Nutrition

Climbing, Descending, and Flats TLDR: Pedal

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I’ve written several posts on how to climb, how to descend, nutrition and climbing, and related safety issues. Please review them because this post doesn’t discuss the mechanics. Instead, I want to reiterate something I’ve said in many prior posts: to get anywhere on your bike, you have to move your legs. The prior two posts about cadence were leading up to this conclusion: the only way to keep yourself moving forward efficiently is to pedal your bike.

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Image Credit.

If you’re not pedaling on a climb, you’ll fall over. If you’re not pedaling on a flat, you’ll slow down fast and fall over. “Duh,” you say, “but what about descents? It will be much more efficient for me to use the descent as an opportunity to let my tired legs rest.” The answer is no, you should be pedaling.

There are two issues to unpack from that: (1) You’re too tired, and (2) You haven’t fully grocked the mechanics of moving your bike forward.

If you’re too tired to pedal on a descent, you’re probably working on the challenge of the ride you’re on. That does not meant it is too challenging for you, but it does mean you should consider pacing yourself. Check with your doctor to make sure the exercise you’re planning is right for you. Then read my blog posts on nutrition. 90% of problems like this can be solved by eating and drinking more.

Otherwise, the issue may be a mechanical one. (First, after 5 or so serious rides, are you still in pain or numb in the feet, knees, back, arms, or butt? You likely need a bike fit (remind me to do a post on this issue).) That means you’re not using the lessons in cadence we discussed the last two weeks; review them.

If fitness and mechanics are not the issue, then you just have to trust me on this: on your descents, PEDAL YOUR BIKE. On climbs (obviously). On flats (less obvious than you’d think). On descents. YES, on descents…always pedal.

The reason is simple. So long as your pedal strokes are engaging the wheel, you’re gaining momentum. On a descent, you have a huge advantage: gravity. If you don’t pedal, friction (road and wind) will slow you down. If you do pedal, you can partially or wholly overcome friction. The only real exception is if you’re descending too fast for your skill level, or your speed is so high that even on your hardest gear you’re not adding to momentum

The advantages are huge. Not only will you go faster on the descent you’re on, but you will gain momentum to pull you over the next, inevitable hill. And you’ll exhaust yourself less gaining that momentum to push you over the hill than waiting for the climb to pedal.

So the take away is this: learn to use your gears, use them, and pedal your bike on every inch of every mile that you possibly can.

Love,
Your Bear

Absolute Beginners: Mid-season Training

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Sagan winning Tour of Oman. (Image Credit.)

Believe it or not, but there are only 14 more training weekends before the AIDS/LifeCycle! That means its time to stretch the creaks out, clean and lube your bike, and hit the road. If you’ve been neglecting your training up to now, no worries. There’s still plenty of time to be fit and ready for the ride.

I’ve made 32 posts about training. The important ones to absorb at this stage are:

I’m not a professional, but these articles all contain my observations about what makes for a successful training season with citations to authority where it was available. In a nutshell, here is what you need to remember:
  1. Hydrate. On a 30+ mile ride, make sure you’re draining both water bottles.
  2. Eat. You need to be fueled up before, during, and after your rides.
  3. Train. Time on the bike is probably the only thing which will improve your riding.
  4. Work your way up to 60 miles. If you can do this, you can ride the ALC.
  5. Work your way up to back-to-back days of 30+ miles each. Ditto.
  6. Rest at stops, but don’t dwaddle. You get sore; you get hungry; you get irritable.
  7. Ride with mates. Sometimes you’ll need to ride alone, but friends make the ride rock.
  8. Be safe. Listen to the safety speech and follow the rules on every ride.
  9. Dress in layers and in bike clothing. Street clothes are not up to the task, are bulky, and detract from your ride.
  10. Keep your bike in good working order. Get a bike fit! Bring your bike into the shop or learn how to clean and maintain it.
But above all: ASK your Training Ride Leader if you have any questions. If you’ve not already done so, see your doctor if you are embarking on this from level 0.
Love,
Your Bear
Over the next couple months, I’m going to write a few articles with the lead-in title “Absolute Beginners,” explaining some of the basic principles of cycling. Most of the information is stuff I’ve learned from other cyclists, bike shop mechanics, classes I’ve taken, and Google searches. Please help me out and comment with corrections, additions, or supplements which will help my readers learn about how to operate their bikes!

