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Interview in Project4Cycling


Interview By Stephen Locke, Project4Cycling

 “Anyone can ‘get it’ once you’re used to it. The key is to really observe your body’s and mind’s reactions to what you eat/drink. Re-connect with your body!” Nathalie Sansonetti

The first time I ever rode a time-trial I had less than sound nutritional preparation as follows:

   1. I ate a mass of pasta and pesto the night before, washed down with a couple of glasses of red wine.
   2. I ate pasta for lunch at 1pm
   3. I ate a Snickers bar and drank a can of Red Bull before the ride.
   4. I had a pint of lager to wind down afterwards.

I did rather well considering. But I think it is time I refined by approach.

My new secret weapon for nutrition,
The North Face SIGG bottle, sat on my desk, containing … water


I cycle to work most days using a heart rate monitor to help me follow a structured training plan. I’ve done a pretty good job of adapting common training techniques to my commute (rather than going on training rides on evenings and weekends).

However I’ve found it hard to understand and apply any sports nutrition advice because:

   1. my training is slotted into the hours before and after work and therefore they are at fixed points in relation to my normal mealtimes.
   2. only half my rides leave from or return to home, so I’m not in my own kitchen.
   3. I find most of the sports nutrition websites and books too baffling to understand.

So, I’m delighted to have linked up with Nathalie Sansonetti of New Leaf Nutrition who has agreed to an interview with project4cycling.

Having read Nathalie’s replies I’m certain that her approach will resonate with lots of commuters who struggle to get nutrition right when in the office.  It is a delight to work with an expert who can communicate complex ideas simply, directly and in such an accessible way.

I’ll be implementing most of this tomorrow. I hope you will too.


1. Where do you work and what do you do?

I work at The Tree of Life Centre, Hove, East Sussex. Tel: 07980 620010.  I work with all sorts of clients with varied needs, from sports nutrition (for runners, triathletes, cyclists, general fitness) to children’s nutrition, to digestive, skin and other issues. I see people for private consultations where I take a full history of their health, then give recommendations on diet, naturopathic techniques, supplements and lifestyle.  On a practical front, I also help people to sort out their cupboards, help them with their shopping lists, shopping and sometimes cooking, as my ‘philosophy’ is to reacquaint people with food – even if it does take some organisation and planning!

2. How did you get involved in sports nutrition?

I’m a bit of a running fanatic myself and have run half marathons and a full marathon and planning to run another marathon at the end of the year.  Having tried and tested a lot of what I ‘preached’ through my nutrition practice, I thought I’d put it all to the test and see what REALLY worked or didn’t work.  From that, I’ve gone on to help people with their training through nutrition by giving them talks, personal meal plans etc. 

3. Could you sum up your philosophy for sports nutrition?

My philosophy for sports nutrition is that you can get great results from natural and healthy ingredients and food. There’s rarely a need for sports drinks and other trendy (and costly!) products out there. Having said that, with sports, it’s usually more about WHEN you eat than WHAT you eat.

4. In the morning I get up, change the baby’s nappy, eat, dress and leave for work. Rides are usually an hour and fairly intense. Breakfast tends to be coffee with granola or a bagel with honey (I’ve found this works for energy on the ride whereas granola slows me down). I don’t tend to have anything to eat when I get to work, but I think I probably should. What would you do in this situation?

5. Most days I also ride home. Should I be adjusting my lunch, having an afternoon snack, drinking sports drinks … or should I just have a balanced diet?

6. I don’t use any sports nutrition products. Partly this is because of the cost, but also it is because I don’t know how to fit them in to my kind of riding. Is it something I should look into?

7. My big thing is riding my club’s 10-mile TT competition. These TTs set off at 7pm on a Wednesday night after a day at work. How should I prepare for, ride or recover from them during a normal working day?

A 4/5/6/7 Regarding your cycling – since you exercise quite a lot every day, you need to keep the hydration and energy up.  The best way to do that is to drink at least 2 to 2 1/2 litres of water throughout the day, especially on waking as you’ll wake up dehydrated from the night and probably the previous day’s exercise.  Never drink more than 1 litre of water in 1 hour however, this can be dangerous.  Sip it slowly through the day. 

Coffee contains caffeine, which is a diuretic. It will make you lose more water through urine and that’s not going to help you with your first trip of the day. A better option would be a large glass of diluted fresh (or shop-bought) freshly pressed juice of your choice.  The juice will provide you with carbohydrates and hydration – both great for energy.  A bagel is ok, but they’re usually white bagels, which will increase your energy for a little while, followed by a ‘dip’ in energy, which again won’t help with long commutes.  Best would be some wholemeal bread – with honey is fine, or porridge oats with some plain nuts and seeds and some milk. You could add a handful of dried fruits for sweetness and more energy.

