Cycling Nutrition with Monique Ryan: Reader questions on alcohol and fats

Monique Ryan is the nutrition columnist for VeloNews and InsideTriathlon magazines and is founder of Personal Nutrition Designs, a consulting company based in the Chicago area. Ryan will try to answer selected questions each week in her regular on-line question-and-answer column.Readers are welcome to send questions to Ryan at often can I raise a glass?Dear Monique:In terms of athletic performance, how does alcohol affect the body? I like one or two glasses of beer or wine a night. I am concerned it may inhibit the liver from clearing toxins. -- AFDear AF:Alcohol can

How often can I raise a glass?
Dear Monique:
In terms of athletic performance, how does alcohol affect the body? I like one or two glasses of beer or wine a night. I am concerned it may inhibit the liver from clearing toxins.

— AF

Dear AF:
Alcohol can interfere with post exercise recovery- it just depends how soon your alcohol consumption follows after training. It may increase urine losses when consumed shortly after exercise, and cannot be considered a rehydrating beverage. If any injury related to soft tissue damage is present, it is important to consider that alcohol is a potent vasodilator and could increase swelling and impair the healing process. (Remember that you ice any bruising or swelling to produce a vasoconstrictive effect).

Certainly drinking alcohol places stress on your liver, which is the only organ that can metabolize alcohol and which must perform numerous other important functions. It is best to keep your alcohol intake moderate (one drink daily, two for women). While alcohol’s effects can be relaxing and may offer some protection to the heart, it can increase the risk of esophageal, gastric, and breast cancer, and is high in calories. – MR

Can you get used to certain fats?
Dear Monique:
I grew up eating traditional Hispanic New Mexican foods which tend to be high in fat and overall not considered healthy for the body. Even with this diet I maintain a body fat percent of 6 to 9 percent. I noticed that when I tried to change my dietary habits by eating less fatty foods, my performance and energy levels decreased, while body fat percentages remained the same. Does changing a diet from what an individual grew up with have similar effects to what I experienced? Does the body get used to a fuel system and learn to utilize this system even though it may not be considered healthy by nutritionist standards?

— SV

Dear SV:
Without reviewing a week’s food records, it difficult to know just how many grams of fat you are consuming. It is quite possible that your training requires several thousand calories daily. After you consume enough carbohydrate to replenish your muscle with glycogen and meet your protein needs, you can make up the remainder of your calories from fat. It appears that your body is comfortable at your current body fat range, and likely having a lower body fat level would produce no beneficial performance effects. What I would encourage you to do is to make sure that you consume the right types of fat. Limit saturated fat from high fat animal products as much as possible, as well as trans fatty acids found in “hydrogenated” oils. These types of fats have been linked to elevated cholesterol levels. Rather, choose monounsaturated fats such as olive oil, canola oil, avocado, and nuts which have a protective effect. Polyunsaturated oils such as soy oil, flax oil, and sesame seed oil are good sources of essential fatty acids.

— MR

Monique Ryan
Monique Ryan

Monique Ryan, MS, RD, LDN

is a nationally recognized nutritionist with over twenty-two years of experience and is owner of Personal Nutrition Designs, a Chicago based nutrition consulting company that provides nutrition programs for endurance athletes across North America. Monique consults with the Chicago Fire Soccer Team, and was the nutritionist for Saturn Cycling from 1994 to 2000. She has also consulted with the Volvo-Cannondale Mountain Bike Team, the Gary Fisher Mountain Bike Team, and the Rollerblade Racing Team. Monique has consulted with USA Cycling, and was a member of the Performance Enhancement Team for the Women’s Road Team leading to the 2004 Athens Olympics. She has also provided nutrition consultation services to USA Triathlon for coaching clinics, athlete clinics, and for the resident athlete team and was a member of the USAT Performance Enhancement Team for the 2004 Athens Olympics. Monique is the author of “SportsNutrition for Endurance Athletes,” 2nd edition (March 2007), from VeloPress,which provides sports specific nutrition for road cycling, mountain biking, running, triathlon, swimming, rowing, and adventure racing. She is also author of “PerformanceNutrition for Winter Sports” (PeakSports Press), “Performance Nutritionfor Team Sports” (PeakSports Press), and “Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition. Monique is a regular contributor to VeloNews, Inside Triathlon, Outside, and ACE Fitness Matters. Please send your questions to