Cyclist Hanna Muegge has been plant-based as long as she can remember—but she’s only been a pro cyclist for two years. Before cycling, she was a basketball-playing, track-and-field runner who dominated the college sports scene in the Midwest. Originally from Germany, Muegge moved stateside in the early 2000s. A product of one of the most successful athletic powerhouses, Hopkins High School in Minnesota, she was quickly recruited by Bradley University for basketball—later to also be recruited by the track-and-field coach to run track after the basketball season was over.
Fast-forward a few years, and now she lives in beautiful Monterey, California, and when she’s not being a pro racer, she’s balancing athletics with a full-time career in air quality protection.
How does she balance both jobs? It’s not new for her. “Basketball was year-round in college. When the season was over, my first two years of college I played overseas in Germany for the U23 German National Basketball Team,” she says. “I was also double-majoring in biology and German. And I was still running all four years.” She’s never known a life without non-stop multi-tasking—and she wouldn’t have it any other way.
After college though, Muegge admitted, “I love doing a lot… But sometimes a lot is too much for your body.” Ignoring a nagging pain in her foot, she kept training through a stress fracture which ended up requiring surgery. In a cast and non-weight bearing for 3 months, her focus and determination left her graduating on crutches, but she says she learned a lot from that mistake.
Grad school brought her to Monterey, and there, she picked up a bike to help with commuting, since she was car-free at the time. “The bike was just to commute around town since my foot was still recovering, and I wanted to explore the new area,” she says. “From commuting to exploring, I quickly fell in love with riding my bike. Sometimes I would go off and ride for half the day.”
In the second year of her grad program, she ran into her now-boyfriend, who noticed her speedy cycling and encouraged her to join his racing team. She dabbled in triathlon and some longer-course runs (including a marathon), and in 2015, she says she realized she had to focus strictly on cycling to actually excel in the sport.
Soon after she started racing locally, she caught the racing bug and started guest riding for bigger teams, eventually landing on her current team, the DNA Cycling Team.
“Racing is unlike any other sport I’ve ever done,” Muegge says. “It’s a completely different animal.”
Now that she’s 28, her nutrition and recovery has taken a much more prominent role in her athletic career: what worked (or allowed her to get by!) in high school simply wouldn’t cut it. “The importance of recovery is really something I’ve learned,” she says. That means taking time off to recover post-race and enjoying an off-season for the first time in her life.
“There’s a time to recover, and a time to go hard. When I first got into cycling, I thought there was one speed: fast,” she says. "There are many different types of rides. These days, every ride serves a purpose. When you train and race with that mentality, you are much more productive and will see long-term gains.”
Besides proper training and recovery strategies, finding the right fuel for your body is an enormous part of the equation for endurance athletes. Muegge mentioned she’s never spent too much time contemplating about how much protein, iron, and other nutrients she was taking in.
“I’d tell my younger self to cut down on the trail mix!” she laughs. “As a cyclist, you’re always hungry after a ride, and I know I crave sugar after a ride, so learning to curb those cravings a bit has been important, but tough! I don’t calorie count, but I pay attention to foods that will help me and foods that will hurt me.”
Spirulina has become one of those helpful foods, says Muegge. “I tried using SP2 for a month, and then put it to the test.… I knew the perfect ride and a specific Strava Segment to use for this test—The hardest ride in town is our Saturday morning “SMR”. It has a2.3-mile climb up through Pebble Beach, which everyone likes to hammer on. I’d been trying to get a new personal best on this climb for over a year! My best time up until March was just over 10 minutes. The best women’s time was so close but seemed out of reach at 9:55 min. After a month of trying spirulina every day, I was excited about the next SMR to test myself. I didn’t just get a PR, I smashed the best time for the women. I did it in 9:28! I was like, ‘What is happening!?’ It was a lightbulb moment.”
“It changed something in my overall health and fitness,” she says. “I love that it’s fresh, tasteless, and odorless. I use one pod every day in my smoothie with orange and carrot juice, some frozen fruit, a splash of soy milk, and some spices like cinnamon. It’s the perfect lunch. I think it’s giving me a lot of the key nutrients I was missing in my diet before. It’s also making me think of all those years of high school and college when coaches continuously asked me about how I was getting my protein. Now I have an answer!”
Follow along with Hanna’s cycling adventures on her Instagram @HannaMuegge.