Rather than literally I mean it in the sense that I'm talking about a simple, no frills diet. It's the same way people talk about "what's a good crit bike for a Cat 3?"
That question has all sorts of implications built right in.
First, the assumption is that the rider, a Cat 3, will be buying the bike. It'll probably be discounted, maybe as much as an employee discount, but the bottom line is that the rider is paying for the bike. No fancy bikes unless the rider can afford it.
Second, there's this thought that the rider will crash the bike. When you think of what a Cat 3 crit rider should ride versus, say, someone doing a Gran Fondo, you think of different things. The Cat 3 crit rider "needs" something bombproof and easy to maintain. The Gran Fondo rider might be using a more delicate tool, more precise, more refined, perhaps gaining a touch of fragility in the process. The Cat 3 bike needs to be replaceable.
Third, the bike will be used hard. It's not a sunny day bike, it's a tool that the rider uses to propel themselves forward on the road. There will be bumpy road crits, the rider will use the shoulder to move up in a race, and riding through manhole covers and sewer grates will be normal and expected. The Cat 3 bike needs to be durable.
You know where I'm going with this.
Diets can be based on a lot of things. Cleansing, protein, whey, no carbs, Atkins, all sorts of anthropological models, yada yada yada. To me those are all a bit more fragile than I want. They require more thought, more energy, more dedication.
They're not for me.
I've been dieting for 81 days, according to MyFitnessPal. 81 days. I emphasize that because when I started I was thinking 30 days ("a month") might be my max, maybe 45 days ("a month and a half"), and definitely nothing over 60 days ("two months").
I'm currently 18.5 lbs lighter than I was when I started, 160.3 lbs this morning. I'd started 81 days ago thinking that losing 10 lbs would be a dream.
Yesterday I ate about 1434 calories of food and went to bed not hungry. The day before that I did a ride and realistically had a net caloric intake of about 800 calories.
If you told me I could do that on Day 2 of my current diet I'd have said you were crazy.
I've been thinking a bit about why the diet is working. If I can put some of those reasons down here then maybe it'll help you with your diet goals.
You know, because I want everyone to beat me when I race. Haha.
Okay, maybe not. So if you promise not to get too much better than me, or at least hide it discretely when you're accidentally riding me off your wheel ("I'm sorry, I was thinking about that clip you had where you bridged that gap and the music that you use in the clips got me all psyched up and I started pedaling too hard" would work), I'll share my thoughts with you.
Keys to a Successful Workingman's Diet.
("Workingman" referring to the nickname for Cat 3 racers, i.e. "The workingman's category". Substitute woman for women.)
First, you have to be fat.
I see guys talking about how they need to lose an extra 10 pounds or whatever and I look at them and think, well, maybe if they cut off their arm they could lose 10 more pounds.
Because they're already skinny.
I'm not talking ProTour diet tips. I don't have anything to offer the skinny people. I'm talking about us regular folk with rolls and stuff. Heck, even after losing 18 pounds I'm still fat - right now I'm realistically at 20% fat, minimum, more like 22% fat. When I started I was in the 28% range.
You with me there? Then keep reading.
In 2010 I was realistically 13-15% fat at my lowest and I was in the 155 lbs range, seeing 149 lbs after a longer ride. I stopped weighing myself once the season got under way because my weight seemed to be stable at 155-158, so I lack the numbers from later in the season, but I suspect I got lighter. However I steadily gained weight from September that year.
So for me the key is to be fat first because that's the only kind of start point I've had for a diet.
Second, don't spend a lot of time thinking about food.
Be aware of it, sure, but don't spend the whole day thinking about it. I don't go about my day thinking about this food or that food. Food is a functional fuel for me, not much more.
A Cat 3 bike isn't the kind of bike you think about. You get to the race, put the wheel or wheels on, check the tire pressure, and ride the thing. It's a rock solid bike that doesn't need babying. Do you care what bar is on there? What post? What chain? Not really. If it isn't broken then you don't need to fix it. Get fancy stuff here and there to reward yourself, like a set of cool wheels. Overall though your mental energy goes elsewhere, not the bike.
