How To Know What To Eat As A Female Cyclist With Dietician Uri Carlson

There is so much confusion over what we should be eating as endurance athletes. And there are so many people feeding us misinformation or strict guidelines that many of us don’t know what’s what anymore.

That’s why I asked Uri Carlson to come on the podcast. Uri is a dietician nutritionist who works with endurance athletes to help them know what the heck they should be eating.

In this interview, Uri shares what a balanced meal looks like, what we should be eating while we’re on the bike, how to incorporate electrolytes, when we might want to get professional help, and more.

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Key Takeaways

Don’t have time to listen to the full interview? Here are a few key takeaways from the episode.

  • Confused about what to eat? Get help from a professional!
  • The most common mistakes female cyclists are making is not eating enough and not eating the right foods at the right times.
  • Uri recommends eating a balanced meal or snack every 3-4.5 hours to avoid calorie deficits and maintain energy levels.
  • If you are experiencing cravings, it may indicate they’re not eating enough.
  • Eating what the body needs can actually improve metabolism and burn food as fuel and energy, rather than storing it as fat.
  • We should be tracking more than just calories and macros, including hunger, satiety, and performance, to have a holistic understanding of our relationship with food.
  • Simplify meal planning by having balanced meals: protein, plants, complex carbs, and healthy fats.
  • For eating on the bike, pick foods you actually like to eat. Choose snacks that are easy to digest and provide a boost of energy.
  • For on the bike hydration, choose an electrolyte with sugar (like Scratch). The sugar acts as a buffer, increasing our ability to hydrate during exercise
  • For premenopausal women, aim for 40 grams of carbs and 10 grams of protein after a 3-hour workout. For peri menopausal women, aim for 30 grams of carbs and more protein (20-25 grams) to support performance and address increased sensitivity to carbohydrates.

🔥 Connect With Uri 🔥

👉 Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/uri_carlson/
👉Website: https://www.innerwildnutrition.com/

Full Interview Transcript

Uri: I’m Uri Carlson from Breckenridge, Colorado. I’m a registered dietitian and run a business named Inner Wild Nutrition. I work mainly with active individuals. Being an “athlete” isn’t necessary, it’s about wanting to remain active and feel better in doing so. My decision to start this business and profession was because of my many questions about nutrition. If this knowledge could help both me and others, like my friends and athletes I know, turning it into a profession seemed right. This intertwines with both my personal and professional life.

Kristen: You’ve mentioned being a dietitian. Can you differentiate between a dietitian and a nutritionist? And what education or certification should one look for to ensure they’re in good hands?

Uri: Absolutely. A dietitian completes specific undergraduate and possibly graduate programs related to dietetics, research, and standardized approaches. After the program, we take an exam and are required to renew our credentials every five years with ongoing education. On the other hand, anyone can be a nutritionist. While being a dietitian makes me a nutritionist by default, not all nutritionists have dietetic qualifications. So, someone who’s taken a simple nutrition class or acquired an online certification can also label themselves as a nutritionist. That’s not to downplay some excellent nutritionists out there, but it’s essential for consumers to be aware. It’s crucial to ask about their background, education, and experience. And always be cautious if someone is overly promotional or reliant on certain products.

Kristen: That makes things clearer, as many are offering advice in the field. When should someone think about consulting a dietitian or nutritionist?

Uri: When uncertainty about food starts affecting your daily life or the activities you enjoy, it’s time to consider getting advice. If food choices or concerns start to occupy your mental space or hinder your enjoyment, especially in activities like sports, it’s worth addressing. Remember, we eat several times every day. It’s a privilege we should cherish, but it’s also an integral part of our daily lives. Unlike workouts, where you might get breaks, eating is constant. If this feels overwhelming, seek guidance. After all, it’s not just about our daily activities but also about how we present ourselves in work, relationships, and other aspects of life.

Kristen: What are the primary differences in nutrition needs between an endurance athlete, like a cyclist, and your average person?

Uri: The key distinction is the level of intention an athlete needs for their nutrition, particularly if they wish to perform at their best and recover adequately. When you have high-performance aspirations and also want to maintain your day-to-day life, your nutritional approach requires more nuance. Many clients approach me asking how much better they could feel, balancing their athletic endeavors with being human. Tackling this challenge is where the transformation occurs. There’s more detail and planning required.

Kristen: You’ve mentioned on Instagram that one shouldn’t be exhausted for the entire day after a tough ride or spend their whole weekend recovering. It took me a few years to realize that if you manage your nutrition right, such exhaustion isn’t necessary.

Uri: Precisely, feeling completely drained doesn’t have to be the norm. It’s essential to understand that the cumulative effects of your activities from the past days can impact your subsequent days. If you find yourself excessively hungry, craving only carbohydrates, or needing naps in the afternoon, it’s a sign something’s amiss in your nutritional strategy from the past days.

