Jan 27, 2012

Weight-control without misery

I’ve previously written about dieting, and raceweight, and the various plans I read about and was following. However, many of my past attempts to shed pounds and get to my ideal race weight would be rollercoasters of excitement, results, fatigue, annoyance and weight re-gain.

To be more specific, after finding a weight managing technique that seemed practical and doable with a heavy training load (e.g., not the Paleo diet), I’d be excited to try it and often saw great results in the early stages. However, as the diet plan would progress, I would start feeling starved and hungry all the time. In addition, logging calories, while motivational on some level (when I was good), was just becoming another time sink in my day.

In December, with the season fast approaching, I needed to find a way to manage my weight that would be effective, practical and most importantly, doable! I was already eating healthy, so there wasn’t much restructuring I could do in terms of what I ate; however, I placed a great deal of focus on how I ate.

In an effort to not drive myself crazy, I designed a diet from much conventional advice and wisdom I’m sure you’ve heard before, and some counterintuitive methods you may not have considered (or considered and dismissed).

Meal timing

The primary emphasis was placed on when I would take my meals and what they were composed of. Breakfast had to be large; and by “large” I mean about 700 calories or so. This isn’t that difficult to do, a double serving of oatmeal with some raisins, frozen berries, brown sugar and almond milk almost does the trick. I sometimes top that off with a banana or another piece of fruit.

One wrinkle is that most of the time, I train in the mornings, and a 700-calorie breakfast is hardly enough to make up for the 1,000-2,000 calories I burn. This requires a contingency plan for that 10:30 feeling when my stomach begins to growl and lunch is another couple hours away. The answer? FRUIT! I find it spikes my sugar just enough to keep the hunger at bay, but not so much that I crash, or feel full before lunch. As a whole, I probably consume eight servings of fruit daily.

Lunch is the time to load up on carbohydrates. I probably take at least 60 percent of my carbs in at lunch. There is one simple reason for it: the earlier in the day I eat most of my carbs, the more time I’ll have to burn them through my usual daily activities.

For dinner, I limit myself to vegetables, a small serving of carbohydrates (usually in the form of bread with dinner) and a lean protein. Sometimes when I’m craving a snack after dinner, I’ll have some yogurt with granola and maybe throw some nuts in there. The fat and the high-density foods, like nuts, fill me up pretty well without packing on an insane amounts of calories.


Bring back the fat. I cut out most of the silly low-fat options from my diet. If I’m having yogurt, it’s going to be whole milk. If I’m having breakfast meats, let it be bacon. What most people refuse to understand is that fat is good for us. It protects the organs; cell membranes get their rigidity from saturated fats; the immune system is enhanced by a regular intake of saturated fats; the risk of heart disease is reduced due to a lower Lp in the blood; and most importantly, fats protect the liver from alcohol and other toxins. So if you like that Pliny after the ride, munch on some fries to go with it.

One of the most important and relevant benefits of fat as it pertains to weight management, however, is that it makes me feel fuller. Eating a low-fat cup of yogurt, while satisfying momentarily, leaves me wanting to reach for another in an hour. Eating whole milk yogurt keeps me full much longer. And don’t forget, for the most part calories are calories. Two low-fat yogurts have more calories than one whole milk alternative. 

I take the same approach with my evening meals. Having a piece of chicken breast and sautéed vegetables is great, but it keeps me fuller longer if I throw in some butter and parmesan cheese. The longer I stay full post dinner, the least likely I am to snack before bed, and eliminating unnecessary pre-bedtime calories goes a long way toward a healthy weight.

Controlled post-ride meals

I’m sure you’ve all experienced moments of extreme post-ride hunger, where you get off the bike and are ready to inhale anything and everything in sight. This happens primarily due to insufficient calorie intake during the ride, which causes a drop in glucose and triggers hunger. If I have a proper meal before I ride and fuel properly on the ride, I don’t finish my rides wishing I had two servings of Thanksgiving dinner in front of me.

Moderate hunger is normal and I even expect it, especially if I’ve just put 4,000 KJs in my legs. No way can I replenish those calories while on the bike, but I make sure to maintain a steady flow of calories and sugars into my body to avoid bonking and the that feeling of extreme post-ride hunger.

