‘I decided to use my bicycle as much as I could in my everyday life, and I was surprised by what was possible.’

One of the first questions I’m often asked is “are you still riding your bike?” That’s usually from people who I haven’t seen for a while and my answer is always an enthusiastic yes! With people who I see more regularly, I’m often met with “did you ride your bike here?” Or the more assuming “I guess you rode your bike”. Or after glancing around and finding no evidence of a bicycle nearby, “not on your bike today?”. My life has become synonymous with riding a bike. It’s a fact that I love but it hasn’t always been that way.

There were years when my bicycle sat unused in the garage. There were years when I didn’t even own a bike. But then there was the year when an unexpected change left my life in need of reshaping.

I needed to do something positive for my life and wanted to be healthy, save some money and have some fun. So, I began a two-wheel revolution. I decided to use my bicycle as much as I could in my everyday life, and I was surprised by what was possible.

As a young girl growing up in Queensland, I learnt to ride in the gravel driveway of our sugar cane farm. Trainer wheels, five years old and soon to start school – learning to ride a bike was essential for transport. Decades later, my bicycle again became central to how I moved around my neighbourhood. Both times, building confidence was key. And the only way I could find out what this bicycle lifestyle could bring me was by having a go.

Living without a car wasn’t my goal. Driving the car less was. Discovering what I could realistically do by bicycle involved trial, error, persistence, creativity and slowing down. At times I felt frustrated but mostly a surplus of fun. I watched where life took me – to the shops, the local markets, coffee with friends, out to dinner, swimming at the beach, to weddings, parties and holidays – and asked myself, can I ride my bicycle? Can I carry what I need to carry? Can I ride the distance? What type of road, lane or pathway will I be on? Does the weather make riding possible? And, if I chose not to travel by bike, was I being a wimp or being wise?

Full panniers after the local markets.
As I rode through each season, I discovered my limits.

The torrential rains of summer make mudguards and a good waterproof jacket a must. Magpie season means I put my head down and ride fast! Tropical thunderstorms and a wedding in a 25 knot south-easterly have stopped me in my tracks. Getting a tray of mangoes home from the local market gave me cause to get creative.

Eventually, I learnt where my bicycle life can take me and where it won’t. I ride my bike to the beach, to meetings, markets, cafes, shopping centres and parties. I use it for returning books to the library, commuting to work, seeing art exhibitions and live music. When I take my car for servicing, I take my bike with me and ride home. Deciding to use my bike in everyday life brought the positive changes that I wanted – I’m healthier, happier and saving money from using the car less.

Another thing I learnt is that any bicycle lifestyle is unique to where and how you live. Where you live – hills, highways, pathways – will influence how easy it is to ride out from home. What makes up your life – family, work, interests – will shape where and when you can ride. What connects us though is a shared knowing that a bicycle lifestyle is a good thing.

A two-wheel revolution is something worth starting. Whether you start big or small, start somewhere.

Gail Rehbein is a bicycle-riding writer who loves to share stories, information and inspiration about life seen from two wheels on Australia’s Gold Coast and beyond. You can find her work at her website A Bike for All Seasons. She is also an ambassador for Bicycle Queensland.

How Anna went from riding around her house to riding world championship events

My first ‘real’ bike was an Apollo.

I was about seven, it was white and neon pink and orange, and had Shimano SIS shifters. I rode it around my house for hours until I found a friend with a bike. It was then that my parents let us go and explore all day. We ran rogue on suburban bike path adventures, my first taste of freedom.

This freedom gave way to the oppressive nature of the high school and requisite angsty-teen sports avoidance. As a musical kid, I wasn’t interested in PE. That was until I found cross country running towards the end of high school and realised that the overwhelming funk I felt could be mitigated with some exercise.

Running continued, I moved interstate and restarted university studies. I inherited my mother’s old Bianchi Avenue town bike, complete with a 7-speed grip shift and a clunking, ovalised headset, but it was perfect for the commute to university.

My brother, who had always ridden bikes, had a friend with a bike shop. Mountain biking seemed fun, so I scrounged some cash up from my multiple hospitality jobs and some pennies from a tax return to purchase my GT Avalanche. Complete with rim brakes, this bike was the gateway to a new world.

