Special Guest: Amber Pierce – Ask a Cycling Coach 193

Thank you for the kind words! And - thanks especially for mentioning the #BeAGoodWheel campaign. I can vouch that the kits are amazing. We’ll be doing a big giveaway soon and hope to grow this as the season progresses, so stay tuned!

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Thank you! Happy to take a stab at this question for you. As with everything, take this with a grain of salt and remember that you’ll probably need to try a few variations to figure out what works for you!

The basic principals are 1) get the nutrition you need to be healthy, 2) fuel your body for the workout, and 3) replace the glycogen loss from the workout to recovery sufficiently to work out again the following day. My strategy for this is to eat balanced, nutrient-dense foods you enjoy for “regular” meals (the meals not pre-, during, or immediately post-workout); then eat a carbohydrate-rich pre-workout meal or snack 2-3 hours before the workout (whenever possible), fuel consistently during the workout, and drink a recovery shake immediately following the workout (within 30minutes).

If I had the schedule you outlined, I’d probably do something like this.

Given the workout is 750kcal, I’m assuming that will be roughly a 90 min effort (guessing here, but we’ll go with this to work out the math as an example). That’s short enough and intense enough you probably want to stick with Bloks (chews) or Shots (gels). If you start fueling early (within 10 minutes) with a gel and take one every 30minutes after that, you’ll eat 3 gels during the workout, which gives you 300kcal. You should probably have at least two bottles during that ride, so let’s say you’re using a typical CHO hydration mix (40kcal/8oz) for two 16oz bottles, gives you 160kcal. So total intake of fuel DURING the ride is 460kcal. That means you’d want a carbohydrate-rich snack of at least (750kcal - 460kcal =) 290kcal 2-3h before your ride. If you were doing this workout in the morning, that would be your breakfast. Since it’s an evening ride, however, that would be your afternoon snack. What you listed for lunch seems like a super balanced and healthful meal, and that allows you to shift the focus of the snack more toward a fuel (CHO) focus. So, in the example you provided, I’d replace the handful of almonds with a plain bagel (~200kcal if it’s not a huge one; toast works too) and light spread of almond butter (1 TBSP = 100kcal) . The fat/protein in the spread will taste delicious, increase satiety, help mitigate an immediate insulin spike, and you’ll have plenty of time to digest it (3h) before you start your workout.

Then, take a gel about 10min into your ride, and again at 40min and 70min, drinking continuously.

If you dislike using hydration mix and prefer plain water, then you’d want to increase the size of your snack to 450, which might mean a bigger bagel with more almond butter or almond butter + jam. (Same goes for if you use less mix in your water to have a more dilute solution in your bottles.) You can fudge this a little, too, given the recovery shake. If bagels aren’t your jam (but seriously they are so good), just shoot for a snack that meets the calorie deficit you’re looking to fill (750kcal - during-workout kcal) and that has a mix of CHO, protein, and fat, wherein it’s mostly CHO with some protein and fat to dampen that insulin response and increase satiety.

So, the pre-workout snack, during-workout fuel, and post-workout shake all focus on CHO as fuel/recovery. Your other meals (breakfast, lunch, morning snack), should focus on nutrient-density, sticking to healthful choices that you genuinely enjoy.

Use the kcal math to figure out some options for what you need and what works for you; once you have a repertoire of a few favorite pre-workout snacks, you won’t need the math. (Less cognitive load!) This isn’t an exact science, but I think adding more kcal and CHO to that afternoon snack will make a huge difference for you.

Hope this helps!


This makes me so happy to hear! It’s amazing what a difference it can make to lay everything out the night before training. When I’m really in a groove, I even have my bottles made and in the fridge (including recovery shake). Truthfully, I didn’t ALWAYS do this (life has this funny habit of happening), but boy did it help when I could and did! And yes - your body is going to love training with proper fuel! So glad you had a great ride, and thank you for sharing!


When you train indoors, do you use:

dumb trainer or
smart trainer

and why?

