Cyclingnews Fitness Q&A - November 16, 2011

Your fitness questions answered

Topics: Aerobic Base, A follow up on max heart rate, High blood pressure, Nutrition

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Aerobic Base

A follow up on max heart rate

High blood pressure


Aerobic Base

Howdy guys,

I am a 36 year old entering my 4th season of racing in Colorado. I am a cat 4 and plan to upgrade to cat 3 this season. I am wondering if I am doing adequate volume to develop a good enough aerobic base to do a two hour zone 2 ride with no decoupling/cardiac drift by the beginning of December.

I ride about 7 hours a week, broken down like this:

Saturday - 4 hour group ride, zones 1, 2, 3.

Sunday - 1 hour trainer ride, zone 2

Tuesday - 1 hour trainer ride, zone 2

Thursday - 1 hour trainer ride, zone 2

I started this schedule the last week of October.

I do not have a power meter, but I will have one in less than two weeks, so I'll be able to compare HR to power. For now I am doing zone 2 according to HR, with no idea what my power is.

Would it benefit me to do some more intense intervals during my Tuesday and Thursday sessions? Do I need to?

Thanks so much for your time!

Scott Saifer says:

Hi Blake,

Your plan looks like excellent use of the minimal time you have available. There's a good chance you will be successful in reaching your rather unusual goal. (Most people want to go faster or make more power on increase endurance. I've never heard someone wanting to train specifically to reduce decoupling before). The one thing I would add to your program is that you make sure to switch to zone 1 rather than zone 2 if you feel other than highly motivate, energetic and generally good.

A follow up to Heart Rate and thresholds

To follow on to Nick Gibbons Max HR question, I have done 3 professional sport tests (VO2Max) and after each test the assessor have given me a MHR of 183bpm (same assessor and company) although the print out show 185bpm. My last test was in June 2010. I vaguely remember somewhere that the reason given for my 183bpm MHR was that I could sustain 183bpm for a minute before hitting a higher bpm. Based on 183bpm MHR my training zones were given.

Of course in real time riding, I can hit 186bpm whilst going for it up climbs. What I am concerned about is that my training zones given by the assessor are not giving me the maximum benefits and I am not training hard enough. This year, as I was 55yrs and most of my riding is sportives in the UK & EU, I decided that another test may not be as beneficial as I would like. However to gauge my fitness and to see if the Zones were on the mark, I carried out a FTHR test on myself (i.e.: warm up, ride hard for 20mins, take avg HR and x0.95). That came to 167bpm as supposed to 165bpm given during the sports test.

So my question is should I stay with the sports test zones as they have been proved scientifically or should I now adjust them to my real time cycling/FTHR.

My sport test training zones given were:

Zone1 110bpm -134bpm Rec/Base

Zone2 135bpm - 145bpm End Trg

Zone3 146bpm - 154bpm (Transitional only, not for trg)

Zone4 155bpm - 165bpm Threshold Trg

Zone5 166bpm - 183bpm Speed & Power
As (originally) Approved and Recommended by the
British Cycling Federation



Scott Saifer says:

Hi Bryan,

I personally use the highest heart rate a person has ever seen as their max (excluding monitor glitches and bouts of tachycardia). If someone else wants to define max as what one can sustain for a certain period of time, I would not argue. One could even end up with the same training zones if one used slightly different percentages for the endpoints of the zones. The concept of zone training includes the idea that training anywhere in the zone has similar effects, so differences of a few beats in the zone endpoints should make no difference whatsoever in the fitness one gets from training in the zones, especially if one is smart about backing off when tired. For what it's worth, I use two separate sets of zones for more and less fit rides, and the more fit the rider is, the more time they spend at lower heart rates.

Theoretically, the zone endpoints represent some physiological transition. That means you should not base heart rate training zones on "highest heart rate you can maintain for x-time" tests. The results of those tests depend as much on motivation as physiology.

High blood pressure

Dear team,

I am a 32 yr old former "elite without contract" rider in the Netherlands. I stopped racing the elite category in 2008, but still race at a local level, and also undertake running events. I still keep in excellent shape, and run a half marathon in under 90 mins, and also can make a 38 minute 10k. I also work out 3 x a week. I weigh 74kg, height 1m81.