Eating Right: Don’t call it Diet (Absolute Beginners)

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Among the excellent reasons to start cycling are health and weight loss. Because cyclists require targeted fuel before, during, and after rides, nutrition is integral to successful cycling. Without proper nutrition, cyclist can feel exhausted during or after rides. I’ve written on eating in preparation for long rides before, but today I want to discuss the greater goal of how to use your quotidian diet to support your goal of riding the AIDS/LifeCycle (or similar rides).

If you have a nutrition-based illness or need some serious weight loss, it is important to start out with a check up from your physician. Only he or she can tell you whether a simple diet-and-exercise regime will help. But for most people, health and weight loss involve getting enough nutrients from the right number of calories. The right number of calories is some percentage less than the number of calories burned during the day. When you have a calorie deficit in this way, you are going to lose weight.

The topic of weight loss is huge and the subject of scientific study and pseudoscientific charlatanism. As Forbes magazine points out, weight loss can be done in a reliable and scientific way, avoiding expensive and possibly dangerous fads and fantasies. For instance:

Image credit.
  1. Diet trumps exercise in weight loss.
  2. Exercise supports this weight loss.
  3. Exercise is going to be your constant companion in life.
  4. There is no magical combination of foods which will achieve weight loss.
  5. For purposes of weight loss, a calorie is a calorie.
  6. Its all about the brain.
And its no. 6 on this list why we must replace the word Diet. Colloquially, “diet” implies a short-term solution to a temporary problem. Whereas, a more-successful strategy is implementing a permanent, achievable, and stable weight loss goal. But how do you set such a goal? The easiest way is to simply start making informed choices in your day-to-day eating habits.
I started my exercise regime with the excellent and free advice given by Scooby on his website Scooby’s Workshop. He advocates a number of techniques to loose fat and retain muscle from the easy (exercising and making informed dietary choices) to the difficult (measuring your body fat and weighing your potions for each meal. (Review his “Losing Weight and Building 6-Pack Abs” page for details.) But all he advocates is:
  1. Exercise a bit more;
  2. Eat a bit less;
  3. Drink lots of water;
  4. Sleep.
As a cyclist, you’re presumably working on (1), and learning the importance of water for (3). Sleep is a topic on which I’ve blogged before, but if you’re not getting 7 to 9 hours a night, you may want to figure out why or consult your doctor to achieve (4). (Read his page, too, for advice about each point.) On eating less, Scooby advises:

The second part of losing fat is eating less, and remember this does not mean hunger and deprivation! Most people fail to achieve their weight loss goals not because they eat too much but because they don’t eat enough! The starve themselves then end up binging! If you are hungry then you are doing something very wrong. If you have cravings for your favorite food, then you are human – I address how to handle cravings at the end of this section. If you dont understand my nutrition section then consider buying the book Bodybuilding Revealed which has the best coverage of bodybuilding nutrition I have seen.

The #1 easiest way to lose fat is to eat your calories rather then drinking them, this simple tip can help you lose 5lbs fat a month or more without any additional changes to your nutrition. There are many nutritional methods of weight loss and all of them will work, at least in the short term. Where they differ is in how healthy they are and if the results are long term and lasting or not

