Tuscany in Autumn

My trip away the weekend before last with Rpm90 was not without its trials and tribulations.  First, and rather critically, my bike bag (with bike and all my clothes) never made it onto the plane.  I experienced one of those tragic lonely moments in arrivals at Pisa airport where all the other travellers disperse and there is only the scuffing whir of an empty luggage carousel to break the quiet.  This was not how it was meant to start. “There was a message”, said the nice Italian lady with a heavy Italian accent. “Your bag. It is at Gatwick”. Oh dear.


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BA emergency pack.  There would have been more of an emergency if I had applied that comb to my hair.

A frantic few hours with Rpm90’s Nick followed where we went into ‘triage’ overdrive.

What do we need?  What can we do without?

It was all about the shoes.

We must find some cycling shoes, and we must find them within the next couple of hours.  A frantic tour of Pisa central followed. Well, not that frantic actually because once you turn into the streets around the student area you are not going anywhere fast.  A fleeting glimpse of the leaning tower was included as we rounded one corner, but we experienced an epic fail on this first phase of our shoe hunting escapade.

Plan B followed whereupon picking up Alun (our last client to arrive) we did a *slight* detour to a ‘Decathlon’ we had located on the trustworthy phone nav. And at only our second attempt we found a store and bought the cheapest, only-one-size-too-big cycling shoes available, and headed at last to our destination, La Valais Luxury Hotel in Radda in Chianti.

The hotel for our stay in Tuscany is just fabulous.  Stone built, ornately decorated and just, well -  fabulous (and indeed this was the eloquent summary given by several Americans at reception on our arrival).  The food at the hotel is spectacular too (running out of superlatives), and accompanied by plenty of the local wine (sucks on teeth in Anthony Hopkins style). It had been a pretty exhausting and emotionally draining start to the weekend, so it was good to sit down to dinner (albeit somewhat underdressed) and meet the clients we would be riding with over the next few days.

Fortunately for me, Rpm90’s James is somewhat vertically challenged and so with the saddle shoved up an inch or so, his bike fits me rather well.  His cycling kit doesn’t fit me too badly either and we have known each other long enough to share a chamois (clean, obviously, and not at the same time). What James lacks in height he makes up for in shoulder width, so the 44cm handlebars were perhaps a touch on the wide side for me, but together with the dodgy new shoes I embraced the challenge and we hit the road.

Our first day of ‘orientation’ was pretty relaxed and allowed us to get to know the riders and for us to settle back onto our bikes (or someone else’s).  Most of the roads around Radda are smooth and well maintained, an instant and welcome contrast for me from many of my regular roads in Kent.  First impressions for clients who are new to Tuscany are of the unending nature of the hills, of which there are many.  The terrain is constantly up and down, and even the valley roads have that relentless rolling aspect that make for great training.  Not always steep, but rarely flat, for those who weren’t expecting it, the opening day, with its 7km ‘tester’ climb offered a nice little nibble at the main days activities for Saturday.

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Demon descending buddy on day 1: Alun

The Rpm90 trip to Tuscany is all about experiencing this undulating terrain, but in particular taking in some of the Strada Bianchi (white roads) that make up the route for the classic L’Eroica’ ride (that took place the weekend before our trip), and the neo-classic race (also called Strada Bianchi) that is part of the UCI pro calendar in spring.  Having had a little taste of the Strada on the Friday, our route for the Saturday was to take in some longer sections before lunch, and then we would split the group for the return journey, with the stronger riders smashing up more gravel and the rest of us opting for the more scenic but still fairly gruelling return.

When I did this same trip with in the spring of this year my memory is of the green rolling hillsides surrounding Siena, and the views of these afforded by way of being off the beaten track, or indeed on it, via the white gravel roads.  This time, now in October, the views were no less spectacular, but this time the palate was made up of browns, greys and even purples, with the fields that were glowing green in spring having been thickly ploughed since.

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 Even the ‘white roads’ were a light brown, which mixture of mud and dust spattered us from head to toe as we munched our way along the gravel to our lunch stop on Saturday.  The weather was wet, but warm, and I rather enjoy the combination and the added technical challenge it brought to the already somewhat tricky riding. Our riders were adapting well, and though challenged I hope were enjoying the experience too.

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Either mass murder was about to take place, or the restaurant had heard that we might be a bit damp and muddy.

Our lunch stop was at Lucmpemsi at the end of our longest section of strada for the morning, by which time one or two cleats had become a bit clogged up and mud had crept into every orifice.  Hot food on a wet day is always welcome, and the food here is particularly warming with my personal favourite cauliflour, eggy, omeletty thing on the menu once again.

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Great wholesome food.  Gluten free.  Happy days :)

Having filled up on this hearty traditional Italian food, topped off with a quick espresso to avoid the post lunch slump we headed back in our two groups towards Radda.  My group was taking in more tarmac on the way home, with just one or two short sections of Strada to break up the rythmn of the black stuff.

What I love the most about riding in Tuscany is the views.  Obviously you get lovely views in lots of places you might ride your bike, but here you always seem to be summiting a hill, and at every summit you are rewarded with a 360 degree panoramic scene of hill top houses each serviced with a gravel road lined with cypress trees.  For me this gives you a frequent sense of achievement, and the reward is never too far away from your effort. The weather was changeable on the return journey but for me the moody purple clouds, together with the fresh air that you only get between heavy showers made the scene all the more appealing.  Largely we were riding on smooth, relatively ‘main’ roads, but there was little traffic, and this quiet luxury allowed my mind to happily wander.

