Noob Mistake: Not Replenishing Protein

There’s a plethora of material out there, both online and in print, about nutrition and exercise. For the most part, I have ignored it. That’s because I’m a procrastinator. I just don’t get around to reading up on stuff I know I should be up on.

Take tiredness after long rides. It’s a particular problem for me, one I’ve written about before. I just could never figure out why, after a couple of hours in the saddle, I would crash on my bed for a long nap. Those naps were more trouble than they were worth, because they threw off my sleep schedule for the next 24 hours, and I had a lot of trouble readjusting my internal clock.

My routine after a long ride is to settle in at a coffee shop or restaurant or even the living room at home, and have a large drink of something. Usually, it’s iced tea. That takes care of the liquids I lose on a ride through sweating, but doesn’t do much to refuel my body.

I remember riding once with an acquaintance — an experienced cyclist — who couldn’t wait to get some food after we’d finished the ride. “I have to have some protein within a half hour of the ride,” he said. I chalked it up to his personal idiosyncrasy.

Turns out, he was right on the money.

When you take a long bike ride, you’re using up branched chain amino acids. When these essential nutrients are depleted, that leads to the doubling of tryptophan, another amino acid. Once it’s in the brain, tryptophan converts to serotonin, which makes us drowsy.

That drowsiness can set in during the ride itself, as fatigue. If you overtrain, you’ve probably experienced it. But if you maintain adequate levels of branched chain amino acids, you should be able to ward off fatigue. So as my friend does, try to get some quality protein into your system immediately after a ride.

Where do you find quality proteins? Meat, dairy products, and legumes. That might be why cyclists are adopting chocolate milk as a recovery drink.

Today, after two and a half hours riding over rolling hills, I whipped up a ham sandwich right after getting out of the shower. Sure enough, although I felt my eyes get a little heavy while sitting in my chair watching football, I soon snapped out of it. Any other day, minus the sandwich, I would have been crashed on my bed.

It’s a simple solution, but one I’ve bypassed for far too long. I guess I’m still a noob.

Ever Had Trouble Eating on a Ride?

I was looking forward to the club ride this morning. We were going to head out on Fitzhugh Road, which goes through rolling Texas Hill Country landscape southwest of Austin. The club has several different lengths for this out-and-back route, so the rider can tailor it to his or her own abilities.

Today, I planned to go beyond the usual B ride turnaround point, and go another seven miles to the A turnaround. That would give me a 46-mile round trip instead of 30. I was amused to see that a few of our group decided to start at 7:30, instead of our usual 8:15 a.m. start time, to beat the heat and add some additional distance for a 60-mile round trip.

I have a love-hate relationship with Fitzhugh. It’s a fairly scenic ride, and the rolling hills can be a challenge. But I’m often well behind the group even before we get to Fitzhugh, about nine miles west of our starting point. It’s common for me to ride Fitzhugh all by myself, with the  main group well ahead and out of sight.

Some riders stopped at a convenience store at the beginning of Fitzhugh, to top off their water bottles. While the day promised to be another hot one, it wasn’t terrible yet, and a light breeze cooled my sweaty skin. I passed up the store, and pedaled on alone.

But a few miles down the road, I could hear some chatter behind me. The half dozen riders who had stopped caught up to me and passed me. One of the problems I have when riding alone is a tendency to ride easy. I saw that I could push myself a little more, and stayed with the group for several miles.

At the turnaround, I arrived by myself again, but found the rest of the crowd still there, grabbing what little shade could be found. I drank deeply from my bottle, and fished some fig bars out of my back pocket. Fig bars are a common snack at breaks, and I like them better than the energy bars. I had three small bars with me, and figured I had time to eat them all to recharge myself for the ride back.

But as I chewed the first bar, I realized that I wasn’t going to eat all three. Heck, I was having trouble getting one down. I chewed and chewed. I didn’t want to munch on solid food. I would have preferred some kind of energy drink, but all I had with me today was plain old water.

Since I was the last one to the turnaround, I got the shortest rest period before we started back. I was still chewing the one fig bar as people put their helmets back on and took one last swig from their bottles. By now, the fig bar was a gooey blob in my mouth, and I couldn’t seem to get it to go down the pipe. Finally I did, and set out on the return leg several hundred yards behind the others.

