Fitness questions and answers for May 24, 2004

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Form & Fitness Q & A

Got a question about fitness, training, recovery from injury or a related subject? Drop us a line at fitness@cyclingnews.com. Please include as much information about yourself as possible, including your age, sex, and type of racing or riding.

Cyclingnews is delighted this week to welcome Pamela Hinton to our fitness panel.

Carrie Cheadle, MA (www.carriecheadle.com) 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 (www.davepalese.com) 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.

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.

Fiona Lockhart (www.trainright.com) is a USA Cycling Expert Coach, and holds certifications from USA Weightlifting (Sports Performance Coach), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach), and the National Academy for Sports Nutrition (Primary Sports Nutritionist). She is the Sports Science Editor for Carmichael Training Systems, and has been working in the strength and conditioning and endurance sports fields for over 10 years; she's also a competitive mountain biker.

Eddie Monnier (www.velo-fit.com) is a USA Cycling certified Elite Coach and a Category II racer. He holds undergraduate degrees in anthropology (with departmental honors) and philosophy from Emory University and an MBA from The Wharton School of Business.

Eddie is a proponent of training with power. He coaches cyclists (track, road and mountain bike) of all abilities and with wide ranging goals (with and without power meters). He uses internet tools to coach riders from any geography.

David Fleckenstein, MPT (www.physiopt.com) is a physical therapist practicing in Boise, ID. His clients have included World and U.S. champions, Olympic athletes and numerous professional athletes. He received his B.S. in Biology/Genetics from Penn State and his Master's degree in Physical Therapy from Emory University. He specializes in manual medicine treatment and specific retraining of spine and joint stabilization musculature. He is a former Cat I road racer and Expert mountain biker.

Since 1986 Steve Hogg (www.cyclefitcentre.com) has owned and operated Pedal Pushers, 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.They include World and National champions at one end of the performance spectrum to amputees and people with disabilities at the other end.

Current riders that Steve has positioned include Davitamon-Lotto's Nick Gates, Discovery's Hayden Roulston, National Road Series champion, Jessica Ridder and National and State Time Trial champion, Peter Milostic.

Pamela 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 assistant professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia where she studies the effects of iron deficiency on adaptations to endurance training and the consequences of exercise-associated changes in menstrual function on bone health.

Pam was an All-American in track while at the UW. She started cycling competitively in 2003 and is the defending Missouri State Road Champion. Pam writes a nutrition column for Giana Roberge's Team Speed Queen Newsletter.

Dario Fredrick (www.wholeathlete.com) 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.

Scott Saifer (www.wenzelcoaching.com) has a Masters Degree in exercise physiology and sports psychology and has personally coached over 300 athletes of all levels in his 10 years of coaching with Wenzel Coaching.

Kendra Wenzel (www.wenzelcoaching.com) is a head coach with Wenzel Coaching with 17 years of racing and coaching experience and is coauthor of the book Bike Racing 101.

Steve Owens (www.coloradopremiertraining.com) is a USA Cycling certified coach, exercise physiologist and owner of Colorado Premier Training. Steve has worked with both the United States Olympic Committee and Guatemalan Olympic Committee as an Exercise Physiologist. He holds a B.S. in Exercise & Sports Science and currently works with multiple national champions, professionals and World Cup level cyclists.

Through his highly customized online training format, Steve and his handpicked team of coaches at Colorado Premier Training work with cyclists and multisport athletes around the world.

Brett Aitken (www.cycle2max.com) is a Sydney Olympic gold medalist. Born in Adelaide, Australia in 1971, Brett got into cycling through the cult sport of cycle speedway before crossing over into road and track racing. Since winning Olympic gold in the Madison with Scott McGrory, Brett has been working on his coaching business and his www.cycle2max.com website.

Richard Stern (www.cyclecoach.com) is Head Coach of Richard Stern Training, a Level 3 Coach with the Association of British Cycling Coaches, a Sports Scientist, and a writer. He has been professionally coaching cyclists and triathletes since 1998 at all levels from professional to recreational. He is a leading expert in coaching with power output and all power meters. Richard has been a competitive cyclist for 20 years

Andy Bloomer (www.cyclecoach.com) is an Associate Coach and sport scientist with Richard Stern Training. He is a member of the Association of British Cycling Coaches (ABCC) and a member of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES). In his role as Exercise Physiologist at Staffordshire University Sports Performance Centre, he has conducted physiological testing and offered training and coaching advice to athletes from all sports for the past 4 years. Andy has been a competitive cyclist for many years.

