In Part One of this series, I defined the following goal for myself as an endurance rider: To achieve leanness, cardiovascular endurance, and a high level of functional strength supported by whole food nutrition. I believe that continual striving toward this goal is a critical component of being a partner worthy of my horse. (For more on my reasoning in that regard, see this post.)
In brief, an endurance rider should be both lean and strong. Despite popular assumption to the contrary, the two do not necessarily go hand in hand. A lean person is not necessarily strong, nor is a strong person necessarily lean. Furthermore, leanness and strength are primarily influenced by different components of the fitness equation with which we are all familiar; that is, the combination of diet and exercise.
Strength is primarily the product of exercise, while leanness is influenced most heavily by diet. Any rider who wants to be both lean and strong must commit to excellence in both areas. Let's start with diet, shall we?
You don't need me to tell you that the world wide web is already rife with dietary suggestions. Some nerds, like me, actually enjoy sifting through this material in search of answers; however, there's no question that the plethora of contrasting views can be overwhelming to the point of frustration and, all too often, defeat.
The good news is that a significant portion of the confusion swirling around dietary recommendations (or anything else, for that matter) can be eliminated simply by examination of their sources. Whenever I look at a proposed dietary plan, supplement, or other product, I first consider by what its creation was motivated. More often than not, I discover reasons to be highly skeptical of the proffered information.
Here are a few of the most prominent information sources I have come to regard with deep mistrust:
1. Big Brother
You know that USDA Food Guide Pyramid you had to color in 1st grade? You know the revised MyPyramid the USDA released in 2005? You know how hard entities such as the National Cattlemen's Association, the Sugar Association, the National Milk Producer's Federation, and other trade associations lobbied to prevent those guidelines from including any reference to overwhelming scientific evidence that we all ought to replace a huge percentage of our meat, dairy, grain (yes, grain!), and sugar intake with fresh produce? You know that agribusiness and "food" manufacturers make massive contributions to political campaigns and expect favors in return?
If you don't know these things, I suggest you do some homework. Because the USDA, FDA, DHHS, and similar are a lot more interested in politics than in your well being. I can't think of a single reason to trust the word of anyone who is willing to compromise his declarations of truth for personal gain.
2. Anyone Who is Selling Something
...especially if it's a product offering rapid weight loss or other, miraculous health benefits. Because products making such claims occupy such a large share of the "health and fitness" marketplace, I think the topic merits further discussion:
First, rapid weight loss. Believe it or not, a lot of those miracle products really can help you drop 7 pounds in 7 days. What they fail to mention, however, is that you won't lose 7 pounds of fat in 7 days.
How do I know? Because that is, quite simply, impossible. The human body is capable of metabolizing up to 3 pounds of fat per week -- and 3 pounds is very, very good (1-2 pounds is far more typical and a perfectly respectable rate of fat loss).
If you're losing more than 3 pounds a week, ladies and gentlemen, you're losing things you ought to keep. What are you losing? Water and protein. Protein? Yes. You know, lean muscle mass such as organ tissue and muscle. Great. So much for being strong.
As an aside, permit me to discuss cellulite for a moment. You'll be happy to know, ladies, that it doesn't exist. The fat that makes your thighs look lumpy is structurally identical to all the rest of the fat on your body. What should this tell you? How about this, for starters: If someone tries to sell you a product to eliminate something that doesn't exist, they're taking you for a ride. Go saddle up your pony instead.
On to miraculous health benefits. You've seen them, haven't you, those pills and potions that claim to do everything from increasing energy to decreasing blood pressure to reversing aging? Here's my advice: Anytime you're tempted by one of these products, ask for proof of their claims in the form of independent, published, peer-reviewed research. (Be warned -- almost nobody will be prepared to provide it. I've found a grand total of one company that can do so.)
Usually, they'll send you a few papers extolling the benefits of the key ingredients in their product and expect you to make an illogical leap. For example: Blueberries are good for you. Our product includes blueberries. Therefore, our product is good for you. Right? Wrong. If they don't have research demonstrating the effectiveness and bioavailability of the actual product, don't buy it. Your local grocery has fresh blueberries. Spend your money there.
You know, I still can't think of a single reason to trust the word of anyone who is willing to compromise his declarations of truth for personal gain.
3. Most Doctors
Few people realize how little training most physicians, from general practitioners to neurosurgeons, receive in nutrition. (Think 1-2 credit hours in the course of 8 or more years of study.) Modern medical education focuses almost exclusively on the use of surgical and pharmaceutical intervention to cure disease, rather than on the use of nutrition to prevent disease in the first place.
Frankly, this baffles me. Does nobody think anymore?
Ahhh, wait a moment. The pharmaceutical companies do. In fact, they came up with one of the most brilliant business ideas of the past thirty years: CME sponsorship. It seems that at least 50% (statistics vary) of continuing medical education courses for our physicians are put on by pharmaceutical companies. I'll leave you to ponder what the common side effects include.
Funny thing, I still can't think of a single reason to trust the word of anyone who is willing to compromise his declarations of truth for personal gain.
I could go on to discuss unsustainable weight loss programs, those neat little medical PSA's they run on the news (I'll give you two guesses who produces those beauties), and all manner of other, unreliable sources of dietary advice. But, perhaps it would be most useful to stop ranting and move on to the subject of who you can trust.
If you were in the market for an individual to start your coming four-year-old endurance prospect under saddle, who would you choose: The trainer whose personal mounts are unmanageable at the start, fail to settle at vet checks, and whose tails are bedecked with red ribbons...or the one whose energetic but compliant partners regularly complete races in good form and are greeted with a smile by vets and volunteers alike?
Here's the point: Go with the guy who's getting the job done. If you want to be lean and strong, listen to people who are lean and strong. Heed experience (which is not the same as anecdote) and imitate those whose results prove positive over the long term. Believe only those who can prove their claims.
Part Three of this series will beging to cover the dietary guidelines I've gleaned from such people and applied to my own lifestyle to demonstrable, positive effect. Stay tuned.
Fit to Ride, Part One: Going for the Goal
Fit to Ride, Part Three: Eating Clean
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
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