Thursday, May 29, 2008

On the injured list... not!

I've been pretty sore all over after my crash in the race on Memorial Day Monday. But while I did skip my Tuesday ride, I rode at a moderate pace with my teammates yesterday after work, and then again this morning to my office. While I'm not 100% I'm getting closer. I don't have a lot of road rash, but my middle back and shoulders took quite a blow, and deep breathing is painful.

However a few brief efforts this morning didn't cause me much discomfort, so I think I will not miss out on too much riding. I am even optimistic I will be able to race in Pleasanton this Saturday. OK, that's a stretch, but I will take a brief spin tomorrow evening, with a few short sprints, and see how I feel. They say it's bad to take ibuprofen before a hard workout or race, so I will have to feel well enough without ibuprofen before I decide to go for it.

The most painful part now is having to come up with more cash to replace my Giant TCR C2 bike's broken frame. It won't be cheap, even with the supportive people at Bicycle Trip and their Giant Bicycles Sales Representative's help. I haven't even finished paying for the broken bike. Sigh.

Thursday, May 22, 2008

The perfect race-day breakfast

My "Breakfast of champions" post describes a good race-day breakfast you can get in almost any small-town eatery. But while it works quite well for me, it isn't ideal in every way. The perfect meal is one that not only serves our short-term needs but also our long-term health.

I have read a number of books about nutrition, and regularly read online articles as well. Some of this has yielded some fascinating (to me) concepts about food and how our bodies respond to it.

Here's a list of good books I highly recommend:

Anyway, I have come up with what I consider to be the "perfect" race-day breakfast, based on knowledge I gained from these experts. It is a meal I have eaten countless times, and can be adjusted in size and ingredients to suit your tastes, timing of the meal, digestion, and race length. It provides a great balance of high-, medium- and low-glycemic index (GI) ingredients and protein/fat/carb ratios to provide tons of sustainable energy for long, intense exercise sessions. The healthful micronutrients, like omega-3 oils, antioxidants and anti-inflammatory agents, prevent disease and sports injuries. And it provides outstanding acid/base blood balance to prevent long-term health problems like osteoporosis and muscle loss. I like to eat it 2 or 3 hours before my race so it's adequately digested.

The major ingredient is buckwheat (or quinoa). Unlike, say, wheat and oatmeal, buckwheat is not a grain but a pseudocereal (more like a fruit). That means that it doesn't have the antinutrients common in grains, or their blood-acidosis problems. It's also lower-GI so the energy is released more slowly (great for long races!) and the chances of developing insulin resistance are lower.

I'll keep it simple from here on... here's the recipe!

Dennis's Cooked Buckwheat Cereal Breakfast

This provides: 531 calories, 103 g carbs, 29 g protein, 6 g fat (1 g saturated), 8 mg cholesterol, 2,116 mg potassium, 9 g fiber, 158 mg sodium, 7 mg iron.

I put the cereal and cocoa powder in a non-stick saucepan first, and usually add cinnamon (prevents insulin resistance, a problem even for thin athletes) and ginger (anti-inflammatory). Since I try to avoid unnecessary salt I use salt substitute (potassium), but on very hot days real salt is a good idea. I then add a cup of water, bring it all to a boil, add the molasses and honey. After about 8 minutes it's ready and I mix in the protein powder, berries and sliced banana, and, if you wish, butter, milk and oil (see below). Ready to serve!

If you need fewer calories just omit the oil, milk, honey or banana as needed to get it right. I like to drink coffee (caffeine, antioxidants), and various juices with the cereal, assuming I need the extra calories (pomegranate juice is very high in antioxidants, as are most juices).

That's it! Well, mostly. I often add some other items too:

  • I like to add local berries when they are in season (blueberries mostly, though raspberries add a great taste here), or when I can't get goji berries. They are all high in antioxidants. Apple sauce is another healthy idea, and it also adds a nice, smooth texture.
  • The one ingredient that provokes incredulous stares is cod liver oil. Yes, you read correctly. Cod liver oil! I get the Nordic Naturals variety from New Leaf Market, and it has virtually no flavor because it is pharmaceutical grade. It adds tons of vitamin A, and omega-3 oils to prevent joint inflammation (a common problem for cyclists). Also lowers the GL of the meal. [I recently started to use their "Omega-3D" fish oil instead, most of the time, as there seems to be some cause for concern over the possibly excessive (maybe even toxic) levels of vitamin A that cod liver oil can cause if consumed too often. And vitamin D is more important than vitamin A anyway. I will use the cod liver oil just once a week henceforth. Oils and fats help with vitamin absorption too. ]
  • Butter is an alternative if you don't add oil; it adds nice flavor (whole milk, or cream in your coffee, do the trick too).
  • Uh, a big dollop of whipped cream is nice too. :-)

If you are racing less than 2 hours after you eat, especially if it's a short race like a criterium, I would reduce or omit the protein, oil and fats. I wouldn't increase the cereal portion for races lasting longer than 3 hours, because it's really hard to digest that much food! Instead add extra honey, some maple syrup, sugar, or other high-GI food, and slam sports drink during the ride.

