Performance Plate

Cyclists are discovering the benefits of steering clear of gels in favor of whole foods.    

Why You Should Fuel Up on Sweet Potatoes

The day of the gel has come and gone. Elite athletes are ditching the sugar-laden junk for natural on-bike nutrition, and pro cyclist Ally Stacher is leading the charge with her new sweet potato bars.

Pro cyclist Ally Stacher hates gels. So Stacher, who just announced she’s moving from Specialized Lululemon to Optum Pro Cycling, began experimenting with her own on-bike nutrition.

Once, she stuffed a barbecued chicken breast into her jersey. On another ride, she brought nuts and dehydrated watermelon. But after some trial and error, she found her favorite mid-ride snack was sweet potato. The only problem: eating a whole potato on the bike isn’t easy. 

Ally's Bar is the result of that conondrum. Back home in North Carolina, she got to work with her food processor and a dehydrator and before long, she'd developed a sweet potato based energy bar for cyclists. 

Soon, Stacher was testing the Ally Bars—which are made out of dehydrated sweet potatoes, nuts, dates, quinoa, and dark chocolate—on her teammates. The snacks grew in popularity and friends and family started asking about samples. In February 2013, Stacher went into business.

The timing couldn't be better, as the cycling community moves away from gels—and other sugar-laden, artificial snacks—and toward whole foods. 

Ally's Bar is much better than stuffing a sweet potato in your jersey.   Photo: Courtesy of Ally Statcher

Aiden Charles, the head coach for Charles Coaching and Nutrition Services and the founder and executive director of the Connecticut Cycling Advancement Program, consults with athletes looking for a broader variety of healthy, on-bike snacks. “It's very dependent on the person, but just from a nutrient-density standpoint and a taste-variation standpoint, the trend does seem to be pointing toward more whole foods.” He adds that many of his athletes are interested in making their own bars—as Stacher has done. “Sometimes it’s from a cost-saving perspective, or a controlling-the-ingredients perspective or just that they’re trying to achieve a specific taste.” 

Sweet potatoes—which are high in potassium and antioxidants and contain an enzyme that changes their starch into calorie-rich sugars once cooked—are perfect for athletes. “When you think about nutrient density, you want to think about what you're getting other than calories. The calories are the fuel for your workout, but the nutrients help build your body," says Charles. 

Stacher hopes the Ally Bars will get people fueling their bodies with food other than liquid sugar. And if you need proof that you can go fast without sipping humming-bird nectar, just look at some of Stacher’s recent results. Last month, she won two stages of a UCI mountain bike race in Brazil, powered by her bars (she ate one per hour). She’s also established herself as one of the peloton’s hardest-charging domestiques, capable of delivering big watts and big results.

She also wants the company to give back to the chronically underfunded pro women’s peloton. “My goal is to serve as a title sponsor for a women’s professional team,” she says. 

It’s going to take a lot of $3.65 Ally bars to make that dream happen, but if there’s one thing Stacher, who has competed in everything from rodeos to wrestling, is good at, it’s putting her head down and getting it done. “I just hermit myself up and do what I need to do until I get where I want to be,” she says.

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