Sans Food Cycling

I once wrote a post about “riding while fat” because to one degree or another I’ve allowed myself to be too heavy for at least the last 20+ years of my life while all the time, still enjoying getting out on a bike.   Even fat, exercising kept the devil at bay for awhile.  Eventually though, as I have gotten on with years, he got a foot hold with things like blood sugar, blood insulin, hypertension, cholesterol, and of course the general fatness issue that became more and more difficult to beat back.  All the things that have slowly become the middle-aged American norm.

Last fall I started again again again attacking those middle-age problems much with the same thought process that I had followed in the past.  Eat less and exercise more and repeat.  And keep repeating until things get better.  So I committed myself to more biking, which was tough 😉 and less junk food, which was really going to be tough.  As it happened, my wife had been on the edge of making some changes in eating for her own health.  My wife had also read a book by Jason Fung called the Obesity Code which she apparently had at one time suggested to me, only to have me dismiss it as another diet book.

Per usual, I was stupid to dismiss my wife’s suggestion.  Stupid this time because I was apparently Jason Fung’s target audience for his book.  He explained to me exactly how I got to where I am, and more importantly offered advice on how to undo much of the damage that I had already done to myself.  He reasoned, and this will be tough for some to follow, that if I got fat and unhealthy by constantly eating a bunch of crap, I should stop eating a bunch of crap to become less fat and more healthy.   And if I wanted to really undo as much damage as possible I had to do more than just stopping eating crap, I had to, at carefully planned out times, stop eating altogether.   In fact he was talking about fasting, giving my body a rest from processing incoming food so that it has time to recover, heal and rebalance itself.  I won’t go into all the details of his advice here, because you can always Google his stuff on your own if you are interested.  Suffice to say, following his advice made some pretty immediate improvements in my health and is still continuing on that path now.  I still have more recovery time ahead of me, but it’s a good feeling not to dread what the doctor might say or what a test might show.  Not carrying as much extra bodyweight on a bike ride isn’t too bad either.

Another thing happened for both my wife and I, when we were not eating constantly; we became more selective about what we consumed during the times when we did eat.  In our case, we are making great efforts to focus food that is real, unprocessed, no sugar added, just as God intended.  Not Soup Nazi vegans or anything of the sort, just feeling that our bodies are more well suited to consume things as they are, rather than how the food industry alters them to be cheaper, more appealing, or maybe have a longer shelf life.   Probably the biggest focus on the real food front for me has been the “no added sugar” part.  Again, not Nazi, still having beer, pizza, ice cream, etc., but as an exception rather than a daily occurrence.

In the proverbial nutshell – Eat real, unprocessed, no sugar added, foods.  Schedule eating using a combination of intermittent fasting(IF) and longer healing water fasts(WF) as needed to recover and maintain health.  Go biking more.

So what does all the food and fasting stuff mean as far as bike riding?  For me, it means that riding has been getting more and more enjoyable as I’ve gotten more and more healthy and less and less fat.   And that means that I can adjust my shocks for my weight, not just pump’em up to the max and hope for the best.  All that food and fasting stuff also means I can ride longer, feeling better while I am doing it, and not suffer for several days afterwards.  Riding in a fasted state, means that I am training my body to efficiently burn my own fat reserves, rather than training it to live on Gatorade, Snickers or some sticky sports goo.

I found a lot of information out there regarding fasting and exercise, but most of it seemed geared towards bodybuilder types or high end professional athletes.  There was not so much out there for an overweight middle-aged guy who likes to ride bikes, so here’s what I did and still do with a few real life examples.

Fasting and Riding

I started ramping up my riding last September about the time I started this blog.  I started working on weight-loss and healthier eating beginning around November 2017 and eating better and fasting has been in the mix since then.  That is not to say that I have been eating healthy and following a rigid fasting routine since then, it’s been a process.

Rides in General – if you were to look back through my ride posts, most morning rides that I’ve done since Nov. 2017 were done in some degree of a fasted state.  That means that I would go out and ride 2-5 hours without having consumed any food at all for at least 10-12 hours before the ride.  Also, no food during the ride, and most times no food for a couple of hours after the ride.  My reasoning was that I wanted to burn my body fat, not an omelet that I just gotten through eating, and post ride I wanted my body to burn more even more body fat in recovery.

Tour de Lake Whatcom –  This was a biggy for me.  35 miles, 11 hours, lots of snow, see the post, all done fasted.  My original thinking was that I would take it easy on the road ride portion, likely draw down the energy stores on the uphill gravel section and then ramp down my energy output so that I’d be running on my own fat for the rest of the ride.  That was the plan, however the plan was also for the ride to be 4-6 hours on paved and gravel, not 11 hours including much snow, but I watched my rate of energy output so that the whole 11 hours was done while fasting.    I had food with me if needed, but I enjoyed the mental and physical challenge of finishing fasted.  It was an experience that I won’t forget.

Tour de Lake Whatcom Again – 35 miles, 4-1/2 hours was done totally fasting and everything was fine, great ride, enjoyed the heck out of it.  Again, watched my energy output so that I could finish fasted.

