Cycling is as much a sport as a constant learning curve. The more involved you become, the more there is to learn.
From which bike or kit to buy, to the right amount of training, to the correct fuelling strategies for long rides — it can be overwhelming at first: a quick scan of Google can result in a deluge of statistics about carbs, macros and protein, as well as various ads for energy gels or products promising to add 50 watts to your FTP. Kitty Pemberton-Platt and Fi Buchanan’s new book, Eat Bike Cook, reminds us not to take things too seriously.
“I got into cycling aged 24, so quite late,” Kitty explains. Kitty was the driving force behind Eat Bike Cook, creating illustrations and food photography telling the story of different recipes from female riders across the sport. “I was a complete novice, I look back and think: I don't know what it was that kept me going," says Kitty. "There's so many reasons why you wouldn't. Cycling is inherently quite difficult to manage – you have to buy a lot of stuff at the beginning and you're trying to navigate the complexities of the sport, as well fear of the road and having no idea what to do in general.”
Finding a group of women to ride with in London gave Kitty the community she needed to help her through that initial entry to the sport. Like so many who come to cycling later in life, a hobby grew into a passion, and Kitty has stints working for Rapha to show for her attachment to the sport.
That community of female riders in London is a part of the cycling world she hopes to give back to through her book, which features stories and recipes from a wide range of female cyclists. “It's never as binary as women eat one way and men eat another way,” she explains. “But with my experience, the female cycling community is different. The way that we speak about ourselves, the way that we fuel, and the things that we have to think about are inherently different to men. I feel like it's a community that needs something.”
Recipes and hacks from professional riders like Hannah Barnes and Tiffany Cromwell are important parts of Eat Bike Cook, but Kitty affirms that it was important to feature female cyclists from various backgrounds. “We have, from one end, some real local riders who talk about their local 100k route, and then it moves up a little bit to amateur races – there's someone in there who does mid-week crits,” she explains. “How do you fuel when you're in the office from nine to five and then you've got to shoot to a race?
"I spoke to a girl called Annaleen at one event. She is a racer and buys little dumplings from the Chinese supermarkets and she said they are an absolute treat because they fit just perfectly in your pocket,” Kitty says. “Shuhena, who rides in the UK, packs her mum's samosas in her back pocket and has one at the top of Box Hill."
As well as a variety of disciplines, the book includes a wide spectrum of countries. “There's Alison Jackson, a professional rider from Canada, and her stuff is just proper traditional Canadian food. I don't think she even realised it but it had such a traditional element – things like steak on her ranch, and honey on pancakes.” Central to the book, though, is that there are no strict rules and no right or wrong way to fuel.
So much of the cycling community is peppered with a pressure to be like professionals, and many new riders have aspirations to be the perfect athlete. “I've seen so many people open up on the bike around their struggles with their self-doubt,” she says. “It’s questions like: are they doing enough? I want to be able to reassure people that you can remove the comparison to other people and help them realise that there's such a range of what people eat and consume.”
Canyon-Sram rider Hannah Barnes’s nutrition on a training day includes Squares bars and stroop waffles. Kitty believes that insights like this give an honest depiction of the life of pro athletes. It’s common to see pictures of salads and pasta while mindlessly scrolling Instagram, and for many riders it's easy to believe that this is the core of a high performance diet. The reality of nutrition and fuelling is very different.
The bare bones of Eat Bike Cook began on social media, with Kitty posting her own illustrations of food diaries from professional cyclists. She explains that she had feedback from amateur riders who told her that seeing her drawings encouraged them to fuel more. “It made me think: there’s a real purpose for this,” she says.
Despite a natural focus on food, Kitty explains that Eat Bike Cook is a celebration of the cycling community, too. “It came from the concept that the food culture and lifestyle around cycling is amazing,” she says. “It's full of preferences, heightened feelings, emotions and connection and there's so much of that which is desirable.” She speaks about her own experiences trying to find fuelling advice but only coming across scientific data and complicated recipes. “There's a space for that,” she says, “but that's kind of not the space that I think will get more women into the sport, or to stay in the sport.
“In the book there is some genuine stuff about how to do DIY electrolyte drinks which is interesting and useful, but it’s entertaining and it's playful too,” Kitty says. Much like the team at Rouleur, Kitty believes in the power of a printed product too. “To have a physical, tangible book that you can own and put out on your coffee table and think: yeah, that's me, that's my community. I think that is a feeling you can't really put a word on.”
Image credit: Angus Sung
Alongside Kitty’s illustrations, food writer Fi Buchanan has contributed recipes based on the diaries of each rider. With 30 years' experience in the industry, Fi has a fascination with the power of food to make a difference to your body and mind.
“I don't have the ability to say here's the specifics of what you should eat, that's not my background,” Kitty says. “Fi gives the basics of how to get it right, but not so specific that it scares people away, or it removes that fun tone to the book.”
On the surface, Eat Bike Cook may seem like a practical and functional guide to food, but Kitty really believes it can help readers on a deeper level. “If I can just improve one or two people's holistic kindness to themselves and to their bodies in the way that they fuel, maybe so that they eat more or just try not be so hard on themselves, then I think it's done what it set out to do.”
Eat Bike Cook is published by Kitchen Press on 26th July 2021, and available to pre-order on Amazon now here