Kristen: So, where should one direct their focus if they’re experiencing these issues? Is it about nutrition during the activity, post-activity recovery, or a mix of both?

Uri: It’s definitely a blend of both. I approach nutrition by looking at the overlap between everyday life nutrition and performance nutrition. Both influence each other significantly. Whether you’re training for 8-10 hours a week or more than 16, the integration of both is crucial. If someone struggles with recovery or feels incessantly hungry after a weekend of activity, I evaluate their on-the-bike fueling strategy, including calorie intake per hour and hydration, and post-activity recovery methods. It’s about understanding and addressing both components.

Kristen: What common mistakes do you observe among female cyclists concerning their nutrition?

Uri: Almost universally, female cyclists, and athletes more broadly, are under-eating. Beyond simply not consuming enough, many aren’t eating the right foods at appropriate times. It’s about focusing on carbs when the body needs them to avoid late-night cravings and hunger pangs in the middle of the night.

Kristen: So, how can athletes optimally time their meals and snacks throughout the day?

Uri: A general guideline for my athletes is to avoid going beyond three and a half to four and a half hours without a balanced meal or snack. If they extend beyond this window, it can create a caloric deficit, leading to overeating later or impacting their workouts. The specifics, like the nature of the snack, depend on their subsequent activities, be it a workout or desk work.

Kristen: How can we identify if we’re not consuming enough? On the bike, the effects might be clear, like bonking, but how about day-to-day signs?

Uri: Cravings are a significant telltale sign. It’s challenging to fool our bodies indefinitely with restrictive diets. If you keep depriving the body, it will find ways to compensate, like binge-eating or undermining performance. Another indicator is a lack of hunger during the day’s early parts. If someone has been neglecting their nutrition for an extended period, their body might suppress hunger signals. However, once they start eating sufficiently again, those signals return, boosting performance, recovery, and energy. In summary, if you find strong cravings, especially in the day’s latter half, or consume much more than planned in a single sitting, it suggests accumulated caloric deficits. Persistent low energy, chronic injuries, and especially recurring minor injuries are also indicators of inadequate nutrition.

Kristen:
What would you say to women who are resistant to eating more because they’re afraid they will gain weight?

Uri:
It’s understandable. We’ve been programmed to think that if we eat more, we’ll weigh more. But let’s reframe this. If you eat what your body needs, your metabolism shifts from a low baseline, just barely sustaining, to burning food as fuel and energy instead of storing it as fat. This switch in metabolism is incredibly valuable. When cravings subside, that’s when your body starts efficiently using food. If you’re hesitant to eat more, feeling it will make you gain weight, the best advice is to ask for help. You need clarity on when and what to eat. It’s not about constantly eating more carbohydrates or calories; it’s about giving your body what it needs when it requires it to optimize metabolism, support energy, performance, and recovery. Building trust with your body is vital. Instead of depriving it, then overcompensating due to a deficit, you should provide it with what it needs. It’s not complicated, but navigating it can be tough. So, it’s okay to ask for help.

Kristen:
I wanted to mention that we have new FEM cyclists T-shirts available. If you want to show your support, visit shop.femmecyclist.com. Earlier, you mentioned that one’s healthiest body might not match their ideal body. Can you expand on that?

Uri:
Certainly. When working with a client, the discussion often goes beyond nutrition. Nutrition isn’t just about food; it’s about understanding where the ideal body image originates. What influences it? What truly matters? Does body composition, performance, or the number on the scale matter? And if so, why? It’s beneficial to explore these layers to determine the origin of these expectations. Sometimes, we’re so stuck on these ideas that we can’t see beyond them. Yet, setting goals based on how the body feels, recovers, and the ability to enjoy activities and food often leads to individuals not stressing over the scale or body composition. They focus on what brings them joy, and that’s wonderful to witness.

Kristen:
What’s your position on tracking calories or macros? How do you instruct your clients?

Uri:
Initially, for the first five days before our initial client call, we have them track their calories. I provide them with a document to log their food, feelings, and activities. It’s essential to note not just the food but also when they ate, their activities for the day, and how they felt. Did they feel starved by the end of the day or energetic after a bike ride? We want a holistic view, not just numbers. Tracking calories is just one component. Even if the numbers align, if someone’s still hungry, that’s crucial. It’s one tool, not the sole metric. It’s equally, if not more important, to monitor hunger, satiety, performance, and feelings about food.

Kristen:
Is that something we should be journaling about?

Uri:
Definitely. When people complete the food log we provide, which is essentially a template for noting what and when they ate, serving sizes, daily activities, and how they felt, they gain a broader perspective. Often, they’ll discover correlations they hadn’t noticed before, like how their diet might affect their sleep or energy levels. It’s not something you need to do every day, but it’s a valuable check-in.

