Ketogenic Diet for Cycling
Part 7: Putting it All Together: Recipes for Successful Cycling
There is pleasure in recognising old things from a new viewpoint
-Richard P. Feynman
I want to start with a personal story
It was the summer 2003 and I was going to go to college, the name is not important. As a tall kid it was always basketball what I was supposed to be good at, though, getting to think about it, I was tall, and nothing much else. I do not discard that probably my basketball added to the ‘multi-faceted persona’ that admission officers in colleges want to see. As such I was groomed to try out for the Men’s Basketball team in my first year. I received a weight training program which also in retrospect also left a lot to be desired, though I am digressing.
4 days a week I spent ‘pumping iron’ in order to get in shape and bulk up for the basketball trials. After all at barely 85kg (187lbs) on my 2m (6’7″) frame, I was way undersized for the big boys league. When not in the gym, I was eating a LOT; I didn’t know anything about cooking and my parents were busy working so for lunch and during the afternoons I ate significant amount of protein (ie cold cuts) and lots of bread. The week before my flight, I weighed in the heaviest I have been up to date – 98kg (216lbs).
I flunked basketball trials spectacularly and I haven’t touched a basketball ever since. I was the perfect addition to the rowing team, a passion that I followed for 6 years afterwards.
The Freshmen (Negative) Fifteen
The one thing I was scared to death was to get fat in college since a lot of my friends that went to study in the US came back grossly overweight after the first year and it got worse after each time I saw them…much worse. It was if they had caught up a disease… Apparently there was also a term for it – the freshmen 15 (pounds or 7kg gained).
I find it hard to remember how exactly, however, I had gotten it in my head that carbohydrates, bread, pasta and such makes you fat and I should be eating only protein such as eggs, chicken and hamburgers without the bun. The all you can eat dining hall had a humongous pasta bar – what most (of the overweight) people were eating – as such it was to be avoided. Made to order omelets and cream cheese (no bagels) and some fruit were my breakfast, with burgers and/or chicken with cheese being my lunch, I also enjoyed tuna, after all fats were bad. Strangely I drank a lot of whole milk, mainly because the low fat one tasted like water. Sodas and fizzy drinks didn’t quite seem appealing, even though my roommate had a ready supply at all times, so I enjoyed the occasional can of soda as well as a donut on Saturdays. Subsequently at a post rowing practice dinner once, somebody mentioned in a derogatory manner that this was the Atkins Diet and the guy who invented it died with clogged arteries and as such was a quack and as a rower I had to be eating carbs and not wasting my potential with some voodoo.
Among other things my freshmen year I lost 15+ pounds (7+kgs) to the point that people started complementing me and I needed new pants since everything I owned was way too big. I thought it must have been the rowing.
Through one reason or another the food temptations were too good to resist and for the years to come I adopted the all popular “everything in moderation” and as long as I kept myself busy (rowing), I can afford an occasional treat. I learned to cook, bake and I found it a fun endeavour and had my answer why the greatest chefs in the world are men, it’s truly fun.
One thing was constant throughout all these years was my fluctuating weight – it would drop when season picked up in earnest after the winter and it would slowly creep in the fall and winter months. In a season i ranged from 90-96kg (198-211lbs) or 7%. If I were to believe the interwebs, it was normal and that is why the term ‘racing weight’ existed. When I started cycling in 2012, I could go as low as 88kg (194lbs), though, I suspect it was mostly due to losing my rowers upper body.
As mentioned before I was watching what I ate, avoiding fats and everything in moderation, even sugar, with ‘the high carb athlete diet,’ to the point friends and colleagues admired my commitment. I was hungry ALL THE TIME and I had ‘kill innocent people urges’ before meals, I guess I had developed a “fast metabolism.” To get down to ‘racing weight’ I tried it all throughout the years:
- I counted calories. I still have my extremely detailed spreadsheets to show for it – yes i was that obsessive compulsive to the point I could guesstimate the energy value of a given piece of food and calculate in my head how much I should eat of it – whether it was a sandwich or a piece of cake. I had an app on my phone as well. It wasn’t fun, but it’s part of being a committed athlete…I thought.
- I bought a kitchen scale and weighed all my meals so I could lower the amounts and hence reduce the calories. I can still remember how many grams represent a serving of pasta, rice, potatoes, etc.
- The kitchen scale thing led me to starve myself with eating lots of raw cabbage to fill up my stomach. I trained before breakfast while hungry as well.
All the methods worked initially, though sooner rather than later I was back to where I started, could be because the of season was time to relax and eat what I wanted. The last one was the least fun by a a huge margin and the most successful to the point I got to 83kg (183lbs) in the spring of 2015, though any little ‘deviation’ or treat would send me on a path to weight gain and as I said it was not fun at all. Oh yes and bonking and fuelling during trainings longer than 2h was a real threat and limiter for me.
Than it all changed as I educated myself.