Michael Smartt (www.cyclecoach.com) is an Associate Coach with Richard Stern Training. He holds a Masters degree in exercise physiology and is USA Cycling Expert Coach. Michael has been a competitive cyclist for over 10 years and has experience coaching road and off-road cyclists, triathletes and Paralympians.

Kim Morrow (www.elitefitcoach.com) has competed as a Professional Cyclist and Triathlete, is a certified USA Cycling Elite Coach, a 4-time U.S. Masters National Road Race Champion, and a Fitness Professional.

Her coaching group, eliteFITcoach, is based out of the Southeastern United States, although they coach athletes across North America. Kim also owns MyEnduranceCoach.com, a resource for cyclists, multisport athletes & endurance coaches around the globe, specializing in helping cycling and multisport athletes find a coach.

Advice presented in Cyclingnews' fitness pages is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to be specific advice for individual athletes. If you follow the educational information found on Cyclingnews, you do so at your own risk. You should consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program.

HRMs and reported energy expenditure
Post race rest & recovery
Unexplained sickness
Track racing
Short, steep hills
Low weight
Cleat position and knee soreness
Caloric intake while riding & recovery
Vegetarian cycling
Coaches wanted

HRMs and reported energy expenditure

I've just bought myself a Polar HRM.

One of the functions it provides is to report a value of the energy expended for the measured exercise effort. The personal parameters that are set on the HRM are from the internal fitness test function (ie the predictive VO2 not from a lab test) plus weight, age, etc.

I was wondering just how accurate the energy expended measurements are likely to be -- are they within a reasonable figure, say +-10% or are they just a wild arse guess?

cheers
Steve

Scott Saifer replies:

I remember reading study a few years ago that looked at oxygen consumption during endurance exercise and during resistance training at the same heart rate. Resistance training used roughly half the oxygen and half the calories of cycling at the same heart rate, so the heart rate monitor certainly cannot be accurate in judging calorie expenditure across such different types of activities. Later in a ride if you experience cardiac drift (higher heart rate for the same power output), the heart rate monitor would again not be able to accurately measure calories expended.

I have to admit not knowing how the monitor figures your VO2max from anything it can possibly measure, so I hesitate to say that it's also not accurate while you ride while fresh, but my inclination is to say that the numbers it gives are close to wild arse guesses, though probably proportional to the true values. On a day when the monitor says you've used twice as much energy as on another, you probably have, just not the numbers of calories it suggests.

Post race rest & recovery

After every race I've had (especially crits), my heart rate always stays considerably elevated, impeding my attempts to take a post race nap. I usually manage to fall asleep after a good half-hour of fidgeting, and I always wake up a couple of hours later with my heart thundering in my chest, and not feeling as rested as I would like to be. I know to do some easy spinning for cool-down after every race, and although such makes my legs feel good, it fails to change the fact of my agitated cardiovascular system. Do you have any suggestions about what I could do to alleviate my problem? Also, since I'm a fledgling med student, can you explain some of the underlying physiology as to the problem and its solutions?

I'm a roadie, cat 4 (hopefully a 3 by the end of the season), male, 22 years old, 130 lbs, 5ft 6.5in and I like everything but long boring road races.

Victor Wang

Dario Fredrick replies:

Assuming that you are properly hydrated, the cause of your elevated heart rate (and feeling of agitation) is stimulation of sympathetic drive, also known as the stress response. Specifically it is stress hormones released by the sympathetic aspect of your autonomic nervous system that elevate heart rate. Have you noticed that even at the start line of a race your heart rate is significantly elevated?

An intense physical effort, especially one that is stressful to both the body and the mind (i.e. criterium) stimulates the stress response, which evolved in humans as a "fight or flight" mechanism of survival. The problem with the stress response is that it literally stresses our bodies (creating subtle damage), and overstimulation over time can lead to fatigue, burn out and an overtrained state.

