Samantha Bosco, who specializes in the individual pursuit, time trial, and road race events and earned two bronze medals at the 2016 Rio Paralympic Games, knows how important it is to strike a balance between foods that fuel performance and make her happy. This balance has helped her become a faster and stronger cyclist.
“I have struggled with food in the past,” Bosco told Bicycling. “I worked with a dietitian for the national team, and actually, my husband Andrew is a cyclist, too, and was super helpful in explaining that fuel for rides helps make you stronger. It was a lot of work changing the mental aspect of it. But then, I started eating more and had more energy and would have better rides.”
This outlook has helped the 33-year-old road and track cyclist continue to shine in her pro career—she was named to the 2020 Team USA national cycling squad and hopes to compete at the now postponed 2021 Tokyo Paralympic Games.
“I have a newfound love for Zwift—I do group rides on there because right now, I pretty much train with myself or with my husband or occasionally with a small group of friends who have also been pretty secluded and following COVID protocols,” Bosco said. “But usually now, I just train on the road by myself. It’s hard not having any races on the horizon until maybe February, so right now, it’s about keeping some fitness and some motivation to keep training. Knowing that your season is so up in the air, you have to keep a certain level of fitness, but not too much.”
To fuel these training rides, she makes a mean breakfast sandwich, then usually stops for a pastry and coffee mid-ride as well. Here’s how the California-based rider eats to power her long rides in the mountains when she can’t train on the track.
Avocado Toast to Start the Day
I used to struggle really hard eating on the bike, so I try to find something that I can stomach in the morning. That way, if I can’t necessarily get something in while I’m riding, I have that fuel from the beginning. I usually start the day by making avocado toast with balsamic glaze and two over-medium eggs. I recently found an artisan bread that has a bunch of chia, sesame, and sunflower seeds in it, and it’s fantastic—but I’ll switch it up so I don’t get bored. There’s a bakery near by that has jalapeño cheese bread that’s fantastic.
Because I like to mix things up, I’m always looking for new additions to my breakfast: I’ll go to restaurants and order a different type of avocado toast, and it gives me ideas. I’ve added pickled onions and arugula, and switched avocados for a chunkier guacamole with lime and salt [inspired by] restaurants.
Lately, we started doing 100-mile rides on Sundays, and sometimes they run long and I’m just wrecked for a few days after, so I knew I needed more fuel. So I started making heftier breakfast sandwiches with bagels so that I had more carbs and protein. I found these amazing veggie patties at Costco that have sunflower seeds and sweet potatoes in them, and they are so good. I was making egg sandwiches with those and having that the morning of the longer rides.
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Coffee, But Make It Weird
I love good coffee—I usually have two cups each morning. I haven’t had to make my own in a long time though since my husband got a Nespresso machine, but that lets me try all the different options, including their limited-run single origin ones—I had a great Kona one recently.
And then there’s a coffee shop called Lucky’s Coffee Roasters—I either get coffee beans from there or this really weird drink, the Lemon Squeezy, which is basically espresso with lemonade and a little bit of tonic water. For some reason, I like it. It’s the ultimate summer refreshing drink to me. The lemonade is just so fresh, and then that espresso foam on top and the creaminess of the just-brewed espresso is fantastic.
I grew up very adventurous with food. One time when I was in Italy for a race, my friend took us to this restaurant and just ordered the works. We had all different kinds of seafood that you couldn’t even pronounce the name of, and I can’t even remember all of them.
Another time, we went to South Africa and went to a local restaurant—we didn’t go to a touristy place, we asked somebody who lived there where they would normally go. And we went to this place and just asked for what is customary, what most people order. There were a bunch of sauces and different meats, and it was just amazing.
When I first started traveling, people thought it was so cool that I got to be in all these different places. But you don’t really get that much time to really explore the city—you go to the airport, you go to the hotel, you go to the race venue, then go to the hotel again. Every once in a while, we get the opportunity to have a day or a few hours to explore.
