Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Back from Mexico and back to weight management!

And back to the cold and wet weather of Northern California!

Puerto Vallarta is so awesome; we've been there three times now. The weather was perfect, Casa Pacifico gorgeous, and the company even more so. We were helping my excellent brother-in-law Steve celebrate a milestone birthday, so lots of cool family was on hand to ease his pain. This time I surfed four times, snorkeled off of Marietas Island Marine Reserve in the Bahia de Banderas, saw lots of humpback whales (even heard one trumpet like an elephant; didn't know they could do that!), kayaked three times, went to yoga at Villa Ananda three times, got two massages... and ate a huge mountain of chips, guacamole, pan dulce, beans, jumbo (huge, actually!) prawns, tortillas, etc. etc. etc.

I gained about 6 or 7 pounds in Mexico, like usual, though almost all of that is from water retention caused by excess sodium, beer, etc. I've already drained off about 3 pounds of that in just one day. Since I count calories (call me anal-retetive, but it works!) I knew that I gained only about 1 pound of fat/muscle/glycogen during our stay in Mexico. Like all serious cyclists, I know this is weight I don't need, so I will have to get rid of it now, even as we get into the holiday season with its feasts and constant sources of snacks. How will I do that? Read on...

Managing body-weight around the holidays can be pretty hard, and going on vacation just before Christmas makes it even harder. But it is possible to keep your weight down, even during rigorous training programs, by careful timing and sizing of meals. I have found that it is a lot easier if you follow a few rules:

Eat when you must!
Don't try to limit calories before and during workouts!!! If you don't eat enough your muscles will be too glycogen-depleted (tired) to allow the right intensity during the workout, or you might even bonk and have to call a taxi to take you home... the shame! So, eat a good breakfast before your workout, and bring a sports drink for any workout lasting longer than 1 hour. Your legs (and coach!) will thank you!

Cut back when you can!
Use the time after your big workouts to restrict your calorie intake! I've found that I can very easily eat less after a big ride than I burned during it -- without getting hungry. And since most of us take a day off after a big ride, we can force our bodies to convert excess fat to glycogen by not eating a lot after a big ride. Eat less carbs and go for lean protein and vegetables instead and you will do even better. If you don't take days off your challenge will be greater; you will still have to refuel for your next ride, but try to cut back on calories a little. I recommend eating a good recovery meal, like usual, but reducing the amounts. Most sports nutritionists say you can run as much as a 500-calorie deficit per day.... but I never could do that without getting fatigued. I'd run less than that, maybe -250 calories/day on average, unless I knew from experience that I could go more.

Ride big after the feasts!
Not before them! This way you take advantage of the excess calories you ate by putting them to work fueling your big, intense workouts afterwards. Doing the reverse (riding big, then eating big) may be emotionally satisfying (hey, I've earned this feast!), but it won't help you during the workout you did before the pig-out. By the way, that's why breakfast is so important for athletes. Eat big, then ride big!

When all else fails, ride long and slow!
You can tack extra miles onto the end of your workout rides to burn extra fat. Just make sure to ride easy, as in "zone 1," and keep your cadence high so that you burn relatively more fat than glycogen. These miles are like liposuction for athletes! Just don't overdo it; you can still get glycogen depletion which will compromise your subsequent intense workouts. It's best to do these miles the day before a scheduled rest day, just to be safe. And leave your ego at home: Ride your beater bike while wearing dorky clothes like cut-off jeans, a T-shirt and sneakers; that way you won't feel the need to pass all of those old fat guys on mountain-bikes!

Notice how I didn't bother to suggest ways to keep from pigging out in the first place? It's fun to pig out! Sure, exercise moderation if you want, that gives you a head start, but hey, life is to be enjoyed! Well, I have taken to limiting alcohol, because I prefer other calorie sources (e.g. see "pan dulce" above), and because alcohol really racks up the fat in no time without filling you up.

By following these tips you will be hungry only occasionally, and only at times when it won't leave you empty for your workouts.

Buon appetito, merry Christmas, and good riding!

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