I completed several social events on the GT. As a complete and utter squid, everything was SO HARD, yet I loved it. There was a gaping chasm between where I was and where I wanted to be, and it created a drive to bridge the gap.

Via Instagram @ab_needs_coffee

I started working in a bike shop.

First I purchased a road bike to take me on further adventures beyond Sydney’s Inner West, then eventually upgraded the mountain bike to a ridgy-didge, proper mountain bike: a Cannondale Rush in white and blue.

Shortly after upgrading my bike, I went all in and raced the Rush at my first national series cross-country event. Racing was SO HARD at this level and I was lacking in fitness, skills and race tactics. Finishing so far behind ‘real’ elite girls was stressful and demoralising but steeled a resolve in me for further progress.

It took many years to put some pieces of the puzzle together, largely doing it uncoached and unmentored. Skills got better by trial and error, making mistakes and being frustrated.

My fitness improved every time I rode, so I kept riding and riding. I put my fitness to good use and became a coach myself to assist others trying to find their way.

From that girl at the back of their first national race, I have now been in the middle, and at the front, in the green and gold stripes and have even lined up amongst other nations at World Championship events. I have been truly lucky to live a life behind bars.

With all that in mind, I have some words of wisdom from a third of a lifetime spent on bikes:

It’s always hard, but in a different way

Once upon a time, it was hard to coordinate riding over a log on a trail ride. Now, hard is managing the physical and mental output during a race, or second-guessing whether it’s worth it riding today with a scratchy throat. It’s always hard. Some things get easier like that log on the trail, and some things are a constant process of evaluation. That’s part of the joy of bikes: you never get to the final level, there is always progress!

Small steps lead to big things

Sometimes it’s as simple as finding a ride group, setting your alarm, and being brave enough to meet a bunch of other beginners you don’t know for a bike ride. There is a lot of bravery in that one step, this is one part that gets easier. A group ride can lead to another, and another, and skill and fitness will increase to the point where you’re proud of having mastered something you once thought impossible. It all starts with getting out the door and being brave.

The driving pursuit of perfection can be your downfall

Often, A-type people are driven to succeed in endurance sports. After all, endurance sport takes focus, sacrifice and perhaps a bit of a mental blueprint that not many of us have. That drive to ‘have’ to get out and ‘have’ to ride and ‘have’ to win can work. In the short term, it can be incredibly helpful. In the longer term, managing illness and setback or having to deal with the variables that cycling can throw at you, rigid perfectionism can actually end up being an Achilles heel. Learning to be ‘good enough’ and to rest when required will see far more success in the sport (and life) than the black and white of perfectionism.

Enjoy the moments

Whatever type of cycling you’re into – it can be undeniably tough. There can be some very grim moments, like riding through a flash flood or running out of food when you’re nowhere near home. Yep, they totally suck, and it can be hard to remain positive at these times. I now pay particular attention to the good moments on the bike. The beautiful sunrises, soft wind on your face, sense of flow on descent or the joy of introducing a friend to a fresh trail. In the end, you probably won’t remember how many watts you put out for those 4x10min threshold efforts, but you will remember how the bike, friends and environment positively impacted your life.

Written by Anna Beck, Head Coach at Grit Coaching.

Follow Anna on Instagram @ab_needs_coffee

How do popular drink options compare?

There are so many popular drink options marketed to improve sports performance. These drinks usually include ingredients like electrolytes, caffeine, protein or just plain water.

With so many on the market, which of these popular drink options are necessary when exercising and what purpose do they provide?