As fitness improves, the stress response to intense exercise is reduced. Conversely, an insufficient preparation phase of aerobic/muscular endurance training before entering the racing phase can result in overstimulation of the stress response, potentially leading to premature burn out. You may want to look back to see how your training time leading up to racing has been spent. If you missed out on the important adaptive aspects of a proper base period, it's never too late to take a break from racing and refocus on this essential area of training.

Also helpful in reducing sympathetic drive (stress response) is to stimulate its counterpart, the parasympathetic nervous system (resting & recovery). One very effective method is by practicing restorative yoga. There are numerous yoga postures that stimulate parasympathetic activity, thereby reducing the stress response and stimulating recovery. One example is a simple forward bend that I recommended for another Fitness Q&A inquiry to reduce post-ride headache.

Seated Forward Bend: Sit on the edge of a blanket or firm pillow in a comfortable cross-legged position (if you can do half-lotus, that's fine too). Take an elastic ace bandage and wrap it lightly around your head and over your eyes (with eyes closed). Be sure it's not too tight. Bend forward and rest your forehead at whatever height it will easily reach -- if not the floor, use the seat of a chair or a book. If it creates discomfort in the knee of the tighter hip, prop something (a book or folded blanket) under that knee. Stay in this position with your head supported for 1-5 min, breathing evenly through your nose. Inhale as you sit back up, change the cross of your legs and repeat.

Unexplained sickness

I am an 18 year old junior cyclist and lately I have been experiencing slight tiredness and sore, often achy legs. I took one week where I rode three days and took four off and the days I would ride would be an hour easy. After a week and a half of that I don't feel any better and when I finish the one-hour rides it feels as though I just rode four or five hours. Before I felt like this I was doing 16-18 hour weeks with low intensity during the week and racing on the weekends. I managed about 15-20 hours during the winter of base mileage as well. I have been riding since mid-October.

I went in for a blood test and everything is normal, including a Lyme test, mono test, and others tests which could explain for my symptoms including a look at my iron levels. Everything is normal. I have been taking a multi vitamin, b complex, iron, garlic and vitamin c and I cant say that any of it has had an improvement on my legs feeling like I just rode 100 miles.

I dont think I am overtrained as I was not doing an amount of riding which would lead to overtraining and I have taken a week where I should have at least seen an improvement in my condition. Whats going on?

Jeff Buckles

Pam Hinton replies:

A couple of things could be contributing to your fatigue. The first possibility is that your body is just going through the normal adjustment that occurs with a shift from low-intensity to high-intensity and racing. This is more likely to be the case if this is your first competitive cycling season and if you are new to endurance sports. High intensity training rides and races cause much more muscle damage and require longer recovery periods than base miles. Continue to allow yourself regular rest days and your overtraining symptoms will get better with time as your body adapts.

The second possible explanation for your fatigue is your diet. I find it interesting that you list the dietary supplements that you take, but don't mention what foods you eat. If your diet is lacking in energy, carbohydrate or protein, none of the supplements you mentioned are going to help you. In fact, if you are meeting your energy, carbohydrate and protein needs, you won't need to spend money on pills. You will have consumed more than enough B-vitamins from carbs, iron from meat, and vitamin C from fruits and vegetables.

Your energy needs will be higher than those of an adult cyclist who trains as much as you do, if you are still growing. You probably need 4,000-5,000 kcal per day if you ride about 15-20 hours per week. The amount of carbohydrate and protein that you need depends on your body weight. Because you regularly train and race at high intensity and you are still gaining muscle mass as you grow, you need 1.6-1.7 g of protein per kg of body weight. To put this into foods, 3 ounces of meat has 25 g, one cup of milk or yogurt has 10 g, 1 ounce of cheese has 7 g and one egg has 3 grams of protein.

You need 6-10 g carbohydrate per kg or body weight to keep your liver and muscle glycogen stores topped off. Whole grain bread, pasta, cereal, and brown rice are the best sources of carbohydrates because they haven't had the vitamins, minerals, and fiber removed in the refining process. To give you some idea of how that translates into food, a bagel has 60 g carbohydrate, one cup of oatmeal has 20 g, one cup of cooked rice has 50 g, and 1 cup of cooked pasta has 30 g.

Pay attention to the food you eat, continue to take easy days and see if you don't feel rested and ready to go after 2-3 weeks.

Track racing

I've recently acquired an interest in racing track. What is the age range where one can be competitive?

I just turned 37 in great shape, train hard and have some strong abilities but am I too old to be a threat to the younger riders?

