Category Archives: Nutrition
Vegan and vegetarian
People are way too concerned about pre/post exercise fueling and taking in calories while exercising.
I’ve posted on this before, but I tested it out in two races.Two trail half marathons, pre-race breakfast of potatoes or sweet potatoes. Black tea or yerba mate. Very little fueling during the races and I felt fine. Except my legs.
You don’t need to. Just eat your regular meals and snacks according to hunger. Feeling like you’re “running out of gas” during exercise is an incorrect metaphor. You’re not out of gas, you’re out of fitness. You don’t need more fuel, you need a bigger engine. It’s not that the gas tank is empty, it’s that you’re trying to tow a trailer with a Smart car instead of a diesel pickup. You can put as much gas as you want into the Smart, it won’t increase its horsepower or torque.
Same with our bodies. As long as you’re fueled up on starch, your carbohydrate and fat stores give plenty of energy. It’s the fitness that needs to improve, and it will, with regular training, and as it does, more can be done with that stored energy. Trying to eat your way out of the fatigue doesn’t work, but it might so upset you stomach that it ruins your race. Ask me how I know.
I’ve been seeing how little I can fuel my workouts, and found I don’t need much. Usually just water up to 2 hrs. But I usually train at low intensity 140-145 BPM. What about high intensity, like a race?
I recently ran two trail races, one lasting 3 1/2 hrs, the other a little under 3 hrs. In one I had two small rice balls, two dates and a gel. Far from the conventional recommendations. of a gel every 20-30 minutes. Yesterday I ran 3 hrs on 20 oz of an experimental amino acid drink with negligible calories and one gel at about 2 1/2 hrs. No hunger, no bonk, felt great. The only suffering was in my legs. Heart rate in the 160s. I don’t think I really needed that gel. Sorta like a security blanket.
Build fitness, not the GI tract. Don’t fall for the sports nutrition industry’s sales pitch about what you need. Pushing the limits of your fitness can sometimes be a little uncomfortable, but food won’t solve it. It is true that at some point, some fuel will be needed, but my experience is that it is less than I thought.
So yesterday’s race was good because I met my goals. I was slow, but that was OK. My goal was to finish in under 3 hrs without killing myself, and focus on learning about pacing, perceived exertion, and heart rate for running, which could be different than mountain biking or triathlon. I was pleased that I kept a consistent effort, around 165 BPM that felt good for hours. This is similar to what I’ve seen in both triathlon and cycling, so in this case, Maffetone seems to be right about the primacy of heart rate and not activity. I was very pleased that monitoring my heart rate led to a very even pace. The first and second halves of the race were very similar in pace. The last two miles were hard, and my heart rate came up, but I finished without feeling like death. The course was rolling, no huge climbs or descents, and somewhat technical, which made it good for practice with pacing effort. My legs felt trashed, but in a good way, as in muscles that were stressed and will now get stronger. Not having been running much, and still dealing with imbalance due to last summer’s hip flexor injury, I was happy that nothing hurt in a bad way.
I took a leap of faith that this distance would be OK this early on, and I stuck the landing on two feet. A lot of what I wanted to work on was the brain. It’s just as important to train the brain as the heart and legs. The brain needs to learn by doing that a certain effort is not life threatening. Funny that the brain shuts us down long before we must quit for reasons of physiology. So the group effort of a race and the excitement is the perfect time to try something new and convince the brain that the limits have now been exceeded. Now I just need to take that speed, and extend the endurance to do it four time in succession in Leadville. And find another lung to bring along to help with the 10,000 ft altitude.
I used electric stimulation for 15-30 min an hour or so after each race, and again in the late afternoon. I napped with pulsed electro magnetic field device to lull my brain into an alpha state or relaxation and shut down the adrenaline stream that a race effort involves. I slept all night with it, as usual. The results? My legs are sore today, but not outrageously so, in part because there were no long steep descents. My sleep was very good, so I feel good today. No workout today, but I’ll go for a walk and do some yoga later to loosen up and get some blood flowing. Unlike the past, I didn’t try some new recovery food recipe. I snacked on clementines, potatoes, and hummus. I bought a burrito for lunch. It all worked. No green juices, superfood smoothies or whatever. The supplement experiment was using BCAAs and essential amino acids before, during and after. The whole package worked well.
