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The Perils of Cycling: No, Kid, They’re Not Underwear. They’re Shorts.

I arrived home from the office to a perfect evening. A gentle breeze and temp in the low 70’s (22 C). I readied the Venge for duty.

I called Chuck at 4:20 to make sure he’d left work. I didn’t realize the irony until I wrote that… Bad news, he hadn’t left yet. I dressed and rolled early. I was out the door and rolling before 4:40 and I had some time – almost two hours before supper. My goal was to roll into the driveway close to 6:30 – it was roast beef night, and I’d choose roast beef, roasted veggies, mashed potatoes and gravy over cake – of any variety. It’s my absolute favorite dinner – even above pizza.

I rolled almost as soon as the tires hit the driveway, heading north, thankful to be back in short-sleeves and bibs over the leg warmers, arm warmers, jacket, tights and toe covers required over the weekend. We’ve got a bit of a warming trend over the next week until we drop down into the unseasonable cold again so I’ll take it while I can get it.

Within I mile I had to pull back on the reigns a little bit. I was going out way too fast. Tonight’s weather is going to be perfect for a fast TNIL and I was absolutely saving the good legs for that. I don’t ride many solo miles anymore so it ended up being a bit of a treat just cruising around the loop alone.

On the way home I was cruising down a small hill in a residential subdivision about 25-ish-mph and I saw a little boy out of the corner of my eye as I rode by and I heard him say, “Hi” after I was already by him. I almost kept going but I heard this still, small voice in the back of my head that said, “Go back and say hello to the kid, he could use it”. I fought against it for a second, but for those who are lucky enough to be touched like that, I just don’t like fighting it and I didn’t want to end up being a douche in that kid’s eyes, anyway. I whipped around and headed back to say hello.

He was still in the driveway and almost ran his bike into mine as he rolled out of the driveway. I said hello and nodded at his mom in the window. He asked about my computer and how it reads speed and then dropped the question, “Are you wearing underwear”. I think he was maybe five or six. “No, I explained, they’re special shorts with padding in them so I can ride for hours”. His sister strode over. He looked at her, pointed at me and said, “He’s wearing underwear”.

Dammit.

I said my good bye’s and took off for home with a smile stretched across my face. Gotta love kids, man.

I put in a few bonus miles and rolled into the driveway with an easy 18-mph average. I showered up and dinner was ready shortly after I was dressed. I fell asleep early last night and slept like a baby. Good times.

The Science and Reality of Eater-dynamics and Cycling; My Experience with Cycling, Food and Being Fast.

How important is a lightweight bike for keeping up with the fast group?

For anyone who’s ridden one, the answer is “pretty freakin’ important”.  “Aero” is big, too, although I can do just fine with a 21 year-old frame and a decent wheelset.

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Anyone who’s ridden an aero bike will tell you they do make fast easier, but you’ll be just as fast on a decently equipped non-aero bike.  I can choose either weapon – the specialized just makes “fast” a little easier.  The Trek is also a little more than two pounds heavier than the Specialized (15.8/18.3 respectively).

The real question is, “How important is having a lightweight body if you want to be fast”?  Let me save you the trouble; it’s pretty freakin’ important. Certainly more important than the aforementioned lightweight aero bike.

Many people are under the incorrect assumption that we who are fast can eat anything we want and still stay lean. That’s not entirely true. It’s not exactly false, either. When I went from 1,800 miles in 2011 to 5,300 miles in 2012, I dropped weight. Fast. I went from 172 pounds to 151 in one summer. I lost enough my wife suggested I’d better eat more in a hurry because I was too skinny.  And therein lies the rub, eating more.

Left 2012 vs Right 2015

I had to learn how to eat for all of those miles. By the time 2015 had rolled around I was back up to 168, just about perfect for how I like me. I learned to double what I ate during cycling season. My wife was happy. I was happy. And eating more was a lot of fun!

