Category Archives: Training

Workouts, philosophy, experiments, research

Fat Tuesday is Gone, a Lean Six Weeks Ahead

Running, cycling, lifting weights. Added mobility work after reading Kell Starret’s Ready to RunHealed 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.

The plan?

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.

The Rules:

No meat.

No problem here.

No eggs.

Vigilance required. Some noodles have eggs, but that will be handled elsewhere…

No dairy.

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.

No oils.

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.

No flours.

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.

Eat legumes.

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…

Additional Rules:

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!

 

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Strength is My Weakness Pt. 2

So I made up my mind, this is the year of strength training.

So far so good. But a much bigger problem: How to best go about it?

That question opened a huge can of worms that I’ve spent a couple months trying to sort through. There are A LOT of opinions out there, and a lot of conflicting advice. Especially for endurance athletes where strength training is cross training. Low reps and big weights? High reps and moderate weight? Metabolic conditioning? Crossfit? Train like a powerlifter? Like a bodybuilder? Like an MMA fighter? Maybe vigorous power yoga is enough?

My head was spinning. The elephant in the gym is bodybuilding. It requires a certain style of high volume training, frequently going to failure, and lots of isolation exercises. Most people who “just wanna get in shape” and choose the gym are bodybuilding, whether they admit it or not, because what they want is to look a certain way. Mostly just looking good nekkid. Nothing wrong with that, but that’s not my goal. I want to get stronger, and most importantly faster, so is bodybuilding the best way?

My first answer was no. I thought back to previous gym experience and realized that bodybuilding training is what I was doing. It’s what everyone was doing. It just what you did when you went to the gym. It sorta worked. I did get stronger, but mostly I burned out. I just couldn’t recover adequately over weeks or a couple of months. I would be too sore to swim, bike and run, so I would  lose my aerobic fitness. Greater strength can get you through some situations, but over time it fades. Trends in strength training began to shift away from this bodybuilding style with what was called “functional training” to distinguish it. This became a catchall term for unstable training, inflatable balls, weird cables and all sorts of tomfoolery that may or may not work. I lost interest.

Enter Maffetone. To best train endurance, Maffetone believes in training aerobically, so that all the slow twitch fibers get stronger along with aerobic metabolism. Strength training generally targets the fast twitch fibers, so why bother? Or so I thought. Maffetone does advocate for strength training, as long as it does not interfere with aerobic development. Fatigue is the big problem, and bodybuilding style training focuses on creating as much fatigue as possible with things like training to failure and drop sets. Maffetone’s approach is “slow weights.” Pick a couple of basic, multi joint exercises, train with low reps, very heavy, but never to failure, or even close. Very low volume, and it doesn’t even have to be done all at once, it can be broken up throughout the day. What? How can this possibly work? I shelved it for awhile, and kept looking around.

That’s when I found the “Evil Russian.”

Famous for bringing kettle bell training to America, he has a whole bunch of very different training philosophies that focus on strength. Not bodybuilding. I’ve always wanted to read the essay that kicked off the whole thing, “Vodka, Pickle Juice, Kettlebells, and other Russian Pastimes,” but I could never find it for free online. But it was mention of Pavel’s book Beyond Bodybuilding in a Maffetone recommended book on strength training for better bones called The Endurance Paradox. that made me take a closer look. Both books were a bit of a slog, but it opened my eyes to different training. I sorta knew that real strength athletes, such as powerlifters and Olympic lifters trained very differently from the typical gym bodybuilder, but wasn’t sure what it meant. Pavel showed how strength athletes train strength as a SKILL, not a “workout” whose goal is to break you down. They train frequently, but with very low reps, and never to failure. This intrigued me. I moved onto Pavel’s book Easy Strengthcoauthored with Dan John, and who has a similar philosophy. I listened to him on a podcast explain his Mass Made Simple program. The mass program was intriguing, but too hard and not really applicable. But his humor and ideas intrigued me. I needed more, so I read Intervention.

