Good nutrition makes a big difference in how you age. For example a study published in the journal Circulation concludes people who eat five servings of fruit and vegetables a day have a 12 percent lower risk of death from cardiovascular disease, 10 percent lower risk of death from cancer and 35 percent lower risk of death from respiratory disease than people who eat just two servings a day.
Proper nutrition also makes a big difference in how well you ride. For example if you eat nine fig newtons with 500 calories you’ll ride better than if you eat a five oz. chicken sandwich with 500 calories. Why? When you’re riding you’re burning a mix of glucose from carbs and fat. Even the leanest racer has enough body fat to fuel a race. However, your glycogen stores are limited and you may run out after several hours of riding. 80 percent of the calories in fig newtons come from carbs and will help you stay fueled A chicken sandwich is only 35 percent carbs and contains twice the sodium of the fig newtons.
Exercising to Burn More Fat
Exercising at low intensity burns more fat and this helps with weight loss, right? Not exactly. At low intensity your body is meeting a relatively high percentage of its energy needs from fat. As you exercise harder the proportion of energy from fat decreases and the proportion of energy from glucose increases; however, total fat burned also increases! For example, Joe goes for an easy one-hour ride and burns 300 calories, of which 80 percent (240 calories) come from fat. The next day he goes for a harder one-hour ride and burns 500 calories, and only 60 percent (300 calories) come from fat. Even though he’s getting a lower proportion of his energy from fat during the second ride, he’s burning more total fat!
Our Ancestors Ate Meat, So Should I
The Paleo diet, relatively high in meat, is popular on the theory that if we eat more like primitive mankind, we’ll be healthier. However, no long-term studies have demonstrated positive health outcomes from a paleo diet. The paleo diet is much higher in protein and in fat than recommended in the Dietary Guidelines for Americans. As a result riders on the paleo diet usually aren’t getting enough carbs.
Some protein is important for building and maintaining tissue and for making hormones and enzymes. According to the American College of Sports Medicine (ACSM) you should consume about 0.5 to 1 gram of protein per pound of body weight per day (1.2 to 2 grams of protein per kg) of body weight. A 120 lb. (54 kg) rider should eat 60 to 120 grams (240 to 480 calories) of protein per day. A 170 lb. (77 kg) rider should eat 85 to 170 grams (340 – 680 calories) per day. (ACSM, Nutrition and Athletic Performance, 2016)
A High Fat Low Carb (Keto) Diet is Better
The ACSM position paper on Nutrition and Athletic Performance says, “Although there has been historical and recently revived interest in chronic adaptations to high-fat low carbohydrate diets, the present evidence suggests that enhanced rates of fat oxidation can only match exercise / performance achieved by diets or strategies promoting high carbohydrate availability at moderate intensities, while the performance at higher intensities is impaired.” I wrote this column on High Fat Low Carb Ketogenic Diets.
Supplements Are Important
A recent study found that nearly half of the adults take supplements — a $30 billion- a- year industry! The study found that we take them because we believe pills will make or keep us healthy. Only 23% of those of us who take supplements do so based on advice from a physician. Doctors are most likely to recommend calcium for bone health (23 percent) or fish oil for heart health (12 percent) or a multi-vitamin to supplement your diet (11 percent).
If you eat a well-balanced diet with five servings of different vegetables and fruits, three or four servings of dairy, as well as lean meat and fish, then you probably don’t need a supplement. No government agency recommends taking them regardless of the quality of your diet—they recommend improving what you eat!
If you decide to take either a multivitamin or a specific vitamin or mineral discuss it with your physician. Be aware these are dietary supplements, which don’t meet the strict testing requirements of prescription drugs.
Hydrate Or Die
The ACSM recommends drinking enough during exercise to prevent excessive dehydration (>2 percent body weight). Dehydration of more than 2 percent of your body weight affects aerobic performance, particularly in hot weather. The ACSM also recommends not drinking too much resulting in excessive changes in electrolyte balance. Drinking may result in low blood sodium (hyponatremia) a potentially dangerous condition. Drink to satisfy your thirst but not more. I wrote a column about 12 Myths About Hydration.
A Specific Sports Nutrition Product Is Superior
There are no magic bullets. The pros eat a mix of sports bars, gels, drinks and real food. Several years ago I wrote this column about Learning From the Pros: Cycling Nutrition.
Simple Carbs Are Bad
Simple carbs are found in foods such as milk, fruits and vegetables. They also are in many kinds of sports nutrition. Processed and refined sugars such as candy, table sugar, syrups, and soft drinks also contain simple carbs.
The Glycemic Index (GI) measures how fast a food causes your blood glucose to rise. Glucose has a GI of 100. The GI of a particular food is more important than whether the food is a complex or simple carb. For example, boiled red potatoes (complex carb) have a GI of 89. Ice cream (simple sugar) has a GI of 57. Racers eat primarily carbohydrates with a high glycemic index for instant energy.
Experiment Of One
We’re each an experiment of one. What works for one rider may not work for another. The above are suggestions — experiment to find out what works for you.
Related Anti-Aging Columns
- Anti-Aging 7 Myths About Training
- Anti-Aging 14 Training Rules for Older Cyclists
- Anti-Aging 9 Tips on Recovery
Healthy Nutrition Past 50. My eBook includes:
- The key role of carbohydrates in providing the energy you need and many of the vitamins and minerals.
- How much protein you really need, and nourishing protein choices.
- The important role of fat in your diet, and healthy choices to get that needed fat.
- The principal vitamins and minerals you need.
I discuss how to eat preventively in order to reduce your risks of the most common health conditions as you age: heart disease including stroke; diabetes; being overweight, which increases your risk of heart disease and diabetes; how to reach and maintain a proper weight and osteoporosis.
The 28-page Healthy Nutrition Past 50 is $4.99.
Cycling Past 50 bundle includes the eArticles:
- Healthy Cycling Past 50 – what happens as we age and how to incorporate cycling and other exercise activities into our daily lives to stay healthy and active for many years.
- Performance Cycling Past 50 – how to train to achieve more specific cycling goals given the physiological changes of aging.
- Off-Season Conditioning Past 50 – how to best work on your off-season conditioning given the physiological changes of aging.
- Healthy Nutrition Past 50 – what to eat and drink to support both a healthy lifestyle and continuing performance.
The 95-page Cycling Past 50 bundle is $15.96, a $4 saving from purchasing the articles separately.
Coach John Hughes earned coaching certifications from USA Cycling and the National Strength and Conditioning Association. John’s cycling career includes course records in the Boston-Montreal-Boston 1200-km randonnée and the Furnace Creek 508, a Race Across AMerica (RAAM) qualifier. He has ridden solo RAAM twice and is a 5-time finisher of the 1200-km Paris-Brest-Paris. He has written nearly 30 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training and nutrition, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach John Hughes. Click to read John’s full bio.