I have not had such consistently high energy levels, improved bowel function, while keeping a stable weight (83-85kg) for many months as well as not having the urge to eat every 2-3 hours, including during training; all of that WITHOUT counting calories, weighing meals, etc.
We can not solve our problems with the same level of thinking that created them.
The story above is a fitting continuation and wrap up of the 6 part Cycling Nutrition Series, since in a way it shows that through my early unrealizing Atkins diet experience you can figure things out for yourself, though if you don’t realise why, it is very easy to fall victim to dogmas, fads, “accepted wisdom” and old-wives tales. William Banting is another author, who in his frustrations with his ever increasing weight, tried rowing to no avail until he started what we refer to in the parlance of our times as the low carbohydrate, high fat/ketogenic diet. He detailed his exploits in the famous Letter on Corpulence, Addressed to the Public. Before that our ancestors didn’t have fancy scientific terms (ketogenic, high-fat (compared to what???) ), they just knew what was needed to survive since that is what we have been doing as species for a good part of 2.5 million years. (Animal) Fat, fruits and vegetables were a big part of it, flour, corn starch or high fructose syrup and sugar were not. As an illustration – we evolved/were designed as a diesel car and little if anything of that has changed. No matter how cheap or even free, in whatever shiny package, and marketing phrases are out there, gasoline has no place in our engines, our bodies just don’t work like that, PERIOD. Unfortunately that is what has been happening for quite some time with the corresponding problems – getting fat among others more serious such as type 2 diabetes, obesity, hypertension and heart disease.
Though the real question is:
Why Should YOU Consider Changing (Your Diet)?
What it is to feel normal has taken a new definition. Extreme irritation when hungry and/or before meals, constant hunger/cravings, particularly sugar, sleepiness after meals; needing coffee to perk up midday, bloating and intestinal disturbances (diarrhoea and constipation) seem are among the most common symptoms people experience on a daily basis to the point that this is considered NORMAL and taking medication for it every day is OK, after all everybody is having the same problem as you. You are just treating the symptom, not the cause. Today on my way back from riding, on a city bus I saw an advertisement promoting an anti-constipation over the counter product. Ad men know their audiences, as such I am sure there is a reason why that product was there. When was the last time you felt ‘normal?’
Unfortunately as well cooking has fallen into oblivion.
And yet at the same time we’re talking about cooking more—and watching cooking, and reading about cooking, and going to restaurants designed so that we can watch the work performed live. We live in an age when professional cooks are household names, some of them as famous as athletes or movie stars. The very same activity that many people regard as a form of drudgery has somehow been elevated to a popular spectator sport.
-Michael Pollan. Cooked: A Natural History of Transformation
Though the bigger problem is not that people don’t cook, however, that to one degree or another the responsibility for things as simple as daily meals has been given to others – notably the diet and processed food industries who are making many BILLIONS as of the time of this post. It’s not the billions that is the problem, but the fact that your health is rarely the agenda. It is time to retake that responsibility back. Sure having that sugary treat will certainly not kill you, however, it will be an informed and conscious choice. In the end you have your best interest at hand.
It is simple (paraphrasing Banting directly)
“Foods to be avoided:
1. Bread, and everything else made with flour…
2. Cereals, including breakfast cereals and milk puddings
3. Potatoes and all other white root vegetables
4. Foods containing much sugar
5. All sweets…
You can eat as much as you like of the following foods:
1. Meat, fish, birds
2. All green vegetables
3. Eggs, dried or fresh
5. Fruit (unsweetened and non dried), except bananas and grapes.
Though when William Banting wrote his exploits in dieting, the processed food industry and/or cooking channels were not of the scale they are today therefore I have to add that you should be eating real foods and since this is becoming harder and harder to define these days, the best definition I have found to date is
Real food is something that was alive quite recently
Prof Tim Noakes
Raw nuts (ie not sugar roasted) are a perfect snack and when chopped can be a replacement for the morning cereal combined with whole milk and some cinnamon. Meat with the fat still on when roasted can be the perfect lunch, add to that a creamy mushroom sauce with melted butter, or some grilled sausages with real egg mayonnaise on the side. Almost all that makes food tasty and deliciously smelling is fat soluble for a reason (essential oils are another non-food example).
Now is the time for what you are probably waiting as you are going through this article – specific recipes. I am starting a whole new Recipe section of the website where I will be posting coupe of recipes of the week that I have personally tested since just pasting my cookbook notes would make for a boring post that would be difficult to search and or bookmark. In the meantime at the end of this post, are some brilliant recipe books to get you started and most importantly point you in the right direction of what to look for in a meal.
Thought the more interesting aspect is that exploring why something can fail is more important that just putting a generic list of ‘tips and tricks.’
Why Can YOU Fail and Monkey Wrench Your Best Food Interests
“But I Have NEVER cooked!!!”