Well, time to zap my legs again, and plan the next race.
Running, cycling, lifting weights. Added mobility work after reading Kell Starret’s Ready to Run. Healed up some weird back pain from adding barbell work. Need to get back to Eric Goodman’s Foundation training as recommended by my chiropractor to reduce injury risk.
But Lent means discipline, even to the point of a lithe deprivation, and reflection.
Time to get to racing weight. Too many vegan goodies left over from the holidays and rationalizing “this little bit” won’t matter. The little things can add up faster than anyone wants to admit. Even healthy food, if its too calorie dense. The Pleasure Trap is real, folks. So, time for a new plan. A good plan. Then, work the plan. And give the plan time to work.
Tried true, the McDougall program for Maximum Weight Loss, or MWL for short. With a couple of
modifications excuses. But in reviewing the rules, I realized that there was too much of “a little this, a little that” that added up.
No problem here.
Vigilance required. Some noodles have eggs, but that will be handled elsewhere…
I will always be a cheese addict, so to avoid possible trigger foods, no more homemade vegan cheesy things. They’re a bit rich, and can encourage overeating.
Vigilance required. No restaurant food, with the excuse of doing “the best I can.” Not even sesame oil for Asian dishes, the one oil Mary McDougall, and I, ever use.
No high fat plant foods.
Guilty! Avocados have been cheap and so good! Nuts, seeds, and their butters have been creeping into my diet. No walnuts in my oats. And soy foods. No more tofu or tempeh, which I love. Sauces, tahini, mmmm, no. Not till Easter.
Guilty! I’ve been eating a lot sandwiches lately. And while I use a good sprouted bread, I can easily overeat on bread. No pasta. Sort of.
Eat whole grains and potatoes.
I’ll try some Mary’s Mini style meal plans by focusing on one starch at a time. Potatoes for awhile, then rice. Small potatoes for snacks.
The McDougall program usually limits legumes, but they have a great track record for weight loss, and are bug part of Blue Zone diets around the world. So I’ll go heavy on legume dishes.
Make green and yellow veggies one third to one half on your meal.
Guilty! I know it’s a starch based plan, but I could lower calorie density with more veggies.
Eat uncooked foods.
Guilty! More salads with raw veggies helps lower calorie density, but I am remiss.
Only two servings of fruit. No dried fruit or juice.
Not a problem. Not a big fruit eater. I like berries on my oats.
Simple sugars sparingly.
No big problem, no sweet tooth. But, I do like sodas sometimes…
No liquid calories.
There’s no satiety. No sodas, no juice, no microbrews, no Sonoma county vintages, no sports drinks. Water or herb teas only.
No caffeinated drinks.
An experiment. No coffee (haven’t anyway) no green or black tea except decaf. This comes from a recent discussion on caffeine and sleep. I’ve never felt tea made a difference, we’ll see. Caffeine can be a performance enhancer on race day, but one needs to abstain long enough to be re-sensitized to its effects.
But, But, the Exceptions.
Or excuses. I’m sticking with my typical oatmeal breakie unless I really have to give it up. I use dried goji berries , raw cacao nibs, chia and maca for added flavor. I’ll keep them, but skip the walnuts.
White rice and rice noodles for races and exceptional training days. Rice or soba noodles are my favorite pre race dinner and post race lunch. White cal rose rice is needed for a sticky texture to make onigiri rice balls and rice cakes. I only have a couple of races, so should not be a big deal. Nobody gets between me and Asian noodles.
Soy only in the form of whole edamame in a stir fry or miso soup. Tofu for pre/post race noodles.
Whole wheat pasta once a week if I want. It has a similar calorie density to whole grains.
I might bend the fruit rule a bit if it gets hot and while training.
I think Lent allows a cheat one day a week on the Sabbath to re-appreciate the good things. Good or bad idea? Don’t know.
It’s a good plan.
Now to work the plan.
And give the plan time to work.
4o days should be enough, right? Just in time, because the Saturday before Easter is a Beast of a race, SoNoMas!
It’s that time of year again, sniffles, colds, maybe even a full blown flu that lasts a week or two. And with the holidays approaching, the assaults on your immune system are legion, and they’re on their way.