John Schultz

Brett Aitken replies:

I hope not, I'm not far behind you at 33! Seriously though I think you've got some good years ahead of you. If you're looking for a couple of good examples then have a look at the Aussie track legend 'Danny Clarke'. I remember racing my first Madison World Championship with him in Colombia when I was 24 and he was 44. Also 'Etienne DeWilde' was 41 when he run second behind Scott and myself at the Sydney Olympics.

Whenever I think I'm getting old I think of these two great champions and realize I'm just a baby who's getting a bit lazy!

Short, steep hills

Short, steep hills are my greatest weakness. I can hang in there on fast pace lines, do reasonably well on long climbs, and can turn in a fast finishing sprint, but get dropped off the back more times than I wished on quick charges up short hills. I either expend too much energy to catch up or am unable to at all. Besides practicing on the same, what specific training can help me improve in this area?

Brett Aitken replies:

You are suffering from a deficiency in your training which focuses on your anaerobic system. The best way to improve this is to work on sessions which build anaerobic capacity and power. These are normally efforts between 1 and 2 minutes long and are real killers because they flood your body with lactic acid and make you feel like throwing up if your body isn't used to them.

Start by adding in at least one session a week of these in an interval format which can be either done on the road or on an indoor trainer. Once you get used to them you could add in more sessions then later on down the track start work on developing the power aspect by increasing the recovery time up to 10:1 for 1min intervals and 5:1 for 2min.

Low weight

I am a 26 year old category 3 male road racer, 6'2" tall, 145 pounds. I have been racing for the past 13 years, putting in an average of about 6-7 thousand miles per year on the bike, plus 70-80 hours of skate skiing during the winter, along with weight work in the gym during the winter months. In my strongest seasons, I weighed around 165-170 pounds. Four years ago, I lost a fair amount of muscle mass due to forced inactivity and possibly also due to some medication I had to take.

Last year, due to a change in my work schedule, I had to begin training early in the morning after years of nearly always training in the afternoon or the evening. During this time my weight dropped to 145, where it seems to have stabilized. Before training (approx. 45 minutes before) I normally eat about 80 g. of carbohydrates (usually 3 servings of oatmeal) with a spoonful of peanut butter. During training I consume about 30 g. of carbohydrates per hour and stay well hydrated. After training I eat a good sized breakfast with about 150 g. of carbohydrates and 40 g. of protein. Overall my diet consists of whole-grain foods, pasta, lean meats, nuts, fruits and vegetables. I eat throughout the day averaging 3,000-4,000 calories per day. The ratio is about 70% carbohydrates, 15% fat, and 15% protein.

I ride 6 days per week, 1 1/2 to 2 1/2 hours per ride, usually 10-15 hours per week, depending on how much I am racing. One day during the week is for intervals and the weekend is either racing or a hard group ride.

Am I missing something in balancing my training and nutrition that I have lost all this weight? I schedule recovery into my training (one day of complete rest, one day is a recovery ride) and I do not feel as if I am overtraining, as far as I can tell. I began having knee problems four years ago and this year it has gotten bad enough that I am now looking at taking some serious time off the bike to let it heal. I have custom orthotics for my cycling and my everyday shoes and I have my position on the bike checked yearly. Could the knee problems be related to my low body weight? I have gone to see a couple of doctors, but after running numerous tests nothing has come back abnormal.

Rob Weiss
Wisconsin, USA

Pam Hinton replies:

Let me preface my response by saying that muscle mass, like body weight, is highly regulated. Each person has a set-point weight, which is largely determined by genetics, that the body maintains over time. Some medications can lower the set-point for lean body mass-think Lance post chemo. I don't know the nature of your prior illness or what medicine you had to take, but I suspect that you may still be experiencing the effects of the medical condition and/or the treatment.

Your diet seems reasonable and meets the recommendations for carbohydrate (6-10 g per kg of body weight) and protein (1.6-1.7 g per kg body weight) for an endurance athlete who is trying to gain muscle mass. You might try increasing your carbohydrate intake during rides to 60 g per hour and be sure to take in 1.5 g carbohydrate per kg body weight within 30 minutes of finishing your training (which it sounds like you do regularly) and again every 2 hours for 4-6 hours. This will minimize any breakdown of muscle for conversion amino acids into glucose. You could also increase your overall energy intake by including more fat in your diet. Choose some foods that have a higher fat content-like nuts and nut butters, full-fat cheese, and whole milk. While the fat in these foods will not be used directly to increase your muscle mass, the extra calories will prevent your body from having to break down your muscles for energy.