2016 and 2017 came and went with bumps in mileage (8,500 and 9,300 respectively) and all was well. 2018 was a big year at 10,100 miles but I started noticing a problem; I had become accustomed to eating a lot. Worse, I didn’t slow down the consumption over the fall and winter months, either – my definitions for full and hungry changed. My weight, for the first time since I started riding, stayed above 170 all year long. Last year was a decrease in miles and an increase in weight. I’m in the upper 170’s now… and I finally realized drastic measures are required again. This time I had to cut way back on what I’m eating. I’ve taken to what I’m calling a “half diet”. I eat half of what I used to.

As I got closer to 50, dropping weight became more difficult and it’s been too easy to justify eating with all of the miles… and what is it with age that good food tastes so much better?!

Anyway, the point is, it doesn’t matter how fast I am.  I, sadly, have to watch what and how I eat now.  Especially during the off-season.  I’m not used to having this problem but I’m dealing with it because it isn’t going to go away with hopes and dreams and I’ll be damned if I’m going to be fat.

So; cycling is good, food is good, fast is good… I just have to watch the one in the middle even though it doesn’t matter as much to being fast as some believe.  I’m faster at 175 pounds than I was at 155… particularly because a lot of that 20 pounds is in vastly bigger legs.  My daughter, without being prompted, called them “massive” compared to the rest of me.  Massive isn’t bad, but it’s heavy.

The Fix For The Over-calculation of Calories in Strava, Endomondo, Garmin Connect… And Just How Far Off Are the Apps On Your Calorie Count? It’s A Lot.

I rode Tuesday night, our normal group ride night.  The main event was 28 miles of pure awesome.  It wasn’t terribly fast, but it was quick and I absolutely got the blood pumping.

Strava kicked back, once the ride uploaded, that I’d burned 846 calories over those 28 miles.  The average speed was 21.5-mph.  Max speed was just a shade under 35-mph.  Estimated average power was 218 watts.  My average heart rate was 136 bpm, max was 167, leading out the group at the first sprint sign above 30-mph for more than a half-mile.

I rode again Wednesday night.  Nothing special, just a little bit of an active recovery ride with my buddy, Chuck to burn off the stiffness from Tuesday night.  It’s been a long month and 2/3’s since my last day off and I’m really starting to feel it.  Thankfully I’ve got a couple of days off coming up.  God knows what I’ll write about (oh ye of little faith, I’m already working on those posts!).  Anyway, 22 miles, 17-mph average, 114 watts… and 1,236 calories.  Now how it God’s green earth do I burn 400 more calories on a shorter ride using 100 fewer watts over six fewer miles?!

Another ride Thursday, another 28 miles, but this one is a lot harder… more up.  A bit more than double that of Tuesday night.  I scored a new PR on that route, a 21.9-mph average.  My average power was 240 watts.  I was a happy man… another 12 achievements in 15 segments on Strava (that’s pretty good), including three cups and another on a warm-up climb.  Average heart rate was 142 bpm with a max of 166.  880 calories burned.

That same ride last week?  235 watts, 21.6-mph average… 1,859 calories burned.

What’s missing is the heart rate.  A heart rate monitor evens out the calorie burn and fixes the algorithm.  I’d bet a power meter would do about the same.  The point is, if you’re not using a heart rate monitor or power meter (or both), you’re burning less than half the calories your app says.  I knew it was bad.  I didn’t know it was that bad.

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Ride hard, my friends.  And know, if you’re not using a heart rate monitor, you’re actually burning about half the calories your app says you are.  If you eat according to your Strava or Endomondo calorie burn, don’t be surprised when you put on weight.

One good thing I did learn about all of this, my Garmin is set to 190 for my max heart rate.  I’ve bumped my head against 170 quite often but I can’t do much better.  I thought there was something wrong with me till I learned you get your max heart rate by subtracting your age from 220… or, for me, 170.  It made everything make sense.

Playing With A $3,000 Etch-a-Sketch to Earn… Pizza!