Popular drinks and their purpose

Drink Purpose Who is this necessary for?
Water-Hydration
-Assists in a range of body functions
-Everyone!
-Water should be the drink of choice for all.
Sports drinks-Hydration
-Provision of carbohydrates and/or electrolytes
-Recreational exercisers and the general population do not require sports drinks, as hydration needs can be met using water and carbohydrate needs can be met through food.
-Sports drinks may be useful for those that need to ingest both carbohydrates and fluids/electrolytes at the same time.
-Sports drinks are generally designed for use during exercise lasting greater than 90 minutes.
Caffeine-based drinks-When taken before or during exercise, caffeine can reduce perception of effort and/or fatigue
-Can have potential side effects – e.g. increased heart rate, gastrointestinal upset, sleep disturbances etc.
-Caffeine can be used to benefit performance through the reduction of effort and/or fatigue.
-However, recreational exercisers and the general population do not generally require caffeine-based drinks.
Protein-based drinks-Hydration
-Provision of protein
-Recreational exercisers and the general population do not require protein-based drinks or protein powders, as hydration needs can be met using water and protein needs can be met through food.
-However, protein-based drinks can be a convenient option for someone that struggles to get in protein-rich food post-exercise or has high energy requirements.

Related: What to eat and drink during exercise

For personalised and tailored sports nutrition advice, find an Accredited Sports Dietitian near you.

Written by Carly Booth, Accredited Practising Dietitian from Nutrition Australia Qld, a non-profit, community nutrition organisation that provides education, support and training to shape the health and wellbeing of our community to make informed food choices.

Top nutrition tips to consider after exercise

What you fuel yourself with after exercise is just as important as the exercise itself! Here are a few nutrition tips to consider after exercise.

When thinking about recovery nutrition after exercise, it’s useful to consider the three R’s.

  • Refuel energy and glycogen stores with a source of carbohydrate
  • Repair muscle with a source of protein
  • Rehydrate with fluids and electrolytes to replace sweat losses

The advice below is generalised for the recreational exerciser. Specific nutrition requirements will differ depending on the level of intensity and duration of physical activity.

So, what does that look like in terms of a meal or snack?

Well, the amount of food your body needs for recovery depends on the length and intensity of your exercise. If you’re exercising multiple times a day, you need to fuel yourself quickly. The first 60 to 90 minutes after exercise is the most effective time for the body to replace carbohydrate and promote muscle repair. Try using your next main meal as your form of recovery nutrition, including the three Rs previously mentioned. If this isn’t possible, have a small snack until you are able to have your next main meal.

Here are a few carbohydrates and protein-rich suggestions that you might like to choose from:

  • A small bowl of muesli with yoghurt and a piece fruit; or
  • Lean meat, cheese and salad sandwich or wrap; or
  • 1-2 eggs or a small tin of baked beans on a piece of toast; or
  • Some dairy foods can provide each of these key components. They are a great carbohydrate, protein, fluid and electrolyte source. Try a fruit-based smoothie with a piece of fresh or frozen fruit, milk and/or yoghurt
  • Protein powders are not essential. The general population do not require protein powders, as protein needs can be met through food. In saying this, they can be convenient for people who struggle to get in food post-exercise.

Be sure to rehydrate to replace sweat losses by hydrating after exercise. While water should be the drink of choice for most people, sports drinks may also play a role if needing to ingest both carbohydrates and fluids/electrolytes at the same time.

Related: What to eat and drink during exercise

For personalised and tailored sports nutrition advice, find an Accredited Sports Dietitian near you.

Written by Carly Booth, Accredited Practising Dietitian from Nutrition Australia Qld a non-profit, community nutrition organisation that provides education, support and training to shape the health and wellbeing of our community to make informed food choices.

What to eat and drink during exercise

Depending on the intensity and duration of your session, you may need to top up on extra fluids and carbohydrates during exercise. Keep reading to find out what you should eat and drink during exercise.

The advice below is generalised for the recreational exerciser. Specific nutrition requirements will differ depending on the level of intensity and duration of physical activity.

If the exercise session is less than 60 minutes or 90 minutes at a low intensity, you won’t need extra fuel to keep you going. In contrast, if the exercise session is more than 60 to 90 minutes, it’s a good idea to top up on a rich source of carbohydrate to fuel the remainder of your session. Once consumed, the carbohydrates will be broken down into glucose to provide your brain and muscles with extra fuel, allowing you to sustain the intensity and the quality of the activity.

Similar to pre-exercise nutrition, carbohydrate-rich foods consumed during exercise should be low in fibre, easy to digest (i.e. not too high in fat) and sit comfortably in your stomach. There is no one size fits all approach to this – see what works best for you and your goals. You also need to consider the practicality of consuming food during the session.