Apart from his advise, I have the following comments to help you make wise choices:
  1. Portion control. Prepare your meal to include everything you want to eat. Then eat it and no more.
  2. Plan on eating 5 or 6 meals per day. Its easier to choose a wise portion at one meal when you know you will be eating again in a couple hours
  3. Avoid:
    1. Sugary drinks. This includes fruit juices where most of the calories are from sugar. Eat an orange, don’t drink orange juice.
    2. Fats. Not because fat is magically bad, but because fat has a LOT of calories compared to other sources. (Do this by choosing lean meat, avoid cheese, avoid fried foods, use small amounts of spray-on oil instead of pouring out the olive oil.)
    3. Empty carbohydrates. While there’s nothing wrong with white bread, choose it less often than whole grains to maximize the nutritional impact of your meal.
    4. Alcohol. Alcohol is calorie dense with no nutritional value.
  4. Choose:
    1. Whole fresh fruit, vegetables with no sauce, and whole grains. These will help you feel full by providing bulk, while providing lots of nutrition for the number of calories consumed.
    2. Lean meat. Egg whites, fat-free chicken breasts, canned “white” tuna, tilapia fillets, and similar foods give you a lot of protein for a minimum of calories.
    3. Fat-free dairy. If you can eat dairy, there are lots of amazing choices which you can use to make your meals more enticing, but which add protein and nutrients instead of fat. (Fat-free greek yogurt makes an excellent creamy sauce for various foods both sweet and savory.)
    4. Good fats. Since fat is so calorie rich, you want to choose fats which go along with real nutrition. Salmon and other fatty fishes, for instance, are good choices.
  5. Cheat, but know what you’re doing. If its your birthday, you will want to eat that cake. Do it, but try to keep it to one slice. Eat pizza, but rarely. Eat french fries at lunch on your ride, but pair them with a chicken breast and not a bacon double cheese burger. Try to save your cheats for special occasions (like Thanksgiving!), so you can indulge and feel good about it.
  6. Have healthy treats all around the house and at work. If you have a package of fat-free brown rice crackers, an apple, or some oatmeal at your desk, you’re much less likely to scarf the last piece of cake in the lunchroom.
Finally, make small changes at first. Switch from full-fat milk to 1% or skim milk. Start taking lunch with you to work. Eat kale in your salads. Make your tuna salad with greek yogurt, not mayo. Integrate these choices into your routine so they don’t feel painful. When you’re ready, integrate a new change toward a more healthy diet.
I’ll write a second post on advanced healthy eating, but you can get lots of great advice off Scooby’s Workshop in the meanwhile.
When your friends ask what diet you’re on, you can say: “Oh, I’m not on a diet. I’m making informed choices about nutrition which will last my lifetime.”

All that and ride! Don’t forget to ride your bike!

Love,
Your Bear

Over the next couple months, I’m going to write a few articles with the lead-in title “Absolute Beginners,” explaining some of the basic principles of cycling. Most of the information is stuff I’ve learned from other cyclists, bike shop mechanics, classes I’ve taken, and Google searches. Please help me out and comment with corrections, additions, or supplements which will help my readers learn about how to operate their bikes!

Letter to New Riders

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I just typed up a letter to a new rider, and I thought it might be useful for other AIDS/LifeCycle Training Ride Leaders. So I’m reprinting it here:

Analisa, 

I’m glad you’re coming on your first training ride with us. You’ve come to the right place. We’re here to help you get up to speed on the task at hand — learning the cycling skills you’ll need to complete your first AIDS/LifeCycle. 

I cannot tell a lie: you’re essentially starting out at sea-level, and you have to climb a huge mountain to achieve your goal: 7 days of cycling an average of 6 hours per day, for a total of 545 miles. But with training and some healthy tips and tricks, you can do it. (Here’s my summary of a good training plan: http://bearalc.blogspot.com/search/label/Training%20Plan.) 

The things you need, include: a basic understanding of your bike, an understanding of your body’s nutritional needs during a ride, and time in the saddle actually riding. 

Image Credit: The Fixed Gear.

(1) Understanding your Bike: 

Sounds like you can start, stop, and steer your bike, so you’ve taken the first step toward understanding how to operate your bike. As you attend more and more training rides, the Training Ride Leaders (TRLs) will be able to help you improve how you ride (for instance, teaching you how to steer, use your brakes and gears, and when and how to clean your bike). Please ask questions. 

(Here are a few posts on skills: http://bearalc.blogspot.com/search/label/Skills. I have to write a post about basic skills, I think!) 

(2) Nutrition: 

You’ll learn your body’s athletic nutritional needs over time. But, I can tell you that just before, during, and after training rides is not the time for a weight-loss diet. Your body needs calories, carbs, sugars, and salt to put out the athletic effort needed to finish a long ride. To that end, be sure you have a healthy meal the night before your first training ride, eat breakfast and don’t skimp on the carbs. 

Make sure you have two water bottles on your first ride: one with water, and one with an electrolyte supplement. TRLs will have some spare supplements, probably, and on our nice-and-easy 20 mile ride, you shouldn’t have a problem if you forget the electrolytes. 