As long as your body is properly fueled by a balanced and varied diet of fresh foods, I doubt that your knee pain is due to your low weight. Given that the knee pain and inactivity both occurred four years ago, I suspect that the problem is biomechanical in nature, perhaps due to a muscle imbalance.

Cleat position and knee soreness

This is a follow-up e-mail to your posting of 22 March.

I have been struggling for the past 18 months with a similar problem to the one in your posting.

I am a recreational, but socially competitive cyclist aged 31. My problems originally started with exactly the symptoms described. Ache/pain in the pes anserine bursa area in both knees. Since then the problems have spread to other parts of my knees. I now have patellofemoral pain in both knees, an inflamed tendon where it connects to the semitendinosus in one knee as well as stiffness and creaking under the kneecaps - classic symptoms of chrondomalacia.

I have seen many specialists and therapists as well as many specialist bike fitters and have had very little success. I have tried rest, had x-rays and soft tissue scans among other things. Understandably I am rather frustrated at this stage and considering throwing my bike in a dam and taking up golfing. Here is a critical view on the classic treatment procedures for this injury. I hope this is not too negative since I would be eternally thankful for some helpful advice.

Some of the problems I have had with bike fit and treatment put in relation to the some of the answers you have in your posting:

1. Cleat position. My cleats are positioned so that the ball of my foot is over the centre of the pedal spindle. The cleat angle is such that my ankle bone just misses the cranks. I find this gives more or less equal float both ways.

2. Saddle height is a very difficult one. There are many formulas and bike position software packages out there. I have found huge discrepancies with these. One of the mechanisms is the straight-leg heel should just about touch top of pedal when it is at bottom with cranks in line with seat-tube. This differs with up to 3 centimetres from settings I got from more than one bike shop with computer software set-up programs. This mechanism also does not take into account the size of your feet. Dario suggests 25 to 35 degree angle in your knee at the bottom of the pedal stroke. The question is how do you measure this? Is it the angle of the bones in the legs or is it the angle of the soft tissue at the back of the leg or at the front? Further question is what your foot position should be? Heel dropped, raised or level?

3. Saddle forward/backward. The rule of thumb is that the front of the knee needs to be more or less over the pedal spindle. Reality is that this is a function of femur length. By the time I have my knee in this position, I am sitting just about on top of the bottom bracket. I seem to have very short femurs!

4. Stretching. How far and how much? Some therapists have told me I should stretch more and others have told me I should not stretch at all unless it is to tight - the tightness measured with some basic tests.

5. Pedalling lighter gears at higher cadence. I pedal at 90-100 RPM. I don't believe it makes sense to pedal faster than this. As to lighter gears. If you pedal lighter gears you go slower so this is not practical if you want to ride with the rest of the people or consider racing.

6. R.I.C.E seems to work to some degree to treat the symptoms, but does not help beyond that.

7. Floating cleats vs. non-floating. I have tried both. Non-floating seem to make things worse. I could not work out a cleat position that did not seem uncomfortable. I am now back to floating and am using the new Shimano SPDs.

8. Dave, your description of muscle imbalances and rotational forces match my experiences. I have all the problems and symptoms you describe. The diagnosis seems to be the easy part. Skilled therapists seem to be hard to find. Believe me I have tried several in the UK and in the US. No luck so far. Treatment has ranged from straight leg raises to strengthen my vascus medialus to trying to change my pedaling technique.

Can you recommend any specific treatment or exercises I can do?

Rikus Grobler

Dario Fredrick replies:

It sounds like you are facing a challenging situation with your knees, but hopefully you don't need to toss out your bike just yet. I have seen athletes experience improvements with similar knee problems with only small changes in position. My suggestions in the response I gave on March 22 were very general because it is difficult to do a quality bike fit without seeing the cyclist in person. Nonetheless, I am pleased to clarify some of the position recommendations you address.

* Cleat position: Some people find that moving their cleats slightly behind the ball of the foot (2 - 5mm) is helpful in developing a more circular application of force around the pedal stroke (torque), thus improving mechanical efficiency. Ideally you would reduce peak torque without compromising power.

