Kristen Arnold: Increasing Performance Through Nutrition
For most pro cyclists, finding the balance between their sport and their careers is a difficult challenge. Careers usually don’t begin until after every possible cycling success has been achieved and tend to be unrelated to cycling. But while most riders find new passions in teaching, research, and business, a lucky few manage to merge their lives as pro cyclists with their professional careers. A perfect example is ButcherBox Cycling’s Kristen Arnold who in addition to her career on two wheels, splits her time between being the team nutritionist for ButcherBox Cycling, a certified dietitian and nutrition counselor with a focus on sports nutrition, and a cycling coach for Source Endurance.
This innovative combination might not have happened if it wasn’t for family friends convincing Kristen to give cycling a try during her senior year at Ohio State. As Kristen rode more and began to fall in love with the sport, her academic interests also began to shift. Kristen says, “My academic focus was initially in studying public health, mostly focused on prenatal and pregnancy. But as I began cycling more, I got more interested in how nutrition affected my bike racing. I ended up getting really passionate about the science side of sports nutrition. I got my masters in human nutrition and got my dietitian license. Then I started a private practice in 2014 and after a few years, I was able to get my sports dietetics credentials too.”
The next few years were strong for Kristen as she began working with more and more pro, elite, and amateur athletes across numerous sporting disciplines. As a cyclist, Kristen became a constant presence in pro criteriums in North America while riding for the various iterations of The Meteor/Intelligentsia cycling team. These two separate but related worlds would eventually converge in 2019 when one of ButcherBox Cycling’s team owners, Steve Cullen, approached Kristen about a new opportunity.
As one of the top elite cycling teams in the United States, ButcherBox has been building a reputation of being innovators. The team’s cycling jerseys are loud and eye catching, even when zooming past spectators at 30 miles per hour. Its riders are known for having strong, goofy personalities and engaging fans at races and over social media. But in the ultra-competitive American peloton, just catching attention isn’t always enough convince fans to become patrons of your sponsors, riders also have to be riding at the front of every race.
So, in order to increase the team’s performance and consistency, ButcherBox Cycling’s management team reached out to Kristen and signed her as the team nutritionist. A team nutritionist is common for World Tour teams competing at the Tour de France, but it’s unheard of in the domestic peloton where tight budgets typically mean that riders are on their own to figure out their nutrition plans. According to Kristen, ButcherBox's unique approach to pro cycling means that hiring a team nutritionist just made sense. “One of the pillars that makes this team special is that they are focused on what they call ‘all-natural performance.’ Their mission is to help fix the food system, specifically as it relates to the world of sports nutrition. The team wants to move cycling further towards a mindset that prioritizes whole foods. That’s where I come in.”
“My role as the team nutritionist,” Kristen says, “Is to work with the team’s top riders to provide individualized nutrition counseling; working with them on a one-on-one basis to enhance their performance using all-natural methods. I also provide webinars for the whole team and staff to explain and educate them about various nutrition topics. And, I’ve supported the team’s social media efforts to help share the message to fans about how to become an all-natural athlete and the transformative effect that diet has on performance.”
Kristen continues, “This is where it is important to have a registered dietitian on the team. The needs of the athletes in terms of nutrients and intake are going to be the same no matter what the source of the food is. Every athlete is going to need carbohydrates, calories, and electrolytes. But the source of those foods is where the all-natural part comes in. You can get glucose, sodium, and potassium from potatoes and dates and figs. You can get proteins and minerals from meat products as opposed to protein powders. It’s about making conscious choices that are going to help you perform in the short-team during a race but also contribute to an overall lifestyle that will promote health long-term.”
Kristen also notes that the team’s title sponsor, ButcherBox, has been a great partner to share this health-based message. The Massachusetts-based company is an online subscription service for ordering non-industrialized and ethically-sourced meat products. ButcherBox proudly promotes its commitment to grass-fed and grass-finished beef, free-range organic chicken, and heritage-breed pork and for never using any antibiotics or hormones in its products. Naturally, Kristen says, ButcherBox’s high-quality meats were part of the equitation for the team’s all-natural athletes.
The dividends of this calculating approach are clear. The team’s win tally grew all season long which cumulated in the ButcherBox winning the team classification in the USA CRITS Championship. Team leader Connor Sallee also nearly won the USA CRITS rider championship, ultimately finishing second in the standings. And, the team secured third in the young rider rankings with rising star Spencer Moavenzadeh.
Kristen says, “I think the most obvious sign that this nutrition-based approach is making improvements is the team’s consistency. Almost no one has been sick this season and hardly anyone got burnt out. Those two things are directly correlated with nutrition for athletes. The fact that they can be consistently good and not get sick for the majority of the season are big signs that nutritional improvements have been made.”
Kristen’s impact on the team’s success this year hasn’t been confined to behind the scenes either. After signing with ButcherBox as the team nutritionist, Steve Cullen also approached Kristen about racing for and leading the ButcherBox’s women’s program as the road captain (a role roughly equivalent to a race director). Along with Leslie Timm, the women’s program’s team captain (team manager), Kristen has had a strong impact on the young women’s team.
Kristen says, “It’s been really wonderful to be in the role. I’ve learned a lot about how to build athletes up and get the most out of them. I’ve been fortunate that the girls on the team are really invested in the idea of what it means to be on a team. People are selfless both on and off the bike. Everyone shares roles, and in that way, I think that I’ve done a good job creating a positive team culture. But, at the end of the day, I had some pretty easy people to work with. We did have some fairly new riders to American crit racing too. We had two riders, an Australian and a Brit, who hadn’t raced in the United States before so that was a pretty steep learning curve for them. Figuring out how to help them be their best over here was a fun project.”
With such a successful 2019 behind her, it’s hard to imagine what the 2020 season has in store for Kristen Arnold. “Hopefully bigger and better!” Kristen said with an optimistic laugh. Whatever the future holds, Kristen will no doubt continue to lead the world of sport towards a healthier, nutrition-focused mindset. And help grow women’s cycling along the way!