[I've also experimented with cooking the cereal and taking it with me in a tupperware bowl to eat during the drive to races, and it works well. When time is really tight (like when I have to leave the house at 4:30AM!) I have found it works well to mix everything except the fresh fruit together in the saucepan the night before and mixing it well. The next morning I just heat it up for a minute or two, then add the fruit. Works great and has a smoother texture. ]

Buon appetito!

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Breakfast of champions!

While most of my teammates know what an amateur nutritionist I am, it has come to my attention that some don't. OK, it's time to bore those folks with one of my favorite subjects: breakfast!!!

There are several things to consider when choosing a pre-race breakfast:

  • Glycemic load (GL). This is a concept that describes how a meal affects your blood-sugar levels, and is set by the glycemic index (GI) of the various ingredients, and the quantity of each. A high-GL meal will cause a rapid spike in your blood-sugar, and a nice energy boost, but it wears off quickly leaving you flat. Carbohydrates (carbs) are high GI, fats and proteins zero. The closer to your race start time you eat, the higher your meal's GL should be. Ditto for a short race, like a 40-minute criterium. The longer your race, and the more time you have between your meal and your race start, the lower the GL should be.
  • Digestion. Your body can usually digest about 400 calories/hour, so, for example, you could eat roughly 1,200 calories 3 hours before start time and feel good. Once the race starts your body slows down its digestion, and you could feel nauseous if you have too much undigested food in your stomach when the whistle blows.
  • Quantity. How many calories will you burn during the race? I use 1,000 calories/hour as a rough guide, but it varies depending on you and the race. Try to eat that many calories, but not so much it won't be digested in time. Any additional calories you need will come from sport drinks or energy gels you eat during your warmup and race, and your fat stores.
  • Quality. Avoid a lot of synthetic food. Fresh, natural foods are best, when possible, because they have so many healthy antioxidants and other micronutrients that help you fight the destructive effects of intense exercise. But make sure they are easily digested in time.
  • Hydration. Drink water, of course, but there's more to this. If you're racing in hot weather, especially in a long race, you should also make sure to get enough salt. Trust me, that's rarely a problem in this country! But if you usually avoid excess sodium, as I do, you should make sure to get at least 400 mg of sodium per hour of racing, again, depending on you, the heat, humidity, etc. You can take that in during the race too.
  • Recovery. Try to choose foods that will also help you get a head start on recovery after the race (that's why I always make sure to have a sport drink with protein in it). The post-race meal is a separate subject I will cover in the future.

So, here's a specific example of how I used these guidelines for a race-day breakfast:

When I raced the 55-mile Panoche Valley Road Race, that I knew would last about 2.5 hours, I figured I'd burn about 2,600 calories. I considered just eating my usual 800-calorie race-day cooked buckwheat cereal breakfast at home, about 3 hours before my race start, followed by some light snacks during warmup, and sport drink and gels during the race. But then I read that a small cafe near the race, FlapJack's Country Cafe, was a sponsor, and their neat menu had lots of options for putting together a good pre-race breakfast. I even managed to talk some of my teammates into joining me. I was soooo excited!

Here's what I ordered:

A huge plate of flapjacks with lots of walnuts, banana and butter, swimming in a pool of syrup. Oh, two eggs, orange juice and coffee too. The whole meal was about about 1,100 calories, with roughly 154 G carbs, 31 g protein, 45 g fat, 1,670 mg potassium and 1,110 g sodium.

