By Kevin Kolodziejski
For the sake of your cycling companions, I hope you’re not a squirrel. But even if you never swerve while in a paceline and always pull at a steady and suitable speed, your pedaling partners — and more importantly you — need to know you actually are a far less likable rodent.
You, my friend, are a rat.
No, this is not some only-said-in-Southeastern-PA cycling slur. Nor is it to say you possess a pointy snout and long tail, forage about to build a home, and scavenge through trash for meals. But when your 30,000 or so genes are compared to those of the Rattus argentiventer, Rattus norvegicus, or (my favorite name) Rattus rattus, there’s a 95-percent match.
Why It’s Good to Be a Rat (Practically)
While that may not be the most comforting thought in the world, there’s certainly an upside to it. It means there’s no need for you to ever navigate a maze, lose a lung, get injected — or even dissected — in the name of science. What’s learned by doing all that to your DNA doppelgängers can be applied to you.
And one of the many things learned by the researchers working with mice (they’re also about a 95-percent genetic match to you) at the UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas and published in the May 2022 issue of Science is that if you start eating 30 percent less and at certain times, it’s quite possible you could live up to 35 percent longer. Now whether the cycling white coats have classified you as a Techno-weenie, a Gutter bunny, a Hammerhead, or — god forbid — a Fred, you too have to be thinking the thought first and foremost in this Retro-grouch’s head: Why would you want to? Not live longer obviously, but eat 30 percent less for eternity.
For if you’re anything like me, you could be as suitably cast as Betty White, Joe Pesci, or Dan Trejo in one of those Snickers Bar commercials where the tagline is “You’re not you when you’re hungry.” Appropriately enough, there’s a humorous word for those times, now so widely in use that it’s included in many dictionaries: Hangry. Being short-tempered and irritable because you need to eat.
You’re Not You When You’re Hungry
Researchers in the United Kingdom and Austria worked together — not using rats or mice but real people — to determine if it’s more than just a clever concept to sell candy bars or if being hungry does indeed mean being hangry. In the study published in the July 2022 issue of PLOS ONE, 64 mostly female Central Europeans whose average age was 30, sent five reports every day for 21 days to the researchers using a smartphone app.
While these reports covered other areas in order to be scientifically comprehensive, what’s important to know is that the Visual Analogue Scale was used to assess the subjects’ feelings of both hunger and irritability. So five times a day the 64 gave two scores using a range where 0 meant not hungry or irritable at all and 100 meant very hungry or irritable.
In short, these scores showed a correlation between hunger and irritability that the researchers called “substantial . . . even after taking into account demographic factors such as age and sex, body mass index, dietary behavior, and individual personality traits.” And while the participants lived in Austria, Germany, and Switzerland, an additional questionnaire answered at the conclusion of the three-week study would make you think they resided in California, Indiana, and Rhode Island. Like most in the U.S., their main motivations to eat came from liking the meal offered and being hungry. Fifty-eight percent revealed they usually ate breakfast, 78 percent ate lunch, 84 percent ate dinner, and 48 percent snacked in between.
The only statistic that might lead you to think this was not a cross section of Americans: Very often or always, 53 percent ate a healthy diet.
So where’s all this headed? Back to advice I first issued in my health and fitness column about 30 years ago. That if you exercise every day — especially if some of your workouts are intense or lengthy — it’s better to eat five or six smaller snacks and meals every two or three hours than two or three typically American gut busters. The concept was called grazing back then, and there’s a good reason to review it now.
Why It’s Good to Eat Like a Cow (Practically)
The concept of eating smaller snacks and meals every two or three hours has fallen out of favor in light of the current popularity of intermittent-fasting diets, but the aforementioned PLOS ONE study suggests that intermittent-fasting diets adversely affect your state of mind. Now once again, I’ll write what I write with such frequency in my weekly health and fitness newspaper column that devoted readers know it by heart. Even though there are more similarities than differences in most dietary comparisons of people, no two metabolize food in exactly the same manner.
So it’s possible that you could go 16 hours every day without food — the typical time frame suggested in the middle-of-the-road intermittent-fasting diets — feel fine, ride well, hold a healthy weight, and maintain a positive mental outlook. Or you could be more like the 64 in the PLOS ONE study and find that anger and irritability increase with hunger.
That’s why there is no such thing as a one-size-fits-all diet, and why you need to approach eating as a never-ending experiment. But whether you graze or fast, eat liberally or diet, there are certain generalities about eating that all will find to some degree as being true.
What the Macros Do Is Tried-and-True
The macronutrients — proteins, fats, and (for our purposes) both types of carbohydrates, simple and complex — have a tried-and-true affect on you. So in whatever way you eat, by using whatever diet you choose, whenever the calories come from mostly simple carbs, like refined grains and added sugars, your blood sugar level will spike and then crash because of a similar spike in insulin secretion. In about 90 minutes or so, it’s quite likely you’ll feel as hungry as before.
But if you mainly eat complex carbs in conjunction with a fair amount of protein and a bit of healthy fat, your blood sugar raises moderately and insulin is secreted at a rate to match that. You avoid the excessive removal of blood sugar from your bloodstream that causes you to feel hungry despite recently eating. A suitably concocted meal or snack can keep the hunger pangs at bay for three or four hours, which is why grazing — albeit the right way — keeps you satiated during the entire day.
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.