Thursday, January 10, 2008

Calories and compromise, part deux

When I spilled all of part one out of my head and onto the screen, I did it knowing that it was an incomplete work and still needed much explanation and qualification. Ya gotta understand the big picture before you can start amending it's components.

For starters, although the number of calories ingested *is* important, quantity is a long ways from being the only consideration. Many have helpfully suggested that I try their favorite goop (or powder) du jour as a magic bullet to get more calories in. And I know from experience that, if chosen properly, some of these concoctions work OK, but always at a price. However, the last time I was able to ingest anything goo-shaped was at a 24-hour race in '96, where I completed the race on 65 gu's (and nothing else) and then proceeded to nurse a 4-day 'gu-hangover'. And now I get a gag reflex anytime I see or smell anything remotely similar.

Powders, on the other hand, aren't necessarily offensive, but they are heavy, messy if improperly packed, and they still need to be rehydrated. But the biggest strike against them comes from the fact that they are what they are, and when calorically deprived and cold there's nothing satisfying about drinking, even if it is a calorically dense beverage. YMMV, but when I'm winter camping after working this hard, my body needs, nay, demands something solid to wrap itself around and gnaw on all through the night. So powders are out.

In short, I'll be eating real food--stuff that needs to be cooked, tasted, chewed, swallowed, and then belched as it begins to settle and stoke up my internal fire. But still the question remains: How much?

A big component of my eating strategy for this event comes from my unorthodox approach to eating when racing the last 15+ years: I don't need much. When I moved to the mountains in '92 I learned to ride long and with that I also learned to ride efficiently. Whether my HR is at 140 or 200 I'm still going slow, so I've learned to even out the high and low spikes and with that I eliminated the word bonk from my own personal vocabulary. I've finished the LT100, Soul Ride 100, VT 125, KTR, etc... etc... all on 300 or less calories, total. Out of curiosity I've done a few of these on zero calories--just to see if I could. At the end of each race my legs were tired and I was ready to be off the bike, but I hadn't lost so much as a pound, and was ready to ride again the next day. These examples are just to set the stage--I know darn well that a single day epic ride has little in common with sustaining that same pace for three+ weeks.

Critical to understand is that my AK expedition this year is a tour. I am not racing anyone or anything. The only reason I'll be paying attention to time at all is to check in with L on occasion, and to make sure that I'm out at least three weeks. Keeping to a slow burn (burning fat instead of muscle) when moving will mostly be a non-issue. There'll undoubtedly be a few moments of each day when I have no choice but to spike the heart rate to get up an icy, blown-out-by-slednecks hill or through some overflow, but that'll be easily offset by the amount of carbs I'm putting back in. I'm certain I'll be burning huge quantities of fat, and I think it's possible that between the kind and quantity of calories I'm taking in, the touring pace, and the amount of rest I'll get each night, that I may actually be recovering enough to be adding muscle mass for the first two weeks. At any rate, I don't think I'll lose much muscle out there when it's all over.

And I still haven't answered the question: How much?

I'll be consuming ~3300 calories per day for the first ten days, then about 3800 for the remainder. As far as packing on fat to 'consume' as I go, that's a trickier answer.

For starters, while I know I could easily put on the weight in a short time, I'm not going to do it. Partly because I wouldn't be able to fit into the clothes that I've evolved for this purpose over the years, and partly because the added weight would increase the pressure on my saddle and grips, resulting in more saddle sores and numbness/bruising in my hands. Another factor is that I'm necessarily hedging my bets: If I get stymied on this trip (as I did last year after deliberately gaining about 9lbs in advance) I don't want to come home frustrated *and* with moobs. Putting on weight is easy. Taking it off in a workday environment is not.

Lastly (at least of the reasons that I'm going to put 'out there'), I'm more than a little curious about the science project nature of all of this. I know beyond a shadow of a doubt that I can go farther on a bicycle on a given amount of calories than 99.999% of the people on this planet. But I really want to know where my breaking point is. I don't think I'll lose that much weight. Assuming that I finish the tour (a bogglingly huge assumption) my best guess has me arriving in Nome 15-16lbs lighter than I started, and gaining back half of that from repeated sushi gorgings in Los Anchorage before flying home.

While weight loss will be on my mind throughout, I'm 100% certain that it will not be the crux of the trip.

MC