Nutrition: Let’s start with the basics

By: Heather Nielson

I’m right in the middle of reading another ‘fad’ diet/nutrition book but not because I want to follow the lemmings down another road of house-hold-name diet trends but out of pure curiosity and because the scientist in me believes there is truth and good data behind most well thought out and researched theories. Data is data. How it gets interpreted over time and the additional information added that helps further explain things we don’t understand is what science is and I’m a life-long student. This diet-fad book I’m reading is ‘The Zone’ and was written 20 years ago. I read the Paleo diet book and the Paleo diet for athletes about 7 years ago and as a biologist with a nutrition background, that made a lot of sense to me and have since been following more or less a paleo diet. Turns out, the macro nutrient recommendations given in The Zone are nearly identical to the Paleo Diet, with a few minor details. However, the authors give their recommendations for different reasons. Is one more correct than the other? Are the reasons one gave wrong and the other right?


A winner never stops asking questions and never stops learning. Diet and nutrition are another ‘game’ we play that all of us want to WIN at; and like a training plan, you have to try things and do what works for you, but never stop asking questions and try not to get stuck in one eating mode because just like your training, if you keep doing the same thing, you’ll plateau. When you start your base period of training, most often your coach will begin with the basics: endurance, some neuro muscular drills, form, cadence, maybe some gym work; so with nutrition, let’s start with the basics.

In truth, most of us know how to eat healthy in general and we know when we’re not eating healthy. We also don’t want to eat healthy 100% of the time because we want to enjoy life with a glass of wine, some ice cream or the basket of fries; and why not?! Life’s too short! You can’t win at anything if you don’t also learn balance. It’s not realistic to expect to eat 100% healthy 100% of the time; but do you really know how much of your diet is healthy? I’m not suggesting you download the latest ap and start measuring your food and counting your calories and macro nutrients from now until the end of time BUT it wouldn’t be a bad idea to try it for a few days or a week just to see what you’re really eating. Eat normally and pay attention to the trends. If you want to start making changes based on what you notice in your diet then I would strongly suggest making one or two small changes at a time, wait for a few weeks, see what happens then try changing something else. Long term habits are built slowly and a ‘diet’ should be one you can follow realistically for the rest of your life.

Here are some basics to look for:

  • How much added sugar are you really ingesting? Where can you cut back?
  • How big (calories) are each of your meals? Do you eat most of your calories during the early/mid day or late at night?
  • Are your weekend splurges too much that they negate all that discipline during the week? (One cookie is probably fine! The whole box…..)
  • How much alcohol are you drinking in an average week really? (That stuff turns to fat so easy)
  • What does your macro nutrient profile look like? Could you use more protein? Less carbs?

Here are some small changes you could start making:

  • Make sure there’s at least one serving of fruit &/or vegetable every time you eat a meal
  • Make sure your snacks are not high-glycemic foods that can quickly turn to sugar and therefore fat (there are some nifty glycemic index aps)
  • Make sure most of your food is whole food and not processed
  • If you want that cookie or candy bar, that’s ok but time it with your training so that your body uses up the calories as quickly as they’re being dumped into your blood stream, otherwise they’ll turn to fat quicker
  • Start eating smaller portions and snacking more often so that your blood sugar stays more level and you start to feel fuller more often and quicker

Start with those basics and see what happens! If you hit another plateau then it’s time to start asking more questions and keep winning!




Enter the dragon. Unlocking your beast

Well, there is one thing that you could do that would totally change your riding.  Push it harder!  Say this mantra to yourself right now ” I suffer and love it!” You have more left in your tank than you think.  You have more ability than you give yourself credit for.  You know how after a really hard ride you say to yourself “I think I could have done better”, well you are right!  Warning…this is my Chelan camp ramble…I am here every May for our 5-day training camp and every year it gets me fired up!

You have a beast inside of you that is just waiting to express itself.  You will never know how much harder you could go, how much more intense you could work, again and again to get faster and better unless you force yourself to do it.  It only takes a mind shift to embrace more suffering.  Enter the dragon…challenge your limitation, your self fulfilling roadblock getting in the way of what you want.  It never gets comfortable, it never gets easy, you just get used to more suffering and harder work and you adapt.  Get clear on what you want, your goal.  You find a way, you keep digging, you get set-back and you adapt and find another way.  

That is the way of the Dragon, the beast inside you, that wants to roar.  It is a war, a war against laziness, a war against slowing down, a war against aging, a war against youth that don’t know how easy they have it, a war against all the missed opportunities, a war against the rejection, the missing out, the not being picked, the party you didn’t get invited to, all the times you had the door shut in front of you.  Well it is time to crash the door in, ride your beast in and LIGHT.  IT. UP!!!

One thing I have been thinking on this Chelan trip this year is how good it is to work hard.  How good it feels to push it past where your body wants you to stop.  To push it into new realms of hard work and feel that deep down tiredness.  It is always hard to start doing longer and harder rides, it is something you just have to suffer through to enjoy the rewards.  I just watched a war movie after a great day of riding…so many good young men and women die in war, what can I do to enjoy my freedom, to not take it for granted, to live life as well as I can live it, to rise to my best level, to savor every drop. 

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A little more on FTP: there’s more than one threshold!

By: Heather Nielson

I wrote about FTP awhile ago and its’ relationship to heart rate and fitness in a previous post and thought I should write a little more about different kinds of thresholds. The last several years, threshold, FTP, LTH and the like have been written about, talked about and thrown in everyone’s face so much that I feel like a lot of cyclists and bike racers have become overly obsessed with that power number and have come to think of it as the magic number that would suddenly win them bike races or get them that new PR at their next century ride or strava KOM; but that just isn’t true.

There are so many factors that go into winning a bike race or putting in your best time at an event or hill climb, not JUST having a fantastic FTP or high watts/kg (which is actually a far more valuable ratio than just the raw FTP power number). Of course having a competitive (for your event) FTP is a great indicator of your overall fitness level and fatigue rate but if you haven’t trained for your specific event that will inevitably include other power thresholds then you’ve left out the other higher level fitness factor that will lose you the race or event.

A good example is, let’s say you’ve been able to stay with the front group of riders in that long road race or century ride and there’s one last hill to climb and someone attacks and you either can’t follow the attack OR you can follow the attack but your ability to hold their wheel going up the hill leaves you in the dust and chasing until the finish because they were able to put out higher watts/kg than you up the hill and ‘win’ doesn’t mean they necessarily have a higher FTP than you. In fact, their FTP could very well be lower than yours! However, if they were able to conserve more energy than you throughout the race and have trained their 3 or 5 minute wattage threshold at the end of a race because they trained specifically for that event then they will have a better result. Who cares what your FTP is if you didn’t train specifically for that event?

To continue to use that example, if you know that your key event that you want to do well in has several climbs throughout the ride that are between 3-5 minutes then your training should include your ability to climb at competitive (for your field) wattages for that period of time inside of a pace that is at race pace; so probably very near threshold or tempo. Remember, it takes time to build your overall fitness or threshold and then it takes more time to build your ability to ride over that threshold and then come back to recover and ride at tempo again. Make sure you are training with specificity for your events, that  you are consistent and as always, allow for proper recovery!

Remember, it’s not just brute strength that wins a bike race or that next KOM. It’s putting together the right combination of strength, power, speed, tactics, mental toughness, weather, terrain and many more factors that get you the best possible result for you!