Category Archives: Nutrition

Fueling Choices for a Big Ride

Clifbar

On one of my early centuries, I mistakenly thought I could get away with having a big lunch midway through the ride, and nothing else. That was a learning experience. When I hit mile 95, I lost every last bit of energy. It was a major bonk. Those last few miles felt like another 100, with every hill feeling like a mountain.

Since that day, I have been determined to never let it happen again. On the other hand, the last thing I want to do is eat too much, and not benefit from all the calories burned on the bike. Through a lot of experimentation, I have developed a routine that allows me to stay properly fueled and fits with my tastes and preferences.

This post is about the stuff I like to eat before, during, and after a big ride. Like with anything, your mileage will vary (pun intended). My tastes may not be the same as yours, so I welcome feedback from others.

Breakfast Before the Ride

I like a good-sized breakfast that is high in carbs and protein, preferably at least two hours before I ride.

Eggs – I’ll usually go out of my way to eat an egg-based meal. It can be either a small omelette, or even a boiled egg or two. Eggs are great sources of protein.

Yogurt – I prefer yogurt to fruits, probably more because of the acidity content. I’ll usually have a container of a light yogurt.

Bagel – I love bagels, but pretty much the only time I’ll eat them is the breakfast before a ride. They are pure carbs and I’ve noticed a difference on the bike. A little bit of cream cheese is a must, but not something to overdo.

Coffee – This is a given. It probably doesn’t help with my fueling, but the caffeine is a must. My preference is a latte or cappuccino with almond milk.

I try to avoid heavy sugar-heavy dessert items. That means no donuts or muffins.

Immediately Before the Ride

I like to eat a little something light within an hour of the ride. I should have plenty of fuel in my body from the breakfast, but this seems to hold me over just a little further.

Bananas – I love me some bananas. I’ll have one or two before the ride. The carbs help with fuel, and the potassium can help prevent muscle cramps.

Clif Mini Bar – I’ll only eat this if bananas are not available. It is small enough (100 calories) to not weigh me down, tastes good, and has some helpful ingredients.

During the Ride

This is the area where I have experimented the most. I prefer my food to be portable, tasty, that is easy on the stomach. Fuels I have used in the past that I no longer use are Power Bars, regular Clif bars, energy gels, Honey Stingers, and countless more. I have moved on from these because they are either tough to eat while riding, messy, or both.

Clif Shot Bloks – This is the perfect bike fuel for me. For the last year, it is pretty much only thing I will carry on a long ride. The best part is I can eat it while on the bike. A pack of six bloks sits comfortably in my jersey pocket. I can open it with my teeth, and will squeeze out 2-3 bloks at a time. They taste good, can be digested easily, and are easy to measure. Since a full pack is 200 calories, I know that I need to eat at least one pack every two hours for minimum fueling.

Sports Drink – I know there are lots of options for this. I most commonly use Gatorade because it is easily accessible, but I can also use Skratch Labs, Powerade, or a home brew. On a long, difficult ride, I like to fill one bottle with ‘high test’ sports drink, or full Gatorade. The other bottle will have a diluted, light version, usually some Gatorade Low mixed with water. The full Gatorade can take a toll on my stomach, but I will rely on it for difficult riding (like climbs), and the lighter stuff for hydration and electrolytes.

A Meal – This is the tough part. I like to eat something substantial midway through a difficult, long ride. Last year on the Assault on Mount Mitchell, I tried having a Subway sandwich before the climbing began. That didn’t work too well because it took too long to eat, especially when my stomach was not settled. Usually I will try to eat some sort of substantial lunch-like whole food. I am still experimenting with this.

After the Ride

This is the tough part. If it is an organized ride, I don’t always have a choice. I have to eat what they feed me. Below are my ideal food types.

Protein drink – This is for immediately after the ride. Since usually I am mobile and cannot store my own, the drink varies by what is available. Ideally I will have some sort of drink that has between 15-25g of protein. A Muscle Milk or something like that will do the trick. Chocolate milk works too.

Something Mexican – I’m a sucker for Mexican food. Not only does it taste awesome, but it has a healthy mixture of different types of ingredients. This is my post-ride meal of choice if available because it usually has some grain, carbs, animal protein, and calcium (cheese!). I try to avoid anything fried.

Sub Sandwich – A whole wheat sub with veggies and meat is a good option. It is substantial enough to fill the hunger hole, while not being too heavy or unhealthy.

A lot of rides will serve stuff that is tasty, but not the best post-ride meal for me. I’m looking at you, pizza. Sometimes I’ll ‘suffer’ through it and eat what they offer, especially if I have raging hunger after an exhausting ride. On a few occasions, I have bailed on the post-ride meal and picked up a Subway or Chipotle on the road.

