Monday, November 25, 2013

Eating Right: Don't call it Diet (Absolute Beginners)

Among the excellent reasons to start cycling are health and weight loss. Because cyclists require targeted fuel before, during, and after rides, nutrition is integral to successful cycling. Without proper nutrition, cyclist can feel exhausted during or after rides. I've written on eating in preparation for long rides before, but today I want to discuss the greater goal of how to use your quotidian diet to support your goal of riding the AIDS/LifeCycle (or similar rides).

If you have a nutrition-based illness or need some serious weight loss, it is important to start out with a check up from your physician. Only he or she can tell you whether a simple diet-and-exercise regime will help. But for most people, health and weight loss involve getting enough nutrients from the right number of calories. The right number of calories is some percentage less than the number of calories burned during the day. When you have a calorie deficit in this way, you are going to lose weight.

The topic of weight loss is huge and the subject of scientific study and pseudoscientific charlatanism. As Forbes magazine points out, weight loss can be done in a reliable and scientific way, avoiding expensive and possibly dangerous fads and fantasies. For instance:
Image credit.

  1. Diet trumps exercise in weight loss.
  2. Exercise supports this weight loss.
  3. Exercise is going to be your constant companion in life.
  4. There is no magical combination of foods which will achieve weight loss.
  5. For purposes of weight loss, a calorie is a calorie.
  6. Its all about the brain.
And its no. 6 on this list why we must replace the word Diet. Colloquially, "diet" implies a short-term solution to a temporary problem. Whereas, a more-successful strategy is implementing a permanent, achievable, and stable weight loss goal. But how do you set such a goal? The easiest way is to simply start making informed choices in your day-to-day eating habits.

I started my exercise regime with the excellent and free advice given by Scooby on his website Scooby's Workshop. He advocates a number of techniques to loose fat and retain muscle from the easy (exercising and making informed dietary choices) to the difficult (measuring your body fat and weighing your potions for each meal. (Review his "Losing Weight and Building 6-Pack Abs" page for details.) But all he advocates is:
  1. Exercise a bit more;
  2. Eat a bit less;
  3. Drink lots of water;
  4. Sleep.
As a cyclist, you're presumably working on (1), and learning the importance of water for (3). Sleep is a topic on which I've blogged before, but if you're not getting 7 to 9 hours a night, you may want to figure out why or consult your doctor to achieve (4). (Read his page, too, for advice about each point.) On eating less, Scooby advises:

The second part of losing fat is eating less, and remember this does not mean hunger and deprivation! Most people fail to achieve their weight loss goals not because they eat too much but because they don’t eat enough! The starve themselves then end up binging! If you are hungry then you are doing something very wrong. If you have cravings for your favorite food, then you are human – I address how to handle cravings at the end of this section. If you dont understand my nutrition section then consider buying the book Bodybuilding Revealed which has the best coverage of bodybuilding nutrition I have seen. 
The #1 easiest way to lose fat is to eat your calories rather then drinking them, this simple tip can help you lose 5lbs fat a month or more without any additional changes to your nutrition. There are many nutritional methods of weight loss and all of them will work, at least in the short term. Where they differ is in how healthy they are and if the results are long term and lasting or not