I use rollers and a smart trainer, both. Rollers are SO GOOD for skill work and pedal stroke mechanics. Especially if the weather is bad and you can’t balance outdoor training with your indoor work, riding rollers can keep your skills sharp for the next time you hop into a group ride. On rollers, I do a lot of varied cadence work with emphasis on high cadence. I used to use rollers to practice riding no-handed (for getting bottles from the team car) and riding really close to the edge (e.g. two inches) of the roller to mimic squeezing through tight spaces in Dutch races. I don’t recommend either of these drills unless you’re already very skilled on the rollers (and have a wall near you just in case)! But it’s great for practicing riding one-handed (e.g. for signaling in traffic) or drinking while riding (removing/replacing your water bottle) or doing single leg drills for pedal stroke efficiency (I kept the opposite, resting leg clipped in as a counterweight to the working leg to avoid too much stress on the hip flexors).

I used a dumb trainer for a really long time, and what I like about it is that it more closely approximates what it’s like to ride outdoors in that you have to create the resistance yourself by pedaling harder. It’s a different cognitive dynamic than having a smart trainer adjust the resistance for you.

That said, I like the smart trainer a LOT, because when I’m doing indoor work, I’m usually training the physiological load specifically. In other words, I’m not on a group ride working on positioning, tactics, and reaction time. My time on the trainer is to do really focused, quality efforts to train very specific systems with low cognitive load. So I’ve come to really appreciate the trainer as a more surgical tool, and the smart trainer really helps me with that (e.g. the VO2 story I told on the show).

In summary, all are helpful, but each is best suited to a specific type of work. Thanks for the great question!


@Nate_Pearson this is hands down one of the best podcasts to date. @ambermalika you were an amazing guest and your insight was awesome. keep it up gals and guys.


It really does. Thank you so much. Up till now I’ve just been having at most a Clif Bar before a hard workout, water/electrolyte mix during, and a shake after. I’ll do some calculations of various afternoon snacks and invest in some more energy drink too. No excuse for workout failure now…

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I followed this type of fueling for my weekend rides and I ended up crushing them. Felt strong throughout the workouts, really tired at for the last few minutes of the under/overs, but with a lot of calories for breakfast, couple bottles on the bike, and then a Ultregen shake after I felt great. Had no problem jumping on today to knock out 4x20 min intervals.

It was @Nate_Pearson level eating for sure, but damn it did its job!

I felt like I had been struggling some in my more recent workouts and after listening to this podcast Friday I thought it might be that I was cutting calories too much. As of two days I figured that was the case. Way better to have a huge breakfast and eat on the bike and controlled eating later in the day, rather then just having that post ride “I’M STARVING!!!” and eat a tray of Oreos.


I have a follow-up question on this also. So far I have frontloaded my calorie intake during breakfast eating something like two slices of toast with nut-butter and up to four eggs and then eaten something like lots of lentils for lunch and some Greek yoghurt with fruit at night. I found that if I skip the eggs I am having a hard time hitting my protein recommendations throughout the day.

Okay, so here’s my question: On the one hand, that breakfast should provide plenty of fuel for a 60-70 minute weekday workout 3h later right? So I tend to not really fuel for anything of that duration. But at the same time, considering that it’s also the vast majority of my calories for the day I tend to feel quite depleted towards the end of the day. Would a daily recovery shake fix this, or would you still fuel during the workouts with an eye towards the rest of the day? Or should I fundamentally change the timing of my calorie intake?

This is so great to hear! Just wait until you start seeing those power numbers go up! High fives!

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Great question! If you’ve fueled well (e.g. you replenished glycogen losses from the previous day with a recovery shake and had a good pre-workout meal with CHO), then for efforts less than one hour, you can get away with not fueling during the ride. I say “get away with” because it’s not always ideal, especially if it’s a race like a criterium with high intensity efforts. I’d guess your workout has reasonable intensity given it’s not a 4 hour base ride, and given it’s over an hour, I’d say you need a little something in addition to the breakfast (btw - that’s a great-sounding breakfast). I’d suggest trying to add some Bloks or Shots during the ride, maybe 100-150kcal, or 200kcal (2 gels) if you’re doing hard efforts. You could have this in your bottle, too, if that’s easier (add some mix). Start with maybe 1 gel halfway through, or add CHO to your bottle and make sure to drink consistently. See how you feel. If it doesn’t mess with your stomach, my guess is you’ll feel better and have a better workout.

