Paleo vs Cyclist: THE VERDICT
As you may recall, I recently particpated in a bit of a nutritional experiment. It involved following a diet known as Whole30 – like paleo but even stricter. It wasn’t to lose weight, but more as a general body cleanse. It was an interesting experience to say the least, and taught me many things.
For starters, almond milk is horrible stuff, I couldn’t stand it and started drinking my coffee black for the first time in my life. Going without any added sugar was also a massive shock to my system. It took over a week for my body to adjust to that, but after a few horrible days I started to feel pretty much normal again. On the flip side, I found going without alcohol was surprisingly easy and I grew to love waking up each morning feeling more alert than I have in years.
(Oh, another think I learned is home-baked potato/sweet potato/zucchini crisps are awesome – but mandolins are SHARP and f****ing dangerous!).
Of course, this is cycling blog and as I’m a cycling tragic like you, my main curiosity was always how my riding would be impacted by this pretty radical change in diet. I hoped for the best, expected the worst, and now that it’s all done I have to confess it was very difficult. Specifically, I really struggled to maintain adequate energy levels during my rides – something I found frustrating and disheartening as the weeks rolled on. Despite eating copious quantities of bananas, dates, nuts and dried apricots – and drinking coconut water in lieu of standard electrolyte/sports drinks – I suffered pretty regularly from moderate hunger flats, as well as one spectacularly epic sugar bonk. Paleo bars (both home-made and supermarket-bought) helped a bit, but not enough for my liking.
Apparently if you stay on this type of diet long enough your body eventually rewires itself to burn fat instead of carbs (there are several books about this if you’re keen to know more), but I never made it that far – it pretty clearly takes a lot longer than my patience lasts!
This said, it wasn’t all bad. Moderate training rides (I’ll define these as tempo or below) were pretty good. So were the times when I could shamelessly wheelsuck. But any situations that required a lift in power such as hard training efforts, climbing or races were almost always a real struggle. It felt as if my batteries were flat – precisely because they were. Mentally, I found it increasingly hard to feel so weak on the bike, knowing I typically feel so much stronger. In a last throw of the dice, I actually changed the diet after 20 days and introduced a small serving of basmati rice for dinner the night before harder rides. Not surprisingly, this carb boost made an instant and significant difference and the smile quickly crept back to my race face.
Should I ever try this diet for another 30 days – and I probably will – that’s what I’ll do from the get go. I’ll still stop the alcohol, wheat, dairy and added sugar. But the rice can stay. And, hopefully, so will my power.