The Healthy New Year's Resolutions
By James Herrera, USA Cycling National BMX Coach
Alright… what’s it going to be this year? I’m going to lose weight, join a gym, start doing yoga, dust off the Total Gym, Abddominzer, Crunch Master, or other infomercial fitness tools you’ve got hiding in the closet.
This January, when you make those promises to yourself, keep it simple: Eat healthier, ride more.
It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to figure out that our country’s got a bit of a food-related disease epidemic. Heart disease, diabetes, various forms of cancer, hypertension, chronic fatigue syndrome, and a host of others, can all be food related. And granted, while genetics may load the gun for many of these illnesses, lifestyle pulls the trigger. It's how we nourish and exercise ourselves that may flip that genetic switch from off to on.
Commit to more fruits and veggies this year.
More and more literature is making its way to the mainstream, urging us to reduce, and in some cases eliminate, our total animal product consumption: meat, eggs, dairy, and other foods made with these items. That’s a pretty tough pill to swallow for those of us that were raised with the “milk does a body good” and “where’s the beef” campaigns. For athletes, there was an even greater push to consume excess protein to repair exercise induced muscle tissue breakdown. It's quite ironic that we’ve now learned that most individuals, including athletes, are highly functional and thriving with just 10% of total daily calories coming from protein sources. Mind you, that’s not 10% from animal sources. That’s 10% total, which includes legumes, nuts, and seeds.
The biggest dietary impact you can make for yourself in 2014 and beyond is to consume more fruits and vegetables, especially those of the green, leafy variety: spinach, kale, bok choy, arugala, romaine, ice berg etc. These are some of the most nutrient dense foods on our planet. For those coming up short on the fruit and vegetable servings, whip out your blender and mix up a fruit or fruit and vegetable smoothie. They taste great, and are an excellent post workout mode of calories.
Get more time in the saddle.
Now comes the fun part, ride more. You love riding. You feel better during and after every ride. Your weight is managed, stress is lower, fitness improved, and health greatly impacted. Not to mention, you’re setting an excellent example for your kids, significant other, friends, family, and colleagues. Your bike is the secret weapon to a longer, more vibrant life.
No excuses on this one. Commit to a minimum of three bike rides a week, add one day if you’re already at the three-ride minimum, or go full throttle and get on a five to six day a week plan. Keep in mind, all of these sessions don’t need to be three to five hour epics. As little as 45-60 minutes is perfectly fine. An indoor session on the trainer, rollers, or a spin class doesn’t offer us the same quality of scenery as the great outdoors, but it definitely counts as a ride day and improves our fitness.
Boost the intensity of your riding.
Another goal on your bike is to boost the intensity of your riding. Don’t fall into the trap of pedaling at the same pace or exertion level every time you spin your wheels. Fitness improvements, both aerobic and muscular, come from pushing ourselves out of our comfort zones. Implement intermittent (interval) training into your routine, riding at a pace that induces short, quick, rhythmic breathing, followed by a period of easy paced riding. Try this for a few runs up hill for a long, steady interval. Or do shorter, more high intensity uphill efforts. In both cases, recover on the descent as you prep for your next interval. This is just as easily accomplished on the mountain bike by selecting the hills on your route as interval time, recovering on the flats or descents.
For those riding three days a week, try one easy ride, one longer ride, and one high intensity day of interval training. For those riding four days or more, two days of interval training will pay big dividends. As a rule of thumb, always listen to your body before riding. If you’re tired, ride for active recovery at an easy pace. If you’re fresh and rested, go long or step on the gas with some gut busting intervals. You can create an added sense of accountability by tracking your ride days in a handwritten journal, spreadsheet, or online calendar.
When you're short on time, one of my favorite HIIT (high intensity interval training) workouts is the classic Tabata, which can be done in less than 30 minutes from start to finish. Warm up for 10-15 minutes by progressively increasing your cadence and intensity, spinning easy for the 2-3 minutes before the end of your warm up. Then do one set of eight 20 second max efforts with 10 seconds recovery between each. The workout plus recovery takes four minutes, but guaranteed you'll feel it. Spin for 5-10 minutes as a warm down and call it a day. For additional training benefits, increase the length of your intervals (30sec on, 15sec off or 40sec on, 20sec off), or add additional Tabata cycles (2-3 sets of 8 versus just 1). Incorporating HIIT into your workouts will drastically improve fitness by increasing aerobic capacity while stoking the fire hotter and elevating your caloric burn.
As we move into the New Year, forget the broken promises of resolutions gone by, and make a commitment to yourself to follow through with better nutrition and cycling strategies. Eat more fruit, vegetables, nuts, seeds, and legumes for high octane fuel, and ride with the motivation and intensity that induces fitness gains.
Happy New Year!