Anti-Gut Rot Tips From the Pros: Guest Post by Dr. Allen Lim

12.14.2011 | 10:58 am

A Note from Fatty: If you haven’t checked out the Q&A with Dr. Lim I hosted yesterday, be sure to go back and check it out. The questions were fantastic, presenting a wide range of common on-bike food issues.

Today’s post is also presented by Dr. Lim, because he’s the kind of guy who, when you ask for one favor, instead does three. There’s some great, useful stuff in here. As well as one or two fairly weird things. But I’ll let you find those for yourself.

I decided to check in with a few of my favorite professional riders to see if they had anything to say about avoiding gut rot. Here’s what they had to say.

Craig Lewis (HTC-High Road / Heading to Champion Systems)

In my opinion, Craig Lewis is one of the toughest — if not the toughest — pros in the peloton, having come back from near-death accidents and proving himself as one of the real workhorses on the Pro Tour. At this year’s Giro he crashed and broke his left leg. Later that year, with a rod in his femur, he rode and finished the USA Pro Cycling Challenge in Colorado. Here are some of his thoughts on avoiding gut rot:

  1. Eat what you’re used to: Don’t try anything crazy or different on your big ride.
  2. Start eating early: Eat before you’re hungry so you don’t have to eat everything at once. You need to make sure to spread what you eat out over your whole ride rather than making it up when you start to bonk.
  3. Everything in moderation: Don’t just stick to one food. Eat a variety. Nothing is bad in moderation. It’s when you eat too much of one thing that you start to have problems.
  4. Avoid too much sugar: When there’s too much sugar in your stomach things start to go bad. So avoid a lot of sugar or make sure you balance it with enough water.
  5. Stick to foods with really basic ingredients: I like really simple foods and simple bars when I ride. Really basic stuff with all natural ingredients work for me. The simpler the better.

Evie Stevens (HTC- High Road / Heading to Lulu Lemon – Specialized)

Evie Stevens is the current national time trial champion and one of the favorites to represent the United States at the Olympics in London. She’s had a meteoric rise into the pro ranks after giving up her job as a Wall Street associate only 3 years ago. She rarely has many stomach issues on the bike. Here are some of her tips for keeping her belly happy when riding:

  1. Don’t eat a lot of fiber before a ride: I try to avoid a lot of fiber before training and riding, especially on days when I know there will be a lot of hard efforts.
  2. Eat real food rather than packaged bars : Sometimes, all we have to eat in races are pre-packaged bars and foods. So I try as much as possible to eat real foods to balance things out, especially in training. One of my favorites is bread with cream cheese and a creamy honey.
  3. Avoid gels: I mostly eat gummy foods or foods that have a solid consistency when I ride. Occasionally, I might have a gel in a race if I’m desperate, but I don’t like them. They’re messy and gross. I’m fascinated by how people train or race with gels. I can’t really fathom it.
  4. Figure out what works and what doesn’t: I find that certain foods trigger problems for me. Bananas don’t work for me even though they are pretty popular in cycling. Also, depending on where I am in my monthly cycle, I can be sensitive to certain foods.

Danny Pate (HTC-High Road / Heading to Sky)

With three Tour de France starts and finishes in the last four years, Danny is a pro’s pro, serving this year as a key lead out man for Mark Cavendish. The “Pate,” as he’s affectionately referred to, has one of the strongest stomachs of anyone I’ve ever met. But that doesn’t mean he hasn’t experienced some race-ending gut rot. Here’s his take:

  1. It’s about moderation: Just like in life, you need to be sensible. You can’t be flying off the handle doing crazy stuff. So don’t overdo it. Some riders are concerned about their weight and try to start light so they don’t eat much before and they have nothing in them. Then they need to eat a ton in the race and that just overloads their stomach.
  2. Trial and Error: It all comes down to trial and error. You need to figure yourself out. Normally, I can eat or drink anything. I once had 2 liters of Mountain Dew before the Athen’s Twilight and won the “most laps led” competition. Mainly I was just buzzed on sugar and caffeine and was really scared. Anyway, I had no stomach problems — and I almost never have stomach problems. But there are two products that jack me. I won’t mention the brand, but one is a product that other guys have no problem with, but one bite and my race is over. I can eat bags of gummy bears or jellybeans, but I can’t eat this stuff. The other is a particular sports drink. I don’t know what’s in it, but I can’t use it. I have no idea why.
  3. Those directions weren’t written for you: I think most of the directions on these energy bars and drinks are written to be on the safe side, but they still may not work. You need to write your own directions.