I went on a semi-random ride last night, with one goal: burn enough calories to justify my dinner. Sam’s Italian Restaurant pizza. It’s the good stuff, folks. Sure, I like the Detroit-style deep dish. Chicago style is to die for (though not literally, sheesh). I love me some Little Caesar’s or Hungry Howie’s… but Sam’s is the gourmet thin crust, zesty, sweet sauce, Italian pizza.

In fact, I’ve gotta stop writing about said pizza because I have 40 minutes till I can pick it up!

I had no goals for last night’s ride. No worries, no cares, just me and the road and excellent looking cornfields (this has got to be one of Michigan’s best years in a long time for farming, it’s amazing how good the crops look)…

It was a glorious evening for a bike ride… and because my bikes have been behaving so well, I decided to tinker with the Trek. I lowered the handlebar 5 mm. I didn’t like it much on day 1, but on day 3 was fantastic.  I’d assumed (correctly) that Chucker was working so it was a solo afternoon jaunt and I was feeling pretty good.  I could have just done my normal 20 miles and called it good but decided to keep following my front wheel (while avoiding busy roads – no sense tempting fate) until I’d had enough and wanted to take my toy home.

I ended up with 27 easy miles (17.5-mph pace or 28 kmh) on my perfectly set up Trek.  After the first day with the handlebar dropped, I’d almost considered raising it again before I left for my ride.  I’m glad I didn’t.  I just needed a few rides to get used to it.  And it helps that most of my winter gut is gone…

OH!  And dinner was fantastic.  I got my usual (pepperoni, bacon, red onion, mild (banana) peppers) but this time, because there are so many people at our meeting nowadays, I also picked up a straight-up pepperoni pizza.  One of the best I’d ever eaten.  That’ll be on the ticket again next week!

It’s Been 1,500 Miles Since My Last Day Off And I’m Still Lovin’ It

The last day it rained too much to squeeze a ride in around here was June 10th.

I’ve put just shy of 1,500 miles since that day and, while I’ve had a few rough mornings waking up, I’m usually up and moving freely again within 10 or 15 minutes… and if I’m really in bad shape, a Tylenol and an Advil together will have me feeling like I’m 25 again in short order.  Between my two road bikes and the tandem, there’s never a dull moment and I feel fortunate to be able to switch up bikes whenever I want – this way, there’s always something to tinker with.  Last night was removing a spacer from under the handlebar of the Trek to see if I would ride a little lower comfortably.  I’ll just say the jury is out after the first ride – I’m not going to toss the alloy spacer in the recycling bin just yet.  At the beginning of the season I was simply too… erm… well, chunky.  Too many winter dinners did me in.  I’m down fifteen pounds at the moment, though, and the weight is coming off easily as long as I’m not stupid.

I’ve got two months to drop another nine pounds (nine is the hopeful version, I’d be satisfied with four), then I’ll see if I can’t be a little more intelligent about the winter.  I don’t want to have to go through what I did this spring, staring at a number I don’t like on the scale.  This year I’ve been faster on a bike than at any point since I started cycling – even with the weight and riding every day.  Thankfully, our part of Michigan is mercifully flat!

The trick has been to take my active recovery rides.  To thoroughly and embrace the slow days has been a difficult journey through the brain, but now that I’ve got it, I’m having more fun than should be legal.  What I had to do was look at the slow days as building blocks for the fast days.  I still have to mentally hold myself back and remind myself that every day doesn’t have to be a building day… and once I took the time to look around and enjoy the scenery I was missing because my head was always down trying to get the most of a ride, I began to enjoy those slow days.

And so it was yesterday evening.  After a long week with four hard efforts (one trying unsuccessfully to outrun a thunderstorm), I could feel I needed an easy day.  I picked Chuck up at his house and we tooled around town talking about the day’s events.  We didn’t charge up one hill.  We didn’t knuckle down one time.  Just smooth, easy, fun miles.

