Diet and the Older Athlete …

I’m losing weight faster than you because I’m busy doing stuff not sitting reading about nutrition.                           Gayle.

The story so far … overweight, unfit, somewhat depressed old dude starts cycling in an attempt to reduce his weight and improve his health. Finds it exhilarating and becomes obsessed.

I’m no stranger to losing weight. I’m actually quite good at it. It’s just that I’m even better at gaining it. It’s practically an annual cycle. Weight loss diets work, the kilos drop off, the will power is reinforced by the success but the hunger mounts, the weight loss stalls and I crack. Six weeks in, six kilos down, six months in back to square one. At least the annual average is slightly lower and there are some benefits that last a while even though the weight has returned.

The last couple of diets have been 5/2 style exercises. The first was very effective. I ate nothing two separate days in the week and my normal diet the other five. Weight loss was quick. It slowed after about 7 kg. I suspect the main reason was increasing my intake on the eating days led to a stalemate. The regime collapsed on a holiday in Japan and I didn’t find the enthusiasm to resume.

The weight crept back up. A year later I tried again. This time I ate a small evening meal on the fast days. It was not quite as effective but the rebound was.

A wise man once said “Don’t make any change to your diet that you’re not prepared to make permanent”. That was Ogie Shaw. What he recommended instead was an exercise regime well outside my capabilities physically and not in the least appealing. Nonetheless the advice is good. Lets make it a lifestyle diet not a weight loss diet.

So what should the older cyclist eat?

Stuffed if I know, but there are several places to go for advice. Quickly categorised these are

  • Doctors and dieticians
  • Government issued dietary guidelines
  • Cycling mythology
  • Medical literature
  • Dr Google
  • Fads, quacks and influencers

There is a lot of overlap in these broad groups, the professionals may reinforce the dietary guidelines and you’d hope that they occasionally delve into the literature. However there is a subset of doctors who take issue with the guidelines and they’ve certainly found literature to support their case – ask Dr Google about Low Carb.

Cycling specific advice is interesting. As always the brains are attracted to the money. In cycling the money is with national bodies hoping to bring home gold medals. Top exercise physiologists and coaches are working with elite riders with peak performance as their goal. The result is an extraordinarily high carbohydrate intake.  Peak performance in a brief competitive career may not equate to long term health. I am not expecting to win any gold medals so I will not be sucking on any gels, my liver and pancreas deserve better and I’m very fond of my teeth.

Back in my marathon running days I knew that long runs build stamina, patience and experience but could never fit in as many as I would have liked. enough time to run many long distances in training. I would find myself increasing the length of my sessions as the big day approached aiming to do one 20 miler a week or so before the race. At the same time I was very conscious that being lighter was being faster. Let me tell you from experience that calorie restriction and an increasing workload do not sit well together.

So, while Gayle has been out chopping down trees and replacing fences I have been doing some research. Stay tuned.


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