Over the last couple of years I have had a struggle with anxiety and panic disorder, and since 7 weeks ago have been taking 20mg Citalopram (Celexa) daily to alleviate this. The results have been excellent, and I feel like a new person.

The only downside is that as a routine control for a patient taking a new medication I had my BP tested, and it was quite high (160/80). The doctor advised that it was probably "white coat hypertension" but I should check it out. I know I get nervous as soon as they test my BP, so I bought my own BP monitor to test myself in the relaxed surroundings of my own home. I expected a low reading, but was dismayed to find it slightly higher than before. There then ensued a frantic period of attempting to force myself into a state of relaxation, then testing myself, and finding a random selection of values that ranged from slightly high to very high (the latter when I was freaking out - 165/110)

I went to my GP today, who tested it 3 times, and I got a high of 160/100, but a low of 148/91. I was rather nervous, and as soon as the cuff inflates and I feel my heart pounding against it I can really feel my stress level and pulse rate climbing.

I have never smoked, I am a vegetarian and a healthy eater, and I avoid salty foods. My father has high BP, but also gets astronomical values while nervous at the GP, and moderately high values at home. One thing I should point out is that I do experience a lot of stress at work, as I am a manager at a company with some serious inefficiencies.

I am concerned that maybe the celexa is causing the raise in BP, as this drug is really working for my anxiety, but I am more concerned in case the celexa isn't the cause, and I just am unlucky enough to have high BP, despite already living the lifestyle that is advised to those who wish to avoid a raised BP.

It also doesn't help my peace of mind that most people expect an endurance athlete to have a low BP.

Do you know of any other similar cases? What effect can athletes heart have on BP? Does a powerful pulse have any influence on BP?

I know that BP has a strong genetic component, and healthy lifestyle does not exclude issues, but readings of this sort considering my age and circumstances seem worrying. My GP has advised a month of continuing with the Celexa, and then if the BP is still concerning she will try a 24hr monitor. If necessary Celexa will be replaced by a substitute. If that doesn't work I may well become a 32 yr old fitness fanatic who takes high blood pressure medication - a very unappealing thought.

I really appreciate any advice. Please could you only use my first name if this email is published?

Kind regards,


Kelby Bethards says:

Hi James,

You present a common and rather confusing problem. I will keep this simple and concise.

Just answer some of you questions. Yes, exercise does affect your BP. It usually lowers it. And a strong pulse is definitely something athletes all gain, but during rest, an athletic heart will not "need" to beat as hard to perfuse the body, tissues, etc, unless BP is too high. That being said, white coat HTN does exist, but your home readings are concerning. Not for the immediate term, but over many years.

Celexa can have the side effect that you have noted, but the only way to tell is to stop the medication, with guidance on a taper from your doctor. So, in the meantime, you would need another anxiety medication, unless you can get by without for a drug free trial. There are others, so do not give up hope.

The genetic component is one we can't control. I know a few racers on the team I run that do have HTN and take a BP medication and do fine with this.

However, make sure you doctor understands you are an athlete before she prescribes a BP med, so she chooses the correct medication. So, it is possible, to be perfectly fit and yet have the genetic cards stacked against you. We call that "essential hypertension", which to me means, we (the medical community) essentially don't know why it happens.

So, in short, don't give up hope. If the Celexa is the problem there are other meds that help. IF you have HTN, due to genetic factors, it is treatable (and important to do so). AND, you can still race.

Kelby Bethards, MD


Dear Scott,

There are tons of procedures and studies out there how to replenish muscle glycogen after exercise. But is there any way to do so [just like to refill liver glycogen constantly] while exercise? Or is it doable only while resting? And if yes, why? What’s the hindering point?

Do I comprehend it correctly, as soon as those 300-450 grams of CH are depleted in the muscles, my training/race will be supported only by fat, protein and liver glycogen [blood sugar]?



Scott Saifer says:

Hi Robert,

The ability of the gut to absorb carbohydrate is limited. The exact amount that different people can absorb depends of all sorts of things and can't be predicted particularly closely, but it's going to be on the order of 150-300 Calories per hour during exercise. If the muscles are using more carbohydrate than that during exercise, there is no way they can store new glycogen. Again approximating wildly, figure that at a mellow pace your body might get half it's calories from carbs and half from fat. An easy ride for a strong but not elite male might be 200 watts or 720 Calories per hour, with 360 coming from carbohydrate. Since that's more than the gut can process into the blood stream, even on an endurance ride like that it would be impossible to form glycogen while riding.

