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.
Make that Green Tea and Potatoes
Dietician Jeff Novick advises us not to drink our calories. They don’t satisfy, and can easily lead to over consumption over the course of a day. While a carbohydrate drink can help during workouts, especially longer or harder ones, I find that training below Maximum Aerobic Function encourages fat burning enough that I do not really need calories during workouts. With the goal of ever increasing the amount of work my body can do burning mostly fat, I’m leaving the sport drink at home for now while I just keep plodding along. Then I looked at my tea cup and got an idea:
Yes, green tea in my water bottle. Famous for its antioxidants, but with no calories it could only benefit right? I heard one person say that the nutritional power of green tea is so great, we should consider it a leafy green vegetable! So I brewed a cup of green tea, poured it into my water bottle and filled the rest with water. It’s water, but with special powers. And a little bit of flavor. Even better, if I had one available, would be to add a squeeze of lemon or lime which adds both flavor and improves the absorption of those special antioxidants.
For my real food calories on this week’s long ride I went with:
I cooked up a pound , let them cool a bit, sliced them in half and tossed them with a squeeze of lemon juice, salt, pepper, and sprinkle of parsley. Next time I’ll add a little garlic powder. I poured the potatoes into a plastic tumbler and stuffed that in my jersey pocket. This arrangement kept the potatoes easily accessible and kept my jersey clean.
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.
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.
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.
One of the best long course triathletes ever, used this method to great effect. When he started, his MAF pace was well over 8 minutes per mile. He later got down to a 5:10 pace at the same low heart rate. He did all his base training at the strict MAF heart rate. If it worked for the Grip, I figured it would work for me.
Low heart rate training is less stressful on the body and much easier to recover from. It feels good, and it makes consistent training easier to achieve.
Train slow, train well, and race fast!
New Year’s is over and while the weather here in California is cold, it’s time to put in those base miles. OK, I know, much of the country experiences REAL cold, but temps in the 30s mean my morning bike commute isn’t happening. That’s a pity, because there is no more convenient way to amass training hours than to incorporate them into something you already have to do, like go to work.
Of course, I could ride on the indoor trainer. But that sucks.
I would rather be outside running than sweating on the floor. But I promise I will train on the trainer this week if I have to.
Base Training Goal: Aerobic Fitness
This will be my second full season of Maffetone training, and this year I have residual fitness from last season. My informal MAF test of my usual running route shows some slowing from last year’s best, but it has been holding steady, and I have not tried to push that fitness further. In the off season, I think that a plateau equals progress. Compared to last year where I lost weeks of training from pneumonia, this year I have maintained some reasonable run fitness. My hope is that I can build on that this season and get even faster. Like last year, I will not race until the end of March, giving me three months of uninterrupted aerobic base training, except for some alpine skiing. I will use my 180 formula maximum heart rate of 145 until I start racing. If everything goes well, I will experiment with calculating my MAF by working down from lactate threshold, which will give me a higher heart rate range to work with.
Because unless you race on the track, almost all of your energy is being produced aerobically.
Because more health benefits come from aerobic fitness.
Because it creates less stress, avoiding burnout.
Because it’s good for the brain, helping Seasonal Affective Disorder (more on that later)
How to Build a V8 Aerobic Engine
Stick to MAF.
Aerobic and anaerobic workouts can interfere with each other. Use the 180 formula and be disciplined.
Resist the temptation to “tune up” until after you’ve built the engine.
Do this more by increasing frequency than super long workouts. The sweet spots seem to be 45-60 min. and again around two hours. The Kenyans never train for more than 2 hrs, but they train often.
Improved fitness will come week by week and three months should build quite an engine.