Even though it just looked like a traditional breakfast, I carefully chose each item. Here's how my meal followed those guidelines:

  • Glycemic load. The flapjacks were made with white wheat flour, which while not ideal in general because grains raise blood acidity (which is one reason why I prefer buckwheat, a starchy fruit), is a great high-GI source of simple carbs that was easy to digest. The sugary syrup too (white flour isn't that different from sugar!). The protein and fat from the eggs and butter kept the meal's GL lower so it would last throughout the race instead of causing a sudden blood-sugar spike and commensurate drop.
  • Digestion. We got there 2:20 before my race start, so I had to make sure I could digest the meal in time, or risk losing it during the race! At 400 cal/hour, I could theoretically digest only 933 of the 1,100 calories. But I happen to know from experience that I would be OK.
  • Quantity. I would burn 2,600 calories, so I would need an additional 1,500. I only carried 440 calories worth of sport drink and gels, but experience has taught me that I could easily make up the last 1,060 from my fat stores. Training improves your fat-burn rate, by the way.
  • Quality. By getting the flapjacks with walnuts, banana, orange juice and coffee I got crucial omega-3 oils, minerals, antioxidants and electrolytes to prevent inflammation and cramping. The eggs also contain various enzymes that improve muscle response.
  • Hydration. The flapjacks tend to be high in sodium, and this meal had 1,100 mg of it. Plenty, even for a long race in hot weather! No need to even add any from a salt shaker, though my sport drink did add some.
  • Recovery. The protein and omega-3 oil from the eggs and walnuts, and the antioxidants in the banana and juice gave me a head start.

So, did it work? Absolutely! This race was long, very hot and dry, and incredibly hard for me. I was on the ropes for a good part of this 2:37 race, spending lots of time in the fires of my "L5" zone! But while I did burp a little in the first few miles, the meal stayed down, and yet sustained me with long-term energy that left me feeling surprisingly strong at the finish line, 55 miles later. Heck, I even won!

Everybody is different, and what works for me may not work for you. But these basic concepts are pretty well proven by the experts and their clients over the years, so experiment with these ideas and modify them to work with your unique physiology. And have fun eating!

Thursday, May 15, 2008

Bike to Work Day... I'm stuffed!

This day is supposed to be about encouraging bike-commuting, but for me it is an enabling event for my weakness of overeating! Oh yeah, baby, bring it on!

Since I always ride to work anyway, well, the 20 miles from Los Gatos to Palo Alto, I have to work hard to mark this special day for cyclists. The last few years I've been riding the full distance from my home in Santa Cruz over the mountains to my office in Palo Alto. Depending on the route I choose to take, it's about 46-50 miles, and takes me between 2:45 and 3:30 hours. So, not much longer than my Saturday workout rides. And at a much easier pace!

This year I had the company of my teammates Steve and Gary. We agreed to meet at Mollie's Country Cafe in Scotts Valley, one of the event sponsors, for a free pig-out breakfast! Since we all had to get to our real day-jobs an early start was required, so we made it 6:30AM. For me that meant leaving my house at 5:45, or even earlier. The previous day they both left their cars at their offices (in San Mateo and south San Jose respectively), and rode home to Scotts Valley and Boulder Creek (also respectively). I left mine in Los Gatos. Steve overdid it riding home in the 90+ degree heat, and e-mailed us that he didn't think he could ride the next day. He'd work something out though.

My alarm woke me at 5:15AM. I made some coffee, hopped into my SCCCC kit (don't forget the sunscreen!) and onto my old beater bike. I had scoped out the free breakfast sites, and I knew there was one near my route at Jamba Juice (another event sponsor) on Pacific Avenue, so I didn't make myself anything to eat at home. I rode through the still-dark town, my bike-lights alerting bleary-eyed drivers to my presence. I've never seen Pacific Avenue live up to its name so well! Just a few hobos and coffee customers on the sidewalks.

The breakfast site at Jamba Juice wasn't quite set up yet, and it turned out they weren't officially open until 6:30. But they were nearly ready anyway. What a great volunteer crew! Bart Coddington, President of SCCCC, was busy setting out yummy goods, and I scarfed down two scones faster than you can say "help yourself, Dennis!"

At 6:04AM I was on my brisk way up pretty Branciforte Drive en route to Glen Canyon and Mount Hermon to meet Gary. What a fun and pretty way to start the day! Even though I rode five hard 6-minute hill climbs at race-pace the previous evening, my legs felt good. I got to Mollie's a tad late, but Gary had just gotten his breakfast and soon enough I, too, had orange juice and a big plate with an egg and ham muffin sandwich with hash browns... it was gone in no time! How great that this small cafe donated their food and time to this event! (I left a tip... for good karma!)