How much glycogen one can store in muscles depends on training history, genetics, body size, diet and possibly other variables, but no matter how much glycogen one has stored, when it runs down to a small percentage of initial stores, further exercise will be fueled by fat and protein. When an untrained individual runs out of muscle glycogen, they can't exercise any more in any meaningful way. A well trained cyclist who runs out of glycogen can keep going forever, but only very slowly.


Full Specifications

The Cyclingnews Form & Fitness panel

Scott Saifer ( is head coach, CEO of Wenzel and has been coaching cyclists professionally for 18 years. He combines a master's degree in Exercise Physiology with experience in 20 years of touring and racing and over 300 road, track and MTB races to deliver training plans and advice that are both rigorously scientific and compatible with the real world of bike racing.

Scott has helped clients to turn pro as well as to win medals at US Masters National and World Championship events. He has worked with hundreds of beginning riders and racers and particularly enjoys working with the special or challenging rider. Scott is co-author of Bike Racing 101 with Kendra Wenzel and his monthly column appears in ROAD Magazine.

Steve Hogg has owned and operated Pedal Pushers since 1986, a cycle shop specialising in rider positioning and custom bicycles. In that time he has positioned riders from all cycling disciplines and of all levels of ability with every concievable cycling problem. Clients range from recreational riders and riders with disabilities to World and National champions. He can be reached at:

Kelby Bethards, MD received a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Iowa State University (1994) before obtaining an M.D. from the University of Iowa College of Medicine in 2000. Has been a racing cyclist 'on and off' for 20 years, and when time allows, he races Cat 3 and 35+.

He is a team physician for two local Ft Collins, CO, teams, and currently works Family Practice in multiple settings: rural, urgent care, inpatient and the like.

Pam Hinton has a bachelor's degree in Molecular Biology and a doctoral degree in Nutritional Sciences, both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

She did postdoctoral training at Cornell University and is now an associate professor of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at the University of Missouri-Columbia where she studies the effects of energy balance on bone health. She has published on the effects of cycling and multi-day stage racing on bone density and turnover.

Pam was an All-American in track while at the UW. She started cycling competitively in 2003 and is a three-time Missouri State Road Champion.

James Hibbard progressed from the junior to the professional ranks as a rider and has over 15 years of competitive cycling experience. He is a former Collegiate All-American track cyclist, trained as a resident athlete at the United States Olympic Training Center, earned international medals as part of the U.S. National Team, and was a member of the powerhouse Shaklee and HealthNet Professional road cycling teams.

He has earned 13 National Track Championship medals, as well as numerous junior, U-23 and elite California State championships on both the road and track. Since retiring from full-time racing in 2005, James has focused on his development as a coach.

David Fleckenstein, MPT, OCS ( is a physical therapist practicing in Eagle, ID and the president of Physiotherapy, PA, an outpatient orthopedic clinic focusing in orthopedics, spine, and sportsmedicine care.

His clients have included World and US champions, Olympic athletes and numerous professional athletes. He received his Masters degree in Physical Therapy from Emory University and is currently completing his doctorate at Regis University.

He is a board certified orthopedic specialist focusing in manual medicine and specific retraining of spine and joint stabilisation musculature. He is a former Cat I road racer and Expert mountain biker.

Carrie Cheadle, MA ( is a Sports Psychology consultant who has dedicated her career to helping athletes of all ages and abilities perform to their potential. Carrie specialises in working with cyclists, in disciplines ranging from track racing to mountain biking. She holds a bachelors degree in Psychology from Sonoma State University as well as a masters degree in Sport Psychology from John F. Kennedy University.

Dave Palese ( is a USA Cycling licensed coach and masters' class road racer with 16 years' race experience. He coaches racers and riders of all abilities from his home in southern Maine, USA, where he lives with his wife Sheryl, daughter Molly, and two cats, Miranda and Mu-Mu.

Dario Fredrick ( is an exercise physiologist and head coach for Whole Athlete™. He is a former category 1 & semi-pro MTB racer. Dario holds a masters degree in exercise science and a bachelors in sport psychology.

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