At the convenience store at the head of Fitzhugh, I caught up to everyone again — just as they were leaving. I refilled my bottles and sat down in the shade to have another fig bar. Same thing. It was like chewing on taffy. I had trouble getting it to go down. I’m sure it held me up and kept me from leaving soon after the rest of the riders, but I had to choke the food down and wash it down before I felt ready to leave.

The day was hot, but not remarkably so in this hot summer. I was bushed from pushing myself up the rollers, and my right thigh was showing signs of potential cramping. So the conditions were testing me, but they weren’t anything I haven’t experienced before — just as recently as the day before.

Somehow, the combination of the heat, the sweat, and the fatigue all combine to prevent me from enjoying food during rides. As I write this, the third fig bar is sitting on the kitchen counter, still in its baggie. I’ll probably snack on it later tonight. Obviously, I’ll have to come up with something else to eat on long, hot rides. I’ve used energy gels in the past, and for the most part, don’t care for them. The candy-like gel blocks work okay, and Gatorade has just introduced their own version that is easier to chew than others. I might have to stock up on those.

It’s a shame, though, because I much prefer “real” food when riding to those scientifically mixed concoctions. But I’m open to suggestions. What kinds of foods do you like to eat during a longer summer ride, and have you ever experienced the same difficulty swallowing food as I do?

Sushi Rice Cakes

Looking for a different taste treat when you’re on a ride? Guest poster Don Blount might have just the ticket.

Nutrition is one of the components of cycling that I have been looking at recently. I do not like to eat big meals, so before or during rides on most days I will eat a Trader’s Joe cereal bar with a tablespoon of peanut butter, adding a piece of fruit on days when I will be riding harder. Because of this, I always carry food with me, such as a Clif Bar and some Clif Shot Bloks. I have also carried fig newtons and peanut butter and jelly sandwiches but didn’t like how they often ended up squished in my jersey pocket. And at most of the stops on group rides the food offerings are pastries, other sweets or processed foods.

So I started digging for other options and came across recipes from Allen Lim, the exercise physiologist who has worked with Lance Armstrong and a number of cycling teams.

One recipe I had test-tasted by several people who are into fitness, including members of my biking club, was for Lim’s sushi rice cakes.

Lim has said he made them as a fresh and savory alternative to the sweet, pre-packaged foods his cyclists were eating.

These rice cakes are far from the ones available in grocery stores. They are soft, moist, salty and/or sweet depending on how they are seasoned and have a shelf life in the refrigerator of about a week.

They are also surprisingly easy to make. (Click pictures to enlarge.)

Cook the sushi rice. This sticky rice serves as a binder for the rice cake.

While that is cooking, cut up and cook bacon (I used turkey bacon) and also the eggs (I used egg whites).

Mix in a bowl with the other ingredients – soy sauce, grated parmesan cheese, brown sugar.

Then place in a pan, shape, cut and wrap in foil.

Lim also has a way to wrap these so that they are easily opened even while riding.

Most don’t get it but once it is explained it is surprisingly simple and efficient to hold and eat the rice cake. The recipe I used made eight, which I stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.

Here is the nutrition breakdown of one rice cake: Calories 225, Fat 8g, Sodium 321mg, Carbs 30g, Fiber 1g, Protein 9g.

I prefer mine salty to balance all of the sweet foods available and to help avoid cramping.

You can get the full recipe here and view a video of Lim making the cakes here.

And while we’re talking about Allen Lim, remember that he is making his SkratchLabs drink mix available to Bike Noob readers at a 15% discount. Just go to the website, skratchlabs.com, and use the code Bike Noob when ordering.

Another Bonk — From An Inadequate Breakfast

“See ya,” I called to my wife as I left for the Sunday club ride.

“What did you have for breakfast?” she asked.

“Coupla pieces of toast and jelly, orange juice and coffee,” I replied.

“That’s not enough,” she said. “You need more.”

“It was fine yesterday,” I answered. “Did 30 miles [really 28] with no trouble.”

She looked doubtful, but I headed out.

