Smashing my mileage goal early last year prompted me to set a reasonably ambitious goal of 5000 miles for 2012. Things were going well in January, with 350 miles on the clock. That was until I managed to have an altercation with a bus (I ran into one, hard) and bruised my leg and elbow. I wasn’t seriously damaged, but I did have to take it easy for a few days. This led me to have to take the (ergh!) car and train to work for most of the week, setting my target back a bit.
Feeling better today, I decided to make up some miles on my way home from work and headed out into the dusk for the back lanes of Leicestershire on a detour. Instead of the usual 5 pan flat miles, I did 22 hilly ones. If you haven’t already, you should try night riding. The lanes that you think you know take on a mysterious quality; red light blinking brightly on the road behind, front light picking out the lumps and bumps in the road, with the giant ghosts of your fingers working the brakes on the hedges to the sides.
My ride put me in mind of a similar one I made around this time last year that acted as a catalyst to dropping the carbs and embracing fat and protein as my new macro-nutrients of choice. I’d put on some weight over Christmas 2010 and had committed to a low-fat diet plan and diligently recorded and counted my calories in and out, avoided fat and maintained a calorie deficit that I thought would shift my increasing paunch. Toward the end of January, the results were less than encouraging. Despite upping my miles and cutting the fat and calories, I GAINED two pounds and was feeling lousy.
Much like today, I resolved to up my miles and went for an extended ride home. During the day I had my usual muesli breakfast, some low-fat cereal bars as snacks before lunch and a two packs of low-fat wraps from Boots. Getting hungry during the afternoon and anticipating my after work exertion, I nipped out and bought two carbohydrate energy bars and an energy drink. As I set off on the bike, I started feeling hungry. Climbing out of Leicester I bonked, worse than I ever had before. I craved food (?) and started feeling dizzy. Worse, my calf muscles started to cramp. I stopped off at a garage and bought a Mars bar and another energy drink, a little voice in my head DEMANDING sugar. Carrying on the ride got worse. I felt I had no energy and my calves cramped badly twice, almost causing me to fall off the bike.
I was cycling hundreds of miles a week, counting calories and avoiding fat. Why was I feeling so bad? How was it possible that I was gaining weight? I didn’t get it.
I ditched the diet.
A few weeks later, I was browsing the Amazon catalogue on my Kindle and came across Waist Disposal by Dr John Briffa. This seemed a bit more like it, a science based approach with hundreds of references to published scientific papers. I’d grown weary of the pseudo-science and obvious nonsense peddled in most ‘diet’ books that always seemed to advocate eating tasteless, highly processed ‘fake’ foods. After scanning the review I decided to give it a go. The link to human evolutionary biology, what we know about the way food is used by the body and the deconstruction of the conventional wisdom of ‘calories in/calories out’, ‘fat is bad’ and ‘base your diet on carbohydrate’ made a heck of a lot of sense to me.
The first week of going low-carb, I got the ‘low-carb’ flu. Sounds like more pseudo-science doesn’t it? Click the link and revel in the proper, beautiful, sexy science.
I stuck to it and began to feel more alert, energetic and generally fit than I had since, well, ever. Jumping on the scales I discovered I’d dropped a couple of pounds in a week!
Could I cycle though? My low-fat adventures had always ended with me feeling washed out and with little energy for any sort of exercise. Jumping on my trusty Langster, I took off around the block. Like a rocket. 10 miles later, with a massive grin on my face, I resolved to stick to the low-carb thing.
It was weird at first; eating curries with no rice, fried breakfasts with no toast, steak with no chips, meat ragu with no spaghetti. That’s not to say that it was difficult though; the food was real, minimally processed and best of all, delicious. Bacon, butter, Brazil nuts and beef all consumed guilt free with no portion control. My NEED for food decreased and I was surprised to find this was as true on my big cycling days as my more sedentary ones. Pounds dropped off. 36 inch waist to 32. 14 and a half stone to 13. Large cycling jerseys to small. In about three months.
My cycling went from strength to strength, I completed several sportives, including three 100 milers and the 3000 metres of climbing in the Etape Cymru. All while eating low-carb.
Flash forward a year and here I am in the cold dark, pedalling away effortlessly. I skipped breakfast today as I was not feeling particularly hungry so settled for a coffee with cream. Nothing until lunch when I had a salad of green stuff, sliced home-roasted gammon with a generous glug of olive oil and red wine vinegar. Two more coffees with cream through the day and then my cycle. Tea was braised beef in gravy with swede and buttery cabbage. I couldn’t finish it…