I am starting to develop a serious vintage Mercedes-Benz car addiction. One thing that all old cars need is fixing, and probably the main reason why people are selling them. Well the real cause is that maintenance is “complicated/requires special tools/takes lots of time” and ultimately costs the equivalent of body parts at the local garage where the quality of work is abysmal at best… I myself was amazed that with couple hundred dollars/euros (often times much much less) worth of tools and a service manual (also not expensive) or YouTube/Google search it is possible to do almost all routine work on any vehicle, even major repairs. Same goes with computers (hardware and software), smartphones, plumbing, bicycle wheel building, light fixtures etc. It is embarrassing how easy and quick most things are once you educate yourself a bit!!! After all limitations exists only in our minds…
Cooking is no exception. Just as nobody was born an Olympic champion, every Michelin star restaurant chef started with chopping vegetables and burning the occasional meal at some point. A kitchen and couple of pans and utensils is ALL you need.
Taking control is your strongest weapon
Missing the Point and Obsessions
We all know that vegan, paleo, etc. Joe/Josephine that makes sure everybody at the party is aware they -Joe/Josephine cannot eat gluten/dairy/etc. It makes for an awkward situation for all sides present. The point I am trying to make is that taking control of your food is a way to personal wellbeing, HOWEVER, obsessing about it is stressful. Stressing about what you can’t change is pointless and harmful. So when your friends, significant other are going out for pizza, you are missing the point that it is not the pizza, but the going out part to have fun. If you are not a celiac disease sufferer, every once and a while a sandwich will not kill you, though in most restaurants you can safely navigate the menu. Going out daily because you are scared to cook is another story. I went to Japan while in my fist months of low carb living – not trying sushi in the country that invented it was going to be pure lunacy. Major part of travelling is new experiences which are positive for your brain and personal happiness.
Not Taking Control
Yes junk and processed food are everywhere, though what guarantee do you have what is in the ‘home cooked restaurant meal?’ You have no idea, therefore as I mentioned earlier, your kitchen, your meals and your home is what you CAN control. You are also able to educate yourself so you don’t just take any statement (including this article) at face value and avoid….
Cookbook and Cooking Channel Mesmerization
Going back to the Einstein quote above, as much as I have respect for the creativity of a lot of big name chefs, no mater how visually appealing, sweet smelling, taste bud arousing and food orgasm inducing that chocolate cake is, it is still a humongous sugar bomb…among other things. The fact that it is on TV, doesn’t make it any better. As such a good number of recipes out there have no place in anybody’s kitchen, million or billion youtube followers doesn’t make it ok either. Gluten free muffin is still a muffin and by cutting out sugar you don’t go putting artificial sweeteners as a substitute. You can’t solve problems with the same level of thinking that created them.
We have a perfect system in place to tell us how much to eat based on daily activity, etc. (Refined) carbohydrates can wreak havoc on it (middle of the article), though once you cut them out, you should eat only when hungry and not force feed yourself when you are full. Your brain knows best; trust it.
The Organic Whole Foods Traps
Fads come and go and organic foods is one of them. Though the movement started by people who wanted to be more in touch with the earth, big corporations also needed a piece of the pie. Organic sugar blessed with a virgin’s tears under full moon and approved by the Dalai Lama is still sugar. In addition the ‘organic’ certification criteria have been so watered down by industry lobbying that actually almost anything can fit into that category and your local farmer can’t meet the requirements (an idea for another future post maybe). Buy the best raw ingredients you can afford.
Fear of Fat
Though I am a bit late to the party, I am glad I joined. Fats are (albeit slowly) starting to get the needed positive attention. By removing some of the ‘staples’ of the Western diet such as flour and sugar leaves a huge gap into the daily calorie need. That energy needs to come from somewhere and as much as you think you are onboard with the idea of eating fats, you still go for tuna and chicken and/or eat steak for breakfast lunch and dinner – we are not pumas.
Though still keep an eye for the seed oils (see my article on fats for full details).
Don’t have fear of fat.
Knowing ‘Why?’ you do something is the ultimate way to take responsibility for your wellbeing, that includes what food you put in your body. With the first instalment of the cycling nutrition series, I hope to have given you a good start.
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Cycling Nutrition Series
- Part 1: Fast Furious and Deadly – Carbohydrates
- Part 2: Sweet Little Lies – Sugar
- Part 3: Not by Bread Alone – Wheat, Pasta and Gluten
- Part 4: The Fat of The Land – Fats
- Part 5: Size Does Matter – Cholesterol
- Part 6: You Think You Know what Processed Food Is?
- Part 7: Putting it All Together: Recipes for Successful Cycling
The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Living – Dr. Stephen Phinney and Dr. Jeff Volek
The Real Meal Revolution – Prof. Timothy Noakes, Sally Ann-Creed, Jonno Proudfoot, David Grier
The New Atkins for a New You – Dr. Eric Westman, Dr. Stephen Phinney, Dr. Jeff Volek
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