How to build … abominable abdominals

Six-pack. Roll of dimes. Washboard abs. You know the look–ripped, chiseled, defined. Women scream and brave men shiver.

But you’re a cyclist, you say, not a body builder or a boxer. You don’t need an industrial-strength gut. A cyclist’s stomach muscles just hang there, sagging loosely between hips and ribs, a flaccid bag to hold that energy bar you just ate.

Think again. Your midsection is the link between your legs turning the pedals and your upper body grasping the bars. If that link is weak, your cycling power gets frittered away.

Karin DeBenedetti, M.A., of Western Orthopaedic Sports Medicine in Denver, says strong abs help mountain bikers lift and pull on the handlebar for dynamic singletracking, and on the road they support you in a static position over long distances. But forget benefits. The fact is that without strong abs, cyclists risk injury.

Pedaling gets your glutes (butt muscles) and low-back muscles into shape but does little for the front of your midsection. Your pelvis can become tilted if your strong rear musculature pulls harder than your front, resulting in back pain.

Harvey Newton, editor-in-chief of Strength and Conditioning and long-time strength training adviser to the Olympic cycling team, remembers diagnosing such back pain in an Olympic medalist. “He could squat more than 400 pounds,” says Newton, “but when I tested his abdominal strength he did miserably. No wonder his back hurt–he had a major strength imbalance.”

Rippling abs also help prevent injury during accidents. The next time you fly over the bar on a root-infested trail or slide out on rain-slick paint stripes, spend a little air time thinking about the advantages of a strong gut. A girdle of muscles allows you to curl up and roll protectively and also protects your internal organs.


Knocking off a few crunchers after a ride is a good way to start improving your abs, but it’s not enough. Instead of concentrating only on the abs, strength experts talk about the “strength pillar” or “core strength.” These terms refer to a strong midsection–abs, low back, hip flexors, and glutes.

Pedaling takes care of the glutes. For the rest, try these 4 simple exercises. You don’t need fancy machines or a 4-figure club membership. You can do these at home anytime, although we prefer after a ride or in the evening while watching TV.

Now the bad news. These workouts are guaranteed to strengthen your stomach–not to give you a ripped bodybuilding look. “Muscle definition is hereditary,” says DeBenedetti. If your parents carried spare tires, then crunchers and cycling might help reduce yours, but you might not shed it completely.

Definition is also a function of total body fat. Lean people show more muscle. Even the most awesome set of abs can be hidden by excess body fat.


Lie on your back with knees bent and feet on the floor. Contract your stomach muscles and slowly push your low back into the floor. Hold for 5 seconds, then relax slowly. This is harder than it sounds–expect quivering abs. Do 20-25, twice a day.


Lie on your back with knees bent and feet flat on the floor. Gently draw one knee to the chest, hold for a count of 3 and return. Alternate legs. Do 20 on each leg.


To do a basic cruncher, lie on your back with knees bent 90 degrees and lower legs supported on a couch. Fold arms across the chest. (Don’t lace your hands behind your head; doing this can strain your neck.) To start, pull your chin to your chest, then crunch up, hold 2-3 seconds, and go all the way down. Completely relax between each repetition. To work the oblique muscles at your sides, aim the left shoulder at the right knee for one rep and reverse it the next.

Start with 25 reps and work as high as 200. When that becomes easy, go back to 25 reps but do an advanced version. Hold your unsupported legs up in the air and build to 200. Do 3-7 times per week.

Back Extension LOW BACK

Use a back extension apparatus or have someone hold your legs as you lie on a strong table at home. With hands behind the neck or on your chest, rise slowly so the upper body is parallel to the floor–but don’t go higher. This is a back extension, not a hyperextension.

Begin with a few reps and increase to 3 sets of 25. As you get stronger, you can hold a barbell plate behind your neck for added resistance.

18 tips for good trips

In the 4 years Mike Deme has been leading road tours for Adventure Cycling (406/721-1776, MT), he’s seen his charges make lots of mistakes. Some errors were minor, but others ruined a long-planned vacation. All were avoidable. Here, Deme outlines the most common goofs, then offers solutions.


“Some people figure they can get in shape on the first week of a road tour. They find out pretty quickly that they should have done it earlier.

“The best approach, if you haven’t been riding much, is to start training 2-3 months before the trip. Start by riding 15 or 20 miles a day, 3 times a week. Raise your mileage 10% per week. The slow, gradual approach is always best.

“Look at your trip itinerary and find your longest day. If it’s 90 miles you should work up to about 70 miles in training. While touring, you can ride about twice as far in a day as you’ve ever ridden while training. But do some long training days anyway to see how your body reacts.”