(Take a look at my blog entry on eating: http://bearalc.blogspot.com/2012/04/eat.html (then click the label “nutrition” for more on the topic).) 

(3) Training and Time: 

Know that training for the ALC is a time commitment. At the beginning of your training (now) a couple hours per week on casual rides will suffice. However, by around the beginning of May, a good, achievable average might be about 8 to 12 hours or more per week of concentrated riding (including hills, longer rides (up to 60 miles or more), and back-to-back days of riding). There is much more to this than I can write in a short paragraph, but without this time commitment, completing the long ride can be difficult. What this means in practice is that coming to our training rides is a great start, but you’ll also have to train on your own some times. 

(Why ride long distance? Here’s my reasoning: http://bearalc.blogspot.com/2013/01/50-miles-you-must-be-mad.html.) 

All this being said, I want to repeat: YOU CAN DO IT. The AIDS/LifeCycle is like no other experience. From the time of your first training ride, you’ll be surrounded by people who want you to succeed. The event itself is fully supported from Day 0 to Day 7. As you do the ride, you’ll notice marked support cars, vans, and motorcycles driving by you. The drivers have one goal: your safety. So, even if you find yourself lacking in one area, you know you’ll always make it back to camp safe and sound — having ridden every mile, or every mile that you can! 

I’m looking forward to meeting you. Don’t forget to RSVP to Saturday’s ride on the website: https://actnow.tofighthiv.org/site/SPageNavigator/AIDSLifeCycle/ALC_Calendar. Also, don’t forget to join our Facebook page for more encouragement. tips and tricks, and to meet other riders and roadies (https://www.facebook.com/SacramentoAlcTrainingRides).

Regards,
Bear

Please feel free to use this letter as is or modified.

Love,
Your Bear

Nutrition: Its not Magic

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Image taken from Tumblr.

Nutrition is one of the primary factors in fun and successful endurance bike rides. Cyclists need to maximize efficiency and reduce fatigue, but also often want to get in many of the other health benefits associated with sport (weight loss, etc.). One thing that no one needs in their diet is magic. And today’s magical topic is vitamins.

There is plenty of evidence that vitamins are important for health. For instance, they aid in metabolizing our food — without them, the body cannot absorb nutrients (hence diseases like scurvy and rickets). That fact has led many to grant them divine powers of healing. But the fact is: too many vitamins (through non-medically supervised supplementation) can cause disease and disorder.

That was the finding of two studies reported on in the New York Times:

In a study published in The New England Journal of Medicine in 1994, 29,000 Finnish men, all smokers, had been given daily vitamin E, beta carotene, both or a placebo. The study found that those who had taken beta carotene for five to eight years were more likely to die from lung cancer or heart disease. 

Two years later the same journal published another study on vitamin supplements. In it, 18,000 people who were at an increased risk of lung cancer because of asbestos exposure or smoking received a combination of vitamin A and beta carotene, or a placebo. Investigators stopped the study when they found that the risk of death from lung cancer for those who took the vitamins was 46 percent higher.

Offit, “Don’t Take your Vitamins,” New York Times (June 2013).

The craze in vitamin supplementation ostensibly started in the ’70s when Linus Pauling decided to wander out of his field of expertise and advocate for high-dose vitamin C supplementation. However, his ideas were proven wrong, but not until millions were wasted on unnecessary vitamins.

The conclusion here is: get the facts about supplements before you take them. Don’t self-medicate and don’t break the bank. Eat a well-balanced diet, high in protein, full of fresh vegetables and fruit, and a decreasing amount of fat and sugar. Get enough calories for the amount you exercise. And visit your physician regularly for checkups and for diagnoses and treatment of unexplained conditions.

Love,
Your Bear

Magical Diet

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Clean, nutritious food is vital to our well-being. It’s not shocking that people invest their food with magical properties. The problem is that fad diets are simply not a panacea for all life’s ills.

Image Credit, Eliad Cohen.
To look this good, you have to eat well.

