ToolBox: Lex Albrecht Interview
Cycling is a demanding sport on both the mind and body. There are so many elements to keep in balance including training, rest, social and family life, work, relationships and nutrition to name a few. I connected with Canadian Professional Road Cyclist Lex Albrecht on how she keeps the balance as well as her thoughts on nutrition as a professional cyclist.
Knowing Lex from our time as teammates, I recall clearly that she is one of the most dedicated, persistent cyclists I have met. Lex also knows how to maintain a social life, laugh a lot and keep a healthy balanced approach to nutrition. It sounds simple, but having been there I can tell you, it’s not always simple.
Let’s find out how Lex keeps the balance and hopefully she will share some pearls of wisdom with us.
AG: Lex, great to talk to you. I see you have signed with Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefits Strategies for the 2015 season -congratulations! Exciting to be back in black and orange?
LA: Optum Pro Cycling presented by Kelly Benefits Strategies is truly one of the best North American trade teams. The administration and management is exceptionally talented and professional, the roster has an enormous amount of horsepower. The race calendar will have us competing across North America and in Europe, which is perfect to showcase our stuff out on the road. I’m very happy.
AG: That’s sounds perfect, especially for a pre-Olympic year. When I think of you, I think of an athlete who is very detail oriented, focused, yet also balanced. By that I mean you always seem to make time for the little things such as core workouts, working on a balanced body, being social and supporting sponsors on social networks etc. First off, good for you – it’s certainly a full time job.
LA: You’re right, balance is key. I just started doing Essentrics recently, a form of dynamic yoga crossed with dance and Pilates. It’s so refreshing and a great compliment to what I train so hard for on the bike. You have to try it to understand.
AG: That sounds great. (We’ll look out for your dance moves this season.) We have done some work together and you have a pretty good grasp on nutrition – could you share with other cyclists what you consider top 3 ‘guiding” rules for daily nutrition?
LA: For sure I would say:
1.) Eat clean. I feel my best when I eat food that hasn’t been overly processed or produced industrially like most packaged foods and a lot of chain-restaurant meals. I try to prepare all of my own food.
2.) Be consistent. I like to eat similar breakfasts every day and have a few staple pre, during, and post workout race foods that I have a tendency to stick to. I’ve experimented to find what works best and when I find something great, I don’t deviate from it much.
3.) Probiotics. I started using probiotics in various forms in the past years and have begun using them consistently, to keep my digestive flora balanced. It’s important for proper nutrient uptake and assimilation, and the immune system as well. Pro athletes put their bodies through the wringer… so we have to be extra careful about staying healthy. Probiotics are a simple and natural way to help.
AG: Great guidelines. How do you assure that you are getting enough fuel for your training? Do you log your intake daily?
LA: I make a conscious effort to eat enough carbohydrates at key moments (before, during, and right after training). I used to put too big of an emphasis on proteins, but it often left me feeling empty in my training sessions and stage races since my glycogen stores were never getting replenished enough.
AG: Sounds like you are dialed in. How does your nutrition change as you are heading into a stage race like Gila or Cascades where you will be expending a lot of calories day after day?
LA: I usually have to force myself to eat when I am not hungry, and that is typically immediately after a race and the hour that follows. It’s ironic that this is when I am the least hungry, and the most crucial time to replenish for the next stage. I’ve unintentionally neglected post-race nutrition before, and the effect the next day is quasi-disastrous.
AG: Ahhh yes, I’m glad you shared that. It’s true that often as cyclists we have to eat when we are not hungry during stage races. This is not the time to create a deficit or lean out. Sometimes it takes a hard lesson for us to learn. Speaking of racing and being on the road, do you travel with any foods in particular that are a must have while racing?
LA: I travel with a protein powder that I mix in with oatmeal. I also travel with beet juice. I like to have both when I’m racing, but they can be hard to find on the road, especially my favourites. When I’m flying domestically I bring vegetables to the airport because they cost an arm and two legs to buy on the plane (when it’s even an option) or in the kiosks and restaurants near the gates.
AG: THANK YOU FOR PROMOTING VEGETABLES. It’s so difficult for many athletes to make a point to eat them daily, but it’s certainly a big part of optimal nourishment. Nice work. I remember you used to always eat herring, cold from the glass jar. That was certainly unique. Are you still the only cyclist who always has a jar of cold herring on hand?!