“Don’t just do distance. You need some variation. Intervals are great once you start getting in shape. Try riding all out for 2 minutes then rest for 3 minutes, ride hard for 2 minutes, and so on. Mix it up or you’ll get bored silly.”


“Be mentally prepared. I’ve seen a lot of people quit a tour because they let things get to them. It’s not a physical problem. You have to be prepared to face difficult times and work through them. You have to convince yourself that you’ll keep going.”


“If you’re going on a camping trip, do at least 2 training rides with the bike fully loaded, especially if you’ve never ridden with panniers. The extra weight changes your bike into a different beast, stability- and handling-wise.

“You have to brake earlier because your bike’s heavier. And you have to stay on top of the bike more in turns. If you lean the bike too low, your front panniers can hit the ground. Also be careful on rough roads, because the initial shock on your wheels is greater with the added weight.”


“Get a comfortable saddle, even if it’s heavy. Chamois salve works for some people, but baby powder is great, especially at night, to keep yourself dry. Sometimes, though, there’s nothing to do but struggle through a miserable break-in period. It usually lasts about 3-4 days. If you’ll be renting a bike, take your own saddle.

“As for hands, padded gloves are great, but moving your hands around on the handlebar is the key. I advocate a drop handlebar, but a mountain bike with bar ends or an aero bar works, too.”


“A touring bike is still the best, although we’re seeing more mountain bike-style frames. Hybrids are not so good. Their geometry tends to be too racing-oriented and they don’t necessarily have braze-ons for racks.

“A 3-chainring setup is a necessity. With 2 rings, you just can’t relax on the climbs–you have to stand. Smooth-tread tires are a must, too.”


“Take as little stuff as possible. Using something once in a month isn’t a good reason to take it. On a 2-week self-contained trip, 35 to 40 pounds of gear should be all you need. Once you’re packed for 2 weeks, you’re packed for 3 months. You just reuse stuff.

“People tend to take too many clothes, overcompensating for the weather. You don’t need a windbreaker, a rain jacket, and an in-between jacket. Just be ready for heat, rain, and cold. With advances in clothing, especially in underwear, you can get away with carrying a lot less.”


“Eat well, because you’re cranking. But don’t get anal about the whole thing. I’ve seen vegetarians ride strongly and I’ve seen people who eat total garbage ride strongly. A lot of it’s mental. If you’re convinced your diet will affect your riding, it might.

“Don’t tour to lose weight. You need a lot of carbohydrate. But you also need fat and protein. Your body burns through carbohydrate fast and then goes right to fat. You’ve got to replace it. Also, carry 2 large water bottles. You can never have too much water. I bring a powdered drink mix, too.”


As a veteran tour guide for Western Spirit Cycling (800/845-2453), Steve Fenn has led off-road trips in Baja, Mexico; the Klamath National Forest in Northern California; Moab, Utah; and other places. Here’s his view on avoiding the mistakes that mar off-road vacations.


“People tend to sit on their butts and lean on their hands too much, so I tell them to keep their pedals level and rise 6-8 inches off the seat for tricky terrain. Bend your elbows and knees, and get your weight over the rear tire for descents.”


“Relax. Riders tend to put too much pressure on their hands. You have to keep a light grip. I demonstrate by cruising along, removing my hands, and showing that I don’t fall forward. Keeping a tight grip also lessens the shock to your elbows and shoulders.”


“When mountain biking, you need to avoid crunching the gears. Do this by lightening the pedal load before a shift. Don’t hit an uphill and expect the gears to change when you’re applying a lot of pressure to the pedals. The best tactic is to shift before you get to a hill, not after. And you must avoid cross-chain gears (large chainring/largest cog or small ring/smallest cog).”


“Many people are told never to use their front brake going downhill, but that’s just not true. The front brake supplies the majority of your stopping power. It’s very powerful. You need to use both brakes. Particularly in a straightaway, you can use both confidently. An exception: In a loose corner, lighten up on the front brake.”


“Don’t be afraid to use first gear. Ned Overend uses his all the time. If you’re working hard and you get to a flat spot, don’t always feel that you have to shift up. Use it as an opportunity to spin and recover. When you’re on a tour, you’ve got to look at the big picture. Pace yourself so you’ll survive the whole day. Spinning helps promote blood flow and makes it easier to recover. You’re not in a race.”


“Lean your bike but keep your body upright. Push down on your outside pedal, and push the front tire directly into the ground. That really helps cornering traction. It’s like skiing, where you’re trying to carve a turn and put your weight into the edges.”