Christian VandeVelde (Garmin-Cervelo)

Christian VandeVelde is one of the top American Grand Tour riders who I’m sure will be a contender at next year’s Tour de France. He’s a legend and one of the most practical and down-to-earth pros I know. Here’s what he thinks:

  1. Stay away from high fructose corn syrup: Anything with it screws me.
  2. Stay hydrated: When I get dehydrated I’m busted…every time. But it’s not just about water, it’s about keeping the sugar to water ratio right. Once you get too much sugar and not enough water it’s all over.
  3. Avoid Gas Station Food: I had a coffee drink and some food from the gas station on the ride today and within half an hour I had the worst gas ever. So do what I say, not as I do, and avoid gas station foods, even though sometimes you can’t do anything else. Just stay away from processed foods and stuff your pockets with real food – a Panini, or bread with jam. Those small packages of SDM are great. If you have that, you can just get water at the gas stations and you’re set.
  4. Figure out what works for you: It’s all about keeping it simple. For me, the Clif Kid Z Bar is so much simpler than other bars. It tastes great and easy to eat and digest. It’s 130 Calories. One of those bars every half hour and a bottle of sports drink and I’ve got 350 Calories an hour, which is perfect. What I can’t eat when I’m racing are foods with yeast, soy, and dairy. They wreak havoc. If I stay away from those foods then it’s all good across the board.

David Zabriskie (Garmin-Cervelo)

David is one of the only Americans to have one a stage in all three Grand Tours (Giro D’Italia, Tour de France, and the Vuelta). He’s well known for both his blazing time trial speed and his personality. Here are some of his sage words of wisdom:

  1. Go easy. (Note from Lim: Dave didn’t follow up this comment with anything. He just stopped talking after he said it, and there was an awkward moment of silence. But it’s actually some pretty sage advice. When you’re going really hard, blood flow is shunted away from the gut to working muscle and that makes it hard to digest anything. Often, the rate-limiting factor isn’t one’s heart, lungs, or legs, it’s your stomach. And one of the easiest ways to avoid gut rot is to just go easier or to time your food intake when you are going easy.)
  2. Avoid crappy food: Anything processed is just bad. Some people out there might be adapting to it, but whatever.
  3. Keep your diet simple: The simpler you make your diet the easier it is to figure out what doesn’t work and what does work. I mean I could eat nothing but potatoes tonight and tomorrow morning I know I’ll wake up looking terrible. I had all those food allergy tests done and I’m allergic to everything but some things I’m allergic to are fine for me and other things aren’t. So who knows. I just keep things simple so I can hone in on what works.
  4. I’ll sell my colonic machine for a hundred dollars. (Note from Lim: Again, Dave didn’t follow this up with anything. There was just some awkward silence.)

Taylor Phinney (BMC)

No one in professional cycling has Taylor’s pedigree. And no one in professional cycling has come out with as many major victories as he has in the short time that he’s been racing. At only 21 years of age and in only his first year as a pro, he’s already notched 5 World Championship titles, an Olympic start, and plenty of wins on the track, road, and in time trials. Here’s his simple but to-the-point advice:

  1. Avoid gels: I’ve never had any terrible stomach problems, but if I do the gels, I’m screwed.
  2. Eat what works for you: I particular love Almond Snickers as well as homemade rice cakes with pieces of scrambled eggs and bacon.
  3. Drink: I also try to drink water or a mix with low acidity and a solid amount of salt. For me, drinks like Gatorade have too much sugar and not enough salt.