Apart from his advise, I have the following comments to help you make wise choices:
  1. Portion control. Prepare your meal to include everything you want to eat. Then eat it and no more.
  2. Plan on eating 5 or 6 meals per day. Its easier to choose a wise portion at one meal when you know you will be eating again in a couple hours
  3. Avoid:
    1. Sugary drinks. This includes fruit juices where most of the calories are from sugar. Eat an orange, don't drink orange juice.
    2. Fats. Not because fat is magically bad, but because fat has a LOT of calories compared to other sources. (Do this by choosing lean meat, avoid cheese, avoid fried foods, use small amounts of spray-on oil instead of pouring out the olive oil.)
    3. Empty carbohydrates. While there's nothing wrong with white bread, choose it less often than whole grains to maximize the nutritional impact of your meal.
    4. Alcohol. Alcohol is calorie dense with no nutritional value.
  4. Choose:
    1. Whole fresh fruit, vegetables with no sauce, and whole grains. These will help you feel full by providing bulk, while providing lots of nutrition for the number of calories consumed.
    2. Lean meat. Egg whites, fat-free chicken breasts, canned "white" tuna, tilapia fillets, and similar foods give you a lot of protein for a minimum of calories.
    3. Fat-free dairy. If you can eat dairy, there are lots of amazing choices which you can use to make your meals more enticing, but which add protein and nutrients instead of fat. (Fat-free greek yogurt makes an excellent creamy sauce for various foods both sweet and savory.)
    4. Good fats. Since fat is so calorie rich, you want to choose fats which go along with real nutrition. Salmon and other fatty fishes, for instance, are good choices.
  5. Cheat, but know what you're doing. If its your birthday, you will want to eat that cake. Do it, but try to keep it to one slice. Eat pizza, but rarely. Eat french fries at lunch on your ride, but pair them with a chicken breast and not a bacon double cheese burger. Try to save your cheats for special occasions (like Thanksgiving!), so you can indulge and feel good about it.
  6. Have healthy treats all around the house and at work. If you have a package of fat-free brown rice crackers, an apple, or some oatmeal at your desk, you're much less likely to scarf the last piece of cake in the lunchroom.
Finally, make small changes at first. Switch from full-fat milk to 1% or skim milk. Start taking lunch with you to work. Eat kale in your salads. Make your tuna salad with greek yogurt, not mayo. Integrate these choices into your routine so they don't feel painful. When you're ready, integrate a new change toward a more healthy diet.

I'll write a second post on advanced healthy eating, but you can get lots of great advice off Scooby's Workshop in the meanwhile.

When your friends ask what diet you're on, you can say: "Oh, I'm not on a diet. I'm making informed choices about nutrition which will last my lifetime."

All that and ride! Don't forget to ride your bike!

Your Bear

Over the next couple months, I'm going to write a few articles with the lead-in title "Absolute Beginners," explaining some of the basic principles of cycling. Most of the information is stuff I've learned from other cyclists, bike shop mechanics, classes I've taken, and Google searches. Please help me out and comment with corrections, additions, or supplements which will help my readers learn about how to operate their bikes!

Sunday, November 17, 2013

Kindness of Friends and Strangers

Many a ride is interrupted by seemingly intractable mechanical problems. When those mechanical problems occur near your house or a bike shop, they can be easy to fix. When you're in the middle of nowhere or you're in unfamiliar territory, a mechanical problem can seem intractable and make you utterly demoralized. But its also at these times you can learn about the cycling community.

My chain wedged between
the cassette and hub
On Saturday, 15 minutes into an AIDS/LifeCycle training ride, my chain popped off the top ring of the cassette and wedged itself into the gap between the cassette and the hub. Fortunately, this happened just as I was stopping. I was one of only two Training Ride Leaders on the ride, and so the ride couldn't go on without me. I was sweep (the TRL at the end who makes sure all the others complete the ride), so everyone was ahead of me. When I looked down, I saw immediately what had happened, but did not absorb the enormity of it.

I've not ever had a chain slip on this bike, so I wasn't sure if the symptoms were typical. the chain was wedged in, so I couldn't spin the rear tire. I had to carry my bike to a safe place. A few seconds of tugging made me realize that I wasn't going to be able to pull it out without loosening the cassette (a task accomplished with a chain whip — not the sort of equipment you usually carry on a ride). But the severe nature of the problem was also sinking in: had this happened when I was moving faster, I might have crashed.

I tried calling the other riders, but since they were riding, they didn't answer. So I started to search maps for local bike shops. Since the area was new to me, the bike shops seemed insurmountably far away. But just as I began to call a cab to get me there, CJ pulled up, having turned around from the ride. He looked at the problem and agreed it needed a bike shop. Then the other ride leader, Craig and a rider, Celeste — both local to the area — came to see what I needed.