“Starting on a hill can be a challenge. Put the rear brake on to prevent going backward, then put one pedal up in the power position–between top center and horizontal. Release the brake and apply pedal pressure slowly, not like a piston, so you won’t spin out. Don’t worry about getting the other foot into the pedal or clips until you’re underway.”


“Drinking a large bottle per hour is a good rule of thumb for mountain biking in the sun. A CamelBak drinking system is even better. People always tell me, ‘I know my body and I just don’t drink much.’ But it’s not true. They need more fluid than they think. I always carry extra bottles for guests who run out. On tour don’t worry about the weight as much. Always carry more water than you think you’ll need.

“Some people aren’t used to eating on the bike to get through a day of touring. They think it will produce discomfort. But if you’re out longer than 2 hours, you must eat. Practice it ahead of time so you know what your body will tolerate. Breakfast is absolutely essential. It starts the fire going.”


“Women have proportionally smaller upper bodies, so they may need a shorter top tube or stem. Also, some people want a wide, soft saddle for a long off-road tour. But once you’re on a hill or in technical terrain, a big saddle will prevent you from using body English. You’ll be more efficient with a narrow saddle that enables you to move around.”


“Touring companies generally carry equipment, but you should carry the essentials anyway: pump, patch kit, tube, and multitool. Make sure everything works. And carry identification.”

Weight training for mountain bikers

Hang Around Road Cyclists At The Olympic Training Center, then watch mountain bikers at NORBA national races. You’ll be struck by the difference in physical appearance.

International-level roadies are often lean greyhounds with thin arms, adapted to pedaling elegantly for hours with quiet upper bodies. Their dirt-based brethren are more muscular, ragged, and (dare we say it) often more athletic-looking.

Like any stereotype, there are plenty of exceptions. Mountain bike legend Ned Overend is svelte, and ’94 Tour de France green jersey winner Djamolodine Abdujaparov looks as gnarly as his name. But there’s no denying that as mountain biking matures, the ideal body is emerging–and it generally oozes strength.

The sport requires more total-body fitness–from fingers to quads–than road riding. The heavier bikes are lifted, jumped, wrangled and wrestled over tough terrain, and actions such as extended braking can make forearms and hands burn with lactic acid.

To help you handle these physical challenges, we spotlight 6 cycling-specific exercises and show the riding technique they most directly relate to.

But Weight a Minute

Before you rush to the weight room, a couple of cautions. Done incorrectly, strength training will injure you. And your program must be planned to build strength in winter and maintain it during peak riding season. If you need help in either area, consult a local strength training expert certified by the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

You can also learn from 2 videotapes prepared by Harvey Newton in cooperation with the United States Cycling Federation: Strength Training for Cyclists: Program Planning and The Exercises ($38.95, Newton Sports, 719/475-8366, CO).

The exercises we show here should help get you started. We’re not attempting to teach you how to do them–that’s best left to a NSCA pro or Newton’s teaching tapes.

If you’re one of those cyclists who don’t weight train because it takes too much time and club memberships are expensive, Olympic mountain bike coach Skip Hamilton sympathizes. He says a simpler approach is possible.

“Work the legs on the bike by doing hard 30-second repeats at a cadence of 60-80 rpm. Don’t overgear–just shift 2 cogs harder and go,” explains Hamilton. “Concentrate on pushing and pulling through the pedal stroke. Do this 6 times, once every 5 minutes, so you recover between efforts. It’s a great in-saddle strength builder and it’s more sports-specific than squats.” He recommends doing this workout on the road during a long endurance ride.

For the upper body, Hamilton suggests dips, pullups, and pushups. “I tell the riders I coach to stop at a local park at the end of their ride twice a week and do these exercises on the equipment,” Hamilton says. Or you can buy an inexpensive chinning bar, and do dips on the backs of 2 sturdy chairs. Do crunchers for the abs and lower back.

Although the benefit from these exercises won’t be as great, you’ll still notice a significant increase in strength–and thus your mountain biking. “If you just ride,” says Hamilton, “you won’t reach your potential.”


1 The upper body is an integral part of the pedal stroke in technical riding.

While roadies covet a smooth pedaling action with no upper-body movement, top mountain bikers pull on the bars and rock their shoulders. Elite U.S. mountain bikers tested at the Olympic Training Camp in March of ’94 compared favorably to road riders in V[O.sub.2] max and other measures of pedaling power. But they scored much lower efficiency. It seemed they wasted energy by moving the upper body to much. Or did they? After analyzing hours of videotape, Skip Hamilton concluded that, “due to the nature of the terrain, mountain bikers need to be more animated. Their upper bodies are like can openers that lever along and add to the power of the legs. Look at the top riders. Juli Furtado has tremendous upper body animation.” This is why singletrack makes your arms as tired as your legs. It’s also why ab and lower hack strength are crucial.