201112121401.jpgAbout Dr. Allen Lim: Born in the Philippines to Chinese parents, Dr. Allen Lim grew up in Los Angeles where he learned how to ride at the age of 4 on a pink tasseled bicycle he called “Snow White.” At the age of 13, he earned a Boy Scout Merit badge in Bicycling, riding his bike from LA to San Diego with his brother Almerick and cousin Sean. Soon after, he watched the movie American Flyers and decided that he’d base his future career on Kevin Costner’s character by racing bikes and learning everything he could about sport science. Almost 17 years later he received his doctorate from the Applied Exercise Science Laboratory in the Department of Integrative Physiology at the University of Colorado at Boulder and has been working with professional cyclists ever since. Most recently, with riders like Levi Leipheimer and Lance Armstrong as the director of Sport Science for Team Radio Shack.

201112121417.jpgAbout The Feed Zone Cookbook: Chef Biju and Dr. Lim vetted countless meals with the world’s best endurance athletes in the most demanding test kitchens. Now, in The Feed Zone Cookbook: Fast and Flavorful Food for Athletes, Thomas and Lim share their energy-packed, wholesome recipes to make meals easy to prepare, delicious to eat, and better for performance.

The Feed Zone Cookbook provides 150 delicious recipes that even the busiest athletes can prepare in less time than it takes to warm up for a workout. With simple recipes requiring just a handful of ingredients, Biju and Lim show how easy it is for athletes to prepare their own food, whether at home or on the go.

The Feed Zone Cookbook strikes the perfect balance between science and practice so that athletes will change the way they think about food, replacing highly processed food substitutes with real, nourishing foods that will satisfy every athlete’s cravings.


  1. Comment by Rollo | 12.14.2011 | 11:32 am

    I get low blood sugar at times and therefore have to keep track of what works and what doesn’t for me. I strive to eliminate all forms of corn syrup from my diet and avoid processed foods. I have found that the quickest way to a blood sugar crash is to avoid regular protein intake and to consume lots of things with corn syrup.

    On rides I follow Craig Lewis’s recipe and my energy levels stay more even.

    Good stuff Fatty!

  2. Comment by Marco | 12.14.2011 | 12:13 pm

    I can’t wait to make those rice cakes!

  3. Comment by Dave T | 12.14.2011 | 1:02 pm

    A banana, cliff bar and plenty of water usually work fine for me since most of my rides are sub 3 hours. After yesterdays conversation I’m going to give the rice cakes a try sound like a good alternative to the cliff bar. On rides with my son we usually stop at the mid point of our ride for tacos at the local taqueria, we always seem a bit faster after that.

  4. Comment by Ben | 12.14.2011 | 1:23 pm

    Unflavored Perpetuem and Endurolytes. I don’t leave home for more than two hours without them.

  5. Comment by eclecticdeb | 12.14.2011 | 1:24 pm

    I have a love/hate relationship with food while biking. My HEAD knows that I need to eat while riding, however as a woman who is constantly struggling with her weight, it’s hard for me to want to “consume” the calories that I just worked off. The result is that the last 10-15 miles or so home is painful and slow.

    When I DO eat, I too need to avoid things with too much sugar…my stomach gets really queasy. I have a tough time with energy drinks, and prefer straight water (lot’s of it), and I liberal with the salty foods. I sweat more than your average person, so that’s what I really tend to concentrate on.

    I’ve been tracking my food consumption for a few months (lost 11 lbs — yay me!), but I’m absolutely sure that my nutrition intake could be optimized.

  6. Comment by KM | 12.14.2011 | 2:13 pm

    I’ve got to get better at eating while riding. I have this crazy notion that if I don’t ride I’ll lose weight faster. Even though I know that’s not true. Normally I just grab a bag of Clif margarita chews and a Clif bar or two. I tend to sweat out salt in droves so I love the saltiness of the chews. But, once I’ve eaten about one sleve, (five-six chews) I’m done. Also, I have to eat my Clif bar(s) early, trying to gnaw one down mid ride while pedaling is on my top 15 least favorite things to do. Those rice cakes sound really interesting (in a good way). I wonder how long they’ll keep once made?