- Vitamin D- Some speculate that lower levels of sun exposure, and dropping levels of vitamin D may weaken the immune system.
- Indoors- Whatever microbes that attack you will linger around indoors instead of being blown away by the wind or fried by UV light.
- Other People- Being indoors a lot also means being around other people and their pathogenic microbes. Holiday gatherings intensify this.
- Test your levels and supplement if needed. Or, take a tropical vacation and get some winter sun!
- Keep your distance from other people, wash your hands a lot, and don’t touch your face. Hand sanitizer helps. Most cold and flu viruses enter via your face. Old news, for sure, but it works.
But Most Important is to Strengthen Your Immune System
I have a problem with the germ theory of disease. If it were purely about germs, we would all be sick all the time because we are always surrounded by germs. The most important part of all this is a healthy immune system. A healthy immune system should be able to handle the viruses and bacteria that surround us, since we all evolved together.
How do you maximize your immune system?
Skip the vitamin C, and read Dr. Fuhrman’s excellent book, Super Immunity.
This book is a fantastic exploration of how nutrition and diet can affect the immune system in two very important ways: cancer prevention, and communicable diseases. Tgose seem like very different subjects, but they are related becasue the immune system not only keeps away colds and flu, but also destroys cancer cells before they can develop into tumors and metastasize into something really scary.
How Diet Affects Immunity
Here Dr. Fuhrman explains:
Certainly, the exposure to the virus and its multiplication within our body is at the core of viral infections. However, though it is not generally recognized, the virus adapts itself to the host (our body) and becomes dangerous and multiplies as a result of the host’s disease promoting environment, created by nutritional inadequacy. ( Super Immunity, p. 29)
So a healthy diet creates a healthy immune system, and viruses will struggle and fail to get a grip within your body.
Dr. Fuhrman’s Anti-Virus Prescription:
A clever mnemonic:
- G- greens (spinach, chard, kale etc.)
- B- beans (legumes, peas and lentils)
- O- onions (all onion types and garlic)
- M- mushrooms (all types)
- B- berries
- S- seeds
The Super Immunity protocol is to incorporate as many of these ingredients in as many meals as possible. Occasionally, I’ve been able to put them all in one dish, but the berries are usually the tricky one to include. But we know that these nutrients are stored in the body, so if you got them all in over the course of a day, imagine what immune system power you’d have!
Work with it Wednesdays will be devoted to testing out some of the book’s recipes over at The Training Table. Check ’em out.
Found this on Yahoo while traversing the on-ramp to the information superhighway:
Diet Guru Failures
Of course my favorite punching bag, Atkins is there, but so are Jim Fixx and Nathan Pritikin. It makes sense that some of the real wacky fad diet folk didn’t have great health, what about those who really did show the benefits of a healthy lifestyle?
Fixx played a huge role in getting Americans off the couch and exercising. It was not long ago that doctors recommended against exercise, which seems ridiculous these days. Then again, doctors used to advocate cigarettes. Fixx himself was a poster child for lifestyle transformation going from an obese smoker to a marathoner, and then showed others how to do it for themselves. Unfortunately, Fixx thought smoking was the real demon, and that if he lost weight and gained fitness he was healthy. He never really changed his diet away from the Standard American Diet. As far as I know, he thought that if he had cardiovascular FITNESS he was HEALTHY. Unfortunately he found out the hard way that fit does not mean healthy. The converse is also true. You can also be quite healthy without being very fit. Unfortunately, the nay sayers went bananas with this and used it to justify their couch potato ways, unhealthy lifestyle, and leave it all to genetics, absconding all personal responsibility.
The Jim Fixx Lesson:
A healthy lifestyle requires some attention, and consists of more than one factor. You can’t out-exercise a poor diet.
Here is another example that confounds people. Nathan Pritikin was ahead of his time, just as Fixx was. He hacked his own health when he was diagnosed with heart disease. With the mind of an engineer, he researched heart disease, determined what caused it, created a solution, and tried it on himself. He cured his own heart disease, then began teaching other people at his health centers. Throughout the 1970s he demonstrated amazing health improvement for thousands of people. With that success, was he lauded? Of course not. Like Fixx he was ridiculed. His death likewise is used as criticism. While his heart disease was gone, as shown by his autopsy, his suicide from terminable leukemia is used by the critics as evidence that he was wrong.