And 100% drink a recovery shake afterwards! Even if you didn’t fuel during the ride, you’d feel worlds better later in the day if you drank a recovery shake within 30min of finishing your ride. It will help you replenish glycogen and set you up for a more productive day. (CHO for your brains!) The breakfast you describe is definitely healthful and gives you plenty of good kcal to get your day started, but it’s weighted more toward protein and fats than CHO. That isn’t a bad thing, but - when you wake up, your glycogen stores are pretty low because you’ve been fasting all night. Two slices of toast will help to replenish the depletion, but then you go into a workout that’s burning right through that. You might consider adding a little more CHO to the meal (maybe jam with the nut butter on the toast?) and/or take in a little more CHO during the ride. Give it a try - play around with different breakfast combinations and workout fuel and see what feels best. I really think the recovery shake will be key, though, so find one you like that’s easy to get down right after your ride.

Hope this helps!


Best guest to date. Bring Amber back or have her Skype in for Ask a Pro!

@ambermalika What tools did you mention / recommend?


I agree–interviewing more pro women would be great! Maybe if TR can get Megan Guarnier, Evelyn Stevens, Mara Abbott–all American women that have done extraordinarily well in their cycling careers, that would be sensational!

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One of the best podcasts y’all have done. #hireamber

Keep up the good work! :sunglasses:


I absolutely agree. Keep Amber as a regular.


Thanks for the reading suggestions @ambermalika!!

I’ve listened to the podcast twice, on top of watching it live. So much useful information that I feel like I can apply to my future in this sport! :smiley:

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The tools are by Unior USA! http://uniorusa.com Unlike most tools that are manufactured in China, these are made in Europe. The factory is in Slovenia, and the tools are incredible. They are beautiful and thoughtful (seriously, they think of everything - have a gander at their full catalogue, because it will blow your mind) and make bike maintenance and repair a pleasure. Full disclosure: they are one of my sponsors. Full disclosure: I reached out to them for sponsorship, because I love their products!


Terrific episode with a knowledgeable, articulate, and experienced guest that knows her stuff. Right up there with some of TR’s best episodes. Thanks, Amber!

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This was a superb podcast. @ambermalika was wonderful. Full of insight and honestly just straight with the common sense. None of this silly deep dive into how many watts can I save by using these laces and tucking them this way or shaving my legs in a certain pattern on a full blood moon night (jokes people!). Between this and the ones with Pete during his recaps or how he races are at the top. Kudos


I continue to be blown away by all of the kind feedback about the show - thanks everyone!

One topic that arose over on Facebook deserves mention here. On the podcast I joked that pro cyclists “eat like we’re trying to give ourselves diabetes” in context of our discussion about the importance of carbohydrates (CHO). The last thing I want to do is spread misinformation, so I want to clarify that I did not meant to say CHO causes diabetes! Instead, I was referring to the fact that high level endurance athletes ingest a lot of simple sugars to fuel their training, which without the insulin sensitizing effects of exercise, would likely cause repeated insulin spikes that over time could lead to insulin resistance (IR), which is a precursor to prediabetes and Type 2 diabetes (T2D). I apologize for the lack of clarity and context and definitely meant no offense!

Someone commented that intramyocellular lipids (small droplets of fat in muscle cells) cause T2D and cited a website that claims to ground recommendations peer-reviewed science. I wrote the following response and thought it would be a good thing to share here, because it illustrates some of the common pitfalls of allowing an so-called expert to cherry-pick and summarize primary sources without verifying those conclusions for yourself (even if that person has an M.D.). For the record, I am aware of the irony that I am “picking” sources to make a point here, as well, but my point is that you should take all perspectives - mine included - with a big grain of salt!