    As for drinking on the bike, I’ve always preferred plain water but during hard/long rides a tablet of NuuN in my water bottles always makes me feel tons better and it’s not too fruity. I can also manage diluted Gatorade. But God help me if I try a particular brand of electrolyte replacement mix(Cytomax)…bad, bad things happen. Maybe I’ll check out that super secret drink mix.

  7. Comment by KM | 12.14.2011 | 2:15 pm

    Uh, I meant, “If I don’t EAT I’ll lose weight faster.” Apparently I’m having problems connecting my brain and typing.

  8. Comment by Sara | 12.14.2011 | 2:39 pm

    Thank you for including a female pro in the mix! I particularly like the insight about the time of the month, because I find that to be so true, too.

  9. Comment by Clydesteve | 12.14.2011 | 2:47 pm

    I was glad to read of at least one other rider in the world that does not do well with bananas. Same for me. I like them on my cereal, but even 1/4 of a banana on a long ride, and I am fighting almost debilitating heartburn.

    My company makes some emergency water purification & hydration devices that use a concentrated sports drink syrup. One thing i have learned about sugary sports drink preparations – with that sugar, a prepared drink is ripe for bacterial growth. So what the big drink manufactureres (soda pop as well as sports drink)do to combat the potential for a bacterial bloom is add a lot of citric acid and/or phosphoric acid to power the pH. At low pH bacteria will die, and at least will not multiply, so the contamination on your grubby hands from hitting the porta-potty then mixing up your XX-aid will not make you sick.

    That is a good thing, especially from the perspective of company liability. But the low pH (we are talking 2.5 to 3.8 here – very acidic) in not, in my experience a good partner for your tummy. And it isn’t so good for your teeth either.

    So a drink with low acidity and low sweetness like Carbo-Rocket or SDM should be a big improvement. I am even thinking of using pedialyte for my cycling drink.

  10. Comment by RodNeeds2Ride | 12.14.2011 | 2:47 pm

    Great stuff Fatty! I had a friend stop by my office and he noticed this post up on my computer. After about 30 seconds of explaining “who the heck is Fatty” he declared an intense need to get back to his office and start reading your blog. Yes, it’s that awesome!

  11. Comment by Christina | 12.14.2011 | 3:48 pm

    Thanks for a female perspective, Dr. Lim!

    I also cannot tolerate bananas without feeling like I’m going to puke them up. I’m also a fan of nuun.

  12. Comment by Geoff | 12.14.2011 | 5:47 pm

    I love it. Zabriskie had the same allergy test I had done…and got the same results. Think I’m going to start eating eggs again and “see what happens” as the master Z suggests. Who wants pay for a USED colonic machine?

  13. Comment by Dillon Bikes | 12.14.2011 | 9:32 pm

    I love this cookbook. I have been making recipes from it for the past 3 weeks. I have been writing about it on my blog. Many of my friends have recently ordered one as well!

  14. Comment by AK_Chick | 12.15.2011 | 12:11 am

    I’m with @Ben except I love the orange vanilla Perpetueum. I’ve tried all the other flavors and they aren’t great. Not bad, just not great. It sounds like it would be gross, but it’s not. Endurolytes are what I used in Austin. People were cramping up right an dleft and I had no problems. :)

  15. Comment by nh_joe | 12.15.2011 | 12:07 pm

    Thank you Fatty and Dr. Lim! This blog is a great read for general entertainment, but this was seriously one of the most useful things any publication has done, including major news sites.

    One suggestion – While it was interesting to read how the pros do everything, some advice on good substitutions would have been nice. I asked about eating on travel and it was cool that they take over hotel kitchens and bring RVs, as a Cat 2 I’m stuck with the continental breakfast and local restaurants, although I try to hit the grocery store as much as possible.


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