2 Mountain biking requires bursts of power from the legs.

Cleaning short, extremely steep hills takes 10 or 15 all-out pedal strokes. Longer hills are usually mined with short sections so steep that thermonuclear gams are the difference between walking and riding. Even the flats conceal rocks and roots that can be cleaned only with a sudden surge at the right time. “Road riders want a smooth stroke,” says Hamilton. “But mountain bikers may need an explosion of effort at any point in the pedal stroke.”

3 Off-roaders need more crash protection.

Mountain bikers dump it more than roadies. Fortunately, most falls are slow speed topples in technical sections, but even these pratfalls can lead to injury without a strong upper body to cushion the impact and distribute the forces.

In a 4-year study of injuries at the NORBA pro/elite level, Ronald Pfeiffer (A.T.C.R., and director of the Human Anatomy Lab at Boise State) found that the most common maladies were wounds, abrasions, and bruises. Fractures were relatively rare, and he uncovered no catastrophic injuries. Pfeiffer, who calls top mountain bikers “gymnasts on the bike,” says that the total-body strength common among these racers could be responsible for keeping minor falls from turning into something more serious.

4 Strength helps prevent fatigue.

Of course, it’s better to prevent falls than survive them. More muscle means more resistance to the fatigue that dulls reflexes and increases the chances of serious soil sampling. “We all love those long adventure rides,” says Hamilton, “and strength means you can outlast the fatigue of descending. Because neuro-muscular control is based on strength, you’ll stay sharp so your technical skills won’t deteriorate.”

9 top training aids

There’s a famous quip attributed to any number of world champions. When asked, “What’s the secret to becoming a great cyclist,” they look straight in the eye and reply, “Ride your bike.”

This canon has served many cyclists well, and it deserves to be the first rule of training. In our books, riders should ride. The more the better. But unlike in times past, there are numerous modern training aids that can make the miles even more worthwhile. Here’s a look at 9 of the best–from the highest of the high-tech to the lowest of the low.

Heart-Rate Monitor

When members of BICYCLING’s Fitness Advisory Board were asked which training aids are most important, one item was on everyone’s list: the heart-rate monitor, especially models that record data so you can analyze workouts. The best ones are wireless. You wear a chest belt that transmits to a wristwatch-like receiver on the handlebar. These are comfortable, durable, and reasonably easy to use. There are also cyclecomputers with built-in heart monitors, including models from Vetta, ACT, and Cateye. All are great for gauging progress, planning workouts, and evaluating effort during training and racing.

Basic units (around $100) display heart rate only, which is enough for many cyclists. Fancier models feature high and low alarms so you can set a target zone. They may even record your heart rate at set intervals so you can later analyze the workout or race. Ultimate models, such as the one shown at right, Polar’s Vantage XL (800/227-1314), even allow you to download the information to a computer and print graphs. For our latest buyer’s guide to heart-rate monitors, with tips for using one, see “Tune Your Engine” in the May ’94 issue.

Training Software

If you’re training scientifically with a heart-rate monitor, the next step is to track your results. Sure, you can write in a notebook, but a computerized diary is much more effective. Like database programs they make short work of calculations, helping you quickly determine such things as cumulative mileage, how your average speed is improving, or how many feet of elevation you’ve totaled. This could be helpful in the weeks before a hilly century or race, for instance. In addition, training programs can put information into easy-to-interpret graphs. And software, unlike log books, doesn’t have to be replaced yearly. Prices run from about $15 for shareware programs (which are somewhat limited) to about $90 for fully featured ones. In our last review (“Computer Coaches,” April ’93), we found 2 good $50 programs, Athlete’s Diary (800/823-4279) and CycleSoft (507/375-4346, MN).


You can’t record workouts accurately without a good cyclecomputer. Distance. Speed. Average speed. Pedal cadence, Elevation gain. Temperature. Elapsed time. These are just some of the stars modern computers disclose. In our August ’94 article, “Tricker Tickers,” we looked at 10 popular models priced from $35 to $99, some with unusual features. For instance, Performance’s CM-400 ($50: 800/727-2453) has dual interval timers with audible alarms, workout memories, and a means of calculating calorie consumption.