Kristen:
In another podcast, we discussed journaling about menstrual cycles and how our feelings change throughout. This seems similar. It’s like we’ve lost touch with understanding our bodies.

Uri:
That’s true. We often feel we understand our daily experiences, but there’s so much information around us, it’s challenging to keep the big picture in view. It would be beneficial to add a section about one’s cycle to the food log. Tracking it alongside food and feelings could reveal some fascinating insights.

Kristen:
So, when it comes to meals, you recommend eating every three to four hours. What should we be eating? And what does a balanced meal look like?

Uri:
That’s a great question. A balanced meal typically consists of protein, plants (either fruits or vegetables), complex carbohydrates, and healthy fats. To simplify meal planning, I suggest people start by listing their preferred protein sources and ensuring they’re always available in their kitchen. This could be anything from fish to tofu to beans. Add in some form of plants and a source of complex carbohydrates, like sweet potatoes. Don’t forget healthy fats, which are crucial for brain health and absorbing fat-soluble vitamins, like vitamin D. For instance, last night I made salmon, paired it with sweet potatoes and broccoli, and had polenta cooked in avocado oil. All the components for a balanced meal.

Kristen:
That sounds delicious! I wish you could cook for me.

Uri:
It’s about keeping it simple. You don’t need a specific recipe. Once you have your protein, figure out which plants complement it, then add in your carbs and fats. Most carbohydrates, like rice or pasta, are shelf-stable, so they’re easy to keep on hand. The main goal is to have protein, plants, complex carbs, and healthy fats in every meal.

Kristen
I love that. For switching to on-the-bike nutrition, what do you recommend? Clif blocks? Real food? What should we be eating?

Uri
It depends on the person. I recommend what sounds good to you and what works for you. For some, gummies from Clif blocks might be the answer. We have a client who got excited about candy corn. After reviewing the nutrition labels, we realized it’s mainly carbohydrates. So you could opt for a fancy sports nutrition packaged gummy or candy corn. The core of this is, what are you going to be excited to eat when you’re on the bike? Because that’s what you should bring. If you dread eating another package of gummies, then maybe bring a baked good, a cookie, or some candy corn. Exercise suppresses our appetite, so it’s essential to find foods you’re enthusiastic about eating while riding.

Kristen
For someone who doesn’t really like sugary food, what kind of savory carbs can be eaten that are still easily digestible?

Uri
One of my favorites is a savory scone like a cheddar, chive scone. Scones are simple to make. For a twist, you could add cheddar cheese with chives or green chilies. And they freeze well. Hawaiian rolls are another good option as they are super soft with a high moisture content, making them easier to eat. You can combine them with semi-hard cheese and a touch of marmalade for a mix of sweet and savory. Savory baked goods, peanut butter pretzels, or a combination of pretzels with salty nuts are also good choices.

Kristen
When should we be taking electrolytes? Before or during our rides?

Uri
Anytime you’re sweating, you should be drinking electrolytes instead of just water. This is because sweat leads to a loss of electrolytes. Replacing just with water dilutes the existing electrolytes in your body, which isn’t effective. So, drink electrolytes when you’re sweating. If you’re behind on hydration for any reason – travel, illness, hangovers – it’s a good time to add electrolytes to your intake.

Kristen
Is there any brand you recommend?

Uri
I personally love Scratch Labs because of its simple ingredients and mild flavor. It contains sugar, which can aid hydration during exercise. Outside of intense efforts, if you’re mindful of sugar, you can go for other electrolyte products without added sugar. Liquid IV and Scotch Wellness are some of the options. There’s a lot of variety out there, and they’re not all created equal, so it’s worth exploring.

Kristen
What about Osmo? Do you recommend that?

Uri
Absolutely. Osmo and Tailwind are great options. When choosing, look at the labels to determine sugar content and use the one that suits your needs best. Taste is also crucial; go for what you’ll drink regularly. Electrolyte consumption varies; some need higher sodium levels, and others do not. Listen to your body, as it often tells you what you need.

Kristen: One topic that’s been coming up a lot lately is aging. How do your recommendations change, if at all, for women who are peri and post-menopausal?

