We’ve all been beaten at one point or another. Be it through harder circumstances than we could bare, tougher competition, or even just bad luck. It happens. Sometimes we’re beaten, and other times we beat ourselves.
But watching my fellow cyclists, I’ve noticed a lot of us – myself most definitely included – are getting caught up in glorifying defeat.
Forget the bike. Forget the gear, the road, the nutrition. Forget everything but you. Stand there and take a good, hard look. There are some truths you’re going to have to face. You are you – no one else. You are only as strong as you are. You’re only as fast, as well trained as you. This is important, because everything – everything starts there. With you.
There are two sides to this ancient Greek aphorism (an inscription from the Temple of Apollo at Delphi). In one sense, it’s a warning: to know your limits, be humble, and avoid boasting. In the case for the Temple of Apollo, it could be taken as a reminder to walk humbly in the presence of gods. On the other side, it means that the opinions of others account for nothing – that you must know who you are, no matter what others say or do.
How you’ve managed to stick around for this much reading is beyond me, but kudos! In the last part of this series, we went over the common mistakes with caloric burn rates and caloric replenishment, as well as the upper-limits of replenishment. In this final segment of this series we’ll deal with the caloric deficits inherent to cycling, and some post-ride scarfing that – when done right – can help make up for it.
So… notice a problem here with the numbers we’ve seen over the last few posts? Let me give an example:
Average glycogen reserves: ~2,100 Calories
Yesterday I did a ride in which I burned 734 Cal/hr
I ingested about 150 Cal/hr (really, I should do MUCH better than this)
Calories available after processing: 135 Cal/hr
Hourly caloric deficit: 599 Cal/hr
Total ride time: 2 hours
Total caloric deficit: 1,198
Now, for a 2 hour ride, that’s okay. I have more than enough glycogen stores that I shouldn’t bonk (assuming I start replenishing right after the ride), and in fact I didn’t bonk, even with my low ingestion rate. But if I were to extend this to a four hour event, that caloric deficit is would’ve been huge – 2,396 Calories. Even with having eaten 600 Calories over those four hours, my tank is definitely on empty, and I probably started feeling that approaching wall around the 3:30 mark if not sooner. Had I eaten twice as many Calories, I would’ve been at a deficit of 1,856, which my glycogen stores should be able to just about cover, meaning I’d have been getting worn down but most likely wouldn’t have bonked.
Welcome back! In Part 1 we covered what the various macronutrients used by the body are, and how they are used. Today, we’re going to go over the loss of and replenishment of calories: the rate they’re burned, how many calories we need, and how fast we can replace them.
The Numbers Don’t Lie To Us, But We Do
Before we figure out how much we need to put in the tank, we need to figure out how much we’re removing. Many cyclists use activity trackers that track power and heart rate to give us a pretty good idea of the calories expended on a ride. When we get home, we see those burned calories and think, “Yes! I can eat a whole extra day’s worth of food!” Slow down. Yes, you burned those calories, but one thing a lot of cyclists forget is that some of those calories would’ve been burned even if you were just sitting around watching the Tour de France.
We work out. We eat. We work out. We eat some more. What is it that we’re eating? How do the things we eat ultimately drive our legs? And how many calories are we really burning? I’m not going to give you specific eating guidelines since everyone has their own dietary needs, and needs to adjust them to their activity and personal requirements. But it’s good to understand what food really is to the body, how it’s used, and how fast it’s used.
Notes on Notation
Before I delve too deeply, I want to clarify something regarding calories. There are two notations for calories:
c (lower-case “c”): this is the scientific notation for a “calorie”, and is equivalent to 4.184 Joules of energy – the energy needed to increase the temperature of one gram of water by one degree Celsius at a pressure of one atmosphere.
C (upper-case “C”): known a a food, nutritional, or dietary calorie, this is equivalent to 1,000 calories (lower-case “c”), and is also called a kilocalorie. A calorie is very small amount of energy, so when working with food, it’s easier to use Calories (1,000 calories) instead.
For the purpose of this article, all references to calories will mean food calories (upper-case “C”).
You’ve all heard it before: “It’s always darkest before the dawn.” Usually, that idiom just means “don’t worry, it’ll get better.” There are plenty of these little perk-you-up phrases, like “Every dark cloud has a silver lining,” and “There’s a light at the end of the tunnel.” One I’ve heard in Spanish is “No hay mal que por bien no venga,” which literally translated means there is no bad from which good does not come.
In cycling, there are plenty of dark times. Everyone’s been there: you’re out on a century and you’re feeling awesome; 70, 75, 80 miles in. Then you do a particularly strenuous climb, and suddenly that finish line seems eons away. Maybe you’re in a race and you’re riding with the leaders, but suddenly it seems like it’s taking everything you’ve got just to hold.
And we’re always told to focus on the dawn, on the silver lining, on the good that’ll come. That’s a good notion, and a positive outlook. But I think we’re giving those dark moments a raw deal.
Stretching. Yes, I know half of you just went “Ugh!” and felt your ham strings involuntarily tighten. But like anything else that’s hard – sprinting, hill climbing, distance riding, changing a flat – you have to do it if you want to get better at it. Today, I’d like to go over why stretching is important, the various types of stretching, the pros/cons of each, and when they should be done. NOTE: I won’t get into specific stretches, because you can find plenty of examples online, and it would take forever to go over them all.
Our body is built around water. We can go a long time without food (though we’ll cover that problem next time), but we cannot survive without water. So, let’s go over hydration.
Water to Sweat
Sweat is pretty impressive. A single, bead of sweat can cool nearly 1 liter of blood by about 1° F. The thing that makes sweat work so well is that it’s made of water. It takes advantage of the large heat of evaporation of water; to keep it non-technical, that means a lot of heat is released into the air as water evaporates from a surface (taking the heat from that surface with it into the surrounding air).
Now here’s where it becomes a problem: about 60% of our body is comprised of water. About 55% of our blood is fluid, with 95% of that fluid being water. That means over half of our blood is made from water. When you sweat, water is removed from the body. It’s gotta come from somewhere, and that somewhere is mostly your blood. The more you sweat, the lower your blood volume. As your blood volume decreases, it becomes more difficult for the body to shed heat.
We ride. The year was full of ups and downs, first times, last times, good times and bad. And we ride.
We’ve seen friends injured, and we’ve seen friends fall. We’ve seen friends stand up again, and seen friends help each other back to their feet. And we ride.
We’ve lost friends whose like we’ll never see again. And we’ve gained friends that will enrich our lives for years to come in ways we cannot imagine.
And we ride.
If there’s one thing I want to take from last year, it is this: I may be strong, but we are stronger. I may be fast, but we are faster. Each of us has the strength and courage to face this ride that is life on our own, but all of us make it a ride worth taking.
Now that you’ve got that little earworm stuck for the next 10 hours, let’s get to it.
What are base miles, why do we need ’em, and how do we go about building them?
‘Bout That Base
Cycling has turned into a 365-day sport. If you can put two wheels on the surface, we’ll ride on it. If you get two people together on that same surface, we’ll race on it. This is great, because it’s increased accessibility to cycling year-around, and throughout so many different terrains/regions. But with so much up-time, it’s easy to lose the benefits of down-time.
Base miles aren’t designed to stress your muscles to the breaking point. Instead, they’re used to help your body recover from the previous year’s events, as well as aid your cardiovascular system by building endurance without adding stress to an already-beleaguered system.