Now,  I usually do eat a decent breakfast on club ride days. But our stove was on the fritz today, and I couldn’t do my usual eggs. I had been pleased the previous day that toast and coffee fueled me adequately for my ride that included some decent little hills. I figured I’d just repeat that today.

The club ride was deliberately routed south and east, to avoid traffic. The Republic of Texas — or ROT — Rally is in town this weekend. It’s a huge motorcycle event, and we wanted to avoid roads that we knew would get heavy motorcycle use.

We made a tight-knit peloton as we rode through suburban streets to get out to the main ride area. Twenty-one riders showed up today. We didn’t schedule a separate B ride, although about five or six B riders were in the group — we just went as one big club ride. Although the A’s separated from us on the road to Buda, they waited at a parking lot there and we all regrouped.

The ride leader took us through some Buda streets we hadn’t used before, so we got a look at some new stuff (Frankly, not much to see). We rolled down a side street at about a 17 mph pace, and Laura regaled me with a story about some bubbas who once took a swing at her former husband with brass knuckles, when he protested their pickup passing too close to him while he was on his bike. The cops — WHAM! Up ahead in the pack, a rider lost control and took a bad spill. We all stopped, and avoided any more mishaps. The fallen rider was Donald, whose front wheel had apparently nipped the rear wheel of the bike ahead of him.

We milled around making concerned noises as Donald checked himself out. He didn’t look to be too much the worse for wear.

“Are you bloody?” asked Mike, who just happens to be an emergency room doctor.

“Bloody mad,” replied Donald, our resident Brit, in his best received English accent.

Donald had some derailleur issues, and had to nurse his bike back home. We continued on. I noted with some satisfaction that I had done the 15-mile ride to Buda faster than I ever had before. I’m not crazy about riding in a pack, for the very thing that happened to Donald, but I had to admit that the group does pull one along nicely.

Out in the country, passing slapped-up apartment complexes, double-wides, and an occasional nice housing development, we hit some extended rollers. I was in my customary position, at the back of the pack, but feeling good. However, I could see I was not going to acquit myself well on the rollers today.

I crested a hill, only to see dots in the distance. I was falling farther behind the group on every ascent. By the time the route started turning, I had to stop to fish the cue sheet out of my pocket and see which way to turn. My speed was falling fast. I knew of a convenience store up ahead, and made a beeline for it (if you consider riding slow enough to be passed by a guy in everyday clothes on a hybrid to be making a beeline for anything).

At the store, I plopped on a bench, downed an energy gel, and ate part of a Clif Bar. I finished off one bottle of water and started on another. I just happened to look up, and saw a bunch of our B riders pass by. Ah ha! I knew what happened — they had diverged from the written cue sheet and gone to the store in Creedmoor to refill water bottles. I got my stuff together as quickly as possible in hopes of catching up to them.

It wasn’t to be. The caffeine-laced GU gel gave me a boost for a short time, but I got stuck at two stoplights, and they were already around a corner well ahead. I pedaled on alone, slower and slower. Finally, just a mile from the finish, I stopped in the shade of a large tree and sat on the curb. I remembered the bonk feeling — physically, I felt all right, but I was simply unable to turn the pedals. I finished off my Clif Bar and my water, and finally got back up on the bike. I made it to Starbucks, where Donald was telling the group about his fall.

I took stock of my situation. The toast I’d had the day before was spread with peanut butter, which no doubt provided a little extra nourishment for a ride that lasted less than two hours. The toast I had today was spread with strawberry jelly. Good, but not enough to sustain me for a 42-mile ride.

When I reached the house, Pat told me she’d had a great ride — after making herself a breakfast of oatmeal. She got the stove to work, too, jack of all trades that she is. I took a two-hour nap.

I know better — I’ve even visited this topic in the past. I pledge to eat better before rides from here on out. What do you recommend for breakfast?

Ride Prep – Just As Important When Going Short

My friend Aaron West over at the Steep Climbs blog complains that he was ill-prepared for a major training ride the other day. He didn’t hydrate properly, didn’t eat right the night before the ride, and didn’t eat the morning of the ride. So he only managed to cover 100 miles with 9,300 feet of climbing in 6 hours, 39 minutes.