Here is my response; you can see the full comment thread on the Trainer Road FB page:

I appreciate your interest in this topic. Let’s dig into it. Intramyocellular lipids (IMCL) have been CORRELATED with insulin resistance (IR), i.e. we do see higher IMCL in people with IR, but whether IMCL CAUSE IR has not been proven and remains controversial. An example of this is the Athlete’s Paradox - see, e.g., this 2018 study Dissociation of intramyocellular lipid storage and insulin resistance in trained athletes and type 2 diabetes patients; involvement of perilipin 5? - PubMed – where athletes have the same high levels of IMCL as non-trained people with Type 2 Diabetes (T2D), but the athletes do not have T2D or IR—evidence contrary to Dr. Greger’s assertion that IMCL cause IR & T2D. More here: Exercise-induced alterations in intramyocellular lipids and insulin resistance: the athlete’s paradox revisited - PMC. The reality is far more complex. Dr. Greger is cherry-picking studies (most from 20 years ago) to support his assertion that a vegan diet can reverse/prevent various diseases, including T2D. He doesn’t mention any of the many (more recent) studies showing that a high-fat low-carb diet can also treat T2D by increasing insulin sensitivity. I found three in a brief search, including a comprehensive review article:
Beyond weight loss: a review of the therapeutic uses of very-low-carbohydrate (ketogenic) diets - PMC,
The effect of a low-carbohydrate, ketogenic diet versus a low-glycemic index diet on glycemic control in type 2 diabetes mellitus - PMC,
An Online Intervention Comparing a Very Low-Carbohydrate Ketogenic Diet and Lifestyle Recommendations Versus a Plate Method Diet in Overweight Individuals With Type 2 Diabetes: A Randomized Controlled Trial - PMC .

I have nothing against veganism (it has many benefits and helps a lot of people), but I do have a problem with selectively using science to justify false claims. Eating vegan is beneficial for many people and may work for you, but the truth is there is no silver bullet that works for everyone. (The closest thing we’ve got to a silver bullet is exercise, and even that doesn’t cure everything.) Anyone who tells you that all you have to do is follow this ONE diet and you can reverse all major diseases is selling you something, and in fact, Dr. Greger is doing just that.

With all of that said, if it works for you, that’s great! Physiology is highly individual and varied, so I encourage everyone to experiment to find what works best for them. Just because one study found a particular result does not mean that it works for all of humankind, or that the study’s results can even be replicated (see Why Most Published Research Findings Are False). That’s why it’s important to read multiple studies and look for counterexamples to prevent confirmation bias. Dr. Greger is not portraying a balanced view of our current understanding of metabolic disease and instead speaks in absolutes and presents only self-confirming evidence.

I write and edit scientific research proposals for a living, have authored/published peer-reviewed journal articles on physiology, and have studied human (and in particular exercise) physiology for many years with the world’s leading experts, and I still tell people to take what I say with a grain of salt and figure out what works for them. Anyone who doesn’t is not a real scientist. Science doesn’t work in absolutes, especially when it comes to physiology. In fact, just to check myself, I reached out to a physiologist friend who studied metabolic disease at the Mayo Clinic, and he said: “The real issue is not a matter of simple [IMCL]. Metabolic flux, tissue redox balance, and intramuscular inflammation all play a role in insulin resistance.” Even he is quick to point out the gray area.

The last thing I want to do is spread misinformation. I want to reiterate that I didn’t say carbohydrate causes diabetes, but I should have better clarified my comment, given the context of the conversation. I also don’t assert that sugar CAUSES diabetes (see my previous comment), but rather that repeated insulin spikes over time can lead to insulin resistance (IR). This is clearly not the only pathway to IR, nor does it capture the complexity of metabolic disruption that leads to T2D.

If you genuinely want to understand the science, I strongly encourage you not to take Dr. Greger’s word at face value and instead to go to the original literature and see for yourself. You can look up the original sources for studies he cites, or search keywords for related studies here: PubMed

You’ll quickly see a range of perspectives and far more complexity than what he portrays. I’ve seen worse and more harmful diet advice out there, but the fact remains that he does not offer his viewers an accurate representation of the state of the science on nutrition.

I realize I probably won’t change your mind about Dr. Greger or his website, but I hope that anyone else reading this thread will think twice about the nutritional “science” offered by websites that offer silver-bullet diets (and books and DVDs and related products). Just because his site operates as a non-profit does not mean that he isn’t making money from it (he owns the site according to public records and his non-profit reported over 1.5 million dollars in 2017 income according to Charity Navigator). As for veganism, there are plenty of sound reasons to promote this lifestyle without resorting to cherry-picking data to construct misleading conclusions.