William helping CJ with an
emergency tire repair
Celeste offered to get her car and take me to the bike shop. I didn't refuse! So, about 30 minutes later, we were on our way to the bike shop.

She took me to Elk Grove Cyclery which was about 2.5 miles from where I broke down. After only a few minutes of tinkering, the mechanic diagnosed both how to remove the chain and why the chain had slipped in the first place.

He told me that the cassette had been wrongly installed — there was one too many spacers between the cassette and the hub. Also, because the cassette and wheel were not the originals for this bike, the rear derailleur was slightly out of adjustment. Now the spacer is like a couple millimeters thick. And he showed me how off the derailleur was — also a couple millimeters. The total couldn't have been more than a few millimeters. But that is enough to push the chain off the top side of the cassette!

At this explanation, I sheepishly admitted that I had installed the wheel and the cassette. What was astonishing was that I'd been riding with the poorly-installed cassette for nearly eight months without incident. The mechanic showed me how to fix the derailleur and how to tell if you have too many spacers. Then, he charged me only $15 for the repair and derailleur adjustment! Sadly, I didn't have any cash for a tip. But if you go to Elk Grove, stop in at Elk Grove Cyclery!

And this is one of my favorite things about cycling. You're never alone on the road. Your mates care, bicycle mechanics usually love their job and they care, too. But when you get a flat and you're spare is also flat, you'll find that passing cyclist will be thrilled to help if you ask.

The other moral of the story is that I need to get my work check carefully by a mechanic in the future!

Your Bear

Tuesday, November 5, 2013

Absolute Beginners: Relearning Steering

When we first learned to ride bikes as children, the two most trying ideas were remaining upright and steering. Balance came quickly, and with it a gut instinct about how to steer. Once dad took the training wheels off and we were darting up to the neighbor's house (without a helmet, gloves, or a clear sense of which side of the street was correct), who knew that any more needed to be learnt?

As adults taking up the sport, that question may return: I know how to ride a bike, why should I think about steering? The answer is that making a few conscious changes in the way you handle your bike will make your rides safer, faster, and more enjoyable.

I wrote an extensive piece on cornering; The steps are outlined in the post, but I repeat them in brief here for convenience:
Look into the turn. Choose a line for the widest-possible but safest turn. Gauge your speed and brake before entering the turn. Lower your outside foot and press down, driving your foot toward the ground. As needed, apply gentle pressure forward to the inside handlebar. If you're riding too fast, lean into the turn to keep your line.
In this post, I want to emphasize: focus on controlling your bike with your foot by driving it down toward the ground.

Figure 1: Eyes up and looking at the exit to the turn. Original Image Credit.
Generally, counter-steering is accomplished by getting your bike to lean in the direction of travel. Motorcyclists accomplish this by gentle pressure on the inside handlebar and by actively leaning into the turn. While you can do the same thing on a bicycle, that technique can make cyclists feel wobbly and cause unnecessarily and too-early braking.

Instead, as I learned at the Savvy Bike 201 Clinic, focusing on driving your foot down rather than pressing on the handlebar keeps your center of gravity over the bike making you feel much more stable and in control of the turn.

This is not an easy technique to master, even once you've figured out how to accomplish it. That's why its important to think about the steps and practice them consciously on each ride: train yourself out of habit, and into proper form. Here's a nice video demonstration of the technique.

There's so much more to discuss. How to choose your line? Why not brake in the turn? When to lean your body? I'll address each of these in future posts.

As always, please leave your notes, corrections, or suggestions in the comments!

Your Bear

Over the next couple months, I'm going to write a few articles with the lead-in title "Absolute Beginners," explaining some of the basic principles of cycling. Most of the information is stuff I've learned from other cyclists, bike shop mechanics, classes I've taken, and Google searches. Please help me out and comment with corrections, additions, or supplements which will help my readers learn about how to operate their bikes!