By Kevin Kolodziejski
Here’s some food for thought. A lot of food for thought.
Nearly 8 pounds worth, according to my calculations.
It comes from Ronnie Coleman, a former professional bodybuilder who told Joe Rogan during a 2020 podcast that his pre-contest diet for the Tour de France of bodybuilding, the Mr. Olympia, consisted of that much food every day. That every day for 10 to 12 weeks, he’d eat six meals consisting of one pound of grilled chicken breasts and one half a cup of rice.
Hmm. That certainly gives a new twist to the old Wheaties’ slogan, The Breakfast of Champions.
The Breakfast — Lunch, Dinner and 3 Snacks — of Champions?
As repetitive and repulsive as Coleman’s immense eating regimen may seem, it certainly was productive. He won the Mr. Olympia contest a record-tying eight times, one time more than that bodybuilder turned actor turned governor, Arnold Schwarzenegger.
All well and good, you say — maybe even oddly interesting — but how does it apply to me, an ambitious cyclist? Somebody whose eating habits are far closer to this year’s Tour de France winner than any year’s Mr. Olympia champion. And whose body type is far closer as well.
It’s hard to picture and almost comical when you do. But the circumference of just one of Ronnie Coleman’s prize-winning thighs is just about the size of Jonas Vingegaard’s chest.
So the answer to your question, my friend, is found in a number guaranteed to even turn this year’s yellow jersey winner green with envy (and not because he didn’t also win a second jersey of that color).
A Number To Make Vingegaard Green With Envy
According to Alpecin Cycling, riders usually begin the TdF with about five percent body fat. When Coleman would begin his preparation for the Mr. Olympia, his body fat percentage would already be below that, around 3 percent. And then after 10 to 12 weeks of consuming that massive amount of food, oddly enough, it would plummet to .33 percent by contest time.
During the aforementioned podcast, that figure catches Rogan so off guard that he says, “Point three three. What does that mean?” Coleman replies, “Less than one half of one percent.”
Coleman’s response is crystal clear, which is what I need to be here. While you most certainly have no desire to look like Ronnie Coleman in his prime, who wouldn’t want to ride and especially climb like Vingegaard?
But Eurosport lists his height at 1.75 meters and weight at 60 kilos, a whole 132.2 pounds. The average weight for an American male his height and age is about 20 pounds more. So while you may be such a hardcore and results-oriented rider of any age that you strive for Vinegagaard’s body type, your chance of attaining it is only marginally better than creating Coleman’s. But regardless of your present shape or the one you hope to attain, that skill that Coleman mastered — shedding body fat — can get you closer to looking like and riding like Vinegagaard and enhance your health.
Learn About the Survival Switch, Ride More Like Vinegagaard
Let’s save how to structure your rides and supplementary workouts to drop body fat for another day and focus on the eating part, in part because of a nutritional study published in the May 2023 issue of Philosophical Transactions B titled “The fructose survival hypothesis for obesity.” The paper’s authors propose that ingesting and metabolizing the “excessive” amount of fructose that so many Americans now do (primarily in the form of high-fructose corn sweetener used so frequently in today’s processed foods) “not only explains obesity but the epidemics of diabetes, hypertension, non-alcoholic fatty liver disease, obesity-associated cancers, vascular and Alzheimer’s dementia, and even aging.”
Any or all of this can occur, they contend, because ingesting too much fructose over-stimulates a survival switch that’s evolved in mammals over millions of years as a way to stave off starvation. That switch, when activated, causes you to hoard energy and store it as fat. Activate it for other reasons, and it can lead to unhealthy amounts of body fat. It’s a process, however, brought about by cellular actions you probably don’t want to read about: the reduction of adenosine trisphosphate and the suppression of mitochondrial oxidate phosphorylation, just to name two.
Still, it’s still a process of utmost importance. In fact, the paper maintains the fructose survival hypothesis “unites [all] current hypotheses on obesity.”
With that in mind, I’ll take the risk of oversimplifying the new findings by using an older and less scientific paper to show how weight gain comes so easily with fructose.
The Survival Switch Makes Fructose the ‘Ideal Carbohydrate Source for Gaining Fat’
Written by John Parrillo, titled “Fructose: The Ideal Carbohydrate Source for Gaining Fat,” and published in the April 1996 issue of his own magazine, the article details an experiment Parrillo repeatedly performed with competition-quality bodybuilders, guys and gals well accustomed to weighing and measuring all they eat. They replaced 300 calories of a complex-carb food, like brown rice, with 300 calories of a simple-carb fruit high in fructose, like bananas, in their daily diet. After a few days, Parrillo would check their body-fat percentage with skin calipers and invariably find they had gained a small amount of body fat.
Body fat that they would quickly lose once Parrillo instructed them to go back to eating 300 calories of brown rice daily instead of 300 calories of bananas. Science has since ascertained why this occurs for the reason Parrillo gave back then. Complex carbs are “preferentially stored” as glycogen to provide energy for muscle cells, whereas fructose “gets directly converted to fat in the liver” and then gets stored easily as fat in fat cells.
Parrillo’s experimentations led to him alerting the world that all calories, especially carbohydrate calories, are not equal well before anyone involved in mainstream nutrition sent out a similar alert. As well as labeling fruit as “nature’s candy” and eliminating it from the diets he’d construct for bodybuilders interested in creating “perfect physiques.”
Now let’s backtrack a bit and consider the paper proposing the fructose survival hypothesis again. Its conclusion doesn’t call for what Parrillo tells fervid bodybuilders: to avoid eating all fruit. It establishes, however, something important to bodybuilders and bicyclists alike: the correlation between the recent increases in obesity and sugar consumption. And the rise in sugar intake has occurred primarily through an increased use of sweetened beverages and processed foods, both of which tend to contain (I bet you guessed it) high-fructose corn syrup.
Now I’ve warned readers about the evils of what’s seen as even modest amounts of added sugars, especially in the form of HFCS, ever since I read about Parrillo’s experiment, experimented on my own, and watched my body fat percentage move commensurately up and down. But don’t think the warning is still ours alone.
Other Experts on Fruit and Fructose
In a Medical News Today article about the fructose survival hypothesis, Dr. Mir Ali, bariatric surgeon and medical director of Memorial Care Surgical Weight Loss Center at Orange Coast Medical Center in Fountain Valley, CA, tells Katharine Lang, “We advise our patients to minimize all sources of sugar, including fruits.” Another interviewed for the article, Dr. Eamon Laird, a postdoctoral research fellow at the University of Limerick, Ireland, exonerates fruits. He says,“Most of us don’t eat enough fruits and we should be eating more for general health for fiber, vitamins and micronutrients.” But he does believe that in all likelihood “the biggest risk” with fructose occurs when it is added to other foods that are also high in fat and low in nutrients.
Kevin Kolodziejski began his writing career in earnest in 1989. Since then he’s written a weekly health and fitness column and his articles have appeared in magazines such as “MuscleMag,” “Ironman,” “Vegetarian Times,” and “Bicycle Guide.” He has Bachelor and Masters degrees in English from DeSales and Kutztown Universities.
A competitive cyclist for more than 30 years, Kevin won two Pennsylvania State Time Trial championships in his 30’s, the aptly named Pain Mountain Time Trial 4 out of 5 times in his 40s, two more state TT’s in his 50’s, and the season-long Pennsylvania 40+ BAR championship at 43.