Seems simple – don’t fall!
In Anti-Aging 12 Ways You Can Slow the Aging Process Fred Matheny writes, “Avoid injury so that you can keep working out. That’s hard to do as you age but not impossible. Staying uninjured also means not taking chances on the bike. Keep something in reserve on technical descents, watch out for dangerous riders in packs, use front and rear lights during the day and wear highly visible jerseys. Don’t take chance with motorists either—look for roads with less traffic. And you don’t need to get big air on the mountain bike!”
But it’s more complicated.
Pro racers can’t be so conservative. They’re paid to get results and so they take risks, particularly on descents to gain time and in sprints to win. They also have plain bad luck. Thirteen riders crashed out of the 2018 Tour de France. Most suffered the most common cycling injuries: broken collarbone or shoulder blade. Three were serious: Tony Martin had a fractured vertebra, Jens Keukeleire had a fractured fibula and Vincenzo Nibali had a broken vertebra.
Regular roadies also crash and sustain serious injuries even if they don’t take risks. Several years ago my friends John, Bill and I were climbing Lookout Mountain at about six mph. Bill’s front wheel kissed my rear wheel and he went down, breaking his hip. This year one of my clients, Mark, fell and fractured his pelvis.
Weaker, Brittle Bones
Bill and Mark have something in common with the peloton besides bad luck. Both have been diagnosed with osteopenia, which is bone mineral density (BMD) that is one standard deviation below average. Osteopenia is the early stage of weaker bones and it can progress to osteoporosis.
Multiple studies have found that a higher percentage of cyclists who do little other exercise have osteopenia than comparable people in the general population. One study of highly trained masters male cyclists in their 50s who had raced for at least 10 years but done little or no weight-bearing exercise found that, “Although highly trained and physically fit, these athletes may be at high risk for developing osteoporosis with advancing age.” Further, “Weight-bearing exercise performed during teen and young adult years did not appear to influence bone density.”
You are constantly renewing your bones by making new bone content as old bone content disappears. Bone renewal peaks in your 20s, and after about age 40 bone mass is lost by about 0.5% or more per year. Osteoporosis is a progressive condition of lower bone mineral density resulting in thinner and more brittle bones.
Some researchers hypothesized that cyclists’ lower BMD was because they sweated out so much calcium; however, a liter of sweat only contains about 40 mg of calcium. The daily recommended intake (DRI) of calcium for athletes is 1,300 – 1,500 mg of calcium. A liter of sweat contains only about 3% of the DRI! Sweating a lot is not what causes week bones.
Reducing the Risk of Osteopenia and Osteoporosis
There are three key factors:
Adequate calcium is necessary for bones to renew themselves so enough calcium in the diet is essential for bone health. Studies indicate that calcium supplements aren’t nearly as effective as calcium in the diet and supplements can cause kidney stones. Here’s information from the Mayo Clinic on sources of calcium.
- Vitamin D.
Vitamin D is necessary for your body to absorb the calcium.
- Weight-bearing exercise.
If you overload a muscle it gets stronger. If you overload a bone it also gets stronger. Cycling is easy on your joints because it is not weight bearing and, for that reason, you need to supplement it with weight-bearing exercise. (Even when a pro sprints standing on the pedals, the racer is putting less than full body weight on the pedals and thus isn’t overloading the skeleton.)
The heavier the overload the stronger the bones. Gymnasts during their competitive years have the strongest bones because of the flying dismounts. Primož Roglič who won stage 19 of the Tour de France is a former ski jumper. He competed from 2003 to 2011 and was the Junior World Ski Jumping champion in 2007. In his jumping years he had very strong bones.
The American College of Sports Medicine recommends at least 30 to 60 minutes per day of weight-bearing exercise for three to five days a week. High-impact exercise is more effective than low-impact.
Recent studies of post-menopausal women indicate that walking does not prevent bone loss because it doesn’t overload the body more than the skeleton is already accustomed to carrying.
Here are some suggestions on how to fit this in to your already busy life:
- Strength training using body weight and free weights rather than machines.
- Balance exercises on one leg.
- Walking with intermittent jogging for active recovery instead of going for an easy ride.
- Other aerobic activities such jogging, running or hiking with a backpack are all higher impact than walking.
- Activities of daily living, for example, use the stairs instead of an elevator.
- Play a sport, e.g., tennis, badminton, racquetball, handball, volleyball, basketball and soccer are high-impact and also require balance and coordination.