LA: My rule is, now, no seafood until after a race. I puked up fish when I was racing on a hot day in Pennsylvania once. It made for a delicious breakfast and a nasty experience during a hard effort. I don’t eat it often anymore, but I still love fish, and pickled herring is one of my favourites. Whenever I go to Germany I always try to get to a Nordsee once or twice for a pickled herring sandwich. DE-LISH.
AG: I guess everything has their “thing”! Even if it’s pickled herring… After a race, do you prefer to use a recovery drink or could you share one of your favorite recovery meals with us?
LA: I often bring a bowl of pre-made oatmeal to eat post-race. I put banana and sometimes maple syrup in it, as well as some protein powder – but not much, so that the glycemic index doesn’t get too low.
AG: Simple and easy to do anywhere; great idea. If you could give some advice to a newer racer in the peloton about nutrition for endurance cyclists, what would your top 3 bits of advice be at this point in your career?
• Don’t over eat pre-race. We have a tendency to get nervous about bonking and stuff our faces sometimes but that only leads to a heavy feeling in the gut and sluggish legs. Eat the breakfast you would have on a heavy training day.
• Cycling isn’t a beauty contest. Eat to perform, not to look good.
• Don’t fall into fads. Gluten-free is not necessary for most people. Eating only bananas is a total joke (YouTube ‘Banana Girl’ if you want a laugh, just promise not to buy into her spiel), and the word “Superfood” is a total marketing term that you don’t need to be lured by…
• Eat and drink on the bike!
AG: I’ll have to check out Banana Girl. Who knew? And we promise not to buy in. You have some great sponsors on your Optum team no doubt… What are your favorite ride foods? Gels? Bars?
LA: Clif has supported teams I’ve been on for years. They’re a great group of people and they make great stuff. Clif’s Vanilla gels for racing, and chocolate ones for long training rides. I absolutely love their black cherry Shot Bloks when I want a bit of caffeine on the bike too. Coconut chocolate chip, and crunchy peanut butter are my two favourite Clif bars and I’ve totally fallen in love with Kit’s Organic cashew bars made by Clif too. The Kid Z bars might be “for kids” but I find them perfect for long races when I want solid food because they’re über easy to get down. The cool thing about Clif is that I can find their stuff all around North America so I can pretty much always get my hands on food that I know I like, and that works for me.
AG: Great. And yes on the Z bars, I agree! You are lean; a light weight cyclist with an incredible power to weight ratio. In my profession as working with athletes and Sports Nutrition, I often get into the conversation with cyclists that they have to lose lots of weight, or they will never be able to climb or be competitive at the elite level. I understand power to weight well, but I’d like to ask your opinion. From what you have seen, do you agree that you have to be super light and lean to be competitive in professional races?
LA: My best results have not come when I was at my leanest. When I’ve been a bit too lean in the past I’ve gotten sick more easily (colds mainly), which totally throws off training and performance. I also push more power when I’m not at my leanest weight, and have a higher power to weight ratio at these times.
AG: That makes sense. I’m sure a bit of weight makes you more of an all-around cyclist. I feel that the North American women’s peloton is an excellent example of how different shapes and sizes can land on the top step of the podium, in several different styles of races. As you said, it’s about power. Someone may be lean and light but if they can’t push the power they can certainly be blown away by someone heavier, even climbing. I see it all the time. There’s a fine balance and everyone has to find their sweet spot. The bottom line is also as you mentioned, being healthy and able to race and train hard, day after day in stage races.
• oatmeal with half of a banana cooked in, plus other mix-ins, that changes according to my training schedule that day.
• third wave espresso. Short, no milk.
• The ones that give my favourite frequent flyer loyalty points!
Favorite Training Song?
• Hip hop with a good beat and heavy base line.
Best Ride Food?
• Special homemade cookies (video on my website) and Clif shot gels and Shot Blocks when I race. Consistency is key!
• Lex is cool enough as it is, don’t you think? 😉
AG: True, Lex is cool enough. Great catching up with you Lex. We will be cheering for you this season as you represent Canada in black and orange. I wish you a great winter of training and look forward to your entertaining updates throughout 2015! Best of luck!
LA: Thanks Anne, I’ll be sure to keep you posted through my website (LexAlbrecht.com) and on social media as the year rolls out.