Uri: Absolutely, they do change. For peri and postmenopausal women, their carbohydrate need can decrease, and their need for protein can increase. Let’s take a baseline, for instance, when a 30-year-old woman or someone in the pre-menopausal stage finishes an endurance workout, say a three-hour effort. I’d recommend aiming for four parts carbohydrate to one part protein. A good example would be 40 grams of carbs and 10 grams of protein. This could be a recovery shake or even a smoothie with a banana and some regular or unsweetened plant-based milk. However, for a peri-menopausal woman, I’d suggest aiming for about 30 grams of carbohydrates and 20 to 25 grams of protein. Their sensitivity to carbohydrates has increased, and their protein requirement has risen too. So, protein should be a more integral part of a peri-menopausal woman’s diet. We should focus on giving them the carbohydrates they need to support performance, instead of just telling them to consume fewer carbs. A non-specific approach often leads to the sentiment, “I’m peri-menopausal, my energy is low, and my performance is declining because I’m trying to eat fewer carbs.” It’s essential to be more intentional about their diet.

Kristen: For those who aren’t ready to work with a nutritionist one-on-one and are looking for more generalized information, do you have any experts, books, or podcasts you’d recommend?

Uri: Certainly. When seeking information from experts, books, or podcasts, think of it as a starting point. The advice given is generalized, aiming for a broad audience, not specific individuals. Therefore, while a podcast or book might provide a baseline, it’s okay to experiment and see what works best for you individually. A podcast I recommend is “Inside Sports Nutrition”. It offers in-depth discussions on various sports nutrition topics, and the hosts explore different angles of the content. It’s an excellent resource to delve into performance nutrition nuances. But always remember, not all information will apply to everyone.

Kristen: I appreciate that perspective. So, while there are generalized guidelines and recommendations, they’re just a starting point. It’s on us to keep track and decide if it’s working or if we need professional guidance, right?

Uri: Exactly. I also share a lot of information on my Instagram page, aiming to educate people so they can make informed decisions for themselves. It’s never a case of “this is the only way.”

Kristen: I appreciate your insights. Is there something important for women listeners that I haven’t touched upon?

Uri: While you’ve covered most things, I believe it’s vital for active women to know they should feel strong, healthy, and confident in their performance and nutrition while pursuing activities they love. It saddens me when women approach me, stressed about their upcoming race or group ride, fearing they might not perform well. If a lack of nutrition knowledge hinders the joy these activities bring, then it’s essential to seek knowledge. Women should know they can feel significantly better. I’ve personally experienced this confusion, and it’s challenging. These activities bring us so much happiness, and with the right guidance, we can enhance this joy.

Kristen: I have three more questions for you. But first, can you share where women can connect with you, learn more about you, and explore your services and offerings?

Uri: Certainly! Instagram is where I’m most active. You can find me at URI_Carlson. Do drop a message mentioning this podcast. I’m always open to voice chat and answer queries. I also run a 12-week program called ‘Fulfill Potential’. It’s the only one I offer because of its effectiveness. While I used to provide a la carte services, I found I couldn’t impact someone’s life in just one or two sessions. I want to engage with individuals genuinely ready to make a lasting change. You can get an idea of the program from the ‘client wins’ highlights on my Instagram. Please don’t hesitate to DM me!

Kristen: I’d also like to add that Uri’s Instagram is truly insightful. It’s genuine, no-nonsense, and grounded. Now, my final questions: What bikes do you ride?

Uri: I ride Giuliana bikes. I currently own the Maverick, which I adore. I’m also anticipating the Ruby, which features a combo between a seven-five and a twenty-niner – super excited about it. Additionally, I have the Quincy, their gravel bike, perfect for in-between seasons. Lastly, I own a random secondhand fat bike for winter rides.

Kristen: Where’s the best place you’ve ever cycled?

Uri: Recently, I took a girls’ trip to Vancouver Island, riding in Cumberland and Nanaimo. The coastal rides there are unmatched. It’s an experience I’d love to relive.

Kristen: Lastly, what do you love most about cycling?

Uri: Even after riding for over a decade, I often find myself overwhelmed with joy while cycling. There’s a consistent happiness it offers, unmatched by any other activity. Riding my bike simply feels fantastic.

Are You Listening To The Femme Cyclist Podcast?!?

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A podcast for women who love bicycles! We we celebrate all forms of riding and all forms of women, so whether you’re a road cyclist, mountain biker, or bike commuter, you’ll find your community here. Each week we’ll week bring you interviews from inspiring women, and offer tips and tricks to help you thrive on the bike.

About The Host

kristen bonkoski

Kristen Bonkoski is the founder and owner of Femme Cyclist.

An avid cyclist for a few decades now, she took to cycling during her late teen years — a time when she needed something to help boost her self-esteem and confidence.

Mission accomplished, the sport has become an important part of her life.  Kristen’s favorite disciplines are mountain biking and bike commuting, although you can also find her cranking out a century on her road bike and touring with her husband and son.  If it has to do with two wheels, she enjoys doing it.

Kristen is a certified USA Cycling coach, and she runs Rascal Rides, a website about biking with kids.

IG: @femme_cyclist

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