So what type of foods do you prefer?


With All the Trimmings ..

I know from past experience that losing weight is not easy. It usually requires a lot of discipline, patience, and fortitude. When I am working hard on my weight, I can generally lose at most about a half-pound a week, and usually not usually even that.

My winter diet started seven weeks ago. As of the weekend, I had lost approximately 6-7 lbs. That may sound like a lot, but I suspect most of it was the excess belly fat I had gained during the latter part of this year. A lot of it was water weight, or more likely, beer weight. Going forward, I expect diminishing returns, and smaller gains.

The goal is to drop another 7 or 8 lbs by Spring, which initially looked like a tall order, but now looks entirely possible. I’ve found the right food combinations that keep my workouts fueled, while not adding unnecessary weight.

Now comes the holidays. Kelli over at Apex Nutrition has some great suggestions on how to keep a diet going during the holidays. Her first point is key — the actual “Holidays” are only a few days. Many people, myself included, blow diets by grazing during the holidays. A cookie here, a brownie there may seem harmless enough, but it adds up.

What I’ve found is that once my body gets into the habit of healthy, light eating, it doesn’t crave a lot of food. If I had only eaten 1,800 calories in a day a few months ago, I would have felt like I was starving. Today that feels normal. As long as I stick to the good habits, the weight will continue to come off, holidays or not.

I’ve also found that it’s easy to break those habits. When I eat too big of a meal, the routine is broken. My body all of a sudden remembers how much I love food, and wants more, more, and more.

The biggest temptation of all is coming this week — Thanksgiving! Like Kelli says, it is good to unwind, enjoy the company of family, and yes, eat. I have to remember to get back on track after Thanksgiving, until the next temptation in late December.


Another Fall & Winter Diet

I’ve been slacking lately. Big time.

My race weight for Mount Mitchell this year was somewhere around 148. Thanks to too many Colorado microbreweries, too many special occasion dinners, too many carbload sessions, and too many late night snacks, that number is now 156. Eight pounds might not sound like a lot compared to where I’ve been, but in that short of a time-frame, 5% is a big swing.

Yesterday marked the first day of the new Haute Route diet. My goal was to reach 140 lbs by next August, when rubber touches French pavement. The new coach told me today that he wants me at 10% body fat by late spring. Since I am probably at around 16-17% now, that could mean dropping as much as 15 lbs. Yikes! This could be a tough winter.

Cannot eat from this menu in 2012-13.

Since I am still at least a week away from serious training, the best way to start is by drastically reducing my food intake. This means I am going from a daily 2,300 calorie diet (at best) to around 1,800 calories. I am not too concerned with the lack of cardio, as I know that I’ll be making up for it soon.

One of the reasons for my gain is lack of oversight. After Mitchell, I stopped working with Kelli at Apex Nutrition. I may have learned how to eat, but I still lack the discipline to stick with the plan. I will again be entering everything I eat into a calorie tracker. Kelli is re-hired, and will be monitoring my intake carefully. She will correct me about anything that’s not contributing to my goals. She will also steer me towards the healthiest options nearby.

No fried butter for me.

The focus will be familiar. For starters, the diet will be low carbs, high protein, and no junk. At some point I also plan to cut down on diet soda. Healthy carbs will come back into play when needed to fuel workouts, only without going crazy. I think I’m at the point where I don’t need to overfill myself. It is time to learn new combinations to reduce the bottom line.

For example, here is today’s food:

Breakfast: Lara Bar, banana, almond latte

Mid-morning snack: Granola bar

Lunch: Grilled chicken Caesar salad

Afternoon snack: 100 calories of almonds

Dinner: Baked chicken, green peppers, onions

Evening snack: Celery with coconut oil, peanut butter

To many this sounds like a nightmare of a diet. For me, it isn’t bad. I enjoy veggies and chicken. Of course I also enjoy stuff that I cannot eat, but thanks to my cycling hobby, I’ll get the chance to eat enjoyable foods without cheating.


A Short History of Learning to Eat (with help)

Earlier this year while shopping, my wife and I passed a display for Mexican food. She looked at me and said “you never eat nachos anymore.” She was right. I hadn’t eaten nachos in years. Back in the day, I would place layers of chips on a large plate. I would melt smooth and creamy cheese, add refried beans, sour cream, guacamole, salsa, jalapenos — the works! Sometimes I would even fry up some hamburger meet and sprinkle it on top, grease and all. It was a gigantic plate of fat, and it tasted so, so good!

