Unlike that packaged sugary stuff that’s been marketed to us to slurp down on rides, the trusty sweet potato has been a tasty, all-natural way to fuel adventures for generations. This nutrient-dense source of carbohydrates can travel to races, workouts and anywhere else you need energy on the go.
Many good sources of carbohydrates are lacking in nutrients, which can be generally fine if our main concern is fueling a race, but since many of us aren’t doing multiple workouts a day, it’s better to fuel with more nutrient-dense sources that also ensure our daily nutrient requirements are met. It’s best to lean on whole foods, which generally boast more fiber, to help avoid over-consumption that comes easily with traditional carb-loading foods like pasta and bread.
Nancy Clark’s “Sports Nutrition Guidebook” mentions sweet potatoes as a great source of beta-carotene. Beta-carotene, a precursor to vitamin A, is an essential nutrient and antioxidant. Sweet potatoes are also loaded with potassium — more than bananas! — an electrolyte essential to nerve and muscle function, which often needs to be replenished during exercise, says Sidney Fry, RD. Bonus: Sweet potatoes are low on the glycemic index, which means they won’t cause your blood sugar to spike … then crash. Instead they’ll fuel you with a steady stream of energy and feed oxygen to your muscles.
As the whole-foods movement continues to grow, bars like Ally’s Sweet Potato Bar provide another, pre-packaged way to get your sweet potato fix, but riders shouldn’t overlook the option of simply bringing a foil-wrapped spud with a bit of salt on rides. Fry further notes that while “sweet,” a medium sweet potato has only about 7 grams of naturally occurring sugar. Yams can be microwaved and eaten warm or cold. Nanci Guest, RD, lists portability as one of the reasons the sweet potato is such a good food for cyclists.
WAYS TO PREPARE SWEET POTATOES
If you are looking for a simple, quick meal, a microwaved sweet potato and can be paired with salsa, your choice of meat or even peanut butter for those with a sweet tooth. Most microwaves have a ‘potato’ function, just poke a hole in it and the microwave does the rest.
Baking is perhaps the most common method of preparation: Individually wrap a few in foil and place in the oven, on a baking sheet for easy removal and to avoid drips. Bake for 30–40 minutes at around 375–400°.
Steaming is an easy way to cook most veggies and simply cutting the potato into cubes and let them steam in a pot or steamer for a tasty, nutritious snack you can add salt, salsa, hot sauce or any other condiment to easily.
One of my favorite ways to use a sweet potato is included in “Fuel Your Ride” by Molly Hurford and Nanci Guest. Sweet potato pancakes have a convincing pancake appearance with the extra sweetness, density and nutrition of the sweet potato. Microwave a sweet potato, then mash it up and combine with 2–4 eggs or egg whites and whisk together. Use as you would in a normal pancake preparation.
Whether you include the sweet potato daily in your cycling nutrition as I do, or simply add it to your weekly rotation of meals (hello, sweet potato toast), you will have another tasty fuel source that helps you climb faster and throw down in the final sprint.