Fluid Delivery System

Dehydration limits performance, so training suffers if you don’t drink enough. A couple of water bottles are fine for many workouts, but for longer or hotter rides consider a 36- or 72-ounce CamelBak (abound $40). It’s worn like a backpack to deliver plenty of liquid through a convenient hose that hangs over your shoulder. You bite the mouthpiece, and a natural siphoning action lets liquid flow. Ahhh. You can also stuff small items such as energy bars or tools into the CamelBak pouch, or use a special bag that has pockets and straps for carrying items.

Energy Food

You can’t train effectively if your fuel light is blinking, so find a brand of sports drinks and bars to use before, during, and after riding. There are many to choose from. Taste is important, of course, but so is digestibility. Some riders do fine with products that use fructose as a sweetener and carbohydrate source, while others find it produces gastro upset. Experiment, and don’t neglect common low-tech foods such as fruit, fig bars, and bagels. The idea is to use stuff you enjoy eating, so you’ll eat enough of it. Ample food and liquid is the key to strong performance on any ride that lasts longer than 3 hours.

Indoor Trainer

Stationary cycling has become the buzz now that Graeme Obree and Marry Nothstein have shredded the competition with power attained by pedaling in place. But these park-and-ride devices have always been handy. For instance, by training inside, you can ride and watch the kids. No matter how stormy or dark it is, you can still pedal. Plus, think of the intervals you could do while watching the chase scene in “Bullet” or listening to cranked Pearl Jam. There are many well-made magnetic units, such as Blackburn’s RX-6 TrakStand ($210; 800/776-5677). These support your bike’s rear wheel and provide varying degrees of resistance. Or you can splurge for a computerized model such as Racermate’s CompuTrainer, a $1,200 device that does it all. It’s an indoor trainer connected to a PC, which displays power output in watts so you know what you can generate for how long. It also tells cadence and heart rate. There’s even a little electronic guy you can race, and you can do it on famous courses or enter your own, programming distance, head-winds, climbs, etc. It’s virtual reality training that makes it easy to put in a high-quality effort. Racermate, 206/524-7392 (WA).


In most states it’s illegal to ride on public roads while listening to headphones. But they’re plenty safe when you’re spinning indoors. Wear a jersey and you can slip the player into your hack pocket for instant access. Using a radio equipped with preset stations, you can quickly switch among talk shows, sports, and music.

Personal Coach

A good coach can help you achieve your potential by customizing a training program for your needs and goals. And the cost may be much less than you think. To find one, contact local shops, cycling clubs, or check classified ads in the USCF’s Cycling USA (for roadies) or NORBA News (for mountain bikers). You can reach these organizations at 719/578-4581 (CO). Some coaches have a national clientele, relying on periodic phone conversations and data collected with your heart-rate monitor and cycle computer to make training adjustments.

Bike Weights

We probably wouldn’t have included Net Weight Racing’s “Race Weight” if we hadn’t seen it being used by the national team. This training aid is nothing more than a lead weight that’s attached to the bike’s down tube. There are 3 versions: 5.5 lbs. ($52), 7.7 lbs. ($56), and 9.9 lbs. ($60). The theory is, you have to work harder when carrying a hunk of lead so you can fly when it’s removed. The Race Weight attaches with hook-and-loop straps, has rubber pads at contact points to protect the paint, and is coated so you can’t touch the lead. Net Weight Racing, 415/381-3155 (CA). A similar product is made by PIGG Cycle (800/252-9299), which also makes weights that fit into a bottle cage.

Why all cyclists need antioxidant vitamin supplements

The Golden Rule of Nutrition has always been “Food first, because food is best.” In other words, most experts believed that cyclists could get all the nutrients they needed from a well-balanced diet. Vitamin supplements were not thought to be a substitute for a poor diet.

But after looking at mounting evidence, I and other nutritionists are stretching our paradigms and admitting that supplementation can be beneficial–especially when it comes to antioxidants.

If you keep track of the nutrition scene you probably know the scoop: vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene (known as antioxidants) battle dangerous cells known as “free radicals.” Unchecked, these mutant cells can cause premature aging, cancer, and heart disease. On a less serious but more specific note, they also slow your recovery after tough rides.

The problem is that people–especially cyclists–probably can’t get enough protection from food alone. Although riding boosts fitness in general, it increases the number of free radicals in your body. Studies have shown free rad concentrations 2-3 times higher than normal in animals exercised to exhaustion.

But before you rash out to purchase pills and potions filled with these so-called miracle workers you should know what they are, how they work, and the destructive processes they can prevent.