But the books with Pavel fascinated me. Part of it was the idea that strength can be built without destroying yourself appealed to me. Pavel explains it’s not just the strength athletes that train this way, but other athletes that can’t lose training days for their primary sport because they’re too sore and wiped out from strength, “cross” training. Very Maffetone like. Pavel includes special ops personnel in this category, belying his background in the Soviet military. Such folks have to be strong, fit, and ready to go at a moment’s notice. They can’t destroy themselves with training before an engagement!

So I kept reading. Pavel’s trifecta: Enter the Kettlebell, The Naked Warrior, and  Power to the PeopleAll use a similar, minimalist philosophy for increasing strength and conditioning while allowing plenty of time for other pursuits. I needed more Dan John, so I read Never Let GoLike triathlon. Intrigued by the growing trend of bodyweight training, I read Convict ConditioningBodyweight training is especially appealing, because it is based on strength, not size, and relative strength, rather than absolute strength. Relative strength refers to the ability to move your own body weight, while absolute strength refers to how many pounds you can lift. Relative strength seems more important to an endurance athlete. When I swim, bike and run, what matters is moving my own body around. The training programs in Convict Conditioning are also pretty low in volume, leaving time and energy for other pursuits.

But I’m still attracted to some good old fashioned barbell training in the gym, so I tackled Rippetoe’s Starting Strengthwhich like plowing through a physics textbook it is so detailed. In a similar powerflifting vein, I read Marty Gallagher’s The Purposeful Primitiveand my current program is a combo of the two. Gallagher’s beginner program, which is dead simple: the three power lifts (squat, bench press, and deadlift) for three sets of ten, with constant review of the technique pointers in Rippetoe’s book. I train as close to every day as possible, taking an extra day as needed. I will stick with this for a couple months, then as I need to expand running and cycling volume, I’ll transition to a combination of body weight and kettlebells.

The challenge is time. Not so much training time, as all these workouts take little time compared to the bodybuilding style workouts I used to do. It’s the recovery time so I don’t neglect aerobic training. Will I destroy my aerobic engine as I get stronger and watch my MAF tests plummet?

We’ll see.

Diet Guru FAILS?

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?

Jim Fixx:

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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:

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A healthy lifestyle requires some attention, and consists of more than one factor. You can’t out-exercise a poor diet.

Nathan Pritikin:

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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:

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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.

Robert Atkins:

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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.

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Takeaway:

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?

Do I Really Need to Eat That? Pt. 3

 

Preparing rice cakes for charity riders

Preparing rice cakes for charity riders

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)

When:

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.

What:

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.

How Much?

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.

In Sum:

While commercial products can work, real food and plain water works. Rice cakes, potatoes, or fruit plus water all work as wellJust 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!

Related Posts:

Do You Really Need to Eat That?

Do You Really Need to Eat That? Pt. 2

Do You Really Need To Eat That? Pt. 2

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…

Do You Really Need to Eat That?

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:

  1. What should I eat before I work out?
  2. What should I eat while I work out?
  3. What should I eat after I work out?

The answers I used years ago came from the sports nutrition and supplement industry:

  1. a gel or half a bottle of sports drink
  2. 1-2 gels plus sports drink per hour
  3. 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:

  1. same?
  2. same!
  3. 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:

  1. whatever the last meal was, breakfast or lunch, ideally 2-3 hours prior
  2. maybe a sport drink, maybe some dates, maybe a rice ball/cake
  3. 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:

  1. the previous meal
  2. nothing
  3. 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.

NONSENSE.

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

 

Real Food Training, Racing, and a Conundrum

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.

Next up:

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!

BUT:

While fueling for training is dialed in what about racing? How does intensity affect fueling? Racing and that conundrum next time.

Training on Bread and Water 2.0

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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:
GREEN TEA
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:
FINGERLING POTATOES
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.

Why?

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.

Stress

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!

Back to the Track: M.A.F. #1

Maximum Aerobic Function Test  #1 (Running)

11:13

Yay!

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!