Clean Eating and Cycling: Is There a Benefit?

Clean Eating and Cycling: Is There a Benefit?

Active women are always looking for the next great diet or lifestyle modification that might improve their overall health, cycling performance, and quality of life. Cue the clean eating advocates who swear that their plan will be the answer to all your problems. But is it?

So, where did the term “clean eating” even come from?

Seemingly out of nowhere, clean eating has become synonymous with a healthy diet. But when you break down the premise and look at who is pushing this concept on social media, it is evident that “clean eating” is another restrictive diet.

Variations of clean eating have been around for a long time, but in the last decade, it has gained momentum through significant exposure from social media. According to, what we know as clean eating today was introduced by a Canadian fitness model and coach who promoted the diet as a “celebrity” lifestyle. 

What is clean eating?

You may wonder, “what is clean eating?” Is it even a “thing”? The term clean eating has been adopted in different ways from individual to individual since there is no regulatory body that defines it as a medical or scientific term. There is an overwhelming lack of scientific data to back up claims that clean eating improves health or cycling performance. 

The term clean eating or clean diet is subjected to every individual’s belief or perception. The most widely known definition is consuming foods that are as close to their natural state as possible. Organic fruits and vegetables, foods with no additives or preservatives, limiting processed foods containing added sugars or fats, lean meats, and homemade foods are part of the clean eating philosophy.  

Is clean eating a safe dietary habit to follow?

It is vital to validate your sources when considering a diet or lifestyle change. There is little to non-scientific evidence that clean eating promotes health benefits or helps cure diseases as some influencers have advertised. 

On the contrary, research shows a significant association between following a clean diet and eating disorders, anxiety, emotional distress, and psychosocial impairments. A study [1] conducted among young adults showed how a positive perception of the clean eating diet is aligned with the risks of eating disorders. 

Is clean eating dangerous to our mental health?

Extreme diets are at the forefront due to exposure and promotion across social media platforms, putting specific populations at higher risk of developing physical and mental issues. 

We must remember that there is constant pressure on social media to “follow what’s in”; therefore, evaluating which diets are backed up by scientific evidence is the key to preventing harmful lifestyle changes and eating practices.

Can clean eating be limiting instead of improving your cycling performance?

Clean eating proponents push organic, fresh, and what they view as non-processed foods as the only safe alternative. Produce and other potentially healthy and affordable food sources are categorized as unsafe or naughty. 

Negative connotations surrounding food can lead to unhealthy obsessions and restricted eating habits, potentially leading to disordered eating.

Inadequate intake due to fear of non-organic or processed food will 100% limit your capability to cycle longer and harder. Many fueling recommendations that are instrumental in preventing a bonk, would be disallowed on a “clean eating” type of plan. 

Just like abs are made in the kitchen, you can make or break your cycling performance by not consuming adequate calories or balance within your diet.

Is clean eating realistic, practical, or even affordable?

One of the main foundations of clean eating is to consume organic and fresh products that are not processed. According to the USDA, for a food to be labeled organic, it must meet specific criteria when produced and handled “through approved methods that integrate cultural, biological, and mechanical practices that foster cycling of resources, promote ecological balance, and conserve biodiversity. Synthetic fertilizers, sewage sludge, irradiation, and genetic engineering may not be used”. 

An important point to keep in mind: organic farming is not synonymous with pesticide-free. Organic farmers employ pesticides, but they are derived from natural versus synthetic sources.

Being that cycling is an expensive sport, for women who must stay within a budget, it may be difficult to follow a clean eating protocol. Organic products tend to be more expensive. 

As cyclists, we want to spend every available minute in the saddle. The time required to plan a clean eating way must not be negated.

Eating clean can also involve constantly thinking about which foods are “clean” and which foods should be avoided, especially when eating out at the supermarket, leading to obsessive behaviors, emotional distress, and social problems. In other words, you can kiss the end-of-ride coffee stop goodbye!

Is organic healthier?

Are all organic foods healthier options? Not necessarily. Some organic foods have similar or even more sugar, salt, fats, or calories than their non-organic counterparts. So, do not be fooled by the word “organic”; this is a lesson to read your food labels! 

After all, organic potato chips are just potato chips in fancy packaging. While chips may be yummy, they may not be the most nutrient-dense option to help you reach your health goals.

The problem with the dirty dozen

Every year, the Environmental Working Group releases its list of the 12 non-organic fruits and vegetables to avoid [2]. This list is an excellent example of where clean eating can do more harm than good.

If budgetary constraints limit your ability to purchase organic produce, you may miss out on some of the most nutrient-dense foods available. 

Don’t allow that list to scare you into eliminating fruit and vegetables from your diet. Eating conventionally grown produce is more beneficial than eliminating otherwise healthy food due to fear.

Our recommendation? Buy produce that is within your budget and wash everything thoroughly before eating. If the cost remains an issue, look to canned and frozen options to get in the recommended daily number of fruit and vegetable.

So, is clean eating the answer to my nutrition problems?

Trends such as the “clean eating diet” can be dangerous due to the elevated risk of developing disordered eating. In our opinion, its harms outweigh its benefits. Clean eating may also not be realistic for the average person, as it can be quite costly and does not consider the budget.

It has been proven that extreme dieting and lifestyle changes are unsustainable [3] and can lead to health complications. Start thinking critically and looking closer at diets and ways of eating that may not seem realistic for your lifestyle. Consider who is pushing the diet and what plan they are selling. 

Investigate, and ask a healthcare professional, physician, and a registered dietitian (RD) before following these trends. Your mental and physical health is not worth experimenting with.