If I mess up and don’t take enough food in on the ride, or go much harder than I expected and happen to reach that feeling of extreme post-ride hunger, there’s a trick I use. I reach for a candy bar and eat about half of it. This does two thing: first, it begins to replenish glucose to my muscles, thus speeding up recovery; second, it spikes my glucose and takes the edge off the hunger. I can then have a normal meal and not try to eat everything in the kitchen.

Regardless of whether I’m in the extreme-hunger mode or just regularly hungry after a long ride, here’s another trick I use.  I imagine the meal I’m about to have and the amount, and take half or three-fourths. As we all know, at times of hunger, our eyes can eat way more than our stomachs should ever have to process. More often than not, by the time I’m done with the smaller portion, I’m full enough to stop eating. The other side of that coin is that if I pile on too much onto my plate, I make sure to stop when I feel full.

Making smart choices

This one will be easier for you if you know the things you like and can categorize them into healthy(ier) and unhealthy categories. I know this about myself and also know that sometimes I’ll have cravings, or will want a snack. Instead of denying myself, and thus leaving myself hungry and annoyed, I go for the healthier of my favorite foods. This often involves grabbing a bowl of granola and yogurt over a bag of Kettle potato chips. Or grab a banana if I just feel my stomach is empty and hunger is about to strike.

All of the above seem very common sense to me: I eat regular portions, of regular food and don’t really deny myself too many things I like. Once in a while, I’ll indulge in something like In N Out, or that bag of Kettle potato chips, but as long as my week-to-week nutrition intake is in accordance with my plan, those indulgences make absolutely no difference.

On this plan, over the last month I was finally able to get rid of those extra few pounds and am now happily residing below that pesky 170-pound mark. I don’t feel hungry, or starved, or deprived of any foods and I feel like I can continue eating like this for as long as I want.

One thing that I will also mention, and I have no idea whether it played a role at all in my weight loss, but in December, I gave up drinking dairy milk. I still consume a lot of dairy, but just not milk. I found that almond milk was a great replacement and don’t really miss its dairy equivalent.

Jan 24, 2012

The Ride

Rides come in all shapes and sizes. Some are your regular training rides, the kind when you know where the pain will start and where it will end; the ones you start, knowing that the greatest joy will be its end. Others are defined as epic, where each turn is an adventure and you know before you start that at the end you will have accomplished something monumental. And then there are rides that just start and grow into something more than a regular ride by their end. Saturday was just that type of ride.

The most predictable thing about the weather last week was that it was unpredictable. So when I woke up around 7 on Saturday and looked out the window onto dry roads and clear skies of San Francisco, I felt a bit of joy that the ride I called for later in the morning wouldn’t be 90-mile wet slog.

Three of my teammates, Kurt, Kirt and Matt agreed to meet at 9:10 by Kirt’s house, and we drove out to San Rafael for the start of the ride. This would knock out all the junk miles up to Fairfax and avoid dealing with the tourists on Golden Gate Bridge. We loaded up and left the sunny San Francisco, heading northbound into what looked like a big gray cloud. Right as we were crossing the bridge, a comment sounded about leaving sunshine and riding into clouds and I began to feel a little guilty about dragging the guys into what could be a horrible rainstorm.

I didn’t feel any better when we parked at Lucas Valley Road and 101 in a light drizzle. To the west and north, we could see blue skies, but that didn’t resolve the immediate problem of us getting rained on. As we got our bikes out of the van, the rain began to really come down hard and leaving our bikes on the ground to "wash," we huddled inside the van and frantically began looking at radar pictures to determine how long our van-entrapment would last. It looked like the whole system would pass in about 20 minutes, and while it was still raining lightly, we figured we should get going and hit the road.

The first five miles were the most unpleasant, with very strong winds and variable precipitation. Kurt and Kirt got on the nose and pulled pretty much the whole way up to the top of Lucas Valley Road, thus, shielding Matt and me from the winds, but also giving us a good backspray wash from their tires. Personally, considering it was raining anyway, I’d take tire spray in the face over headwind any day. And once I was totally soaked, it didn't really matter where the water was coming from.

By the time we reached the big rock that marks the top of the climb, the sun was shining and the rain was mostly behind us. Turning onto Nicasio Valley Road, we got into a rotating paceline and moved smoothly toward Petaluma. Before long, it was time to make the turn toward Marshall Wall and tackle that already gnarly climb into a headwind.

