrics can help, Bonci says.
This diet can be good for endurance athletes on two levels: Sometimes when people exercise, they get hungrier and want to eat a lot of food. This diet lets you eat that volume of food and feel full without excess calories, Bonci says. Because it focuses on the liquid content of food, it also helps keep you hydrated.
Like the Mediterranean Diet, there is no one single Asian Diet, but rather this food plan, also known as the Asian Heritage Diet, is based off of how people in Asian countries eat, as people in these regions generally weigh less and have lower rates of obesity-related disease than those following the standard American diet.
The foundation of the Asian Diet pyramid is a daily dose of leafy greens, legumes, nuts and seeds, vegetables, soy foods, whole grains, and herbs and spices. You eat fish or shellfish twice a week; moderate portions of eggs, poultry, and cooking oils, and less frequent servings of red meat and sweets. You also drink plenty of water and unsweetened tea. U.S. News ranked it #14.
You cant go wrong with the emphasize on fruits, vegetables, and legumes for a solid nutritional base, Bonci says. Most of the carbohydrates come from various types of rice and udon noodles, so this diet can be good for people who feel weighed down by bready carbohydrates or who are gluten sensitive, but dont have celiac disease.
Tied in 9th place on the U.S. News list with the Nordic diet is eating a vegetarian diet. A vegetarian diet is a solidly plant-based diet that does not include animal foods such as meat and poultry, but opens the door to foods that come from animals such as eggs and dairy. Some vegetarians avoid eggs and/or dairy as well. Vegans exclude all animal and animal-based foods.
All of the top-ranking diets are plant-based, and research shows that eating more plants improves your health on almost every level, so it makes sense that vegetarian eating gets high marks here. Bonci likes it because its healthy and flexible enough to cover all the bases for her athletes.
Generally, my plant-based athletes do a better job with getting enough carbohydrates, she says. They also get more essential phytonutrients that support their general health, including lowering inflammation and building immunity.
Weight Watchers, now known as WW, as the company steers toward well-being and healthy living, not just weight, came in at #4 on the U.S. News list. Of course, anyone following WW is still primarily interested in shedding pounds and/or maintaining weight loss, so the emphasis is on keeping calories in check.
WW uses what it calls a SmartPoints system to assign every food and beverage a point value. You get so many points per day based on your goals, and you can choose whatever you want to eat to meet those goals. You can track this whole process through a WW mobile app that includes point values for more than 285,000 foods.
If youre actively trying to lose weight, WW can be a systematic way to do so, Bonci says. My analytical clients love it. It is app-driven, and you can track what youre eating along with riding time, miles, daily steps, and all the other things youre tracking for a complete picture. You also get more points the more you exercise, so your riding is rewarded, which is a nice psychological bonus.
Originally posted here:
Which of the Best Diets Are Actually Good for Cyclists? - Bicycling
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