* Saddle height: My recommendation for determining saddle height is to measure the angle of the knee using a goniometer with the foot at the absolute bottom of the pedal stroke, keeping the heel at the height at which you would normally pedal. Heel position at the bottom of the pedal stroke varies significantly among cyclists, and there does not appear to be an advantage of one position over another (raised or dropped). However, if you have the opportunity to watch Gilberto Simoni pedal, you can see how well he appears to apply force around the entire pedal stroke, even when out of the saddle. There is much movement in his ankles, constantly varying his heel position. As I mentioned before, this is a very general range, but you should aim for 25-35 degrees (measured from the femur), with the higher end of the range (more bend in the knee) if hamstring flexibility is a limiter. If hip flexion is a limiter, you might consider switching to slightly shorter cranks (less 2.5mm).

* Saddle set back: The knee over the pedal spindle is a debated standard and your legs are a good example why. Ideally, your knee should not bee too far in front of or behind the pedal axle (3cm) and knee over spindle (± 5cm).

* Stretching: Since I teach Iyengar Yoga, my take on stretching is that improvements in flexibility should not compromise joint alignment, but rather help improve joint alignment and their natural range of possible movements. This includes what you do with your spine while you stretch your hips or legs for example. You can work up to daily yoga-based stretching, but without straining. In other words, don't always go for maximum, but hold light stretches for longer periods (30 seconds to one minute). I discovered 11 years ago that with yoga I was able to rehabilitate a knee injury myself and then return to racing my bike within a few months of the injury. Misalignment was the cause of the injury, and even though it is always improving, I still work to align my knees and hips today to balance my cycling. Perhaps Iyengar Yoga could work for you too.

* Pedaling lighter gears. You mention that you ride 90-100 rpm. I assume you referring to flat terrain. You can ride as high as 110rpm on the flats, and on climbs 85-90rpm still maintaining efficiency. If you can ride at the same desired speed (a given power output) but at a higher cadence, you have reduced muscular force (torque) for that effort.

* Mechanical efficiency: You might also consider trying Powercranks (www.powercranks.com). These are independently functioning crank arms, requiring you to develop muscular force and coordination with each leg independently through the pedal stroke. Powercranks expose the weak areas of your pedal stroke and help train them over time.

Without seeing you in person, it is difficult to know what your pedaling mechanics and position really look like but I hope the information here helps. Best of luck.

Caloric intake while riding & recovery

I am a 5ft 10in, 147lb, 31 year old female racer, recently upgraded to Cat. 2, and want to ask about caloric intake while riding and recovery. I'd like to drop 7-10 pounds to improve my climbing. I typically do a 3.5 - 4 hour hard ride on Saturdays (either a road race or fast group ride), which obviously burns many calories. I can do these rides on approximately 200 calories (typically a sports drink) without feeling any hunger or fatigue, so I feel that this is a good way to 'save' calories so that I can eat 'real' food later in the day and still (hopefully) be in a caloric deficit for the day, which would contribute to my weight loss goal. My husband, a Cat. 2 Masters racer with a BS in Nutrition, says this is a bad idea and will compromise my recovery. He recommends consuming two-thirds of the calories you burn while riding, which would be approximately 1000 for this type of ride, which sounds like a lot!

What is your view on the impact of caloric intake while training and its impact on recovery? Any other thoughts on weight loss would be appreciated also. I've already cut back on the 'extra' calories such as saturated fats, alcohol, and sweets, but am hungry all the time, despite eating a healthy diet of lean protein, good fats, and whole grains.

Jenni Tafoya
California

Pam Hinton replies:

Before I side with you or you husband on the correct number of calories to eat during a ride, let's take a step back. While it is true that power to weight ratio is a primary determinant of climbing ability, losing weight will have a beneficial effect only if power is not decreased. In practical terms, this means that you must lose excess body fat, and not muscle mass, for weight loss to help your climbing. At 5'10" and 147 pounds, your body mass index is 21 kg/m2, which puts you at the low end of normal weight for height. Losing 10 pounds, would put your BMI at 19 kg/m2 which would classify you as underweight and put you at risk for losing power. Even the best climbers in the world are not extremely light for their height: Armstrong (BMI=23 kg/m2), Heras (20 kg/m2) or Horner (21 kg/m2).