Carbohydrate-rich snack ideas

  • A piece of fruit – e.g. a banana, a few fresh dates; or
  • A basic sandwich with a thin spread (e.g. jam, honey, peanut butter or vegemite); or
  • A muesli bar; or
  • If necessary, a sports carbohydrate gel or energy bar

Hydration during exercise is extremely important. With that said, each person’s fluid needs are different. Consider your sweat losses during the session, which may also be dependent on the temperature and humidity. If you feel like you need to replace sweat losses, drink fluids to ensure you maintain hydration throughout the session. Avoid becoming dehydrated. Water should be the drink of choice for most people. If water isn’t enough, sports drinks are an option when you need to ingest both carbohydrates and fluids at the same time.

If you are competing, test your nutrition and hydration strategies for the duration of the event before race day. This is important in ensuring they work for you and are appropriate to consume while competing. Trialling the types and timing of foods and fluids during training and practise sessions will help maximise your performance on race day. For personalised and tailored sports nutrition advice, find an Accredited Sports Dietitian near you.

After reading this article, we hope you have a better idea of what to eat and drink during exercise. Stay tuned for next weeks nutrition article!

Written by Carly Booth, Accredited Practising Dietitian from Nutrition Australia Qld. Nutrition Australia QLD is a non-profit, community nutrition organisation that provides education, support and training to shape the health and wellbeing of our community to make informed food choices.

Top nutrition tips to consider before exercise

Having something to eat and drink prior to exercise will fuel and hydrate your body for an exercise session ahead. By doing so, you are able to maximise your performance and get the most out of the session, in terms of both the intensity and the quality of the activity. Keep reading to find out our top nutrition tips to consider before exercise.

The advice below is generalised for the recreational exerciser and specific nutrition requirements will differ depending on the level of intensity and duration of physical activity.

How do you prep for a workout?

Generally, the majority of people can stomach a main meal around 2 to 4 hours before exercising and a small snack 1 to 2 hours before exercising. This meal or snack should contain a source of carbohydrate that’s low in fibre, easy to digest (i.e. not too high in fat) and sits comfortably in your stomach. There is no one size fits all approach to this – see what works best for you and your goals. Think about pre-training nutrition as fuel to fill up your energy tank.

Here are a few carbohydrate-rich snack ideas that you might like to choose from:

  • A piece of fruit – e.g. a banana, a few fresh dates; or
  • A small bowl of cereal with yoghurt or milk; or
  • A slice of raisin toast with a thin spread; or
  • A crumpet with a thin spread of honey; or
  • A fruit smoothie

If you can’t tolerate food first thing in the morning, prior to exercise, that’s okay! Consider having some quality carbohydrates the night before to ensure your muscles are topped up with glycogen. Glycogen is how carbohydrates, broken down into glucose, are stored in the liver and in muscles.

Hydration is extremely important

Be sure to sip on fluids prior to exercise to ensure you are well hydrated for the session ahead. Water should be the drink of choice for most people.

If you are competing, make sure your pre-exercise nutrition and hydration strategies are trialled and tested prior to race day to ensure they work for you. Trialling the types and also the timing of foods and fluids during training and practice sessions will help you maximise your performance on race day. For personalised and tailored sports nutrition advice, find an Accredited Sports Dietitian near you.

Make sure you check out next week’s newsletter where we will cover some top nutrition tips to consider during exercise!

Written by Carly Booth, Accredited Practising Dietitian from Nutrition Australia Qld, a non-profit, community nutrition organisation that provides education, support and training to shape the health and wellbeing of our community to make informed food choices.

Are nutrition and hydration important when you exercise?

Australia’s Physical Activity Guidelines recommend that we’re active on most, preferably all, days of the week. With that in mind, it’s incredibly important to consider how we fuel and hydrate our bodies. So, are nutrition and hydration important when you exercise?

