Tag 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.


From Cashiers to Mitchell

My 2nd Assault on Mount Mitchell is less than two weeks away.

I’m glad that I had a couple struggles at Cashiers. To me, this was like the powerhouse team that loses a big game before the playoffs. It happens often in sports. The teams lose, then have to regroup, re-focus and come out on top. Kentucky’s basketball team is a great recent example.

Most of my Mitchell training is now finished. There will be a couple more rides, including one more century this weekend, but the hard stuff is behind me. Now I have to use what I learned about myself to formulate a plan for the big ride.

Cashiers reminded me not to overestimate myself or underestimate the ride. That’s exactly what I did this weekend. I have been training hard and making great progress that I forgot some of the little things.

  • The week prior to Cashiers, I didn’t ride at all. I was due for a recovery week, but could have benefited from an easy spin or two.
  • I didn’t drink a lot of water prior to Cashiers. Most of my hydration came in the form of two cups of coffee before the ride, which is not ideal.
  • The biggest mistake was in my eating the night before the ride. I made poor choices ordering from a German restaurant. I got a small side of potatoes when I should have ordered a pasta dish.
  • On top of that, I forgot to eat something just before the ride as I usually do.

No wonder I struggled out of the gates. My tank was empty!

So I have one more (relatively) flat century to use as a testing ground. That will be at this weekend’s Tour de Midlands. The plan this time is to fuel intelligently, stay on the bike without stopping (much) and ride as fast as I can.


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.