Once you reach your work place, make sure you have some protein to help your muscles recover from your cycling: For instance, a handful of plain unsalted nuts (almonds, brazil, cashew, walnuts, hazelnuts) with a piece of fruit,  or a plain yogurt with some honey/agave syrup or berries added to it, a piece of wholemeal toast with some unsweetened peanut butter or a banana with some peanut butter, vegetable  sticks with some houmous – these are just a few examples. 

Lunch: Make sure you have some more protein  for lunch (fish, meat, egg, nuts and seeds, pulses like lentils, beans) together with some complex carbohydrates (brown rice, wholemeal bread, wholewheat pasta, oats, quinoa, vegetables), as the carbs will give you glycogen, therefore more energy for the evening commute.

Afternoon snack: have a banana with a handful of nuts, or a fruit salad with a rice cake or homemade banana bread, or homemade flapjacks sweetened with fruit juices and dried fruit.  These will give you more carbs/energy for your evening ride.

Again when you get home, you need protein to help your muscles recover from your evening ride, and some complex carbs again to give you energy for the next day.

So the main (easy) rule is: carbs before exercise (for energy), protein after exercise to help build/repair muscles.

Drinking: I don’t recommend sports drinks, as they contain a lot of chemicals, nasty sweeteners that in the long run may give you a bad stomach and other nasties you don’t want to ingest more than occasionally.

You should get great energy and hydration from keeping your water intake steady and constant throughout the day and using half juice (unsweetened) and half water with a pinch of salt during exercise lasting more than one hour. Make sure to eat lots of fruits and veg that will provide you with all the electrolytes you need to prevent cramping.

Alcohol: if you know you’re going to have a few drinks – and it’s fine to relax once in a while –  obviously they’ll dehydrate you so try and have lots of water while you’re drinking your beer – and also the next day.

Sneakers/chocolate bars: again, it’s fine to have these once in a while, but not if you’re training for a specific race – they’ll hike your insulin levels up and will give you a big dip in energy shortly after. 

If you find you’re craving chocolate and/or alcohol – your blood sugar levels are probably doing a bit of a roller-coaster ride, so have some protein little and often, throughout the day and particularly at breakfast.

8. I’ve heard sports nutrition described as part art part science. Do you agree and if so, do you prefer the art or the science?

Yes, nutrition is part art part science, but this kind of statement makes it sound impossible to achieve for the ‘layman’, so I don’t entirely agree with it.  It’s just a question of balance and changing your habits gradually.  Anyone can ‘get it’ once you’re used to it.  The key is to really observe your body’s and mind’s reactions to what you eat/drink. Re-connect with your body!

9. Any last tips, advice or recommended reading?

As an additional useful tip: eat lots of vegetables and fruits as the carbs and protein won’t provide you with all the vitamins and minerals your body needs for immunity and other functions – there’s no point in all of this, if you’re just going to get lots of colds/flu and get stuck in bed!  Also, cook with virgin coconut oil/butter/ghee – never heat up olive oil or other vegetable oils – keep these cold or added at the end of cooking. Heated veg oils will become toxic.

10. Can you give me a motto, mantra or quote to get me riding, training or eating right?

TIME IT RIGHT – and PLAN AHEAD – make a list of all your snacks/meals once a week and buy everything in one go. Then cook large batches of food that you can freeze and make sure you sort out your healthy snacks so you’re not tempted by junk! This will also save you money!

Thanks for taking the time to do this. Ride safe, Stephen


Nathalie :)


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Brighton (UK)-based and international Nutritional Therapist & Health Coach

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Nathalie Sansonetti

BA, MA, DNn, Dip AIT, HCI Certified Coach

Join more than 800 people I have helped with their health and nutrition needs. You can trust my qualifications and experience to achieve the same results for you.

  • Nutritional Therapist (10+ years)
  • Accredited Health Coach (Health Coach Institute)
  • Emotional Freedom Therapy/Matrix Re-imprinting Practitioner 
  • Federation of Nutritional Therapy Practitioners, Member
  • UK Health Coaching Association, Member

The information on this course is not intended to replace medication or advice from your general practitioner (GP), medical doctor or specialist and is not intended as medical advice. It is intended as a sharing of knowledge and information based on the research and experience of Nathalie Sansonetti and her work as a Nutritional Therapist and Health Coach. N.Sansonetti encourages you to make your own health care decisions based upon your research and in partnership with a qualified health care professional.