Ten healthy and smart alternatives to clean eating

  1. Plan your meals using meal prepping. Meal prep saves both time and money. Plus, it can help with portion control and dietary selection.
  2. Buy seasonal fruits and vegetables to reduce food costs.
  3. Incorporate frozen and canned options into your diet. Look for varieties that are sugar and sodium-free.
  4. Educate yourself by reading food labels.
  5. Buy in small quantities to prevent food waste.
  6. Eat a variety of foods for a balanced diet. This includes both fresh and processed food. 
  7. Maintain hydration by drinking water before, during, and after each ride.
  8. Cycle regularly. Getting at least 150 minutes of moderate physical activity per week is essential. 
  9. Remember —“the dose makes the poison.” Just because something has a chemical in the ingredient list or it is processed does not automatically make it “bad” for you. 
  10. When in doubt, ask! Reach out to a professional if you need guidance. If you have not already done so, join the Facebook community.

So, what else can I do?

You can sign up for a FREE Diet Quality Assessment. It is essential to know where your current diet stands. Knowing where to start is critical to creating a sustainable healthy lifestyle and getting off the dieting merry-go-round once and for all. 

This scientifically validated online dietary questionnaire tool gathers information about your diet over the last 90-days. In just 30-minutes, you will have an analysis of your current nutritional intake and what changes can be made. Learn more!

Reach out for help if you still feel confused about what meal plan best suits you and your cycling. Ask questions in the Facebook group, email us, or comment below.

What Should You Eat Before a Bike Ride?

What Should You Eat Before a Bike Ride?

Why do we think it is important to eat before a bike ride?

Because pedals up usually mean an early start, it is so important to make time for your pre-ride fuel.

So many women find that they are just not hungry in the morning. They grab a coffee and dash out to meet the group.

Now I am known to love my sleep and refuse to sacrifice even a minute to make breakfast before an early ride. Therefore, I tend to rely on grab-and-go bars to boost those muscle glycogen stores.

These bars are my ride or die, BUT you may have your own favorites. Reach out and let us know your preferred early morning fuel.

Most people hear the words “carbs” and think they are the evil macronutrient that causes weight gain and gets in the way of weight loss. However, this is not the case. “Carbs” or carbohydrates are one of the most needed nutrients as they provide energy and can help reach peak performance.

Carbs are essential for optimal exercise performance. Consuming carbs help muscles perform at their best by improving brain activity through increasing motor skills and decreasing the feeling of fatigue, thus, increasing recovery and performance [1, 2]. Consuming an adequate amount of carbs decreases muscle soreness by replenishing muscle glycogen [1, 2].

What type of carbohydrate is best before a bike ride?

The type of carbohydrate you eat is extremely important because it influences exercise performance and recovery factors [1].

For low to moderate-intensity cyclists exercising for durations of 1 to 2 hours), consuming small carbohydrate snacks before exercise increases your endurance by providing energy throughout the exercise [1].

A mixture of simple and complex carbs appears to offer teh best benefit [1, 3]. Some examples of mixed types of carbs include bananas, apples, berries, or low-fiber granola bars.

6 Dietitian Approved Grab and Go Cycling Fuel

Sometimes morning fuel needs to be quick and straightforward. A 7 am ride time does not allow for tons of time to actually make a bagel or oats. This is when the convenience of bars comes in. The ones listed below are some of my favorites. They check my pre-fuel boxes — adequate carbs plus great taste.

  • Kodiak Cakes Chewy Bar (all flavors)- these bars are light and airy so they do not feel heavy going down. At 20 grams of carbs, these chewy bars will keep you pedaling for that first hour comfortably.
  • CLIF Kid ZBar – Who doesn’t want to be a kid again? 😉 We are a fan of kid-sized bars because they usually are small enough to fit in a jersey, yet usually back enough of a carb punch to fuel your muscles. ZBars pack 20 grams of carbohydrates into a delicious and easy-to-eat bar.
  • Trader Joe’s ABC Almond Butter Cocoa Bars – Chocolate and almond butter are the perfect combo in this delicious, melt-in-your-mouth bar. These bars contain a whopping 19 grams of carbohydrates with only 4 grams of added sugar. A+ in my book!
  • Target Good & Gather Date & Nut Mini Bars – If too much-added sugar is a no-no for you, these bars will fit the bill. These small, portable bars mimic cookie dough with the main ingredients being dates and cashews. They contain 12 grams of carbohydrates and only 2 grams of added sugar in 100 calories. These are my go-to for shorter rides. If you plan on being out for 90+ minutes grab the full-size version, you will not be disappointed!
  • Trader Joe’s Coconut Chocolate Date Bars – Looking for a 0g added sugar solution? This bar is for you! With only 5 ingredients, this bar contains a healthy 23 grams of carbs which are sure to keep you pedaling on those longer rides. Coconut, not your thing? Try the These Peanuts Go on a Date bars with 24 grams of carbohydrates and 0 grams of sugar.
  • Bobo’s Oat Bites – These treats are perfect for the muffin lovers out there. While a little higher in sugar than the previous options, the taste and texture make them a winner. That and the whopping 24 grams of total carbohydrates.

How to Pre Fuel

Once you have your pre-ride favorites, make sure to eat one at least 60 minutes before pedals up. Drink at least 16 fluid ounces of water with your pre-ride snack and you should be good for at least the first hour of your ride.

Always be prepared! Pack additional snacks, even if you don’t plan to be out longer than an hour.

Knowing how and what to eat will make early morning nutrition a breeze.

To learn more about nutrition and fuel make sure to join our course waitlist to be one of the first to know when it goes live. You can also join our private Facebook group to find additional information and the support you need.