Needless to say, I was a lot heavier back then. I had grown up skinny with a high metabolism. I could eat anything, including 2,000 calorie plates of nachos, and gain nothing. I lived in denial for awhile about my weight gain. I would see a chubby face in pictures and figure it was just a bad picture, the wrong angle.

I topped out at above 190 lbs, maybe as much as 195. That’s a lot for a guy of my height. One day, a co-worker looked at me and said “Wow, Aaron, you need to back off from that table!” She meant it playfully, but instantly realized she had crossed into an area that most people don’t talk about. I was not offended in the least. If anything, I realized she was right. How in the world did this happen to me?

Over the next couple of years, I managed to lose about 25% of my body weight through dieting. It was not an easy task. I cut approximately a quarter of my daily calories and stuck with it for the long haul. My weight would fluctuate, but as long as I stuck with my diet, it would trend downward. At some points the weight would come off quick. Other times it came off slow. The important thing is that it came off.

During my dieting period, I got a gym membership and started putting time into the cardio machines. That eventually led to running and then cycling.

Since I had lost all that weight, I figured I knew it all about dieting. The truth was that I knew next to nothing save for how to burn calories. I wasn’t eating well. I was just eating less. I had no concept of eating healthy, and couldn’t even begin to understand how to fuel a workout.

That’s when Kelli from Apex Nutrition came in. I found her from another blog endorsement, kind of like this one. She gave me a discount and that started almost a year-and-a-half relationship where I finally learned how to eat well.

In the beginning she had me complete a lengthy questionnaire that documented everything I consumed. And I mean everything! She asked questions about my lifestyle, what food options were available, when I could cook, and so on. In a few days she sent me this detailed, lengthy meal plan. At first I was overwhelmed. The more I read, the more I thought there was no way I could eat this stuff. It was a lot to absorb and I let it sink in for a few days.

Finally I set the plan into action. I took her suggestions little by little and documented my caloric intake a meal at a time. She initially offered free coaching and I re-upped for more. She monitored what I ate, praised me when I ate good, whole foods, and politely pointed out when I had not done so well. Yes, I literally paid someone to tell me to eat my vegetables. 🙂

Like with the weight loss, getting into a routine of healthy eating took time. First of all I had to re-invent my kitchen, gradually phasing out the unhealthy foods and replacing them with healthy alternatives. I had to find healthier options for eating out, which is something I have to do often because of a busy schedule. On top of all that, I’m somewhat of a picky eater, so I had to find foods that fit into my selective palette.

Perhaps the most valuable aspect of Kelli’s training is that I learned how to fuel my workouts. In fact, I would say that what I’ve learned about fueling and eating right is a substantial reason for my successes on the bike. Someone who has not been riding two years should not be able to accomplish Mitchell in 7 hours. Without experimenting, learning my body and how to keep it fueled, I would not have reached such heights.

I have utilized Kelli for two Mitchell training periods and an off-season conditioning program. I have achieved great results in both. The only failure was in my goal to reach 145 lbs before Mitchell. I was at 147 lbs before Mitchell, but I achieved far better gains in muscle mass that my power increased dramatically. It was a net gain, and a lot of it was a result of the coaching I was receiving.

I no longer track my calories and really don’t need to. I may not know it all, but I know my body far better than I ever have. I’m able to eat light without feeling hungry, and it is almost second nature for me to prepare for short, weekday rides, or these intense endurance events.


Winter Diet

I am now in my third week of strength training and things are going well. Since I have cycled down my riding (no pun intended), I have started modifying my diet to accomodate winter training and weight loss. During the season it is important to keep a high amount of carbs in my diet to fuel all of my workouts. Having experienced a couple bonk situations, I tended to eat more carbs than necessary and not lose fuel or muscle mass. Better safe than sorry, as they say. This meant that while other riders were losing weight, I was mostly maintaining. I’m not at a dangerous weight or anything close, but it will not hurt to start climbing a few pounds lighter in the spring.

The first major challenge was Thanksgiving. Since I have already settled into a routine, such a massive meal had the potential to derail my training. I’ll tell you what — that food tasted delicious and I could have kept eating and sitting on the couch for days, weeks even. Fortunately I made some good choices over the holidays and was back on my plan by the weekend.

When making the transition, I found that carbs are everywhere. Even when trying to keep carbs down, I still ended up eating over 200g, which is plenty more than I need. It took some work at the grocery store reading labels and experimenting with foods carefully to find the best options for me. Right now I have cut out just about all fruits and increased vegetables. For breakfast I still have a light nutrition bar and a protein source. I then try to eat either a salad as one meal and a lean meat and veggie as the other. That combined with some light snacks throughout the day, including a healthy fat and and another protein is getting me where I need to be.