The Nathan Pritikin Lesson:
Pritikin combined healthy diet and exercise to eliminate heart disease, so he was way ahead of Fixx. Unfortunately, not everything can be cured with lifestyle, and there may be some new things to learn. A good reminder to those of us to realize that our healthy lifestyle may not be a panacea.
Regardless of whatever the real cause of Atkins’ death was, the man was not healthy. He peddled weight loss books despite the fact that he was seriously overweight. It’s pretty clear he had heart disease, whether or not that killed him. Why people still revere him, or pursue any similar diet or lifestyle is beyond me.
It’s important to see what the people behind any advice look like. If they stand behind what they advocate, are the results good enough to copy? At the same time, we need to be realistic about what lifestyle can actually do. We have really good information, but the full story has yet to be told.
What do you think about diet and health gurus? Was somebody missing from the list? Do they walk their talk? Should they be judged?
Sometimes the Answer is Yes!
Recently I helped out with a charity bike ride that had a range of distances and a range of rider experience. There was a short course of 15 miles, a longer challenge of 48 miles, and a metric century of 65 miles. We catered to a range of abilities from racers to young kids. Everybody had a great time, and many challenged themselves with a nice long ride. Most riders were out there for over two hours, and this is where refueling becomes important. Previous posts (1, 2) examined how most daily workouts do not need extra calories before, during, or after, since the average person has at least 90 minutes of glycogen on board. But a day like this is the exception.
On a long weekend effort over two hours, like a charity bike ride, a half marathon, skiing, or even a long hike, fuel becomes important. If you train regularly at fat burning, aerobic intensities, your body should be good at using fat and preserving its stored carbohydrate. But that storage is limited, so when you know you’ll be out longer than two hours, you’ll need to refuel, and you should start early. If you wait until the two hour mark and you’re outta gas, you might not recover until the next day! Since it takes about 30 minutes or so for those food calories to become available to your muscles, you might not be able to catch up.
If you need to refuel, the important questions are WHEN, WHAT, and HOW. (much)
Starting sometime within thirty minutes. This depends on how much you ate in the hours prior. If you start early in the morning with no breakfast, start eating earlier. If you had some breakfast a couple hours prior, then it’s not so urgent.
Commercial gels, sports drinks, and bars can all work, but individuals respond differently to varying ingredients, brands, and even flavors. The research shows that it doesn’t really matter whether those calories come in liquid, solid, or gel form. Whatever works for you is fine. But I want to encourage everyone to try real food fueling, and save the commercial fuel for emergencies, or times where convenience is the top priority.
Reasons to Use Real Food:
- Real food tastes better: You can customize it.
- It’s healthier: You get a range of nutrients in the proper form.
- It’s cheaper: You can make it in bulk.
- Better for the environment: Save on packaging and manufacturing.
Following the lead of Allen Lim, I have found that rice works best. Previously I used liquid and gel fueling thinking that it was easier to digest. I have found that white rice is easier to digest, tasty, and inexpensive. As for hydration, I was worried that solid food would interfere with hydration, and that a liquid fuel would be the best of both worlds. However, the opposite can happen:
“These high-calorie solutions, however, can be extremely difficult to tolerate because they can actually slow the transport of fluid, inhibit the movement of fluid across the small intestine, and directly irritate and overwhelm your gut, especially when you are dehydrated, stressed, or hot.” (Feed Zone Portables, p. 23)
Instead, with white rice, which has a higher water content compared to a sports bar, the water passes around the food. Brilliant! The food forms a bolus in your stomach and digests while water flows past it and into the gut:
“The emptying rate for a liquid is distinct from the emptying rate of a bolus… Ultimately of all the factors that affect the gastric emptying rate, the three most important are all related to hydration. A low water volume entering the stomach, high calorie density, and a body that is dehydrated will all slow gastric emptying…” (ibid, p. 24-25)
Note the mention of caloric density. This is why concentrated liquid fuel or gels without sufficient water intake can cause such gut trauma, and why sports bars never worked for me. The calorie density was was too high. But rice cakes and rice balls are much less dense due to the water content. If you make a batch, and weigh them, you can compare the volume to commercial sports nutrition and see the difference.