There are three key macronutrients that make up the foods that we eat, all of which are essential in a healthy, balanced diet. These macronutrients are carbohydrates, protein and fat. Each of these macronutrients provides us with energy and plays a crucial role in the body through a wide variety of important functions.

nutrition and hydration important - healthy bowl
Let’s break it down

Carbohydrates are the body’s preferred source of energy, especially for the brain. Dietary fibre is a type of carbohydrate and is responsible for keeping the digestive system healthy by supporting gut health and bowel health. Protein is responsible for building and repairing the muscles and tissues in the body, while fats are used in the body as an energy source. They store and transport fat-soluble vitamins and also play a crucial role in hormone production.

What might be a surprise is the importance of water. Water is essential for most of our body’s functions such as regulating body temperature and blood volume. As water can’t be stored in the body, it needs to be regularly replenished to make up for losses through sweat and other functions.

Related: Top tips for healthy eating

Each of these macronutrients can aid in maximising our performance when we are physically active. The amounts of these nutrients that we need is unique to each person and will depend on the type and the intensity of the exercise that we do.

Examples of food sources for each of these macronutrients
Carbohydrate-rich FoodsProtein-rich FoodsFat-rich Foods
– Starchy vegetables, including legumes/beans
– Fruit
– Grain (cereal) foods, such as breads, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa and barley
– Milk and yoghurt
– Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans
– Milk, yoghurt and cheese
– Choose unsaturated (healthy) fats like avocados, nuts and seed, olives, cooking oils made from plants or seeds, fish
– Avoid saturated (unhealthy) fats like butter, coconut oil, processed meats, cream, ice cream, processed foods

When considering nutrition and hydration strategies surrounding exercise, it can be useful to think about three windows of opportunity: before, during and after exercise. Each of these time points is occasions to fuel and hydrate our bodies. With that being said, the intensity and timing of exercise can significantly influence our nutrition and hydration needs.

Written by Carly Booth, Accredited Practising Dietitian from Nutrition Australia Qld, a non-profit, community nutrition organisation that provides education, support and training to shape the health and wellbeing of our community to make informed food choices.

Top tips for healthy eating

So, what exactly is healthy eating?

Before we talk about healthy eating, let’s talk about the Australian Dietary Guidelines. They are a great guide to food and nutrition as they provide a framework for healthy eating for the general population. These guidelines aim to promote health and wellbeing and also reduce the risk of diet-related conditions and chronic disease. Based on scientific evidence, the guidelines are comprised of five key components:

  1. To achieve and maintain a healthy weight, be physically active and choose amounts of nutritious foods and drinks to meet your energy needs
  2. Enjoy a wide variety of nutritious foods from these five food groups every day:

    – Plenty of vegetables, including different types and colours, and legumes/beans
    – Fruit
    – Grain (cereal) foods, mostly wholegrain and/or high cereal fibre varieties, such as bread, cereals, rice, pasta, noodles, polenta, couscous, oats, quinoa, and barley
    – Lean meats and poultry, fish, eggs, tofu, nuts and seeds, and legumes/beans
    – Milk, yoghurt, cheese and/or their alternatives, mostly reduced fat
    – And drink plenty of water
  3. Limit intake of foods containing saturated fat, added salt, added sugars, and alcohol
  4. Encourage, support and promote breastfeeding
  5. Care for your food; prepare and store it safely

In conjunction with the Australian Dietary Guidelines, another useful tool to be aware of is the Australian Guide to Healthy Eating. This is a food selection guide that visually represents the proportion of the five food groups recommended for consumption each day. It also visually represents the foods to use in small amounts (i.e. cooking oils) as well as the foods and drinks to consume only sometimes and in small amounts (i.e. discretionary foods). A guide to the recommended number of serves that an adult should be consuming per day, as well as what a serve actually looks like, can be found here. By eating the recommended amounts from the five food groups and limiting foods that are high in saturated fat, added sugars, and added salt, you will be getting enough of the nutrients that are essential for good health.

What's on your plate healthy eating

What does this look like in a meal?

We have put together the following resource which outlines how to plan and build a balanced plate. An easy way to think about this is to divide your plate into the following sections:

  • Start by filling ½ of your plate with colourful vegetables
  • Then fill ¼ of your plate with starchy vegetables or wholegrains
  • Fill ¼ of your plate with a lean protein source
  • Add a small amount of healthy fats

Give this method a try when preparing your next meal – can you build a balanced plate?