During recent months members have been preparing to complete their own personal aims and these are usually based on participating in some sort of event. They have naturally been training to do so on a regular basis and as effectively as possible, often following a training plan. Inevitably there have been discussions on what to eat, but it can often seem like there is conflicting information out there, one minute something is bad for us, the next it isn’t.  

One day someone, I’ll call them “Jim”, made a comment to me about not eating breakfast. Jim has a physical job and he also indicated that he’s not really hungry for lunch either. He would maybe have a boiled egg and a Babybel for lunch. I suggested, that I thought this was a bad habit and wouldn’t help in their goals and his response was something I hear far too often… ‘But I don’t want to gain weight’, was the reply.

Their mistake was the timing of their admission. With no other members distracting my attention, they became subject to a mostly one-sided conversation which I was seemingly unable to curtail. Just ask my daughter what this is like. When she had friends to stay overnight, heaven help them if they didn’t have breakfast!

Here’s a shortened version:

Excess caloric deprivation will not lead to weight loss. Past a certain point, it can lead to metabolic slowing at the very best, which can lead to weight gain. Over the long term, it can result in loss of bone mass and osteoporosis. On a daily level, it causes poor sleep, irritability, poor performance and a reduced ability to recover. Skipping meals can also lead to poor nutritional choices later in the day, I explained to the hapless Jim.

When making change, start with what works for you

‘Can I just have a protein bar?’ Jim asked, as I paused for breath. Those that know me will have heard how I consider a protein bar – or anything else processed and packaged – to be a sub-par meal. I have a host of options for the early-morning I don’t eat breakfast gang,  including pre-making and freezing a batch of breakfast muffins or burritos, preparing and refrigerating smoothie ingredients in the blender at night for easy to grab and go option, or even making some whole-grain toast with peanut butter and grabbing a piece of fruit. Whist I’ll push such options it wasn’t the whole point! If a protein bar worked for Jim and it was something that would be eaten, then the bar was far better than nothing and facing something which seemed too daunting. Any calories would be a huge improvement, so I was happy to let Jim dictate his own comfort zone. When you are making changes, don’t allow a desire for perfection to mess up an opportunity to make that change.

Listen, even when you don’t want to hear

‘Listen to your body,’ is great advice, but we can ignore the signals our bodies send for too long. They get quieter and the lines of communication can get a bit crossed. Habits and wilful ignorance are powerful tools we employ without realising it! 

It’s easy enough to listen when our bodies request an exercise class, lunch with friends, or an extra hour of sleep in a warm bed. Unfortunately, it’s equally important to listen when we need to take a day off or skip a race, when we need to tone down the caffeine or the ice cream intake, or when we have to modify a goal we were set on.

Sometimes the actual messages we receive can be confusing. I experienced this after my first 12 hour cycling time trial. I’d have expected in my ‘slightly tired’ state and to be ready for a decent recovery meal. But instead I felt too tired and exhausted, and was somewhat uninterested in eating. I found it difficult to eat but having done so found my energy levels improve.

Be willing to change your routine

Shortly after my chat with Jim, I went on holiday to Cornwall. This took me away from the normal training I did and no cycling. We had different eating habits whilst away eating in different cafes and restaurants. It was a break from the normal eating habits and choices whilst also trying to show off my considerable surfing skills!

It was enjoyable, I didn’t worry about when and what I was going to be eating. I enjoyed the Cornish pasties and it made me realise that doing some other form of activity is good, it’s not all about the bike! (Well it is but … these other activities keep me fresh and keen to ride whilst bringing their own challenges).

So going forward, maybe that willingness to change and derive the benefits should be more of an effort. Perhaps the weekends are the time to try new recipes, go and try Stand Up Paddle-boarding, or try and go for a regular brisk walk with my long suffering wife. She has recently tried Nordic Walking and that appeals more to my nature than plain old walking. Perhaps it will be reading a book or magazine that isn’t about cycling or health & fitness.

The good news is that our bodies – and our minds – can be very forgiving. Even after months or years of being ignored, they can be remarkably ready to talk as soon as we show interest. A couple of days after my ‘discussion’ with Jim, he was still willing to talk to me! He had eaten his protein bar for breakfast and, after a morning of activity, it was lunchtime. To Jim’s surprise, he felt hungry.