2018 Tour de Whatcom century ride – Training for real Tour de Whatcom, was mostly all done in a fasted state including multiple rides over 50 miles.  I did start experimenting with different foods on a couple of the later training rides.  I wanted to dial things in before the century ride because I didn’t intend to ride the whole thing in a fasted state, and I was thinking that nausea and diarrhea from sugary commercial goo wouldn’t make a positive contribution to my overall Tour de Whatcom experience.

Here’s how I handled food for the ride and pre-ride:

  • 16:8 IF for the week leading up – that is each day I would not eat for 16 hours minimum, then confine my food intake to the other 8 hours of each day.  My thinking was that my energy stores would be full for Saturday.
  • Began century ride Saturday morning after not eating since ~8:00pm the night before.
  • I took 3 cashew cookie Larabars, as my intended fuel – 2 ingredients – cashews & dates.  My intent with the Larabars was to keep the food as real as possible, not wanting to give into gells, candy bars or pretty much anything processed.  All the real food links I searched out sounded good, but looking into all the particulars and finding and purchasing of weird foods seemed too daunting.  Larabars were $1.69 at Haggen so easy under $10 with tax even with a spare bar and bam I was done.  Cheap and nothing to worry about.  In the past I’ve used gatorade, powerade, bananas, bagels, oranges, snickers, donuts, plus whatever they had at rest stops, but I would often get that gut bomb feeling.  This time felt great, never hungry, no gut bomb, no sugar spike/crash cycle, just never ran out of energy.
  • I also took a small water bottle with a combination of green tea, himalayan salt, and a small squirt of raw honey – my intent here was to get electrolytes in as much of a real food way as I could (no gatorade, etc.). The honey was a bit of sugar should I need an emergency boost, which I didn’t.  I could have done two bottles – one salty and the other sweet, but I didn’t want to deal with two bottles.  Next time I will take two because the combo bottle tasted horrid.
  • The highest intensity riding is during the first part of the day, lots of uphill, so I just took it easy trying to limit my rate of energy output so that I wouldn’t tank later.
  • I began eating my Larabars around the 50 mile/half way mark.  I had one half of a bar at the 50 mile mark and then another half bar roughly every 10 miles/45 minutes.
  • I also took a bit of the green tea concoction at 50 miles, and some more at 80 miles leaving half the bottle as kind of an emergency bonk reserve.
  • I rode with a 3 litre hydration pack and did a complete refill in Lynden, so I think I consumed 5-6 litres total for the ride.

So that was how I handled the century ride.  I had no delusions of setting any records, my plan was to finish the ride and enjoy myself while I did it.   This fueling plan worked well for me.  I never felt low on energy, felt fine at the end, pee’d 2-3 times so I felt hydrated, kept with the kind of real food plan and was happy to dump out the rest of my nasty tasting tea concoction at the end.

Stewart Mtn Loop – 5 hours done completely without food.  About 3 hours into it I was having to really ramp down my energy output, slowing the other guys down a bit, but they were good about it.  This was not the typical fasted ride as it came in at the end of a 4 day WF.  Yes, this ride happened to coincide with the last day of a 4 day fast.  It was a bit of a mental exercise to finish fasted, but my wife was also fasting so a little mutual support was my aim and nobody died in the end so all was good.

I’ve been at this now for a total of about 10 months and what I am finding is that I don’t even plan on taking food, nor snacks of any kind on rides that I expect to be no more than about 2-3 hours long.  And this isn’t depending on whether I am in intermittent fasting (IF) mode or whether I am several days into a water only fast (WF).  It seems that regardless of my fasted state, my ready energy reserves last about 2-3 hours.  If I plan a ride longer than that 2-3 hour window, I take along some real food and either begin eating near the end of that 2-3 hour window or decide to slow down, ramp down my energy output and just finish out the ride burning my still plentiful supply of fat.  I do not resort to sugary food, sugary drinks or anything else sugary.

I only wrote this post to help any rider, especially those who want to lose weight, address metabolic issues, or anyone who is just interested in real experiences of fasting and riding. As I mentioned above, when I tried to learn what people were doing and not doing about fasting and riding I came up pretty short on real life experiences and about neck deep in people wanting to sell me things.  We continue to mix IF and 2-3 day WF in our normal life routine as well as cycling in longer fasts here and there for some deep cleaning.  We’ve done several fasts in the 4-5 day range and have plans to do longer fasts in the near future.  I don’t at this point have a plan about what kind of biking I will be doing during a longer fast.  I will likely write another fasting related post after I have done the long fast.

My message to myself is that fasting is about recovery, while skipping out on sugar and eating real foods is about maintaining my health.  I also try and think of fasting, food selection and exercise as three separate things, but recognize that they are all part of the experience of being healthy.

  • Resources – I tend to lean towards being a dry science kind of guy so these links may be a little much if you are not also a dry science, just give me the facts person.  Not to say that there is no humor, just mostly dry humor and irony.

Of course, you can pull the string on many other related videos, books, articles and podcast…if you dare because the problems run deep.  I challenge anyone to work their way through all of these, because the result will likely be life changing for the better.