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!
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 Strength, coauthored 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 People. All 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 Go. Like triathlon. Intrigued by the growing trend of bodyweight training, I read Convict Conditioning. Bodyweight 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 Strength, which like plowing through a physics textbook it is so detailed. In a similar powerflifting vein, I read Marty Gallagher’s The Purposeful Primitive, and 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?
Awkward semantics, but it reflects the reality of my fitness. I used to train like a demon in the gym throughout the fall months prepping for ski season. Then endurance sports became my focus, so I backed off. When I discovered Maffetone and the Big Book, I stuck to strict aerobic training. Maffetone’s views on strength training are a little opaque. When reading the Big Book, it seemed like all forms of strength training are strongly discouraged as being anaerobic, and therefore counter productive to a big aerobic engine. Subsequent articles and interviews show that is not exactly the case, but I still shied away. Now I can really feel that strength is a real limiter. So rather than keeping on that well worn path, and focus only on aerobic base building, this winter I will switch back to a more traditional endurance schedule, which is to build as much strength as possible before the warm months and necessary long endurance efforts. I will continue MAF style aerobic training and frequent MAF testing to see what effect strength training has on running and cycling. Positive? Negative? Neutral?
Why no strength training? If I understand Maffetone correctly in the Big Book, any strength training primarily affects the faster twitch, anaerobic muscle fibers, not the slow twitch aerobic fibers. Since it’s those slow twitch fibers that carry the day in any endurance event, it does not make sense to train the fibers that don’t propel you to the finish. Maffetone also means aerobic training to mean all aspects of aerobic metabolism, not just the heart and muscles. So, to make that aerobic engine stronger, one must train aerobically. Makes sense, except that there is research to suggest that strength training improves muscle function and economy of movement, which makes you faster. And some fast twitch fibers can be sent to reeducation camp to function aerobically. In off-road racing, the trail determines in large part your effort, and strength is frequently needed to overcome obstacles, especially mountain biking, but also when running. In contrast, road racing is a much more evenly paced affair. My hope is that improving my strength will allow me to actually keep my aerobic pace more even by not having to work as hard to clear obstacles and terrain changes. If I don’t slow down as much for these short efforts, I should not have to expend as much effort getting back up to speed and therefore keep a more even tempo.
My years away from the gym have left me weak. We should work to strengthen our weaknesses, right?
Strength is my weakness, so I’m working on it right now.
since I’ve been eschewing the gym, and my aerobic engine maintains itself, and recent injuries could stem from unbalanced strength. They say to take the winter season to bring up weak points. I am weak, literally, so I will spend the time and energy to increase strength, while maintaining my aerobic engine.
The A Number One Race:
Silver King in Leadville: Saturday 50 mile MTB, Sunday 50 mile trail run
Other Very Important Races:
Odds and Sods:
Random short XC races for practice and hard workouts
Running races? Need to find some as prep for the Silver Rush
XTERRA Portland, Fruita if available this year
A mixed bag of projects:
- Race Leadville and become a Silver King
- Finish in top third of an XTERRA
- Complete Ashtanga yoga primary series (on my own or with group)
- Complete Progressive Calisthenics Century challenge, as above
- Bench press bodyweight, squat/deadlift 1.5x bodyweight
- Perform 108 sun salutations on the 108th day of the year (April 18)
- Complete a ten day meditation retreat
- Finish two novels underway, write another
Should keep me busy and out of trouble, right?
It’s important to make some mistakes, that way you can learn from them. Those lessons are easier to remember.
Avoid high fiber foods before a race.
Save them for afterwards.
Be careful even afterwards!
I found that while high fiber foods are good on regular days, it’s asking a bit much of the body to split its energy between legs and heart at lactate threshold, and a gut trying to mow down the Amazon rain forest.
Following Maffetone’s methods, I don’t usually race until the end of March or early April, whenever the first XTERRA race shows up at Folsom Lake. I prefer to just build my base in the murky wintertime. Except this year in California, it’s not murky, not at all. No snow, but gorgeous sunshine every day. I decided to change it up and so I lubed my chain instead of waxing my skis, and jumped into my first ever duathlon, a little sprint at Folsom Lake. I rationalized it as being short enough that even if I was really slow, it would still only take me a little over an hour to finish, so recovery would not be an ordeal. Fueling during the race is irrelevant. And, I could use it to experiment a little and learn from some mistakes where my performance wasn’t super important. This race also uses the same course as other races later this year, so I can compare times, which is hard with off-road racing.
2 mile run, mix of singletrack and road, mostly flat
6.5 mile road bike, twisty, with short, punchy climbs and descents
2 mile run
The bike is one lap of the ICE Breaker Triathlon bike course later this spring, and the run is also about half. The easier half.
Beautiful weather. Tried using a little Tai Chi to get heart rate settled before the start, failed. Heart rate immediately spiked and stayed there for an hour, right between 175 and 180 BPM, so I’l continue to use 175 as my LT. Pace was embarrassing slow. I suppose I should get back to racing weight and train some? The bike course is super fun as it’s never flat for long and quite twisty, so you’re always shifting gears and tempo, in and out of the saddle, looking for a fast line. The second run hurt. I had never done a du before, but I’ve heard they’re painful because of that second run. I concur. But this one was short enough that recovery only takes a couple days.
Experiments Performed, Lessons Learned:
Here and over at the Training Table I’ve been experimenting with some high nutrient dense meals a la Dr. Fuhrman and the magic of beet juice. I also wanted to experiment with post race recipes to find the tastiest, most effective way to recover from a race and enjoy the day. I have been experimenting with making green juices and smoothies, thinking that this would be an ideal way to recover from a hard race, with the maximum nutrients possible in the fastest delivery method around, liquid. Well, I was a little too enthusiastic, and overloaded my gut with high nutrient, and therefore high fiber foods the day before. That led to more bathroom adventure than I wanted on race day. For a short race it was OK, but for my long races, I shudder to think about what I would be doing out in the woods!