As we rode off Gary set a hard pace, as if we were doing 20-minute intervals! I held back and soon we were comfortably cruising up tiny Mountain Charlie Road (originally a toll-road from the mid 1800s). We even passed some other bike-commuters. At the top we hooked up with Steve, who had ridden ahead at an easier pace. He felt fine, so we rode down Old Santa Cruz Highway to Lexington Reservoir. Ironically, we got stuck behind a row of cars held back by a bus. It was getting pretty warm in some areas, and I could tell it would be a hot day. But we were feeling pretty good.

In Los Gatos they had an "Energizer Station" along the creek trail. Gary had to take off to the south, but after some searching Steve and I found it. We digged into the muffins, and refilled our water bottles. We were running a bit late, and the stations were closing at 9:30, so we had to make this one count! Whole Foods sponsored this station, by the way, and we also got gift certificates.

We continued, along my old bike-commute route it so happens, from when my office was in Sunnyvale; Wimbledon, Wedgewood (by the golf course), Quito and Prospect. From there we rejoined my usual commute up Foothill Expressway to Page Mill Road in Palo Alto. By then it was getting decidedly hot, over 80 degrees, so we were starting to sweat a bit. Steve parted way and continued on to San Mateo, and I was headed for the showers in our HP Fitness Center! A total distance of 50.7 miles, in 3:23, for an average of 15 MPH. I'd made it, once again!

I burned about 1,840 calories, more or less, on this ride. I also have to account for the 1,900 calories I burn just sitting around on a typical inactive day (known as "BMR" for basal metabolic rate, or "RMR" for resting metabolic rate; same thing). That's a total of 3,740 calories. Plus, my shorter ride back to Los Gatos this evening will burn about 540 calories more, or 4,280 calories for the day. So while I had eaten about 1250 calories so far, I still had to eat at least another 3,030 calories!!! It's actually hard to eat that much food. But it's the only way to ensure that I don't "bonk" (run out of muscle energy) on my ride home.

Fortunately, for some reason there were a lot of people at work with leftovers they were handing around... all manner of pizza, sandwiches and desserts. Yay!!! It doesn't get much better than this! By 3:00PM I was filled up and ready to ride home in the 100-degree heat. Hopefully I will even be able to throw in my usual 10-second "jumps" (for sprint training) too, but I'm not too hopeful of that.

Now, on to Panoche Valley Road Race this Sunday! (And another pig-out breakfast, this time at FlapJack's Country Cafe, a local race sponsor!)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Sponsor me in the ADA Tour de Cure and fight diabetes!

Some of you may recall that I rode in this fund-raising event last year, and raised over $1,600 to fight diabetes! It was a neat experience, and I will ride again, on June 8th in Palo Alto, in the 2008 American Diabetes Association's Tour de Cure event.

The Tour de Cure is a series of cycling events held in over 80 cities nationwide. The Tour is a ride, not a race; it features different route lengths: 25K (15.5 miles), 50K (31 miles), 75K (46.5 miles) and 120K (74.5 miles). I will be riding the 120K route in support of the Association's mission: to prevent and cure diabetes and to improve the lives of all people affected by diabetes.

I am asking you to help by supporting my fund-raising efforts with a donation, or by joining me on the ride. Your tax-deductible gift will make a difference in the lives of more than 20 million Americans who suffer from diabetes and another 54 million people in the United States with pre-diabetes.

It's fast and easy to support this great cause - you can make your donation (or join my team) online by selecting the link below and then clicking on my name on the resulting page:

Any amount, great or small, helps in the fight against this deadly disease. I greatly appreciate your support and will keep you posted on my progress.

If you want to do even more to help, please consider joining me on the HP Tour de Cure team as well. You don't have to be an HP employee, and you can also ride as an individual, or on other teams. Our efforts will help set the pace in the fight against diabetes.

More information on the American Diabetes Association, its programs and diabetes in general can be found at the Association's Web site:

For more information on Tour de Cure, please visit

Bike to Work Day!

Is this Thursday, May 15th. Well, the whole week is Bike to Work Week, but let's be reasonable here. ;-) Since I ride my bike to work almost every day anyway, the way I've been marking this special day is by riding from my home in Santa Cruz to my office in Palo Alto; about 45 miles one-way.

This ride, over the mountains to the valley, takes about 3 hours, so it's not practical most of the time (assuming I want to have a life outside of working and commuting!). The neat thing is that several bike-advocacy organizations sponsor Bike to Work Day (in Santa Cruz too), and also get volunteers to supply snacks for us and man the "Energizer Stations" (in Santa Clara County). In Santa Cruz County we get free breakfasts! My favorite meal!

