Nutrition - Sushi for cyclists: part one

Are you undoing all your good work in the saddle with your post-ride snacking habits? If so, Dr Chris Fenn suggests that you try something new…

Are you in a rut? Do you go out on your bike on auto pilot and cycle the same route each time? We are creatures of habit, so perhaps you also eat the same meals or snacks after a ride as well? If you are ready for a change, you could not try anything more different than sushi.

This is the latest in fashionable eating, but sushi has been around since the second century. It was invented as a method of preserving raw fish by packing it with rice soaked in vinegar.

Technically the word “sushi” refers to the rice but colloquially the term is used to describe a finger-sized piece of raw fish, or shellfish, served on a bed of rice doused with vinegar. The strips of raw fish were dipped into shoyu (Japanese soy sauce) flavoured with a small amount of grated wasabi (Japanese horseradish).

Unlike most Western meals which usually involve throwing everything into a pan and having a good old fry up, sushi making has developed into an art form. A popular version these days is nigiri-sushi in which raw fish is hand rolled with rice and served with a little wasabi. However, if the thought of eating raw fish is worse than de-greasing a muddy chain with your bare hands, there are alternatives.

The vegetarian option combines the traditional vinegar flavoured rice with steamed vegetables, all rolled in paper-thin seaweed. Another alternative to fish is tofu – fermented soya bean curd and, like fish, a good source of protein.

Nutritional value score

If you are feeling adventurous and ready to try something new, sushi is a fabulous choice as it scores highly for its nutritional value. The combination of rice, fish or tofu and seaweed results in a high quality nutrient package. If you are wanting to lose weight, a meal or snack of sushi will provide a powerful dose of nutrients in a low calorie package.

This means that after a ride, you can replace protein and a range of micro nutrients to repair muscle tissue, having used your own fat stores to help fuel your muscles during exercise. The rice will provide some carbohydrates to help replace muscle glycogen stores, which become severely depleted after a long ride, or fast time trial.

The protein quality of soya beans used to make tofu is equal to that of the protein in fish. This is unusual for a vegetable protein, which is usually lacking in several of the essential amino acids needed to make a complete, or high quality protein.

However, an extra benefit of sushi made with fish such as tuna or salmon is the dose of omega-3 essential fatty acids that these fish provide. The omega-3 fats are used to make prostaglandins (hormone-like substances) which have a range of functions within the body. Prostaglandins are particularly useful for cyclists since they help prevent inflammation in muscle tissue.

Popular fast foods and ready meals usually come in a cardboard package, which is tossed into the bin. With sushi, the packaging is nori, the paper thin sheets of seaweed used to wrap around and hold the rice and fish mixture together. This is something too valuable to be discarded since it contains some protein but also a useful dose of the minerals – especially iodine, potassium and iron.

Potassium is the balancing mineral for sodium and together they help regulate body fluids. During a cycle ride there is a shift of fluids in and out of the blood and muscle tissue. The balance of sodium and potassium helps to regulate the whole process so that your nerves and muscles function well, which in turn means you can just get on and concentrate on pushing the pedals.

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