The Air Facts

Humans are aerobic animals–we need air to thrive. But this same substance can be destructive. When our cells process oxygen the number of electrons they possess can change. This turns them into free radicals. They try to regain their electron balance from other cells, a reaction that creates more free radicals and damages tissue.

Lucky for us, antioxidants can neutralize free radicals. They throw themselves in the path of destructive molecules, oxidizing themselves instead of our precious tissue.

Evidence that this happens isn’t just from animal and test tube studies. In a ’93 study of 35,000 nurses and 40,000 male professionals, subjects who took extra vitamin E had 30-40% lower rates of heart disease. In China, 30,000 residents received either a placebo or an antioxidant multivitamin; those taking the supplement had a 13% lower cancer rate.

Because cyclists breathe 10-20 times more air than a typical person, our bodies generate more free radicals. But don’t worry. Proper supplementation appears to help protect even us from ill health. And not only that, it can also improve our performance by reducing muscle soreness. For instance, runners at UC-Berkeley were found to have significantly less muscle damage when they were given vitamins C, E, and beta-carotene.

If further research makes a stronger case for antioxidants, you might see food fortified with amounts higher than the RDA. For now, it’s still a personal decision. If you decide to supplement, use our chart to avoid side effects. In any case, don’t forget to eat right.


Only 9% of Americans eat plenty-o-plants (at least 5 servings a day), so start your antioxidant program here. There’s good reason to get as many nutrients from food as possible. At Cornell University, one group took a prescribed amount of vitamin C in supplements while another group ingested the same amount in fruits and vegetables. The food eaters showed lower levels of carcinogens in their bodies than the pill poppers. Other studies have shown that eating few or no fruits and veggies doubles the risk of most types of cancer. Here are good sources of each antioxidant:

Vitamin C

Citrus fruit, juice, cantaloupe, strawberry, sweet red pepper, cabbage, Brussels sprouts, tomato, broccoli, potato, cauliflower, watermelon, kale

Viatmin E

Vegetable oil, nuts, wheat germ, margarine, seeds, olives, leafy greens, asparagus

Vitamin A

Milk, egg, liver, cheese, fish oil


Carrot, cantaloupe, pumpkin, yellow squash, sweet potato, spinach, apricot, mango, papaya, nectarine, peach, red pepper


Safe but effective supplement recommendations from the UC-Berkeley School of Public Health:

Vitamin C

RDA: 60 mg/day (found in 1 orange, 1/2 cup orange juice or 1/2 cup broccoli)

Supplement: 250-500 mg/day

Warning: More than 500 mg can cause diarrhea.

Viatmin E

RDA: 8 mg/day for women, 10 for men (found in 4-5 oz. of peanuts)

Supplement: 200-800 IU

Warning: No serious side effects reported except infrequent diarrhea.

Viatmin A

RDA: 1,000 micro-grams/day for men, 800 for women

Supplement: None. It’s extremely toxic (even lethal) in high doses, and your body safely converts beta-carotene into vitamin A.


RDA: None, but 5-6 mg/day are suggested (found in 1/2 carrot or 1/2 sweet potato)

Supplement: 6-15 mg/day

Warning: Not toxic, although you may begin to rum orange (honestly).

The lose-weight debate

For years, pundits in the exercise physiology community — and even those of us at bicycling — have been telling you to train at less than 70% of maximum heart rate if you want to burn fat and lose weight. At high intensities of cycling, the reasoning goes, your body burns more glycogen (stored carbohydrate). This leaves your fat stores intact. Whoa. Sorry.

Your body does use a higher percentage of fat for energy during slow rides but, as we’ll show here, there’s more math to consider.

If you ride at 65% of your maximum heart rate, your body’s fat stores provide about half of your energy needs. When you increase intensity to 85% of max, fat provides only a third of the calories you need to pedal. But there’s more to it than that: The total number of calories burned is more important than the ratio.

Given an hour’s worth of exercise, you’ll always burn more calories at a higher intensity. That’s common sense. The percentage of energy supplied by fat may be lower, but the number of fat calories can be equal or greater. Data collected in the laboratory helps support this.

The chart on page 56 illustrates a study conducted at the University of Texas by Jack Wilmore and Dave Costill (and reported in their recently published book, Physiology of Sport and Exercise). They concluded that moderately fit cyclists exercising at 65% of their max heart rate burn about 220 calories in 30 minutes. But when the intensity increased to 85% of max, the caloric cost soared to 330 calories.

As the chart shows, 50% of 220 and 33% of 330 both equal 110 fat calories. In other words, 30 minutes of cycling, regardless of intensity, burns the same amount of fat. But at the higher intensity you burn an additional 100 calories in the same amount of time.