The next 10 miles after the "wall" proved to be pure joy as we moved down the coast with a tailwind, pushing 25mph at 130 watts or so, on butter-smooth pavement. Once in Point Reyes, there was one thing I had to do – mission: acquire blueberry buttermilk scone at Bovine Bakery. If you’ve never had one, next time you’re in Point Reyes, get it! For $3.50, you get a scone that’s vertically almost the size of your head and is nothing short of delicious.

With full stomachs and wet everything else from the drenching on Lucas Valley, we continued. As we passed the stop sign marking the turn toward Olema, the 66-mile route option was behind us and we were all committed to the full near-90-mile route. Whether everyone else except me knew that, I’m not so sure, but we pressed on.

As we rolled over BoFax, through Alpine Dam, Fairfax and toward the turn on Lucas Valley Road that would be our “10 miles to go” marker, the greatness of this ride began to sink in. I suppose there’s something about sharing the misery of wind and wetness and the joy of sunshine with teammates that creates a sort of a  bond, a memory, a je ne sais quoi that made this particular ride special. 

Regardless of conditions, the route is exceptional, with great views of Marin county and virtually no junk miles. Below is a map if you'd like to have your own adventure. 

Jan 11, 2012

It's a new year: recaps and updates

The new year has been here for almost two weeks and I haven’t had a single update – shame on me! Here’s the latest roundup of old and new.

Finishing out 2011

Last year was a good year for me on the bike. It wasn’t a great year, but it was definitely a good year. I lined up for about 40 starts last year, with mixed results, but overall saw fitness improve as the racing season came to a close.

For the number geeks among you, I rode a total of about 8,600 miles and climbed 520,000 feet in 2011. I also likely burned enough calories to fill a truck with Big Macs. It was definitely my biggest volume year to date, and I hope to keep the trend of increasing yearly volumes in 2012.

New for 2012

There are a few changes happening this year. The main one being that for the first time since 2008 I will not be in a Colavita kit. As much as I enjoyed the company of my former teammates, I made a decision that to further my own advancement, it would be better for me to have teammates in races and be on a team that is more local, so riding with said teammates on a regular basis would be possible.

In light of the above, I’m happy to announce (for those who haven’t yet heard through other channels) that next year I’ll be racing for/with Squadra SF, a team formed as a result of a merger between Squadra Ovest and Audi. I feel it’s a great change for me for several reasons. First, I found what I was looking for - a team with teammates in my age group/category who are in or very near San Francisco. The second very important aspect of Squadra SF is the sheer amount of talent and accomplished riders from whom I hope to learn lots and lots of important things about racing and becoming a stronger rider. Lastly, and this is probably most important, my new teammates are great guys and fun to ride with and be around. Can’t emphasize the importance of the last item enough.

All in all, I’m in a very happy cycling place right now.

Training update

As of a few days ago, my cold has finally cleared up and my crash wounds are almost gone. My guess is that another week will take care of the deepest gash in my side, but everything else is new skin and nothing hurts, so whatever is there isn’t really bothering me on the bike.

The last two weeks of base are upon me, which means the largest volume of the year - 17 hours this week and 19 hours the next. There are only two ways I know that those hours are achievable while working full-time (doing the lion’s share of the hours on weekends isn’t the best alternative) and you have to use both of them: (1) realize you’ll have no life outside of cycling for two weeks – frankly, I like cycling, so that’s not that big of a deal; and (2) resort to two-a-day workouts. The latter has been a little harder to get used to. I can definitely do a workout in the morning and then follow it up by another in the evening, that’s not the hard part. The hardest part is to drag myself out of bed the morning after the evening workout to do it all over again. Luckily, I’ll only have to do it a few times before the hours get reasonable.

The legs are finally starting to feel good and I’m beginning to introduce some tempo and threshold work as I go from base to build. Last night’s 10-minute power test also showed that the legs are in decent form for January. The key going forward will be monitoring fatigue, getting myself into races that suit me and hopefully seeing some positive results throughout the season.

This upcoming weekend is the first of two team training camps this winter, and I’m all amped up to soak up the sunshine and warmth in San Luis Obispo!