The Day Before:
I ate normally, brown rice and veggies for lunch. For dinner, a salad with avocado, orange, radish, spinach, and arugula along with pasta tossed with arugula walnut pesto and grape tomatoes and zucchini. During the day I prepared my experimental post race lunch and recovery smoothie. I sampled some of the goods. See the problem yet? FIBER. WAY too much.
The usual pre-race breakfast, a baked sweet potato eaten on the drive. New was experimenting with beet juice. The research is based on 16 oz, which is more than I’ve had before. I got maybe 12 oz. I added in the usual carrot and celery, but also an orange, which was new. Tasted great! The night before. Not so much in the morning on the way to the race. I was choking it down the requisite 90-120 minutes prior until my tummy felt a little queasy. Then my colon went into full revolt. Emergency pit stop. I was sweating with a deranged look on my face, scaring people as I sought relief. ‘Nuff said.
Set up my transition, realizing I forgot my water bottle. DOH! It didn’t matter for this race because I wasn’t planning on drinking on the bike anyway, just water on the run course. But in a long race… Plus, my bottle had a serving of Brendan Brazier’s Vega Recovery drink, which I like. Oh well, today I had my Super Green Recovery Smoothie, AKA the Colon Destroyer!
Green juice: kale, cucumber, romaine, bok choy, lemon, ginger
Banana, date, 2 kiwis, blackberries, goji berries
Vega smoothie powder
A few alchemical snake oils I’m forgetting.
Tasted good after the race and did benefit recovery, which I could tell by my mental acuity.
My noodle salad was good, but all I did was carry it around, since I was packed up and gone by 10.30.
cooked rice noodles
baked marinated tofu
baby bok choy, shredded carrot, red cabbage, zucchini, cilantro, and Thai chili sauce.
Note the fiber issue continuing? Good, also note the colon issue continuing. This was a lot of high fiber food, too much for race day and the previous day. Too many pit stops.
Taper off the fiber the day before. White rice for lunch and dinner, less vegetation for dinner. Make it flavorful with herbs? Maybe a rice noodle soup like pho? Worry about nutrient dense whole veggies earlier.
Dial in the beet juice dose. Part of the lingering gut issue was just from having too much beet juice. I am certainly not a pro racer, and apparently not a pro beet juice drinker either.
The green smoothie was good, but maybe I don’t need to throw in everything not bolted to the floor or wall.
Lunch was good, but was also a bit overkill for an early, short race
Pack the race bag the night before and triple check it. At least I got the cooler packed correctly.
There it is. Best to learn these things now and practice so I get it straight when I’m trying to qualify, or just beat Dave.
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.
An Edible Education
They say that for children, it may take 10 or even 20 trials with a certain food before one acquires a taste for it. I think this applies to adults as well. I suppose it depends on where you live what sorts of foods and tastes you become accustomed to. Thai and Indian children grow up liking curry, American kids, not so much. There are a number of different foods that took some time for me to finally appreciate. Some were foods that were just foreign to me because of how I grew up. A couple were all around me, but some reason it took years to finally understand what all the fuss was about.
Here Are My Top 5 Most Difficult Foods:
- Cooked Greens– Growing up, the only leafy green I ever ate was spinach, which was usually buried in a casserole. Otherwise, the only greens I ate were in salads. I suppose if I was from the South, I would understand cooked collards, but I never had those until much later. Because of the bitterness, it took some practice to like cooked kale, collards, or to even learn what chard is. Now, I love me some greens, even though I don’t (yet) wear a kale t-shirt.
- Beets– Another vegetable that I didn’t grow up on, except occasionally in canned form. Never quite sure what they were about. They have a funky, earthy, yet subtly sweet taste that is just plain confusing. Now I like them a lot, but I’m still not quite sure what to with them. I do know that juicing them makes me faster!
- Winter Squash– Like beets, this vegetable has a strange, not quite vegetable taste. They’re a little sweet, but not strongly so, and rather mushy when cooked. It took me awhile to like these, a little less for their counterpart, sweet potatoes and yams. Now, except for needing a battle axe to prep them I love them.
- Turnips and Rutabagas– These vegetables, espeically rutabagas, were a part of my childhood, as my mother loved them. Growing up in North Dakota, root vegetables were a big deal for her, but the bitter taste of these two put me off for a long time. It was only after I learned to like bitter greens that I realized these were good.
- Avocados– Growing up in California, I was surrounded by Mexican cuisine, and avocados were worshipped like they were their own food group. I didn’t get it for a long time. Where other tasted “creamy,” I tasted “greasy.” No thanks. Somehow, I finally got let into the club, and now like any true Californian, I adore avocados.
What I have realized is that just because something tastes weird at first, doesn’t mean it’s no good, or that I will never like it. So now I actively seek out new and strange tastes to see what else I can find. Variety of foods means a more complete profile of nutrients and phytochemicals. This is also good news for anyone trying to escape the toxic Standard American diet but just can’t used to taste of less processed, healthy food. Your tastes can change, you are not locked in for life, although it may require some patience.Since I stretched out and learned to appreciate leafy greens in order to get their health benefits, I can now try some newer, stranger things. Currently I’m excited about nopales cactus paddles and bitter melon.
What else is there to try?
What about you? What took time to appreciate? Anything that you still can’t handle, no matter what?
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!