Genesys Pro Cycling (image courtesy jxpphotography)
By Kane Walker
Have you ever been given the answer without the means, like a treasure map with nothing but the origin and a big fat ‘X’? This story starts with the pursuit of somebodies idea, the idea that I need to be someone I am not…or someone I did not think I could be, however in actual fact it could be the true me. Confusion aside, bike riders are lean and I needed to become lean.
This is not a simple task and it is as salt is to a beautifully prepared dish; flavour enhancing however potentially resulting in operation dinner out! Of course like any amateur, you begin by starving yourself and find that it leads to a soul sapping couple of days before ending abruptly with a greasy, fat infused, sugary doom that leaves you side splitting and none the leaner. The starvio diet is a quick death to your cycling power and motivation!
Next on the menu was a quick trip to the nutritionist. This was science after all, so it made sense for me to seek out science to solve my issue (science FTW). My nutritionist was brilliant. She sorted out all of my dieting pitfalls with the introduction of an in your face, honest food diary. Simple however very effective as it outlined all of the horrendous foods I was eating, the energy dense calorie bombs that I would indulge more than a few times a week and the nutrients my body was craving. There was however one issue with this model. I was now healthier than I had ever been, however having a bowl of muesli at 9pm at night (just before bed), in the obsessive idea that I needed to complete my daily meal plan, was getting me as close to lean as Mc Donald’s is healthy for you! There had to be more to this.
With the new found knowledge of my need to change my diet and the obvious success of science, I turned to the internet; a wealth of knowledge and information at your fingertips and no one to regulate the truth from fiction. A dangerous playground if there ever was one! Ignorant to the potential problems and eventual spiraling doom I was about to immerse myself in, I delved into this portal of knowledge. It was amazing! There was so much to learn about nutrition, so many ins and outs of each food and a multitude of research studies to back up or discredit every claim, however on term kept popping up. ‘Calorie’ was the word of the day. Calorie this, calorie that. A simple measurement of energy that would result in the perfect body muhahahahaha! Or so I thought.
If you ask a veteran rider how to get lean they may come up with an elaborate idea that has been tried and tested however it all comes back to a simple equation, energy in versus energy out. This model is far easier to follow than the complex dieting plans that were painted all over the internet and city bill boards. It worked. Believe it or not it actually worked! What was this miracle equation that I had just discovered? You could lose weight and get results, however this was not enough for a mere power hungry amateur. More weight lost would mean a greater power to weight ratio; right? True, although I didn’t take account my bodies desire to replenish the calories I so eagerly deprived it.
Now that I was down to my race weight (or at least the weight I could get some results at) I just needed to maintain, however something went wrong. I was in essence back on the starvio diet, however this time it just had a bit of a fancy word behind it. This massive calorie deficit resulted in major, stomach crippling, hunger pains. I just kept thinking to myself, ‘Embrace the hunger’! If anything I started to eat more because my body just wanted to take back all, and more, that I had stolen from it. ‘Hey presto’, the unsustainable diet!
I was in a rut and couldn’t get back on track. One peanut butter and nutella sandwich turned into 5, a small bowl of muesli turned into 3 large and before I knew it the cycle of binge eating had begun. After writing off the season (nutrition wise) I had a break from the bike. Refreshed, recovered and revitalized; the desire to become lean was once again burning bright. Every season begins with a solid few weeks of base training. This time offered the perfect opportunity to shed those layers of bakery treats and delectable deserts that had accumulated around my waist, and so this treasure map had another chance to change it’s course; destination lean!
Operation get lean was once again in full swing. Don’t lay the table tonight darling because I won’t be home for dinner! Over the course of the base season I achieved a level of ‘lean’ that could be regarded as substantial compared to my previous self. My newly achieved, all-time PB weight bewildered my team mates when they saw me at the first training camp. I was literally a shadow of the boy I used to be, AND, I finally had pipes (the road map of veins that every cyclist wants tattooed on their legs; a true mark of ‘leanness’)!
However, as far as luck would have it, I didn’t have a chance to unleash my new found leanness on the world as I still couldn’t handle my bike better than a snotty nosed preschooler (exaggeration!), resulting in an unscheduled stop on lap 15 of 20; destination asphalt. Now there are a few ways to get lighter, however sticking a 2 month hole in my patella ligament (in cycling I like to refer to an injury on the basis of time spent off the bike recovering, as that is all that really matters) is not the most advisable practice. Enter the depression diet! As far as emotional eating goes, there is nothing better to trigger a gigantic eat fest like the thought of ‘what could have been’ playing over and over in a fragile mind. There were numerous warnings to ‘take it easy, as your body will just store every miniscule amount of food that is shoveled down your gob, like it’s preparing for a few years underground’, however I took their advice like water to oil and engrossed myself in a spiral of calorie dense doom. I won’t lie, I enjoyed it. Eating whatever you wanted without feeling guilty is the devils work, however sometimes you have to satisfy that demon in order to live a little. After all how much can you gain in a few weeks off the bike surrounded by bakeries… food markets… delicatessen stores… and a stomach the size of a black hole?
Simply; a lot! While I didn’t seem to gain a huge amount of weight on the scales (mainly because the muscle in my leg had deteriorated at an alarming rate), let’s just say I was carrying more spare tires to get me out of a jam (mmmm jam doughnut) a few times over on the next ride (even if I came to a sudden stop…think air bags and Michelin man); and so the cycle continues. Get fat, lose weight, get fat, lose weight etc.
My year consisted of a number of troughs and peaks. I could never maintain my weight and power at the same level I had achieved at the start of the year. The pursuit of a lean body had tainted the water hole and every time I got on the scales I went back to that watering hole to sap more life out of my cycling. I spent most of the year obsessed in the pursuit of being lean that I was blind to the fact that my racing was suffering. I even resorted to 3 hour recovery rides! The science and the knowledge that I thought was a god send was in fact a noxious weed threatening to constrict my progression and success. Under normal circumstances a rider should be able to race throughout the year with several peaks and continue a steady increase in their progression. However, for me a series of injuries and an idea that ‘lean is everything’, has found me wanting at the latter part of the season and while I am now approximately 8-10kgs lighter than when I first joined the team, I have stressed my body more than it has been allowed to recover resulting in a stale mate of dire proportions and a body that is neither lean nor packing the power of ye olden days.
So is a calorie a calorie? Everybody is different and while some things work for others it is the experiences we endure that will decipher what works for us. My experiences have left me with more questions than answers; however I have seen merit in a number of the potential answers. It is more a question of uncovering the whole answer opposed to reading a piece of blood stained parchment, with the only recognizable feature being the big fat ‘X’. I was slowly uncovering the hidden path however one thing is for sure; there is more to this mystery of nutrition than meets the eye!