Well, Aaron is in a different league than I am. But I had much the same experience as he did that day. And what happened to me is a reminder that we all must attend to the necessities of prepping ourselves for our rides, no matter how tough or modest they might be.

I had ridden a brisk ride Saturday morning, and even added some bonus miles to my regular Saturday route. I felt great. Legs were strong, plenty of air in my lungs. I looked forward to a Sunday morning ride in the Hill Country with friends.

But at about 1 a.m. Sunday, a flash of lightning and a crash of thunder right over head jolted me out of my sleep. Lord knows we need rain around here. We thought we were recovering from last year’s drought, with decent rain in February and March, but April saw the dryness return. They’re already going to stringent watering restrictions in some areas around here, so we’re happy to get the rain.

Only trouble was, the lightning and thunder kept up their pyrotechnics show all night long, and I had trouble getting back to sleep again. I’m not sure if I ever did, really. Finally, at about 5 a.m., I couldn’t stand staring at the ceiling anymore, so I got up and made some coffee.

It was clear I wouldn’t be riding that morning. I emailed my friends to cancel. They were apparently up early, too, because I soon got a reply that they weren’t going out, either. I read the morning paper, watched a little TV, and finally decided to get something to eat.

Two pieces of toast with jelly took care of breakfast. I had a second cup of coffee and started surfing websites on the iPad. Eventually, the storm passed to the east, and I could think about riding again.

I hit the road at about 11 a.m. The streets were almost dry, the sun was out, and the air was so humid you could wring it out. I thought I’d do a modified version of my Friday night route, which keeps me on neighborhood streets, and can cover anywhere from 19-25 miles.

At about six miles into the ride, I do a couple of hill repeats on a residential street that’s really not much of a challenge. But this time, I knew I was in trouble. I couldn’t maintain the cadence I wanted, and found myself downshifting more than usual on this little hill. The second time around, I couldn’t even maintain a decent cadence one gear lower than the first time. I was huffing and puffing at the top, glad for the break.

I did a lap of the Veloway, which is mostly flat except for one short steep hill. But I decided I’d ridden the Veloway enough that week, and I headed out to add more mileage.

I had plenty of water. The night before, I’d put two 24-ounce water bottles in the freezer. I only brought one on the ride, but that’s fine for a two-hour neighborhood ride, and I could always fill up at the water jugs at the Veloway entrance. I was drinking regularly, even a little more often than my usual three-mile drink intervals.

Water wasn’t the problem. Nourishment was. On Sunday mornings before club rides, I tend to make myself a hearty breakfast. Today, as I said, just toast. I don’t carry energy bars or Shot Bloks or anything like that when I’m riding in the neighborhood, and I could feel the energy drain from my body. By the time I reached the 20-mile mark, I was done in. But you can’t (I can’t, anyway) ride less than 20 miles on my long mileage day of the week. I took a couple of turns that put me farther from home.

But it was no good. I checked the bike computer and calculated that I’d have 24-25 miles under my belt if I turned around and headed back at this point. It was a slog. I was in a bike lane on a decent asphalt road, but struggled to keep up a steady pace. Have you ever felt relief when you pull up to your house after a ride? I did that morning.

What’s the takeaway? Prep for your routine rides much as you would your tougher ones. I should have had the same kind of breakfast I would have had if I’d done the Hill Country ride. Adequate sleep is important, although I did go back to bed and grab a catnap before I got into my bike clothes. I’ve stopped carrying any kind of electrolyte stuff on most rides. The right kind of stuff does help, I’ve found.

I’ve got a little time off over the next two weeks, and I’ll be riding more than usual. You can bet I’ll get ready for each ride with more diligence than I employed last weekend.

Winter Weight Gain

Throughout the summer, my biking weight stayed close to constant. Oh, I gained and lost a few pounds here and there, but it was within a narrow range a little above 200. I was satisfied with that.

That was summer. Now, it’s winter. Even in frying pan hot Texas, we’ve got cold air coming down from the north, and I’ve been bundling up on rides lately. But I’ve also been eating the kind of comfort food that is so well suited to cold weather. And an unsurprising thing has happened since Thanksgiving — I’m once again putting on my winter weight.