This is the only way I know to ride every day, week after week.  And now that I’ve figured out my place in how this all works, I get the exhilaration of the fast group while enjoying cycling like the slow group does every now and again.

It’s the best of both cycling worlds.  Life is good.

Does Bike Weight and Becoming A Weight Wienie Actually Matter? Does A Light Bike Help or Hurt A Cyclist? A Look at a Misleading Article on Bike Weight

First, I’m going to be straight up; bike weight matters. So does my once fat ass, and yours (fat or not). What’s the use in having an aero bike when one’s figure is anything but? Yes, pushing oneself away from the table is most important and the easiest, cheapest way to dial the weight factor down on the cyclist/cycle combination. This is all true.

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The object of my weight wienie-ness…
I ran into an article on the Pros Closet that delves into the question of bike weight and whether it’s worth the cost. On reading the article, the author makes a fair case that being a weight wienie is expensive. It is. However, she gets into a little deception when bringing up the cost vs weight savings. She uses a 77 gram, $11 aluminum bottle cage as an example against a Specialized S-Works Zee Cage, $70. Now, she gives the proper cost of a carbon zee cage, but the photo she uses shows a $20 plastic zee cage being weighed. So you’re getting what looks to be a 36 gram difference for an additional cost of $59. It’s really a $9 difference in cost for that 36 grams (worth it). It gets better, though. A carbon zee cage weighs just 28 grams, a difference of 49 grams next to the alloy cage. Add two bottle cages together and you’ve got a little less than a quarter of a pound (but more than two tenths of a pound)… on just two bottle cages. Sure, you’re spending $140 for a couple of bottle cages, but two-tenths of a pound just on bottle cages?! I’d do it. Hell, I did it! Twice. I bought the Chinese cages for $18 each, though… so for an additional $7 a cage, I saved more than two-tenths of a pound. Without question, worth it.

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Now, I only know all of this because I’m ridiculous and a little bit meticulous about trimming weight off my Specialized Venge. I’ve got an ultra-light stem (110 grams), an ultra-light S-Works crank, carbon pedals, the aforementioned carbon cages, carbon wheels, carbon handlebar, Ultegra drivetrain… Ultegra cassette, SRAM ultra-light chain… when I pulled that Venge out of the box, it weighed 18.8 pounds, not including pedals. It’s down to 15.8 (15.5 if I use the 110 gram carbon saddle I’ve got, but it’s just too uncomfortable). Now, can one feel the difference between three pounds? Abso-freakin-lutely. I can feel a pound, but only because I have so many miles on each of my bikes. That’s not the question, though. The question is, do those three pounds matter in terms of how fast I can get my bike down the road.

They don’t.

Because most of my fastest rides were on this:

1999 Trek 5200_May_2020

An 18-1/2 pound, fully restored and updated 1999 Trek 5200. Not ironically, it has Blackburn carbon cages and those were expensive ($55 each).

It only worked that way, that most of my fastest rides are on the Trek, by chance, of course. It was due to weather. The Specialized is much faster – noticeably, tangibly faster. But the three pound difference, well, two-and-change now, doesn’t make much of a difference. I just have to work a little harder (and yes, I do and can feel the difference).

Let’s go one better, though. How about almost a five pound difference?

Now we’re looking at my Trek vs my gravel bike, a 23 pound Specialized Diverge. Now we’re talking some weight. Now, supposing I put some real road tires on that Diverge… can the “me” on the Diverge keep up with “me” on the Trek? No chance, no how, no way.

On my Trek, average estimated wattage for a 28-mile, 24-mph average ride is a whopping 273 watts. On the Diverge that adjusts to 399 watts… For an hour and ten minutes? Sign me up for the Tour de France. No chance I can hold that, no matter how big the draft. That’s a difference greater than most people can even pedal a bicycle (136 watts).

So my two cents on the subject is this; to an extent, the bike’s weight does matter, especially when you start getting into the really heavy bikes. It just doesn’t matter as much as some think (or maybe hope).