In Bruges, Belgium, we had a chance to ride to have a waffle for breakfast, then right back to the hotel. But whenever I could, I tried to get out and see something on my bike and hopefully eat something local. I love realizing there are so many different ways of putting ingredients together, like Mediterranean food. Look at baba ganoush—who would think to purée eggplant?
Savory on-the-Bike Fuel
When I was a rower before I got into cycling, I had an eating disorder, and so when I started riding, I never ate on a bike. It was definitely a struggle to actually get my metabolism back up and to actually fuel myself while riding. And once I knew I needed to eat more on the bike, I had to figure out what I could actually eat that didn't make me feel like I want to throw up.
I don’t like super-sweet foods or drinks, especially when it’s hot out. I’ve had the hardest time finding an energy drink that works for me, though I recently started using Skratch Labs Matcha drink mix. I also eat a lot of Kind bars on the bike because I can stomach them, and they have a bit of protein plus carbs, so they’re great for long rides.
But I also go in cycles, and right now I’m on more of a savory kick. I like the Skratch Labs parmesan and sun-dried tomato bars, and I loved when Clif had their savory shots—that margarita pizza one was so good. I used that a lot when I was training for the Paralympic Games in Rio 2016.
Pastry Stops Are a Must
I don’t like eating much sweet stuff on the bike, but I love a pastry stop. There’s a bakery called Poppy Cake in Sierra Madre, California, and they have the most amazing apple hand pies, plus hands-down the best lemonade. I don’t even love the route you have to take to get there, but I will ride for five hours to go get a hand pie from Poppy Cake, it’s that good.
My favorite coffee spot, Lucky’s, also serves cinnamon rolls supplied by a local bakery. One day after we climbed for three and a half hours, we were just exhausted and my husband Andrew and I both had to work after the ride, but we had no energy. When we ordered our coffee, Andrew got a cinnamon roll, and I was like, “I’m okay with just coffee.” Then I had a bite, and it was the most beautiful thing in the world—it didn’t even taste like a real cinnamon roll, it almost tasted like a cross between brioche bread and cinnamon rolls. I have a sweet tooth, but I don’t love painfully sweet stuff. This was more like the European desserts where you have a little bit of sweet to satisfy that sweet tooth, but it’s not excruciating. So now these cinnamon rolls have become a thing for us.
My vice is still just a coffee in a good coffee shop—I love just sitting down with a nice cup of coffee that’s hot. It’s like comfort in a cup.
Dinner is usually chicken or fish, sometimes red meat. I love making spicy curry, so we’ll make yellow curry with chicken or fish, and I’ll just throw in whatever veggies are in-season and look good at the store—green beans, asparagus, peppers, Brussels spouts, whatever I’m in the mood for. Then we usually get our carbs from a half a cup of beans. I prefer to make them fresh, and I’ll soak them overnight. I actually soak them longer than they say, and I let them get to a point where they’re starting to sprout so they’re not as hard on the digestive tract. Sometimes, when I need a snack, I’ll just use leftover beans with a bit of salt and vinegar as a really refreshing, crisp snack.
There have been subtle changes in our eating [since the start of the coronavirus pandemic]. My husband and I always try to eat very healthy and try not to eat out too much. But we love sushi. We would go for long rides every once in a while and go to all-you-can eat sushi place just to have fresh fish. But you can’t do that right now, and I crave it, but I’m too terrified to make my own sushi. Raw fish just seems like something I should leave to professionals.
Not a Number on a Scale
There’s so much pressure in society and in bike racing—it’s so focused on a number on a scale. It took me so long to not feel that way myself. I don’t want to be so strict with my diet that I can’t enjoy my life, but at the same time, I don’t want to be so laissez-faire with my diet that I’m not the best cyclist I can be. I’ve definitely been finding that balance, and it’s always a work in progress. Now, I don’t want to be skinny. I want to be strong, I want to be fit. I want to be a world champion, not a number on a scale.
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