This is a pattern that I’ve gotten used to over the years. I slim down in the summer, and gain it all back — and more — in the winter. The saving grace for me is that when I ride, I know I can knock off some poundage. Just yesterday, I came back from a brisk 18-mile ride, hopped on the scale, and found I was down three pounds from the previous day. Now, I know those three pounds were back on by the time I’d finished off supper, but it was nice to see the needle on the scale move in the right direction for a change.

My wife gets into the same rut. She complains every year that she’s getting heavier around the holidays. But unlike me, she actually does something about it. She’s a terrific cook, and about this time every year she starts making meals that are light on calories and long on flavor. I can eat to my heart’s content, and still have a good shot at dropping some of that excess turkey weight.

So, I guess winter brings me the best of all possible worlds. We get to keep riding our bikes, even though we’re bundled up a bit more than usual, I get to keep eating well, and with any luck, I’ll start the riding season in March or so at a weight not appreciably higher than it was when I ended the serious riding season in October. I’m looking forward to the next few months.

Drinking Enough

One of my continuing problems on the bike is drinking enough liquids to keep me fueled during the ride. In early July, I complained about running out of gas out in the country. The problem, I figured, was a lack of high mileage rides. A few days later, a biking friend of mine suggested something else.

“It sounded to me like you weren’t drinking enough,” he said.

My wife nodded in agreement. But then, she’s always after me to do a better job of staying hydrated and fed on longer rides. I thought about what had happened that day, and concluded that my friend was probably right.

I used to have dual water bottle cages attached to my seat. But I got rid of them last year, because I didn’t like the way they scrunched my seat bag. That left me with one bottle cage on my down tube. I usually carry a 16-oz. bottle, and always felt it was enough. But that’s on rides close to home, where I can always get a refill.

On that early July ride, we had no facilities for refills. No one’s house, no convenience stores, not even a spigot on private property we could sneak water from. I was babying my 16 ounces over a 41-mile ride. That won’t do it.

So, I decided to reform. On a solo ride two weeks later, I decided I would use prompts to remind me to take a drink. Instead of setting my trip computer to distance, I kept it set to elapsed time. Every 10 minutes, I tried to take a drink. Those 10 minutes became a ballpark figure I could work around — sometimes I drank after only eight, more often I drank after around 12. I planned on stopping at a convenience store at the 22-mile point in this 38-mile ride. I bought a bottle of Gatorade G2 there, and downed half of it while resting. I added ice to the water bottle and mixed the rest of the Gatorade with the water. A Clif bar went down nicely during the rest stop, too. I finished the ride relatively fresh.

Emboldened by my new system, I was ready to apply it to a longer ride yesterday (Saturday). The ride was going to be 44 miles. It was a route I had never ridden, but there would be support. The ride leader indicated that a convenience store was about 20 miles into the ride, but we would have to go off course a little bit to reach it.

This time, I didn’t go by time to determine when to drink — I went by miles. I determined to drink every three miles. It worked, too, mostly. I never missed by more than a mile. I had gotten out the seat-mounted water bottle cage at put it on the previous day. I half-filled two 16-oz. bottles the night before and put them in the freezer. That morning, I topped them off with water, so my water supply was relatively cold.

My bike with the seat-mounted water bottle cages. (Pic is from the first time I carried them, over a year ago.)

At the convenience store, I bought my usual bottle of Gatorade G2, and I could stash it in the down tube cage, since that wasn’t taken up by water bottles this time. At a rest stop at a picturesque country church, I trashed the empty G2 bottle and topped off my water. I had been munching on a Luna Bar for a while, and that helped, too. Even though the ride turned out to be 48 miles instead of 44, and finished with a series of challenging hills, I felt good at the end.

Then came today. I was leading a B ride with the club. It was a 30-mile round trip on a route featuring rolling hills. Again, two iced water bottles. Again, I tried to drink every three miles. But today was different. Because of the hills, I had trouble finding a good spot to drink. Flying down hill, I wanted to keep both hands on the bars. Going uphill, I needed both hands to help me pull up the slope. At the 15-mile turnaround, I realized I had drunk only twice. I downed the rest of my first water bottle.

