By Kevin Kolodziejski
In the eyes of a certain poet-philosopher who last saw the light of day when penny-farthing bikes with 5-foot front wheels were all the rage, I am most certainly a cyclist. Maybe you are as well. But it has nothing to do with the number of miles we’ve ridden or races we’ve won.
Instead it’s simply a matter of the way our brains work while we work, work out, and go out and about. According to Ralph Waldo Emerson, “A man is what he thinks about all day long.”
And all day long, it seems, I’m assessing my last ride or anticipating the next one. If that ache in my legs as I ascend stairs means it’s best to do a recovery ride tomorrow. If I could eliminate that ache by consuming a few more carbs than usual at supper. And when the legs tell me I can climb hills the next day, I find myself deciding which ones to ascend as wait for sleep as I lie in bed.
Assuming Emerson’s belief is true, I’m something else, too: a healthy eater. I easily give as much thought to creating a week’s worth of nourishing and non-fattening meals as I do that weekend’s killer ride. Do you? Or are you more like a buddy of mine who admits it’s the thought of consuming a monstrous milkshake and oversized soft pretzel afterwards that has helped him survive more than a few of those killers?
Bad Eating Subtracts From the Plus of Exercise
If you haven’t given much thought to whether you’re a healthy eater or not, you should. Particularly in light of a study first published online on July 10, 2022 by the British Journal of Sports Medicine. And especially if you plan to inhabit this earth for as long as you can and be in good health while doing so.
University of Sydney researchers used UK Biobank info accrued on nearly 350,000 British adults across more than 11 years and found it was only those who exercised hard and often and ate optimally who “significantly” reduced their risk of dying. For simplicity’s sake, we’ll translate the researchers’ evaluations into a four-tiered rating system: poor, medium, better, and best. Compared to those Brits with two poor ratings for both eating and exercise, those with two best ratings had a 17 percent lower risk of any and all causes of death — as well as a 19 percent lower risk of heart disease and a 27 percent lower risk of the cancers that have been linked to being overweight or obese.
And while eating well occasionally and exercising lightly will never harm your health, the study clearly shows you’ll get the biggest bang for your anti-mortality bucks by eating in a way that engenders a best rating while exercising enough to earn a rating of better or best.
More Words From Ralph Waldo
Compared to Emerson’s many other gems, this one isn’t the most astute observation, but “Without ambition, one starts nothing” serves suitably for what comes next. Since I’m advocating for you to give as much thought to your eating as your cycling (and all the other things in life that make you, you), it only makes sense to cite some good-to-know news on two great-for-you foods. After all as cliche as it is to say, it is true. Healthy eating does indeed happen one food at a time.
More Good News About Green Tea
I’ve written glowingly about green tea frequently in my weekly health and fitness column and for good reason. After hundreds of studies, the general consensus is drinking two or three cups a day can improve brain function, the rate in which you burn fat, your odds of losing weight on a diet, and your chance of living longer. In addition, it can reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease, certain cancers, and type 2 diabetes.
New research performed at Penn State and Ohio State Universities and published in the June 2022 issue of Current Developments in Nutrition lends insight into how the last in that list comes to be. It also offers a brand-new benefit: that green tea reduces the gut inflammation that leads to abdominal pain, food sensitivities, bloating, and indigestion, as well as the increased gut permeability that can create much of the same and then goes by the name of leaky gut syndrome.
In this clinical trial, 21 adults diagnosed with what’s generally seen as the precursor to type 2 diabetes, metabolic syndrome, and 19 who were not were given a gummy containing the catechin equivalent of five cups of green tea every day for 28 days. (Don’t sweat the terminology. Catechins are merely one type of plant chemical. Plant chemicals are often called polyphenols, but just as likely to be called flavanoids. Flavonols and flavanols are specific types of the latter.)
The 40 participants then spent an equal number of days free from the catechin supplement, and that was followed by another 28-day period where they thought they were taking it again. Instead, they were ingesting a placebo. During the entire 84 days, all participants ate a diet intentionally low in foods high in catechins to make sure it was the catechins in the gummies having an effect, if any. And they certainly did have an effect.
They not only improved blood sugar levels in the 19 participants who started the study healthy — but also in the 21 with metabolic syndrome and likely to get type 2 diabetes without such improvement. As for the new benefit linked to the catechins in the green tea extract — decreased gut inflammation and gut permeability — the researchers theorize it’s a byproduct of the better glycemic control and enhanced insulin sensitivity that results from lower blood sugar levels.
Cocoa as Ammo Against Heart Disease
While catechins abound in green tea, flavanols are abundant in cocoa. And in the same way metabolic syndrome often leads to type 2 diabetes, so it is with high blood pressure and cardiovascular diseases like heart attack and stroke. Prior studies, though, have shown that flavanols and various other polyphenols can reduce high blood pressure. Now, according to one published in the June 2022 issue of Frontiers, flavanol cocoa supplements can make blood pressure readings better and heart disease less likely to happen.
To start the study, researchers taught 11 healthy adults how to properly use a blood pressure cuff and a finger clip. Over the course of eight days, the 11 then adhered to the following pattern. They took a pill first thing in the morning, but had no clue what was in it. The researchers, however, did.
They made sure each participant received a cocoa flavanol capsule one day and a placebo the next. Every 30 minutes for the next three hours after taking the pill and once an hour for the nine hours after that, the 11 applied the blood pressure cuff and finger clip to check their blood pressure and heart rate. That info was then sent to the researchers using iPads. Once all the info got tabulated, what came to light was certainly worthy of publication.
The cocoa flavanol supplement reduced arterial stiffness and lowered blood pressure. The lowering, though, never went so low as to create its own health concern.
Food for One Final Thought
So if you want or need to make your eating healthier, give some thought to how to include two or three cups of green tea into each day (decaf is okay) and cocoa into the beverages and foods you regularly consume. Cocoa can be added to coffee, pancakes, yogurts, smoothies, or just about any dessert you bake.
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.