Now, it's about time we got down to business, beginning with nutrition. What, exactly, does a lean, strong rider eat?
Good question. I can't answer it for you, but over the past several years, I've come a long way in answering it for myself. What follows is my own set of conclusions, based on extensive self-study of books, websites, and the experience of people who are making these theories work in real bodies, in the real world. These conclusions represent the best way I know (so far) to achieve not only leanness, but such lifelong wellness as is increasingly rare in developed countries today.
I'm pleased to report that good nutrition can be summed up quite simply in a concept I call "eating clean." Eating clean means nothing more or less than choosing, on a consistent basis, to fuel your body with the substances it was designed to ingest -- that is, with actual food.
What was that? Did somebody just say, "Well, duh?"
You'd think, wouldn't you, that I shouldn't need to take up cyberspace advising you to eat food. Think again. Have you read an ingredient label lately? Go ahead, pick a few items from your pantry and study the labels. I'll wait...
Finished? Good. How many of those ingredients do you fail to recognize as products of nature? I don't know about you, but I can't think of anyone who has a sodium benzoate tree in their backyard.
So, in the interest of identifying what qualifies as "food"-- the necessity of which activity is appalling enough to take my breath away -- I've come up with a few rules on the subject of eating clean. Conveniently, if you apply Rule #1, you'll find that most of the subsequent rules take care of themselves. Drumroll, please...
Eating Clean Rule #1: Don't eat anything with a barcode.
With few exceptions, "food" items that come in barcoded packages are the processed remains of formerly nutritious substances. That is, they are foods altered from their natural state, often to such an extent that the human body cannot recognize them as fuel. The implications of consuming such products are enormous.
In the short term, processed foods fill your stomach but fail to signal your body that its nutritional requirements have been met -- because they haven't. Before long, these unmet requirements make themselves known in the form of hunger, even if you've already consumed enough calories for someone twice your size. Naturally, this starts you along the road to becoming twice your size.
The long-term implications of processed food consumption are so numerous as to stretch beyond the scope of this post. One of the most alarming, however, is also related to the nutrient-depleted state of these products. In the absence of sufficient vitamins, minerals, micronutrients and phytonutrients, your body becomes increasingly unable to manage its own maintenance. Damaged cells go unrepaired and mutations unrecognized, resulting in accelerated aging and malignant cancers.
Incidentally, processed food manufacturers are well aware of the nutritional wasteland they've created. A glance at their packaging makes clear that they've spent huge sums on marketing designed to convince us not to worry about it. "It's fortified!" they announce, without mentioning that "fortification" means they've added artificially high doses of certain vitamins they know we'll associate with Mom's good advice. I suppose they think we won't notice that the phytonutrients necessary for our bodies to actually process those (often-synthetic) nutrients remain absent. And they aren't about to tell us...because if they did, we might stop to wonder if it isn't better to spend our cash and calories on actual food instead.
Back to Rule #1. Permit me to make myself clear. In warning against processed foods, I'm not just talking about the obvious culprits like cheese puffs, Twizzlers, soda, and German chocolate cake mix. Anyone with half a brain and a modicum of willpower is already avoiding those. (You are, aren't you?)
In case you haven't noticed, my friends, an awful lot of perceived "health foods" also have barcodes. Breakfast cereals. Granola bars. "Diet" snacks. Frozen entrees. Crackers cleverly labeled "all natural" or "whole grain." Canned vegetables, soups, and fish. Soy milk. Tofu. Sports drinks. Pasta. Need I go on?
Yes, yes. I know. Some actual food is sold in barcoded packages for the sake of convenience. Apply Rule #1 with a dose of common sense. Consider whether the item has ingredients (if it does, it's questionable) or is an ingredient (in which case, it's probably okay...subject to other Eating Clean Rules, of course). If you can't identify a product's natural source by simply looking at it, you probably ought to wonder whether it's really edible.
I believe it was Dr. Mitra Ray, author of From Here to Longevity*, who wrote, "If you can't pick it, hunt it, fish it, or milk it, don't eat it." CNC Kelly Hayford puts it even more simply in the title of her high-level book, If It's Not Food, Don't Eat It.
In other words, don't eat anything with a barcode.
Part Four of this series will take us on to Eating Clean Rule #2, which plugs a few loopholes left by Rule #1. In the meantime, I'll leave you to ponder what's left once you've eliminated barcodes from your diet. Those are the foods I'll discuss further in Parts Five and Six.
By the way, many thanks to all who have participated in this discussion through comments and in the wider blogosphere. Frankly, I'm surprised and delighted by the apparent resonance of this topic. If you have specific questions you'd like answered or experiences to share -- or if you'd prefer I shut up and went back to training and riding! -- please feel free to make your thoughts known.
* I can't leave this post without mentioning the fact that you won't find Dr. Mitra Ray's best-selling book From Here to Longevity for sale on her website. Why? Because her recent research has led her to the conclusion that she gave some harmful advice (particularly with regard to recommendations for the consumption of meat and dairy) in the original text. In what I consider to be an eminently honorable move, Dr. Ray has ordered her staff to cease publication of the profitable title until she can complete a revised edition containing what she now believes to be accurate, scientifically-grounded information. That, my friends, is a woman worth listening to.
Fit to Ride, Part One: Going for the Goal
Fit to Ride, Part Two: Vice and Advice
Fit to Ride, Part Four: Sweet Surrender
Fit to Ride, Part Five: Eating Green
Fit to Ride, Part Six: Milk Got You?
Straight Sailing: Thoughts on Fitness for Endurance Riders
Want to read more posts like this one? Subscribe to The Barb Wire