Now, one thing I did appreciate about the Pros Closet article is that the author looked at how light is too light – at which point does a lightweight bike mean a decrease in performance. I don’t have to worry about this problem because I’m not going to bother trying to get the Venge much lighter. It’s good enough for government work. However, at some point you’ll sacrifice stiffness to weight reduction and end up with a spaghetti bike. I can tell you this, that weight is below 15 pounds.

Besides, I think they were more talking about mountain bikes and durability in the article anyway (except one of the merchandizing office guys she quoted).

So there you have it. Of course a light bike will be slightly faster and a heavy bike will be considerably slower. The trick is your definition of light and heavy combined with how you’ll be riding said bike… and the depth of your bank account. In my case, every upgrad I made was worth it. Every pound I dropped, worth it. I just don’t have to delve any deeper.

A Simple, If Humorous, Note on “Listening to Your Body”

Trigger (heh) warning:  If you happen to be a sissy, the following might trigger you into sucking your thumb and curling up into the fetal position for anywhere from five minutes to several days.  Do not read this post if this is something you’re capable of.  I haven’t sucked my thumb since I was knee-high to a grasshopper (I think I was 3) and the last time I was in the fetal position, I was actually in the womb, a person like me would be reasonably safe to read what I’m about to write.  You have been trigger (heh) warned.

My daughter, for my 50th birthday, baked me the most delectable carrot cake (with cream cheese icing, of course) to ever have passed my lips.  It was one of those cake eating experiences that, because it’s so utterly fantastic, makes you close your eyes in ecstasy the first several bites.

So there I am last night, sitting on the couch after a big, fast Thursday night ride (36 total miles) and, because I’m so attuned to what my body is telling me, my body says, “Hey, yo!  Down here!  Hey, I need some carrot cake down here!”

Well, now that’s a reason to rejoice right there!  My body says it needs carrot cake!  Well, you know what happens next:  I’m ass-deep in cream cheese icing when I realized I’d made a mistake in interpretation…

My body only asked for carrots.  My melon filled in the “cake” part.

Oops.

Cycling And Speed: There’s A Difference Between Knowing There’s A Hill… And Climbing The Hill; Beating The Mental Block To Being Your Best On A Bicycle

Who can forget when Neo just begins to discover he really is “the one“, when Morpheus utters that simple line, “There’s a difference between knowing the path and walking the path”, in the movie The Matrix (1999 [1999?!])?

So it is with cycling and speed. There’s a difference between knowing fast and cycling fast – actually doing it.  The tone of this post should not be taken as one of braggadocio, but of humility.  In cycling, the phrase there’s always someone faster was ever thus and shall always be.  I am a very small fish in a very big pond… but I’m a small fish who also happens to be decent with a keyboard – and we are a rare breed, indeed.

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First, I’m going to be straight up here.  If you try to push your limits, you’re going to get dropped every now and again.  You’re going to spend some miles crawling back after you’ve popped.  How can you learn to pass your limit if you don’t know your limit in the first place?

Next, and this is a big one, you have to shove aside that negative self-talk and doubt bullshit.  I know people near as strong as I am but talk themselves into hurting when they’ve got gas left in the tank.  They’re miserable and struggling and I’m just cruising along.  If ever there was a saying to embrace in cycling, “this too shall pass”.  When I’m feeling a haggard, I know it’ll pass and I’ll feel at least a little better before long.  There’s an ebb and flow to cycling at higher speeds.  Try to concentrate on the flow a lot more than the ebb.  In fact, let go of the ebb.

Save your good legs for the big days!  If you’re one who lets a lack of confidence gnaw at you, for the love of God and all that is holy, good legs for good days.  You don’t go out the day before a big ride and go hard.  We mere mortals have to pick our battles.  Of course, you don’t take a day off either.  The day before a big ride is perfect for an active recovery day.  You’ll want to be slow enough that you get a little antsy about whether or not you should be trying a little harder.  If ever there was a day to take a few pictures along your route, the day before a big day is it.  Chill out and ride on the bar-tops a bit.

