Monthly Archives: February 2013

Training on Bread and Water 2.0


Make that Green Tea and Potatoes
Dietician Jeff Novick advises us not to drink our calories. They don’t satisfy, and can easily lead to over consumption over the course of a day. While a carbohydrate drink can help during workouts, especially longer or harder ones, I find that training below Maximum Aerobic Function encourages fat burning enough that I do not really need calories during workouts. With the goal of ever increasing the amount of work my body can do burning mostly fat, I’m leaving the sport drink at home for now while I just keep plodding along. Then I looked at my tea cup and got an idea:
Yes, green tea in my water bottle. Famous for its antioxidants, but with no calories it could only benefit right? I heard one person say that the nutritional power of green tea is so great, we should consider it a leafy green vegetable! So I brewed a cup of green tea, poured it into my water bottle and filled the rest with water. It’s water, but with special powers. And a little bit of flavor. Even better, if I had one available, would be to add a squeeze of lemon or lime which adds both flavor and improves the absorption of those special antioxidants.
For my real food calories on this week’s long ride I went with:
I cooked up a pound , let them cool a bit, sliced them in half and tossed them with a squeeze of lemon juice, salt, pepper, and sprinkle of parsley. Next time I’ll add a little garlic powder. I poured the potatoes into a plastic tumbler and stuffed that in my jersey pocket. This arrangement kept the potatoes easily accessible and kept my jersey clean.
Why potatoes?
Because they’re awesome! They always taste great, and can be made to be savory to counter the often sweet fruit based fuels. Potatoes are an easily digested carbohydrate that should easily fuel long training sessions. They’re a little less calorie dense than the white rice or prepared fuels, so you have to be a little more precise in measuring to be sure you have the right number of calories for your workout. I took probably half a pound, filling up the tumbler which worked for my 2.5 hour road ride, but I was definitely hungry by the end. Which was fine, because the other half was in the fridge ready to go as a post ride snack.
So I pedaled through the dormant vineyards of Sonoma county enjoying the spring like weather nibbling on my potatoes and enjoying the day. Real food fueling works so far. I am enjoying real food better than sports drinks and gels of the past, and strongly urge everyone to try savory real foods for long sessions.


Maffetone Musings

A few questions about the Maffetone Method have come up. My own reflections, probably due for an update, are under the training tab up top. There are links to great articles that will explain it better than I can. Maffetone’s website has a split personality, half of it being devoted to music, so it can be a bit tricky to navigate. Recently he was interviewed at Trail Runner Nation, and the podcast is an excellent introduction to his ideas about training. Well worth a listen. I do not agree with his nutritional approach, but his exercise method and insights about stress and lifestyle are solid.

Maffetone insists that everyone do at least three months of base training where they strictly follow his 180 formula for a maximum aerobic heart rate. Most people should do it for longer. This means training slowly, and walking if you need to. Eventually the speed will come, but only if you stay honest and disciplined.


Fat Burning

The aerobic metabolism is responsible for almost all energy in races over fifteen minutes. So unless you race exclusively on the track in short events, the aerobic system is the one to focus on in training.

Mark Allen

One of the best long course triathletes ever, used this method to great effect. When he started, his MAF pace was well over 8 minutes per mile. He later got down to a 5:10 pace at the same low heart rate. He did all his base training at the strict MAF heart rate. If it worked for the Grip, I figured it would work for me.


Low heart rate training is less stressful on the body and much easier to recover from. It feels good, and  it makes consistent training easier to achieve.

Train slow, train well, and race fast!

Training on Bread and Water


Doping cyclists refer to racing when they arenot under the influence of any performance enhancing drugs as racing “on bread and water.” In order to better see how my aerobic engine grows I’m experimenting with my own version of “bread and water” avoiding commercial sports nutrition and supplements. For me it will mean white rice and green tea. Real food.

Base training means building the aerobic engine. This means going slow and resisting all urges to go fast. It takes time to build those capillaries. It takes time for the heart to get stronger. It takes time for the mitochondria to do, well, whatever it is that mitochondria do. But the relaxed pace of training below MAF can be very pleasant. It gives one time to think. It is also a good time to to try new things since there is no pressure.

So Saturday was the first bike ride in way too long, and boy, did it feel awkward! The position on my road bike felt weird, I wobbled a bit going down the street, and today the only soreness is my neck and shoulders. They weren’t used to holding up my fat head for a couple of hours. The good news is that I pedaled well for two hours, but running exclusively is not the same as cycling, so much work needs to be done before racing triathlons again.

The Experiment:
I want to try real food for training rather than processed sports “nutrition.” It seems to me that during low heart rate cycling, it should be easy to eat real food. So I tried making some onigiri to stuff into my pockets. Ordinarily, I don’t need food at all for aerobic workouts under two hours, but I wanted to experiment, and my ride was pushing into lunchtime.

A qualified success. They tasted great, and chewing on real food was a nice contrast to sucking down gels or liquid fuels. I found that using a little extra water when wrapping them made them hold together better. They held together beautifully in my jersey pockets. Nutritionally, at about 100 calories per half cup of rice, I could figure out how many calories I was getting, which is one of the conveniences of packaged foods. I used the traditional umeboshi paste and higher grade rice which tasted great. I loved the tangy, salty, sour taste, and I think that in the summer heat it would be quite refreshing.

One real, and one potential.

They were a bit of a challenge to eat while riding. They took longer than I thought, so maybe I should make them smaller. Also, the nori wrapper was a bit tough to bite through and chew at times. I anticipated this, but it was a bit tricky. Will it get better with more practice? I don’t know.

The weather was cool and breezy, and I hardly broke a sweat. I don’t know how they would fare in a jersey pocket on a hot summer day. They might need another wrapper of plastic, foil, or wax paper, which would make eating them even more of a challenge for a klutz like me.

But in sum, they taste good, settle well in my stomach, and at a few cents for a serving of rice and a nori wrapper compared to $1.40 for a Hammer gel, I will practice my technique.

Back to the Track: M.A.F. #1

Maximum Aerobic Function Test  #1 (Running)



I year ago today, I shuffled my way to a pathetic 13:27, only a few weeks recovered from pneumonia. Truly, I was starting from ZERO. It sucked. But I persevered with the Maffetone Method, and my fitness steadily improved, which led to a great summer of racing with no burn out like in past years.

But this year I have been worried.

I slacked off in the fall, quit racing, and got a little too serious about an “off season break.”  The holidays interrupted a little, but I got in some nice runs. Then January came, time to start base training, but things fell apart. Huge work stress, a cold, and other assorted troubles conspired to make me miss too many days.

Last week I tried a MAF test on the track, but the results and feel were so off I knew I needed to retest this. I feared this season was over before it even started.

Then I had some encouraging signs:

  • A great weekend long run
  • A great informal MAF test that had a two minute improvement over recent times
  • A good morning HRV score

So I knew it was time to hit the track on the same day that I started last year to see where I stood. I am over two minutes faster per mile than I was at this time last year (and a bit heavier, oops!) I wasn’t able to hit a MAF pace like today’s formally or informally, until late April of last season. So while I wasn’t able to maintain ALL my fitness from last year as I hoped, or build on it as I think you should be able to when training the low stress Maffetone way, it’s worked out pretty well.

But, I’ve been too much of a run specialist. Time to remember those other two sports that make up triathlon!