- Socialize by taking your significant other dancing one night a week, taking the kids hiking on the weekend and playing a sport with your friends.
Notes From the Stage 20 Time Trial
While warming up some riders wore a vest filled with ice or another refrigerant. Research shows that this keeps the core temperature from rising as much and reduces the perception of how hot it is. Precooling is beneficial for TTs and short stages but doesn’t improve performance in short events on the track or in long events. Cooling on the bike with something like an ice sock draped around the your neck or poring cold water on your head makes you feel better but doesn’t reduce the core temperature. Unless you have unlimited water, e.g., a domestique to keep fetching more, drinking your water will always cool you more effectively than pouring it on yourself.
Bottle on bike.
Even though the TT was just over 40 minutes riders still took bottles. As explained in last week’s column Learning from the Pros: Heat and Hydration just swirling a carbohydrate drink in the mouth can improve performance.
At the start of a stage or a multi-day tour a smart pro imagines that he or she has a book of matches. Every time the racer makes a very hard effort, e.g., sprinting out of the start house or on one of the earlier climbs in the TT, he is burning a match. The key is to still have a match left for the final uphill stretch to the TT. Similarly the sprinters weren’t going flat out in the TT— they were rationing matches for the final sprint on the Champs-Élysées the next day.
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My eBook Anti-Aging: Twelve Ways You Can Slow Down the Aging Process has a chapter on weight-bearing exercise and a chapter on strength training using body weight and free weights rather than machines. It also contains advice from these knowledgeable seniors: Gabe Mirkin, MD, Muffy Ritz, Malcolm Fraser, MD, Andy Pruitt, Jim Langley, John Lee Ellis, John Marsh, John Elmblad, Michelle Grainger, Elizabeth Wicks and Ken Bonner in addition to Fred Matheny. The 106-page Anti-Aging: Twelve Ways You Can Slow Down the Aging Process is just $14.99.
Don Macrae says
I remain to be convinced on this whole weight bearing idea. When riding from the body from the hips up is bearing as much weight as a person on their feet. And cyclists are only riding for a small percentage of their waking hours, maybe typically 10 hours per week, out of 112 waking hours. Furthermore, I would not be surprised if cyclists spent more time in the gym than the average person. And that study you reference was weak. Low numbers in the study, and I couldn’t tell where the reference figures came from. Were they comparing their 27 older cyclists with the general population, or what?
Rebounder and rebounding (mini tramp) has been shown to increase bone density.
glenn ashworth says
Most of us aren’t racers. Yes, bone density is worth being concerned about, but crashing is the actual reason we break bones. Simply avoiding crashes is the main way of avoiding broken bones. I’ve found over many years of cycling, that you shouldavoid riding in “pacelines” with riders you don’t know or trust. When riding for pleasure or fitness, only cylce with folks you know, know you and you do trust, not large groups of riders, many of whom don’t know or use the common cycling etiquette, like calling cars back, riding single file, over lapping wheels unnecessarily and not alerting others when passing. These are the common cause of falls. I’ve come to ride with only a few trusted cycling friends, or alone and believe I am much safer then riding in large club type groups with unknown and unsafe riders.
Some studies have shown bone density related to impact exercise rather then just weight training. which increases soft tissue strength and in it’s own way keeps the bones safer with that strength.
Bill Wightman says
Calcium, Vitamin D3, and weight bearing exercises are a start. In order to get the calcium into the bone (and reduce accumulation in muscles, arteries, heart valves etc) it is wise to supplement also with K2. The elasticity and oxidation (from exposure to reactive oxygen compounds in blood) of bone structure increases with age leading to further brittleness over time. To improve bone composition, foods with high levels of ascorbic acid are needed because humans do not produce vitamin C. Ascorbic acid provides Hydrogen ions to reduced the rate of oxidation and is instrumental in rebuilding bone (and hair, sinews, muscle fiber, nails…). One other item I have found very useful is to consume a copious quantity of hydrolyzed collagen powder. This will provide all of the amino acids (building blocks of protein) needed to rebuild knee joints, muscles, and other cycling body parts that are torn down in a good long or HIIT session. I personally load my 3X daily tea with it. It is tasteless. It is essentially bone broth for lazy people.
I am a 60 y.o. and ride weekly with a 21 mph group for 75 miles on weekends and ride a 50-miler Wednesday nights with intermittent HIIT efforts alone (125 miles per week total). I have never had any chronic or significant acute body issues in the last 16 years. So far, so good.