Eat, but don’t be all crazy about it.  Carb-loading is great and all, but you can only store so much “carb” before it becomes “fat”.  An extra slice of pizza?  Great.  An extra pizza?  Not so much.   If you feel like crap when you clip in, you’ll be thinking about that extra pizza weighing you down.  Cue confidence train wreck and you dropping off the back, dejected.  Don’t do that to yourself.

Now, finally, repeat after me:  I am a badass.  I’m a horse.  I am fast.  I am strong.

Now get out there and hammer it out.

 

 

My Most Enjoyable Long Weekend

We rolled out Sunday morning with a small but lively group with a goal of just 45 miles at an easy, fun pace.

Yet another Sunday Funday on the tandem, my wife and I lighting up the front.  We kept the pace steady, around 20-mph, the first 13 miles but Diane and my wife both had to stop to use a port-john before we got to town so three single started rolling a few minutes before we took off out of the school parking lot.  We took it easy starting out but I fell into chase down mode and we took to reeling my friends in.  After a nasty (but shallow and short) incline that my wife hammered up, we started putting down the serious watts.  We had a sprint coming up in a few miles and it’s perfect for a tandem.  We pulled around the lead group with about a mile to go and kept ratcheting the pace up to be discouraging to anyone wanting to come around.  It didn’t work.

We pounded down the hill, shifting as we went until we settled into a good gear.  The other tandem had come around as well as three of the single bikes and we were two lengths behind.  Once everyone cleared us I figured my wife would ease up but she wanted the City Limits sign.  She was laying out some power, so I gave it everything I had.  In the stretch to the sign, we overtook all three single bikes at 34-mph and pulled along side the second tandem… but we needed another ten seconds.  The got us at the line by a half-length.  It was a good effort.

After a short stop at our normal gas station, we rolled out into the morning sun.  It was starting to warm up but we had virtually no wind.  The rest of the ride, up until about 43 miles when both our butts had had enough, was fantastic and we ended up pulling into the driveway with 45 miles and some change at 18.6-mph.  That was speedy for a Sunday Funday on the tandem.  And all was well.

I went out with a couple of friends and helped one of ours clear out some big items out of his garage.  It was well over 90° and the sun was hammering us, but it was worth helping a friend out.  We ended up working from noon till 3:30 or so.  It was some hard work but we all felt pretty good about helping a friend out.  After showering up, we had a fantastic dinner (grilled chicken and sweet potatoes along with a salad).  I put on Aquaman after and drifted off sometime in the special features and slept like a baby through the night.

We’re still muddling our way through COVIDcation, but I can’t complain.  It was a fantastic weekend of family, friends, sun, swimming, food and fun… and that most important aspect we celebrated the day before; Freedom.

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A Happy Father’s Day Indeed… Biscuits and Gravy, Baby.

It is a well-known fact that my favorite breakfast in the whole wide freakin’ world is biscuits and sausage gravy.

My brother from a different cycling mother, down in Tasmania, asked on yesterday’s post, “biscuits and gravy?”

Well, brother, that’s it and my daughter made the best, most perfectly seasoned sausage gravy over the fluffiest biscuits I’ve ever eaten in my entire life. And that includes drunk 3am breakfasts back in my drinking days. The best.

I only had to put in 40 miles on the tandem to earn the breakfast. If ever there was a way to pay for a breakfast!

Biscuits and gravy is a puzzle of flavor perfection. The biscuits have to be fluffy while sufficiently heavy. The gravy, creamy yet sufficiently peppered. The real trick is getting the salt right. Too much is gross, too little and the gravy lacks pop. My daughter, who happens to be an excellent cook/budding chef, got the puzzle pieces to fit perfectly into a bite of heaven every thirty seconds or so.

That, my friends, is good times and biscuits and gravy.