Of course this will vary widely between individuals, but the answer is probably less than you think. Based On Lim’s calculations (ibd, p. 14-15) for century bike riding and marathon running, most people will need to consume between 150-250 calories an hour. Less if you’re small, more if you’re bigger. Less if the duration is short, more as the duration increases. I found this to be accurate. In the old days of commercial fuel, I used one gel and one bottle of sports drink per hour for a total of 200 calories. Consuming more than you need won’t make you faster, believe me, I know! But it can shut down your gut in a hurry. Consuming less won’t hurt you, unless you’re out for a really long time. For real food, that translates into 1-2 rice cakes or rice balls, depending on how big you make them. Or a couple pieces of fruit. Or a handful of potatoes. I still like to use a light sports drink on occasion like Hammer HEED or Skratch Labs, and that contributes to some calories. The only trick to using real food, as Lim reminds us above, is to drink plenty of water or dilute sports drink to keep the gut happy.
While commercial products can work, real food and plain water works. Rice cakes, potatoes, or fruit plus water all work as well. Just as well as, or better than commercial stuff. It tastes better, because you can customize it. It’s healthier, cheaper, and better for the environment. It just takes a little investment in time to find the best recipes. Which of course you can find here or at the vegan training table blog!
Our charity riders did quite well on fresh fruit and rice cakes. You can too!
The last post explored why the answer to the title question is usually NO. For most people, most of the time, workouts do not need any special snacking or sports products before, during, or after the event. In a society where the vast majority of people who exercise do so to lose or maintain weight, more calories simply aren’t needed, or are even counterproductive. Most people have probably seen news reports of research studies that conclude the exercise does not help weight loss. A lot of exercisers, athletes, and personal trainers were upset with this, but I think a lot people felt their frustrating personal experience validated.
What Is Going On Here?
First, most people overestimate the calories they burn during exercise. Our bodies are quite efficient. Evolving in an environment of food scarcity has ensured that. Based on Allen Lim’s research, I estimate no more than 500 calories an hour for most people. Obviously, there’s a range, where an experienced fit athlete may burn less due to better technique and efficiency compared to a beginner with poor technique. The unfortunate and simple truth is exercise does not burn nearly as many calories as people think.
Second, most people underestimate the amount of calories they consume. Research studies show that people underestimate calories by 30-50%, even professionals! But you don’t need research do determine this. Just look around. Well over 70% of people are not at their ideal weight. Yet these people (most of us) consistently eat more calories than they need, even when they don’t want to!
So Why Do We Get It Wrong?
We let our conscious mind and executive function try to solve problems that our autonomic nervous system already handled. Translation: We OVERTHINK it.
DON’T OVERTHINK IT!
But that’s exactly what the fitness articles encourage us to do: Drink before you’re thirsty, eat before you’re hungry, eat a pre workout snack, drink a sports drink while you exercise, be sure to consume calories within 30 minutes of finishing. The assumption here is that exercise is so tricky, your survival instincts are not up to the challenge and that your conscious mind has to step in and “figure it all out” so you won’t collapse.
Think about that for a moment: Do you honestly think we could have survived as a species struggling to gather enough food to eat if we had to think through every calorie? Did our ancestors count their calories with sticks in the sand? Did they count up how many glasses of water they drank that day to know if they were hydrated? Of course not! So why do we think we need to now?
Consider the fabulous precision of the autonomic nervous system: You do not have to consciously think about your heart rate, breathing, or digestion. It is all orchestrated perfectly without any effort on your part. Why should eating and drinking be any different? It isn’t. Our thirst and hunger operate in the same way as our need for oxygen. While we can consciously influence these mechanisms, there is really no need.
So Why Doesn’t Exercise Cause Weight Loss?
Folks have suggested that people simply overcompensate by eating more calories so that they don’t lose, and maybe even gain. It could happen consciously, as in a reward system, like, “I worked out today, so I deserve a treat.” Remember the small number of calories exercise burns. That treat negates the workout.
But I think the unconscious action of the brain is more important. Your brain has already accounted for the calories burned, and simply increases your appetite without any conscious thought. When you sit down to eat, you eat more. If you added in snacks, you could easily create a surplus. I believe that this happens as seamlessly as responding to decreased oxygen availability at high altitude. If you travel from sea level to the mountains, your brain recognizes that oxygen is harder to come by. You might become consciously aware of this if you try to exercise, or you might not. But the brain immediately speeds up the breathing rate and heart rate to compensate. Not dramatically, you won’t be puffing with a racing heart, but it is measurable. I believe our thirst and appetite operate the same way.
