By Kevin Kolodziejski
Granted, the question posed in today’s title doesn’t carry the same existential clout as “To be, or not to be” — which just happens to be the world’s best-known should-I-commit-suicide-or-not soliloquy. So allow me to ask you another, not quite as imminent as Hamlet’s but still related in a way to your mortality.
‘Do You Eat to Ride, or Ride to Eat?’
It’s a black-or-white question that in all likelihood will elicit a shade-of-gray response from you — if you can call forth an answer at all. After all, love is indeed blind and you love cycling. Recognizing all the reasons you do what you do, let alone prioritize them, is not always easy to do and can be a real puzzle.
And while you work on that one, let me tell you about actual one, a jigsaw puzzle Costco now sells for $600. It contains 60,000 pieces and spans 29 feet when completed. I bring this to your attention to make an analogy: That creating a diet that’s optimal for both your health and your cycling and still tastes better than that concoction of wheat paste, construction paper, Elmer’s Glue your bizarro buddy dared you to eat during a third grade art class can be like paying for and piecing together that Costco jigsaw puzzle.
Except — and this is a big, yet-oh-so-apropos exception — you work on the immense puzzle in a house haunted by gremlins who amuse themselves at times by undoing some of what you’ve done. Now you may be neither a cynic, nor a believer in spirits. But I’m a big believer in the aforementioned analogy.
The Cost of Good Health
After all, many cyclists do see the cost of good health — which, besides the cycling part, is mainly a matter of eating wholesome foods daily, doing weightlifting workouts regularly, and making sleep a priority — to be steep enough so that they refuse to pay it in its entirety. Additionally, many who willingly foot the full bill become so overwhelmed fitting together the many seemingly dissimilar pieces that they give up trying.
What’s more, those who readily pay the cost and do make progress frequently reach a point where it gets curtailed, becomes more of a one-step-forward-two-steps-backward process. Almost as if their efforts are indeed affected by gremlins. That situation is the one you could encounter in a month or so from now in an attempt to lose weight gained during the holidays.
’Tis the Season to Be Heavy
Not only are you more likely to eat more, ride less, and gain weight during the holiday season, but due to foul weather and fewer hours of daylight you’re also just as likely to ride fewer miles during that time and the month or so afterward. But that won’t stop you from dieting — or from the gremlins having fun with you. And while it may be of little solace to know these same gremlins have undermined the diets of millions of Americans, you can take comfort in knowing there’s a guy in Australia, professor David Raubenheimer, who helps evict the gremlins that steal pieces of the dietary puzzles dieters so diligently work on.
Along with five colleagues at the University of Sydney, Raubenheimer published a paper in the November 2022 issue of Obesity that suggests the key piece to the obesity puzzle — one that the 70 percent of adult Americans who weigh too much would certainly love to solve — is a single macronutrient. But it’s neither carbohydrate nor fat. It’s the third one, the one that rarely receives any blame for the fact the adult obesity rate in the United States is just a tenth away from 42 percent.
Yet it’s not because you eat too much of it. It’s because when your body doesn’t receive enough of it, it signals for you to keep eating, not necessarily protein, but more of what you typically eat. For too many, that means highly processed foods. Not only are highly processed foods (aka ultraprocessed foods) calorically dense and usually loaded with bad fats and nutritionally void carbohydrates, but they also tend to lack protein. This creates — according to the researchers’ analysis of data accrued in the Australian Bureau of Statistic’s 2011-2012 National Nutrition and Physical Activity Survey — a “macronutrient imbalance” that keeps you from feeling filled up and “drives energy overconsumption.”
Low Protein Early, Overconsumption Later
This overconsumption was most evident in the 9,341 people who participated in the study whose first meal of the day tended to be low in protein. Compared to the others surveyed, they ate more highly processed foods throughout the day and had an overall higher caloric intake in later meals.
Now I singled out Raubenheimer from his associates because of what comes next. Besides being a researcher of some note, he seems to be, at least in one instance, clairvoyant.
In April 2014, the journal Nature published an article he cowrote that predicts the outcome of the University of Sydney study published six and a half years later. “The paucity of protein relative to fats and carbohydrates in processed foods drives the overconsumption of total energy as our bodies seek to maintain a target level of protein intake.” Moreover, when Medical News Today interviewed Raubenheimer in regard to the 2022 study, he gave them these two gems: that a high intake of fiber may offset the overeating that results from a lack of protein and a pithy and profound eating strategy that should work for anyone. “Target foods that come from fields, not factories.”
All this is good for you to know — and great for me — for it all supports the way of eating I’ve been advocating for more than 25 years. To make each meal you consume primarily protein and complex carbs high-in-fiber along with a minimum of simple carbs and fats. (Important side note: Not all fat is bad for your health. But if you’re trying to lose weight or keep lost weight from returning, the fact of the matter is even the healthiest of fats are twice as calorically dense per gram than protein or complex carbs.)
Getting Back to That Giant Jigsaw Puzzle
To place all that’s been written so far into perspective, let’s go back to the prodigious puzzle now available through Costco and imagine you’ve purchased the variation titled Optimal Eating. Just like the actual puzzle Costco offers, you receive 60 individually bagged puzzles, 60 puzzle reference posters, and a legend showing the placement of each smaller puzzle to create the monstrous one.
But one of the smaller puzzles has already been done for you — complements of Raubenheimer and others like him. It shows that not all calories are equal, and those calories that come from protein and complex carbohydrates best satisfy your appetite and your body’s needs.
And also suggests that the lack of the former could be the underlying cause of obesity.
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.