My diet approach reflects that. I don't think much about food. I'm aware of when I last ate only because it's easy to eat 3 hours after a meal without realizing it. Making it 4 or 5 reduces the number of meals by one and that makes a significant dent in the total caloric intake.
However I don't go around thinking of what I am not eating, that I can't eat, or particular foods for whatever reason. Even when feeding Junior I manage to separate what he's eating (he likes pizza, fruits, bread, cheese) and what I'm eating (not much pizza at all, not much cheese at all).
Third, don't make it hard on yourself
This is key. Don't make your diet hard on yourself. I remember a friend telling me that "Such and such is serious about racing this year. He's on a diet - this morning I saw him eat some toast with a slice of tomato on it."
Yeah, if I did that I'd be eating my second breakfast about 20 minutes later.
The other thing that wouldn't work for me is "Hey, this is how you make this great food! Just gather these 22 ingredients, combine this, mix that, pour here, and voila, 114 minutes later you're ready to eat! It's fantastic!"
I timed how long it took me to get breakfast ready this morning. Yes, timed.
I was up at 6:30 or so, maybe 7:00? I don't remember. I wasn't 100% awake so that was normal, but Junior was asleep so I had less distractions.
Luckily I used a timer of sorts to prepare my breakfast - a microwave. This was my breakfast prep:
1. Pour coffee out of the very nice carafe (basically a sealed and insulated carafe so the coffee doesn't taste acrid, and as a bonus there's no hot metal plate thing to burn dripped coffee) into a coffee cup that I pulled out of the cabinet. Time: 20 seconds.
2. Put coffee cup of coffee into microwave, heat. Time: 1:37 (I've been trying to use something other than the 0 for the last digit and I've been using the 8 for a while so now I'm on 7).
3. While coffee is heating put the following in a bowl: 1 cup old fashioned oats, 1/8 cup raisins, 1 tbsp sliced almonds, 1 tbsp brown sugar, water to cover it all. Time: 0 (since I do all this while the coffee is heating).
4. When the coffee is done switch the coffee and oatmeal. Heat/cook oatmeal. Time: 2:30 (using the 0 there).
5. Move coffee and oatmeal spoon to the table while oatmeal heats/cooks.
6. When oatmeal finishes bring bowl to table.
Overall time required to prepare breakfast? 5 minutes, max. It's easy. It's not taxing mentally. Easy to log in MyFitnessPal. Easy to eat.
454 calories. And I'll be good for 4-5 hours.
That's a Cat 3 breakfast.
Fourth, avoid sugar or sugar substitutes.
I'd have argued with this before this diet but now I'd agree that eliminating sugar seems to be helpful. As a corollary eliminating sugar substitutes also seems to help, because the sweet taste makes me miss sugar. Eliminating the taste altogether works better for me.
In 2009, my first diet, I adopted the "bike shop diet" at times. We said that if we were tired a great pick me up was getting a Hostess Twinkies and a Coke.
Bam, instant energy.
And an almost instant sugar crash.
Of course there was an easy remedy - another Twinkies and Coke.
So in 2009 I drank Diet Cokes or Diet Pepsis. One of my standby meals was jam on bread (aka "sugar on carbs"). I ate 100 calorie snack bags of sugary snacks. I had sugary protein shakes. So on and so forth.
I spent a lot of time in a bonky state, dizzy with hunger. I was working a job that required moving around a lot so that helped stave off the bonkiness. I'd sometimes walk around virtually blacked out vision-wise because of these massive head rushes when I stood up.
The reality was that I really wasn't dieting in any kind of sustainable manner.
This round of dieting (which makes it sound like I diet all the time but this is only my second diet in my life) I inadvertently left out sugar early on. I was on such a strict low goal that even a teaspoon of sugar in my coffee seemed wasteful.
