If you follow cyclocross, you know Katie Compton. She's won the USA Cycling Cyclocross National Championships Elite Women’s title every year from 2004 to 2017.
Unfamiliar with the discipline of cyclocross? It's kind of like a Spartan Race with a bike, requiring riders to cover terrain including grass, dirt, gravel and occasionally pavement while navigating obstacles like boulders, logs, ramps (called “flyovers”) and steep hills, requiring many riders to dismount and carry their bikes to the top before re-mounting as quickly as possible. Because cyclocross is a winter sport, mud and snow are frequently the icing on the cake.
So, yeah, it's hard. And Katie Compton dominates at it, which she's been doing handily for well over a decade. Her nickname? KFC, which stands for Katie F'n Compton, which stands for exactly what you think it does.
"Katie Compton is the consummate professional," says Ryan Bodge of Trek Bikes, one of Compton's main sponsors. "Whether it be in the preparation of her equipment or her training and health, no detail is left to chance. Katie's experience and dedication to doing things the right way is why she has been winning at the highest level for as long as she has."
We sat down to chat with Katie about what she eats and how she trains to maintain her lean, strong physique and feel her best both in and out of racing season. Here's what we learned:
1. She follows a ketogenic diet
"I love [the ketogenic] diet for how I feel," she says of the high fat, low carbohydrate diet. "I think well, I have tons of energy, I'm not hungry, I lean out, I just feel better when I eat less carbohydrates."
She takes a balanced approach, following the diet most strictly when she's doing higher volume workouts at a lower intensity. "I have to make sure I recover," she says of occasionally taking time off the diet. "I'll take two or three weeks when I'm off season and relax my nutrition. I'll indulge in some delicious stuff that I pretty much only eat once a year, and then once I'm over that hump of treating myself and I need to get back on the bike again, that's when I'll do more keto.”
When you eat more fat, your body burns fat more easily, she explains. “What you fuel your fire with is what you're going to burn… If I eat too many carbohydrates I'm hungry again in three hours. With keto, I can eat breakfast at 8 a.m. and I'm not hungry again until dinner — and I feel good."
2. She fasts at least 12 hours every night
The benefits of intermittent fasting — when calories are dramatically reduced for a short period of time — range from weight loss to decreased risk for cancer. So it's no wonder that Compton has experimented with incorporating it into her training plan.
She keeps careful track of when she eats her last meal or snack of the day and doesn't even have her morning coffee until at least 12 hours pass. "I usually have my last meal at 5 at the latest," she says, "which is tough if I want to be social or go out. The longer I go, the better I feel overall.
Compton says that sometimes after training she eats at 3 p.m. and is good until the next morning. The sweet spot for her to feel her best is fasting 16 hours between dinner and breakfast. “I feel like it helps my cortisol levels, it helps my sleep, I just feel better. If I go out with friends or have late dinners, I feel it the next day. I just feel like I'm heavy and I'm hungry."
3. She doesn’t eat grain or gluten
Katie was diagnosed with a gene defect in which her body lacks the MTHFR gene, which is necessary for processing folic acid. The condition forced her to become an expert label reader and led her to cut nearly all grain and gluten out of her diet.
"It hinders my recovery," she says of the consequences of consuming processed folic acid. "I need methylfolate and folate from vegetables and fruits and whole grains, but I don't need the fake synthetic folic acid. That cuts out all processed food, which is good anyway."
Since many processed foods include enriched flours, and that enrichment process often includes adding synthetic folic acid into the flour, Katie avoids anything that's been enriched. "I found a gluten free flour mix that I love and I bake with. It's a brown rice base instead of a white rice base (which is important) because white rice flour can be enriched before it's made into flour and doesn't have to be labeled.”
She says she struggled with gluten-free products until making this discovery, and since then has cut out grains in general because most are enriched. In its place, she’s honed in on fruits and vegetables, grass fed proteins and wild caught fish, fish oil, avocado oil, coconut oil, olive oil, grass fed butter and potato chips. (More on the potato chips in a minute.)
4. She only drinks purified water (and lots of it)
Katie takes a common sense approach to ensuring that she's always properly hydrated. "We have a Berkey water purifier. It's a purification system that filters everything out of the water. I drink that water so I don't have to drink out of plastic bottles. I don't drink tap water. Even a Brita filter is not filtered enough. I've noticed I drink twice as much water and I feel better with that Berkey filter. We even travel with it."
When asked how her training is effected by proper hydration, she notes that she observes a faster recovery time when she's drinking plenty of water. "Athletes need to stay hydrated. Our muscles function better when we're hydrated. If you wait until you're thirsty. It's too late."
She also uses supplements in her hydration strategy, most notably an electrolyte mix. "I have an electrolyte mix that doesn't have any sugar in it, it's just electrolytes and Stevia. If it's hot out or I'm doing hot yoga, I'll drink two waters to one electrolyte mix, so there's a balance."
5. She has a couple go-to treats she rewards herself with after big races
After weeks or months of following her low carb ketogenic diet, Katie rewards herself after a big race. "I like the avocado oil potato chips that just have salt, potatoes and avocado oil. That's my favorite [thing to eat] post-ride. I'll have a hard cider and those potato chips."
Yup, she indulges in some booze, too. "The alcohol feels great!" she jokes of her post-ride cider ritual. "I get the ciders that are just apples and whatever's in the fermentation process.” She also opts for the ones with the highest alcohol content.
When she’s celebrating the end of the season or a successful appearance at Worlds, she even takes to baking. "I'll probably make cinnamon rolls and I'll definitely make a cake," she says of her favorite sweet tooth indulgences.
6. She mixes up her training
With a degree in Exercise Science, Katie understand the importance of mixing up her training to optimize results. "For cycling, you follow periodization with ups and downs throughout the year," she says of her regimen, which includes training in aerobic and anaerobic zones as well as focusing on oxygen uptake and lactate threshold.
As for her ideal training program, it would include some running, yoga, pilates, body weight exercises, and obviously lots of time on the bike. "Running stair sprints is good for (cyclo)cross," she notes. "And then yoga and pilates, especially yoga for the balance and strength and pilates for the core work."
She frequents Hot Asana yoga studio in Colorado Springs, where twice weekly 90 minute classes keep her strong without adding bulk. "Cyclists' power-to-weight ratio is important," she notes, "so most of us are trying not to put any muscle mass on. We want to be strong without gaining muscle mass." She mixes up her cycling workouts as well, depending on how far out from a race she is. "I usually do two-to-three high intensity workouts per week, and then lots of endurance riding and recovery rides."
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