After three weeks plus Thanksgiving, I am already getting results. My weight has slipped a couple pounds already and I have dropped a belt notch. My goal is to only lose five pounds over the season. At this pace, which may or may not continue, I’ll be losing well below that. Losing too fast will be a good problem to have, as I’ll gradually add some more carbs and work on weight maintenance.


Winter Training Continues …

After a couple of weeks in the gym, I’m starting to feel a little more comfortable. At first my entire body ached from working out underused muscles. Last week I even had to take a couple extra recovery days. Now I’ve come to the point where I no longer suffer afterward. My last session corresponded with a large Thanksgiving lunch celebration at work, so I did extra reps to burn off those calories and felt very little soreness. From here on out I will work on getting my butt to the gym at least three times a week and gradually increasing the load.

In addition to weight training, I have started watching what I eat a little more carefully. It is so difficult to lose weight while riding regularly, at least for me, that I am hoping to shed a few pounds over the off-season. I’m at a decent weight, but going into the spring maybe five lbs later would help immensely.

A new program requires a new diet. When riding, I had to make sure I ate enough carbs to keep my workouts fueled. That is no longer the case. I have been trying to ween myself off carbs with moderate success. What’s odd is now that I’m not riding, I’m not hungry all the time. Cravings are at a minimum. There are moments, sure, but it is tremendously easier to stick to a diet. So far I have not lost much weight, which is fine. I am not trying to drop quickly. I have three months to play with and the last thing I want is a crash diet where I lose weight, only to regain just as quickly over the holidays.

So far I have been off the bike for two weeks, and will remain on and off for awhile. There are a couple small rides planned over the Thanksgiving holiday. After that I will probably ride intermittently only with groups.

So what do I do to fill that hole? That’s a perplexing question and I don’t have an answer yet. I would certainly benefit from cross-training, especially swimming or running. Unfortunately swimming is not an option since I don’t have access to a pool, and have no desire to take on another monthly expense. That leaves running.

I hate running. Okay, maybe that’s a little strong. Part of me loves running and I used to do it all the time. The last time I ran seriously, I got hurt and that led me to the bike. That was a period of constant frustration, no fun whatsoever. I’m really not looking forward to trying again, but I may give it a go anyway. The strength exercises will help with injury prevention and I have been taking the occasional long walk just to get my calves loose. So far, so good. If this continues, I might find myself in a slow jog one day. I’ll just go with my body.

If I don’t run, and that is a distinct possibility, I’ll do gym cardio. That means a lot of time on elliptical machines, recumbent bikes, rowing machines, and occasionally treadmills.

This is my last post before Thanksgiving. I hope everyone has a wonderful holiday with family.


State of the Weight

A couple months ago I set a goal to be at a weight 145 lbs by the Bridge to Bridge ride. With only 11 days to go, that’s definitely not going to happen. As of today I am at 150. If I keep a moderate diet over the next week and a half, there’s a chance I can get to 147, maybe 148. I could go on a hardcore or crash diet and drop that and maybe more, but that would not be wise. I would lose muscle mass, fitness and probably not have much energy left over.qa

Even though I didn’t meet my goal, I am now at my lowest weight since Mitchell. I overdid it during that recovery phase. I ate and ate, then ate some more. This went on for probably two weeks, maybe longer, and I put those pounds right back on. Lesson learned. After Bridge to Bridge, I’ll have a good dinner or two, then get back to eating well.

I have found that it is extremely challenging to lose weight while riding. As I noted awhile back, I planned to cut back on my fueling during weekday rides. That worked great during the week. I saw my weight seesaw and usually around Thursday it would be at its lowest. Then I would get ready for a big ride, add some carbs, and load up. After a big ride I am always at a higher weight. That is the body’s reaction to all that stress. It goes into conservation mode, and it takes a couple days to get back to normal. So I would make a little progress, lose it, make some more, etc. If you were to put my weight status in a line graph, it would look like a rolling hills heading gradually downward.

I am now in an earlier than planned taper period due to other plans. Tonight through Saturday I have evening events and will not be able to ride. On Saturday I was going to ride Assault on Little Mountain, but instead I will be volunteering. This is actually a good thing. I’ll probably sneak in a ride on Sunday and then do group rides on Tuesday and Thursday at a recovery pace. This will probably result in easier weight maintenance and maybe I will get lucky and meet my goal. It is a juggling act and I’m still learning the best approach.