Do You Really Need To Eat That?
I believe the answer is most often NO.
Your brain is unconsciously on it, and will make sure you get the fluids and calories you need. If you let your conscious brain try to step in, it ends up solving the problem twice. Trust your body to know what it needs, and its ability to get it.
DON’T OVERTHINK IT!
There are times to eat during and immediately after exercise, and the conscious mind can help with the planning and logistics, but it shouldn’t take charge. Next time…
Allen Lim wrote very succinctly at the beginning of his cookbook for athletes:
“First Ask This> Do You Really Need To Eat That?
If you’ve ever run out of fuel while exercising and ‘bonked’ or ‘hit the wall,’ then you know how important eating early or often is to performance. . . However, once we take a look at the numbers I think you’ll agree that in many situations we are better served not eating anything when we’re exercising.” (Feed Zone Portables, p. 4)
Pre and Post workout nutrition is way overstated.
As an endurance athlete who does not eat animal foods I get asked a lot:
- What should I eat before I work out?
- What should I eat while I work out?
- What should I eat after I work out?
The answers I used years ago came from the sports nutrition and supplement industry:
- a gel or half a bottle of sports drink
- 1-2 gels plus sports drink per hour
- a post workout recovery drink
Then I wised up a little and decided that such engineered food wasn’t all that nutritious. So I changed my answer:
- a recovery smoothie in the blender with fruit, some spinach and protein powder
A slight improvement, but I still wasn’t at racing weight, and I was going through canisters of powders and potions like they were going out of style, all while searching for this elusive “recovery” that would allow me to train myself into the ground and bounce right back.
So I wised up a little more and realized real food worked better than the engineered stuff and my answer changed again:
- whatever the last meal was, breakfast or lunch, ideally 2-3 hours prior
- maybe a sport drink, maybe some dates, maybe a rice ball/cake
- maybe a recovery smoothie, or some fruit and a meal an hour later
Then I wised up even more and began to question the whole process, with a new answer:
- the previous meal
- the next meal, whenever that was
Everything went just fine and I learned that:
The Problem of Pre/Post and During Workout Nutrition is an ILLUSION!
You don’t need to expend any special effort to fuel up before a workout. You do not need to guzzle down 250 calories an hour during exercise, nor do you need some magic concoction after a workout.
Folks, we are a nation that is 70% overweight or obese. We do not need to look for new places and times to take in calories. Yet all the magazines drill into our heads that as soon as we start exercising, suddenly fueling becomes a tricky problem that requires diligent effort to overcome.
Most people, most of the time, who are exercising for an hour or so, do not need to eat anything. That’s right: NOTHING! If you are eating a healthy diet of adequate calories, you do not need to suddenly increase that. Your regular meals can suffice. What I see is a weird practice of people trying to limit their portions and calories at meals, then add all those calories back in the form of workout fuel and pre/post workout snacks. Madness! Just eat your regular meals and exercise. Your appetite will balance out whatever additional energy expenditure you engage in. Your brain is pretty smart like that, just trust it.
So why don’t people just trust their brain and eat normally?
Because some people do have to make a special effort. These are special people. We want to be like them. They are professional athletes, and they are not like the rest of us.
Professional athletes train multiple times a day for hours at a time. Their energy demands are very high. And it is crucial that they recover from the first workout of the day in time to put in a quality effort for the second (or third) workout. But that does not reflect the reality of a normal person, with a normal schedule, who exercises for an hour or so.
An average exerciser can store 1000 calories or so of carbohydrate in their muscles. And many thousands of calories of fat. An average exerciser burns no more than 500 calories an hour for aerobic exercise. See the numbers? Until your exercise session goes well over two hours, fueling is not necessary. Post workout fueling would be important if you trained right after waking, but that’s OK, it’s called “breakfast.”
Thanks to the sports nutrition industry and our own insecurity, we think we need far more fuel than we do. For special events, like really long weekend efforts, or races at high intensity, some more fuel is needed. But regular people, on regular days, doing regular exercise, only need regular meals.