At a convenience store two-thirds of the way through the ride, I got some ice and filled the one bottle I’d drunk from. The break helped, and I drank a lot from the other bottle. I was pleased to note that I finished strong.

“Eat before you’re hungry, drink before you’re thirsty.” We’ve all heard that jillions of times. But it bears repeating.  I have a pretty good idea of just hat I have to do to stay adequately fueled. From here on out, it’s just a matter of making sure I do it.

Convenience Store Food

Whenever I go on longer rides — more than an hour and a half or so — I take along an energy bar, some Nuun tablets, and two water bottles. I make use of them all, but I usually add another source of sustenance: the convenience store.

Often, our informal rest stops happen in convenience store parking lots. It’s only natural to go inside and make a small purchase. But what to buy?

I start out by looking for G2, the lower-sugar Gatorade. I prefer the flavor to the original Gatorade. I’ll knock off half a bottle, and pour the rest into one of my water bottles. If I don’t want the energy bar I packed — usually a Lara Bar — I can always scour the shelves for a substitute. One of my favorites is the good old Pay Day candy bar. It’s a layer of peanuts, wrapped around a caramel-nougat center. The peanuts are a little salty — just the thing to help replace all the sweat I’ve been losing.

I’ve also noticed that Snickers now makes an energy bar of sorts. It’s still a candy bar, but not the Snickers we’re all familiar with. Good for a quick shot of energy, but I’m certain it provides nowhere near the nutrient replenishment of a real energy bar.

Salty snack food might be a good choice, too. Maybe a small bag of pretzels.

Honestly, I haven’t been riding far enough lately to test all of my in-ride junk food urges, but I think that once my mileage picks up, I might be doing it more often.

How about you? Are you a healthy eater while on a long ride, or do you occasionally (or frequently) give into temptation and pig out on some yummy stuff? And if you do, what kind of convenience store food do you prefer? I’m always open to new ideas.

Rest Stops on Organized Rides

Saturday, Mrs. Noob and I are entering our first organized ride of the year. We’re going to do the LBJ 100 in Stonewall, Texas, on the ranch of former President Lyndon B. Johnson. Pat’s doing the 30-miler, I’m doing the 65. (There’s no 100-mile ride. It’s called the LBJ 100 because the inaugural event was in 2008, what would have been LBJ’s 100th year.)

Anyhow, I got to thinking about previous organized rides I’ve been on. One of the attractions has always been the rest stops. They’re usually spaced just far enough apart that about the time you’re ready for a break from pedaling, you come upon one. They’re a chance to stop, stretch your legs, maybe sit in the shade and rest, if need be, and replenish your stores from the selection of food the rest stop volunteers put out for you.

A busy rest stop about 30 miles into a ride.

I’ll almost always grab the chunks of banana, or maybe an orange wedge. Once in a while, I’ll take one of those little peanut butter & jelly sandwiches. There’s usually a nice selection of salty snacks, like goldfish, or pretzels, or potato chips — not all that good for you nutritionally, but they replace the salts you lose through perspiration.

However, a lot of riders I know skip most of the rest stops. On a 65-miler like I’m doing, they may stop at one, and that’s mainly to refill their water bottles. Then, they’re back on their bikes and down the road.

Oh, they replenish. They usually pack their own food in their jersey pockets. So they can grab an energy bar of some kind, maybe a banana of their own, or some pre-packed trail mix type stuff they brought from home.

Their concern is that they waste too much time at rest stops, and could just as well eat in the saddle, and eat stuff that they know will agree with them.

After several years’ experience with organized rides, I’m starting to come around to that way of thinking. I used to spend way too much time at rest stops, to the point of having cooled down and requiring some easy warmup pedaling once I got back on the bike. Rest stops usually pop up every 12-14 miles or so, and I’m used to going much farther than that without stopping, on my longer weekend rides. I suspect that this weekend, I’ll stop for only three out of the six stops on the route. I’ll keep my time to the bare minimum, refilling my bottles, grabbing some food, but not a lot, and getting going again.

What’s your take? Do you welcome the breaks in the ride? Do you partake of rest stop food, or do you bring your own? And if so, what?