Keep in mind that you lose weight–and body fat–when you burn more calories than you consume. The mix of macronutrients (carbohydrate, fat, or protein) makes no difference. The more calories burnt, the more pounds you shed.

Another reason to ride harder: Owen Anderson, Ph.D., notes in Running Research News that not only does the higher intensity burn more calories, it has a more beneficial effect on your cardiovascular system.

But that’s not all. Jackie Berning, Ph.D. and sports nutritionist at the University of Colorado, says that because low-intensity exercise burns very little glycogen, when you eat a high-carbo meal after riding your muscles will have no place to store the new supply of carbo. Your body will turn this excess into fat and store it.


Even considering this evidence, low-intensity cycling still has its place.

If your goal is simply to improve your overall health (as opposed to becoming a better rider), cycling at any intensity is beneficial. Recent recommendations published jointly by the American College of Sports Medicine and the Centers for Disease Control suggest at least 30 minutes of moderate-intensity activity at least 4 days a week. At a speed of 15 mph this would equate to riding about 7-8 miles a day.

Of course, that seems slow and short to an experienced rider–which points out the other reason for slow spins. Many novice cyclists might not be able to ride for at least 30 minutes at 85% of max heart rate (or above). But nearly anyone can ride for hours at 60-70%.

Fit cyclists should still include easy days in their training–but for recovery, not because it burns more fat. Another advantage is there’s evidence that relatively slow, extended rides train the body to metabolize fat, sparing muscle glycogen for intense efforts and crucial moments near the end of a race.

But for most of us–especially fit riders whose training time is limited–long, low-intensity rides are not the most practical way to burn fat. To get lean, ride at the highest intensity you can maintain for 30 minutes or longer.

Eat Fat to Lose Weight (And Go Faster)

In the nearly 20 years i’ve been training world-class performers, I’ve noticed that most suffer from an inability to burn fat. Although they’re already at a high level of performance, they could go even farther or faster. But the solution doesn’t involve a change in training. It’s all in what they eat. Cyclists on severly restricted fat diets (say, less than 25%-30%) can ride better by consuming more of the proper fats and decreasing their intake of carbohydrate.

Sound blasphemous? Perhaps. But the science behind it is sound. The ratio of carbohydrate, fat, and protein cyclists consume is crucial to how their bodies function and how they ride.

For most people, a good ratio is 40% carbohydrate, 30% protein, and 30% fat. This ratio might seem radical. Cyclists who eat practically no fat will be reducing carbo and increasing protein and fat. Other cyclists who follow more liberal good-nutrition guidelines (60-70% carbo, 10-15% protein, 20-30% fat) will be adding mainly protein to replace the lost carbo.

This regimen is gaining acceptance among a small-but-enlightened group of top coaches and athletes. For instance, I’ve worked extensively with Massimo Testa of Italy, physician for Lance Armstrong’s Motorola squad. He believes that fat metabolism is key to improving cycling performance. Unfortunately, he says, U.S. athletes are afraid of fats. “You need good fat-burning for the aerobic engine,” he says. “But the key to building a fat-burning system is to include the right fats in the diet. In Europe, we eat more fats than Americans do without the problems [heart disease] seen in America.”

Top triathletes Mike Pigg and Mark Allen are 2 more converts. I convinced both of them to increase their fat and protein consumption, while decreasing carbohydrate intake. The result has been improved stamina on long rides.

The movement has also prompted a new type of energy bar that uses a higher percentage of fat and claims to promote endurance and weight loss. These include the PR*Bar and Balance.

But this regimen is not just for elite athletes who have the luxury of training for hours every day. Jennifer Brown, an age-group racer with a full-time job, found success with the new diet. “I can train more consistently, with more energy, without needing to take days off from fatigue,” she says. “I also have an increased desire to train because it just feels good. A 60-mile ride feels like a 30-miler used to. And I’m losing weight, too.” What’s going on here? Let’s take a look.


Most energy is derived from carbohydrate (glucose) and fats (fatty acids). Protein also plays a role, especially if carbohydrate and fat intake is inadequate. But by far the most abundant energy source is fat.

One molecule of fat yields about 460 molecules of ATP (adenosine triphosphate, used in muscle contraction). The same amount of glucose yields only 36 molecules of ATP. Calorically, fat stores in a healthy adult male offer 100,000 kilocalories of energy. Glucose stores, called glycogen, provide only about 2,000.

