Sunday, February 07, 2010

Food is fuel

Date: Feb. 7
Mileage: 67
Time: 4 hours, 47 minutes
Weather: 43 degrees, rain showers, southeast wind 10-20 mph (felt like spring. Thanks El Niño!)
Details: Distance road ride on the "southern circuit:" North Douglas, Thane, Back Loop Road; intensity 50-80 percent
Note: Left knee tendons are feeling a lot better but right knee had some light patellar pain while riding into the headwind. Been a while since I felt that.

Endurance athletes tend to develop very literal interpretation of the “food is fuel" mantra. This is especially true of touring cyclists, whose access to different varieties of food becomes more and more limited as they travel through isolated areas and tiny towns. Eventually, quality and nutrition are relegated to the sidelines as energy-starved cyclists go on an indiscriminate calorie hunt.

When this happens, these cyclists will find themselves standing in gas stations, questioning why they should spend $1.75 on an organic, vitamin-fortified Clif Bar when they can get the same calorie punch (and similar fat-protein-carb levels) in a much smoother, much tastier, 75-cent Snickers Bar. When these cyclists start entering multiday races, the situation deteriorates even further, until they’re questioning why they should bother stopping for dinner when four Snickers Bars will provide all of the energy in a fraction of the time.

I found myself buried deep in this rationale during the Tour Divide. By the time I left Grants, New Mexico, I had already lost nearly 15 pounds and was running a deepening daily calorie deficit. Before leaving town, I stocked up with two days worth of supplies, because I didn’t expect to reach another food resupply before Silver City, about 275 miles away. One of the supplies I bought was a pound of Sour Patch Kids. This portion of my “gummy snack” food group was supposed to last two days. I ate a breakfast of pastry, orange juice, fruit smoothie, banana and coffee at the last gas station out of Grants and set out toward Pie Town. It didn’t take me long to crack into those Sour Patch Kids. I continued to mindlessly munch on them until about 15 miles outside of Pie Town, a mere five hours later, when I hit the bottom of the bag. In the matter of a single morning, I had consumed an entire pound of Sour Patch Kids. Do you know how many calories are in a pound of Sour Patch Kids? Sixteen hundred! Guess how many grams of sugar? Three hundred and thirty! That’s a third of a kilogram! Of pure sugar!

I still ate a huge lunch in Pie Town, including a piece of banana creme pie and two cans of Pepsi. I don’t even remember what I ate during the afternoon, but I remember sitting down that night at my campsite to a dinner of two huge cookies, a bag of almonds and dried cherries. And that was just one day. Needless to say, I came home from the Tour Divide very, very addicted to sugar.

Kicking this addiction has been my continuing battle ever since, especially because my life revolves around convenience foods. I genuinely do not have time to cook, plus I don’t like to cook, and I’m not very good at it as well. But my “food as fuel (and only fuel)” mantra has gone too far. I actually still eye king-sized Snickers Bars at the grocery store and think, “Well, that could work for dinner.”

I am not and never will be a food snob; I require about as much culinary variety in my diet as my cat. But I do want to eat at least somewhat healthy, and I want to stop the guilty mid-day gummy bear binges (and the resulting extra pounds now that my calorie deficit has become a surplus.) So my goal from this point on is to drastically reduce my candy intake, limit my simple carb intake, and eat a lot more fresh raw fruits and vegetables (which are already a pretty heavy staple of my diet.) I get around the whole cooking nuisance by making a lot of gigantic salads and veggie-laden sandwiches; using tuna, surimi, black beans, cottage cheese, sushi and hummus as sources of protein; buying only whole-grain bread and tortillas and trying to stick to low-sugar cold cereals (even though my favorites are flavored Cheerios and Honey Bunches of Oats); and snacking on yogurt, flaxseed tortilla chips, fresh salsa and fruit.

If you have any other ideas for relatively healthy, no-cooking-required, can-be-eaten-on-the-go foods, I'd love to hear them. I want to be healthy and strong for White Mountains 100! Hot food is overrated anyway. But Sour Patch Kids will always be little morsels of heaven.