Eat, Sleep, Train, Live
Don’t Overthink It
So my experiment using real food to fuel training has been a success. But what about racing? When I’m training in my MAF range below 145 BPM, I digest the rice balls, rice cakes, and potatoes with no problem. I look forward to the snack instead of reminding myself to eat. But what about race intensity? Is a rice ball going to stay down when I’m charging at 165-185 BPM? Or will I see it again, flying through the air as I vomit? Can I manipulate these snacks while mountain biking on a rough course? Or will I wrap my rice cake and myself around a tree?
Therein lies the conundrum:
Never try anything in a race you haven’t tried in training
Racing feels totally different than training
What to do?
One way would be to try new things in high intensity workouts or race simulations. But I prefer to keep my training strictly aerobic.
Another way is to designate a race as a “practice race” to try new strategies without getting overly concerned about the results. So if it all goes down in flames, just practice recovering as much as possible and learn from it.
I will try the second approach in this weekend’s Lake Tahoe Mountain Bike Race, 4 hour solo event. Last year I went nuts and did the 8 hr solo event, but this year I will go shorter so I will be well recovered for the following weekend’s XTERRA. This year I will go shorter and test out my real food fueling strategy and see how it feels to fuel on rice, potatoes and dates while riding hard. Since it is a multi-lap format, I can set up a pit area with a cooler for food and drinks. I will fuel with real food, and hydrate with plain water in my hydration pack. I will bring a bottle of Sustained Energy and some gels, just in case the solid food doesn’t work. I will hydrate on the course, and refuel with rice and potatoes between each lap. I’ll carry dates in my pocket if needed on the course. Due to the length of this event, I think the real food will work great. In any case, it will give me valuable information for next month’s Leadville Qualifier at Northstar.
My goal is to ride 5 laps within the 4 hour time limit. If I miss it, I think I will just go out and ride another lap anyway to make it a good long day.
One of the benefits of the Maffetone Method, is that I need fewer calories on the bike. I can remember when I started out, any ride of two hours needed sports drinks and gels. I generally drank one hundred calorie bottle per hour along with a gel. And boy, did I need them! I can remember a couple of memorable bonks and near bonks when I finished later than expected, dragging my sorry carcass to the fridge. Building a steadily bigger aerobic engine means better utilization of fat for fuel, and staying at aerobic intensity means I don’t feel hungry, or desperately needing calories. When I do feel hungry, it’s because it’s lunch time! I would be hungry anyway, even without the bike.
But once I get into the three plus hour range for training rides I have to fuel. Going longer than about 90-120 minutes means that storage glucose will run out, and even the best Maffetone-built fat burning aerobic engine still needs some carbohydrate to keep it all in gear. So calories count. But I grew a little tired of fruity, sweet, expensive gels and drinks, so I experimented with real food and found great success! I found real food digests more slowly, gradually keeping up your energy. I really noticed this mentally. I didn’t realize that there was a “flash and crash” from gels and drinks until I tried real food. It is more of a mental experience where the sugar would make me feel energetic, then later my brain would get a little foggy and fatigued. It wasn’t dramatic, and I thought it was normal. But real food digests slowly and my mental energy is much steadier. What really worried me was my gut. How would it tolerate solid, savory food while still pedaling along for hours? Much better than I thought. But I found that smaller portions more frequently are important. Just a few bites, otherwise you get that “brick” feeling. And that could signal an impending disaster!
Another part of the experiment was real food’s effect on recovery. I’ve found that I really need very little fuel for long aerobic rides. But I wondered if taking in calories along the way would allow me to recover faster, since I would not be digging myself in as deep a hole. The result seems to be that I recover faster and feel better the rest of the day. It used to be that a weekend long ride before lunch would leave me trashed for the rest of the day. I would eat lunch, take a long nap, get up, eat another lunch and be pretty tired. Partly because of the aerobic training and partly by refueling, I finish these long rides tired, but not exhausted and not famished. I eat lunch, take a nap, just like usual, but the nap is shorter, and I’m not as hungry. I still have energy to do other things. Sometimes I add in walks just because I feel like it!