So I cut out the sugar.
I also cut out the diet sodas, inadvertently. I decided separately, before the diet, that I really didn't want to pay for drinks, whether going out or even for home, so I for a while I've been drinking just water when we go out. Additionally I hadn't bought sodas or seltzer for a while from the grocery store.
The combination of not much added sugar (and no fake sugar) significant changed my energy levels. I've kept some of the same foods in the diet rotation from 2009, so many of my foods I'm eating now I ate back then. Carbs and proteins, mainly, with certain vegetables and fruits. The changes have been the elimination of regular sugar/sugar-substitutes. This has led to a much more consistent energy level.
In the low calorie days, early on, I definitely had my share of head rushes. For the first week I was fighting the normal bonkiness, with the accompanying shaking and dizziness and cold sweat. However this changed pretty quickly. By the second week of my dieting I realized that I wasn't bonking. I was hungry, okay, but I wasn't dizzy or shaking or breaking out in a cold sweat.
As the weeks went by I realized that I was getting to noon or 1 PM or even 2 PM without feeling excessively hungry. I thought it might be the lack of (added) sugar in my diet. The couple times where I had a (deliciously sinfully incredibly good tasting) sweetened coffee I had a ton of energy for a bit and either got really bonky afterward or went 1000 cal over my goal (I did that once).
So for now I'm avoiding sugar.
For those that see me downing Cokes and RockStars and coffee muffins before races you may wonder what I'll do before races. You know, I don't know, this is uncharted territory for me.
Overall my diet is pretty straight forward. A Cat 3 diet, if you will. No frills, only a few interesting out-of-the-ordinary things (for me it's the Greek yogurt smoothies I make), easy to prepare, easy to eat, no real mental energy expended.
The reality is that I may be able to extend this kind of diet for a while. I don't have aspirations to turn pro or anything but I race for fun and, trust me, it's a lot more fun when I'm not groveling at the back of the field, praying they slow down. Fitness helps, of course, but I have no idea how much training I'll be doing because I don't know what my schedule will look like even in a month or two from now.
However, regardless of fitness, being light goes a long, long way toward making races more fun. When I accelerate an extra 10 or 20 pounds of weight out of every corner it gets a bit tiring.
Early 2010, 155 and getting fit. The red bike before it was red.
Double Peak in San Marcos, CA.
I even see off-the-bike benefits. For example carrying Junior has become easier. I had that epiphany after carrying him around a model railroad show for an hour or two. At that point I was a good 10-12 pounds lighter. Suddenly Junior, who tips the scales at about 29-30 pounds, was more like a 17-20 pound kid. That's a huge difference in carrying weight when walking around the Big E.
Another benefit is I can wear the almost new clothes I had in 2010. I only had one year where I fit those clothes and the "heavy" (bodyweight) clothes I have are pretty worn out. Now I have a stack of clothing to choose from that are virtually brand new.
I can see this round's diet being sustainable even during some decent training. I had started the diet with the expectation that I wouldn't be able to train. However, after doing some "make up rides' to expend some excess calories, I find that I'm more fit now than I was during the summer. Even just six weeks into the diet, when I did a few warmer Christmas rides, I felt great climbing the hills with lower weight and higher sustainable power. I went looking for comparisons in climbing the hill out of the complex but ran into a problem - I was pedaling with much more power in December than I was in August or whatever. I climbed the hill on Christmas Day in 0:58 or so, even slowing at the top, and in August/Sept I did it in 1:15-1:20, 2-3 mph slower.
We'll see what happens in the races. In Blackhawk Down one of the characters says, "Politics goes out the window when the bullets start flying." Likewise all this talk about weight and calories and training and stuff goes straight out the window when the race actually starts.
After that it's all about using what you got.
See you out there!
Picture from a finish at the Rent from slightly skinnier days (2011 or 2012).