Instead, a focus on healthy diet, properly balancing macro and micro nutrients, and enough but not too-many calories is most beneficial. The real magic comes from our bodies’ ability to remain healthy and fit from a great variety of foods. What we need to remain healthy is:

Additionally, there’s hype about this food or that diet. Most of them are bollocks and not worth the time and energy people devote to them.
The up-side of all these fad diets and food fears is that people are thinking about what they are consuming. They are demanding a wider-variety of nutritious foods with less fat and a better balance of nutrients. The down-side is that clinging to a food or diet as a panacea is magical thinking, which is its own harm.
So, if you’re wondering: “What’s the harm? I feel like the changes I’ve made to my diet are beneficial.” If you’re getting enough nutrients, you’re probably not going to hurt yourself physically. But for me, the reasons why we do things are as important as doing them. Choosing a diet because it is emotionally satisfying confuses and annoys me, especially when it is paired with a firm political stance. That stance can influence others who might be at risk from duplicating the choices you’ve made for yourself.
Those others might choose to treat symptoms identified by the proponents of diet-as-magic, eschewing real medical care. Even once those others get medical advice, the use of a diet may mask the real causes, undermining a doctor’s ability to diagnose the real causes. Instead, it’s better to focus on getting enough calories including the recommended balance of macronutrients and micronutrients, and visiting a doctor when necessary to diagnose and treat symptoms.
So, eat well, exercise and visit your doctor if you have worrisome symptoms or make a change to your routine. Also, if you’re cycling, eat like an athlete!
Love,
Your Bear

Heat Stroke: How to Cycle in Hot Weather

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Daily temperatures in Sacramento rarely dip below 90º in July and August — an 80º day is considered chilly here. Recently we’ve have temperatures pushing 110º, a rarity for Sacramento, but not unheard of. I see a 10 to 15% degradation in my performance when the temperature is above 90. So I’m wondering if there’s a way to really chip away at that degradation and get up to 100% even in the hea
t of the summer.

The question is, how do you maintain your training schedule in that heat? Its not easy! There are obvious tips that occur to me off the top of my head:

  • Ride early;
  • Ride at night;
  • Drink plenty of water and electrolytes;
  • Eat salty food;
  • Wear a hat under your helmet and wear plenty of sun screen; and
  • Practice, practice, practice!
…to name a few. Conspicuously off the list is taking breaks, even in the shade. You’ll see that moving is key to remaining cool while cycling on a hot day. And that’s because moving makes you sweat.
According to the on-line magazine Active, there are four ways your body dissipates excess muscular heat, making prolonged summer cycling possible: “… conduction, convection, radiation and evaporation.” Although the article doesn’t come out and say it, sweating is the key to each of these. And that means two things: moving and hydration.
Moving increases your exposed skin, aiding radiation. Moving creates its own wind, aiding in evaporation. Moving brings hot fluids from your core to the outside, aiding conduction and convection. Most importantly, moving makes you sweat which then evaporates off your skin — and evaporation is the key to the process:

Sweat is mostly water, and molecules in water are in constant motion. The temperature of water gives us an idea of the average motion of the water molecules. Each water molecule bounces off its neighbors, sometimes gaining energy from the collision, and sometimes losing energy to other molecules. At any given time, however, some molecules carry more energy than others. That is, most molecules will have temperatures close to the average, but some will be much hotter or colder than the average on occasion. 

When water evaporates, some of the molecules fly out of the liquid into the air. Hotter molecules have more energy and are moving around faster, which means that they are more likely to fly away and leave the cooler molecules behind. The evaporating molecules in your sweat actually carry the heat of your body into the air. [From American Institute of Physics.]

The lesson is: taking a break may be necessary if you’re fatigued, but its not going to cool you off on a hot day!

Hydration is equally important in this process: you can’t sweat if you’re dehydrated:

While sweating is necessary to help cool the body, the production of sweat comes at the expense of your body fluids. As much as 1 to 2 quarts of fluid per hour may be lost as sweat while cycling in very hot weather. To help you understand the seriousness of this, the loss of as little as 2 to 3 percent of your body weight due to dehydration can impair exercise performance. [From Active, p2 for additional tips.]

My large water bottles hold 25 oz. each. Since, according to this estimate, I’m losing 32 to 64 hours per hour, I have to drain both water bottle each hour I ride. That’s a LOT more water than I usually drink!

So for me, for now, I’m going to try to drink a LOT more water on my hot-weather rides.

Love,
Your Bear