Three consecutive long weekend road rides went like this:
Same route, about 3 1/2 hours
Went over tem minutes faster after three weeks
Fueled with two bottles of Hammer HEED sports drink
Ate six small onigiri (about a cup and a half of rice)
Ate three dates
Everything went down smooth and felt great. Everything was divided up equally into three snack size bags, one for each jersey pocket. With a little practice, I could eat and ride without too much fumbling.
Another alternative is small Yukon gold potatoes, cooked and cut in quarters tossed with salt and nutritional yeast. Very savory and very tasty! Disadvantage: they get gooey and are a little tricky to eat while riding.
Perfect the wrapping of Allen Lim style rice cakes for cycling. They taste great, but I can’t yet wrap them in such a way that they stay together and be smoothly eaten while pedaling by a klutz like me!
While fueling for training is dialed in what about racing? How does intensity affect fueling? Racing and that conundrum next time.
Race day nutrition is very tricky and requires a lot of experimentation. Everyone is unique and some real trial and error is needed to find the ideal pre-race dinner the night before. Breakfast is even harder to figure out, since it might not be needed or even desirable. I failed miserably last summer at Northstar by not eating and drinking in small, frequent amounts. Instead I got behind, tried to catch up which forced my gut to rebel and shut down.
But my recent two races went off very well from pre-race dinner to post-race lunch. I am very excited about what I discovered.
I used to love a big bowl of whole wheat pasta with a thick, chunky sauce jammed with vegetables for dinner the night before. For breakfast, I loved my usual oatmeal, or a lentil spread on toast. I don’t these things anymore. Can you figure out why?
For any other meal, fiber rich foods are the goal. It slows down digestion and keeps your blood sugar and energy on an even keel. But that’s not what you want before or during a race. That pasta dish? Had me seeking bathrooms as desperately as the Oakland Raiders for a head coach. Lentils for breakfast? Awesome on a regular day, but not so nice when charging hard on the race course, trying to get fuel out of the gut and into the muscles and the brain.
THE LOW FIBER WAY TO A GREAT RACE
My pre-race dinner is now white rice with a few veggies for color and texture. Or potatoes, baked, steamed or mashed with a little seasoning or sauce. I eat dinner early because I want all of that food out of my system before the gun goes off.
TO BREAK THE FAST OR NOT?
Steve Born of Hammer nutrition recommends no breakfast. He would rather sleep. His reasoning is that food consumed too close to the race will slow down in digestion and interfere with fat burning. Muscle glycogen is already full if you train and eat properly, so that breakfast won’t really help. Instead he suggests at most taking a gel right before the start, get into your pace, and just start fueling the way you usually do. This sounds weird, but it works. If the race is under two hours you probably don’t need anything. Longer events will need fueling, but that can be handled during the race itself.
I like breakfast. So I like to eat a little before races. I only do this if I can have three hours before the start to make sure that food is metabolized. Since my muscles are already stocked with glycogen, all the breakfast needs to do is top off the stored glycogen in the liver that was burned overnight. This amounts to only a couple hundred calories. Both of my recent races required a couple hours of driving, so I ate two smallish baked potatoes or sweet potatoes. They took the edge off my hunger, but did not bog me down.
I stuck with what I’ve used in the past, but I surprised myself by needing less. For a 2 1/2 hour XTERRA, I drank one bottle of Perpetuem, about 250 calories on the bike, which lasted about 90 minutes. I sipped on HEED during the transitions, and I had plenty of energy. In the past I was sucking down gels as well, but I did not feel I needed that much energy. Also important was not overdoing the calories thinking that I needed them and forcing my gut to fight back. Been there before, lesson learned!
Immediately after finishing, I kept moving, walking to my transition bag, getting my bottle and refilling it with water. I mixed two servings of Brendan Brazier’s Vega Recovery Accelerator which gave me about 160 calories, 35 g carbohydrate and 8 g protein. I kept sipping and walking until I felt my heart rate come down.
The XTERRA race was a bit longer and ended close to lunchtime, but I didn’t feel very hungry until after the awards. I had packed a nice soba noodle salad which made an awesome lunch. After the sprint tri, I was even less hungry, since the race was an hour shorter. Knowing that I wanted to get on the road right away, I packed onigiri rice balls for lunch since I could easily eat them while driving. Very tasty, but I may have been lacking a little in protein.