One year, 2005 I think, it rained on me during my Bike to Work Day ride to Palo Alto, and I wasn't dressed for it... riding up Mountain Charlie Rd., Summit and Skyline Blvd. with the drizzle soaking me was a horrible preparation for the long, fast drop down Page Mill Rd. I was nearly hypothermic by the time I got to the hot showers at work!

This year my teammates Gary and Steve will join me for the ride, and the weather forecast looks perfect. It'll be a sort of riding tour of the free food stations. Ahhhh, my idea of heaven! I'm sure we'll throw in some intervals along the way, just to make sure we get our training in, but it will mostly just be a nice cruise on a gorgeous morning.

Anyway, this is a fun event, and I sure appreciate all of the sponsors and volunteers who give us lonely bike-commuters a rare feeling of being appreciated. Sniff. Thanks y'all!

Thoughts on sprint finishes

I was really enjoying a thread about sprinting on for a while, though the last page or two are somewhat less enjoyable. At the risk of just saying "me too!" I would have to agree with many of the posts in which it is pointed out that when we sprint in a real race, we rarely, if ever, use 100% of our potential.

The typical "sprint finish" in a criterium or road race usually comes only after many miles of fast riding, often punctuated with attacks or climbs, closing gaps, etc. So we are pretty tired when that finish line approaches, even when we feel pretty good. I guess you could say it's the guy who's lost the least of his sprint power that wins.

My team's coach, Mark Edwards, did a test during one of our training rides in which he sprinted "100%" after we'd finished some 5-minute intervals, and had a short break. It was something like 840 Watts, as I recall. Kind of disappointing, in that he can usually hit over 1000W when he's fresh. Later on he led me out for a sprint and could only muster about 670W or so (not the exact numbers, but close enough). He tried, but that was the most his legs could manage after the previous riding.

Much of my current training revolves around that exact theory... and the smart guys race with that theory as their main tactic. I always try to minimize my efforts while racing, so I can save some energy for the sprint. Though if I get carried away with that tactic I can easily miss the winning break, and have done so too many times! Part of it is knowing when you have to "burn a match," as we say.

When I train for sprint finishes, I mostly train with long intervals; as long as 20 or even 40 minutes at my full 1-hour power (my "FTP"). That power is something like 272W, or maybe 309W, depending on who you ask. (I don't have a power meter yet so I must estimate with various calculator tools.) Does that seem weird? Ride 20-minute intervals so I can be faster in a 15-second sprint? Well, it would be weird if we arrived at the finish line completely fresh, but we don't. By training with those long intervals I will arrive at the finish line more fresh than the guys who only train with short intervals (at best), or with sprints or even weights.

OK, not everybody is the same, and some guys train for track sprints at the velodrome where they do start their sprints with fresh legs. But for the racing that I do, training just for short sprints is missing the important point.

My training does include 10-second "jumps" (sprints), and also 6-minute intervals (at my "VO2max"), but the core is those long intervals. You'll never catch me lifting heavy weights to improve my sprint!

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Sick with the flu

Oh well, it happens.

Last Tuesday I drove to lunch with my coworkers to say "bon voyage" to one of them who is quitting to volunteer at an orphanage in Vietnam. One of my passengers started sneezing as we walked toward the restaurant. Then her daughter's school called and said she needed to bring her home because she wasn't feeling well. My coworker was out sick the next day, and on Thursday I started feeling a sore throat coming on. Ugh. My wife gave me a lift home, just in case, but by the next day I was down and out.

On Friday I stayed home from work, hoping the rest would be enough to allow me to race at Cat's Hill Classic Criterium the next day, in Los Gatos. That seemed to work, and on Saturday I felt good enough, well, my legs did, that I could face the suffering of this demanding race. I felt pretty good during the race, but it didn't go as planned. And afterwards my nose started running, and on Sunday I took my temperature: 99.2 degrees. Not too bad, but I stayed home Monday too.

On Tuesday I felt well enough to drive to work, but my wife didn't; she stayed home, poor thing, with... a sore throat. Sigh. I even did my usual 15-minute gym workout. After work I even felt up to making up some lost workout time by climbing up a 10-13% grade in Los Gatos, and made good time!

Today I'm feeling ready to get back to my standard program, and will be getting for my next race, Panoche Valley Road Race, just south of Hollister. My race weight is right where it needs to be (149.5 this morning), and so is my fitness (I think, flu notwithstanding), so I should do OK. The climbs are a bit too long to be ideal for me, and this year I've hamstringed my chances by entering the vicious open-category 45+ race, but I will have a lot of fun racing with my Team Bicycle Trip teammates.

Ciao for now,