You're correct, to lose weight you have to create an energy deficit. In fact, it takes a negative balance of about 3500 kcal to lose one pound of body fat. It sounds like you have chosen your approach, as opposed to your husband's, for two reasons. First, you will create a larger energy deficit by consuming 200 kcal rather than 1000 kcal during the ride. Second, you prefer to get energy from food rather than sports drinks and gels. You are right, that you will have a larger caloric deficit at the end of the ride if you restrict your intake, but that may not hold over the course of the day, which is what really matters. You may actually end up consuming more energy in total, if you restrict during the ride, arrive at home starving, and proceed to eat everything in sight as soon as you walk in the door. I appreciate your preference for "real foods" over sports drinks and energy bars. There is no reason that you cannot get some of your energy from foods such as dried fruit, crackers, bagels, and pretzels, during the ride.

To maintain blood glucose and prevent bonking, a person of your size needs to consume 30 g of carbohydrate per hour during long rides. Since carbs have 4 kcal per g, this is about 120 kcal per hour. What will certainly compromise recovery is restricting your energy intake after you ride. In order to replenish your muscle glycogen, you need to take in 1.5 g carbohydrate per kg of body weight within 30 minutes after your ride and again every 2 hours for 4-6 hours. So at your current weight of 66 kg, you need about 100 g or 400 kcal of carbohydrate. It is a good idea to consume protein post-exercise as well. The amino acids in the protein will be taken up into the muscle and used for tissue repair.

I recommend that you do the following experiment: increase your carbohydrate intake to about 400-500 kcal for a 3.5-4 hour ride and monitor your energy level during the ride and your appetite afterwards. You may find that you actually feel better while training and aren't ravenous when you get home.

Vegetarian cycling

I take a small exception to the inaccurate references to the nutritional values of tofu in Pam Hinton's response to the vegetarian reader asking how to gain muscle mass in Fitness Q&A on 17 May, 2004. As a nutritional scientist, I would have thought that Pamela Hinton would know more about tofu. She describes it as a high-fat food in the same class as cheese, as well as containing incomplete protein. In point of fact, tofu is 2 - 5% fat (most of it unsaturated) and is one of the few complete protein foods (i.e. containing all essential amino acids) in the vegetable world - therefore a low fat source of excellent protein, and racing cyclists should therefore eat it by the bucket-load.

As a strict ovo-lactic vegetarian of some 17 years standing, as well as a former amateur road-racer, I well understand the problems cyclists face in simply getting the calories in to keep up with the demands of rigorous training and racing, and concede that the job is much harder for vegetarians. As a road racer in my mid-30's, I trained and raced up to 400 km/week on a completely vegetarian diet and, largely as a result of the sheer difficulty of getting calories in that Pam refers to, I saw my body weight drift over a three year period from 74 kg to 70 kg (I am 179 cm tall). This is a BMI change from to 23 to 21.8. As I was never going to be any kind of a sprinter, I saw the benefits of this in the hills, where I climbed competitively with cyclists in much higher racing grades. I am not arguing with Pam's other analysis of the requirements for vegetarian athletes, and accept these as being correct (I also think my BMI of 21.8 was a bit low, as well). I just want to point out that you won't get fat eating tofu, and that it really is a great source of complete protein.

Anthony Cook
Brunswick, Australia

Pam Hinton replies:

Thanks for your feedback on my response. Although I always have a colleague proofread my responses for clarity, I guess my answer was misleading. I by no means was saying that tofu is fattening. I was providing an underweight athlete with suggestions on ways to increase his energy intake by choosing the full-fat varieties of foods that he normally eats. As you know, there are reduced-fat tofu products available and I was merely recommending that he not select those. For example, a four ounce serving of firm tofu provides about 120 kcal, 13 g protein, and 6 g of fat. In comparison, 4 ounces of silken tofu has about 70 kcal, 10 g of protein, and only 2 g of fat.

I have followed a vegetarian diet for 12 years and eat many soy-based foods because, as you note, soy provides the essential amino acids. In addition, soy protein naturally contains compounds that reduce heart disease risk and may have a beneficial effect on bone mass.

Just to set the record straight, tofu will not make anyone fat. Variety, balance, and moderation are the keys to a healthful diet.

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