Consequently, you can obtain 80-90% of your energy from these extensive fat stores if you train your body to do so through diet and exercise. The benefits are enormous. Less fat is stored (leading to weight loss). Endurance improves. And you “spare” your glycogen for when you need it most: during high-intensity efforts.

Make no mistake, fat can be harmful if overeaten. The key is to balance your intake. Just as you want a mix of aerobic and anaerobic workouts, you need a combination of dietary fats. This means including at least twice the amount of unsaturated (mostly in the form of monounsaturates) to saturated fats.

To simplify matters think of “A,” “B,” and “C” fats.

“A” fats are unsaturated. They’re found in most vegetables and in olive, safflower, peanut, and corn oils. They are sometimes referred to by their chemical name, Omega 6. Concentrates of black-currant seed, borage, and primrose oil are also in this category. “A” fats also include many unsaturated oils (which can be either polyunsaturated or monounsaturated).

“B” fats are the saturated type found in dairy products, butter, meat, and egg yolks. They contain the essential fat arachidonic acid. They have also been mistaken for “bad” fats, but this needn’t be the case as long as they’re consumed as part of a balanced diet.

“C” fats are unsaturated fats found in fish and beans, as well as in linseed, sesame, soy, and walnut oils. Chemically they’re called Omega 3. This group also includes the concentrates from flaxseed (linseed) and fish oil called EPA.

The key in getting fats to work for you is to strive for equal amounts of all 3 in the course of a week or month. This balancing act is easier than you think, because most foods contain a combination of “A,” “B,” and “C” types. (If you’re a vegetarian and eat very little “B” fats then you need to consume equal amounts of “A” and “C.” Some of these will convert in your body to “B.”) If you follow this ratio and stay within the 30% limit, cholesterol overload and the other problems associated with excess fat shouldn’t be a problem.


The increased level of protein is important. It allows you to consume the proper amount of calories without adding to your fat or carbo percentages. (Think of the process as creating the optimum fuel mix for a race car.)

In addition, protein prevents muscle breakdown, and mental and physical fatigue. It also regulates functions related to cycling. One hormone derived from protein increases the amount of carbo that muscles can store after a hard ride. Another chemical controlled by your protein balance is serotamin, which influences how fatigued you feel.


Besides balancing fat intake, you must prevent the body from turning off the fat-burning mechanism, a reaction that occurs when you eat too much carbohydrate.

Carbo stimulates the release of the hormone insulin, which causes a drop in blood sugar. To compensate, the body sends more blood sugar to the muscle cells, increasing glycogen storage. This compels your body to use more carbohydrate as fuel. But because glycogen storage space is small, insulin changes about 40% of your carbohydrate into fat and stores it. So high-carbo diets–especially those including refined carbohydrate such as pasta or rice–result in more insulin being released and less fat being burned.

There’s more: If you don’t provide your body with enough fat to use as energy, it will be forced to use more sugar. This lowers blood sugar. The body compensates by raising it again. This roller coaster can create the mood swings familiar to many athletes on the high-carbo/super-low-fat diet. It can also lead to fatigue, clumsiness (not a good thing on a bike), headaches, depression, and allergies.

It also appears that up to half the population may be “carbo intolerant.” Our ancestors ate a “caveman diet” that consisted of mostly meat and vegetables. Only recently has our physiology been asked to digest and metabolize large amounts of sugar and starch. As a result, some people are unable to tolerate them.

This carbohydrate intolerance (also called insulin resistance, hypoglycemia, or hyperinsulism) can cause fatigue, a craving for sweets or caffeine, intestinal bloating, sleepiness, increased fat storage, and even depression. Long-term problems can include increased triglycerides and high blood pressure.

Could it be affecting you? One way to find out is to try a 2-week diet that eliminates most breads, pastas, sweets, fruit and fruit juices, potatoes, milk, and yogurt. Do this with the help of your doctor. If you feel better after the 2-week trial, suspect carbohydrate intolerance. Then begin to add a few carbos to your diet until you reach an amount that causes your symptoms to reappear. The optimal amount of carbohydrate for you is just below this.

A SAMPLE 40/30/30 MENU

Here’s a meal plan that contains approximately 40% carbohydrate, 30% protein, and 30% fat:

BREAKFAST–8-ounce tomato juice, 2 poached eggs, 2 slices of 7-grain toast (dry), 1/2 cup low-fat cottage cheese.

LUNCH–Tuna salad with mayo on whole wheat bread, and mixed salad (lettuce, red peppers, carrots) with extra-virgin olive oil and vinegar.

DINNER–Broiled red snapper, 1/2 cup brown rice, 1/2 cup bean salad, 1/2 cup cooked zucchini.