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As the day wore on, my legs were reminded that as well as being beautiful, the Tuscan terrain is what one of our riders called ‘fit-making’.  The constant hills, including some short sharp, shoving ones on the Strada tests the legs and builds of progressive sort of fatigue. Coming into Pianella, only 20Km or so from our Hotel mostly along a valley, my little cohort of pedalling adventurers settled in line behind me and we tapped out the route at a very constant tempo.  Feeling the fatigue in my legs and knowing that we were all suffering, I was careful to maintain a constant pressure on the pedals for my own sake as much as everyone else’s, and we fell into the sort of amicable silence you get when both the brain and legs are numbed by the physical challenge. Luckily, both groups ended up coming into Radda at the same time in the sunshine, so we were able to appreciate some smug group satisfaction and fight over the food in the local supermarket.

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For the final day of riding I was at last reunited with my own bike that had arrived by courier from Pisa on Saturday afternoon.  This allowed James to finally get on the road himself and we all rode steadily with tired but happy legs into Siena for coffee in the famous Piazza del campo on Sunday morning.  The Autumn sun was a little warmer on the face and shoulders than in the spring, and just warm enough to make it comfortable to sit out in the fresh air without any chill at the edges.

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Sitting back in the square I felt a sense of happy symmetry with these two trips that have book ended my summer season.  In the spring it had been a bit colder, and I had been a bit less fit.  The routes and roads had been new and challenging and working with the Rpm90 boys was still a relatively new experience.  This time around I was in a more confident place, and in spite of the drama of the bike bag I felt content in the knowledge that the trip had gone well, and everyone including me had enjoyed a unique riding experience.

I hope to be back for more in Spring 2014.  If you fancy a piece of the action check it out at http://www.rpm90.com/packages/tuscanycycling-2014/


Discomfort and Failure

One of my regular personal training clients is approaching his first ‘birthday’ training with me.  When he came to me for our initial consultation last year he sat down (carefully) opposite me and I listened to the story that had got him to where he was. It was a story that had included a lot of long working hours, some bodily neglect, a busy family life, and then twice in the previous 18 months a bout of horrendous back pain.  The second of which culminated in being nursed inch by inch down the stairs by paramedics, and spending the next several months living, working and closely following the cricket laid flat on his living room floor. When we met, he was back at work and on his feet, but had narrowly avoided spinal surgery for a significant disc injury. Though I make a point of trying to be non-judgemental, sat opposite me that day I saw an overweight man in a suit with a fairly broken body.

Rightly or wrongly, I told my client exactly that last week.  I told him because I was struck by the fact that it’s not who I see anymore.  Now I see a generally fit and healthy man with a young family.  I see a man who is a stone and a half lighter than he was then, exercising regularly (both within our training sessions and independently) and enjoying life.  He has not spent this summer on the floor but lifting and carrying logs and riding bikes with his young family in France. This pleases me enormously.


Pain and discomfort often send people in my direction.  All motivation is fundamentally driving you towards something you want or away from something you don’t want.  Sometimes it’s both.


Chronic pain and discomfort is not normal.  This is something not always recognised by the general population, and especially amongst sports people for whom pain can become ‘normalised’.  In my favoured sport of cycling generalised back ache is often considered ‘normal’.  Really this just means that back ache is common, but it should not be expected, anticipated or accepted as a by-product of being a cyclist. Distinguishing what is normal ‘healthy’ discomfort associated with exercise and what is not seems just as difficult for a competitive sportsperson as for someone who has never engaged in physical training, but for different reasons.  The glorification of suffering that is celebrated in sport is not always healthy and needs to be placed firmly in context.  I believe that feeling happy, well, pain free and energised in general is what we should expect, even amidst the specific identifiable fatigue caused by training.

I had an interesting discussion recently with another personal training client of mine about the acute discomfort that is necessary to create the ‘overload’ required for adaptation. She reminded me that breathing and sweating heavily are not ‘normal’ experiences for some people. That the ‘pain’ of the final few repetitions of a strengthening exercise seems unnatural and avoidable in the logical mind of many. Surrounded by the ‘training’ environment as I grew up, the discomfort of training and the camaraderie of surviving it was celebrated.  If you made it through ‘hell week’ in my swim squad you were rewarded with a swimming hat that said so. But without the obvious ‘carrot’ of improved sports performance it can sometimes be more difficult to reframe this discomfort as something positive.


All discomfort and pain can be meaningful and purposeful.  To consciously inflict acute discomfort by way of training you have to be motivated by a belief and understanding of the long-term benefits. To sub-consciously find yourself in chronic pain and discomfort often forces you to self-reflect on why and how you have got there.


Interestingly, simply taking on board this basic training principle of ‘overload’ and trying it for a few weeks can be enough to keep the motivation train rolling. The benefits in the body and mind are normally enough to speak volumes.  I suppose this is where the supportive relationship of a trainer is most helpful to the beginner, in reassuring them that in this context this short lived, acute discomfort is normal and safe, and that there will be a pay-off.  Happily my client now understands that the level of discomfort we are talking about is reasonable and manageable, and leaves her feeling better long-term and looking forward to exercise and not dreading it.


Failure is important and should not be avoided. It sets a boundary that can be tested in the future to measure progress.  Unless you are willing to fail, you will never know what you can achieve.


I have been checking my own boundaries in relation to training discomfort and ‘failure’ recently.  Often in my gym training in particular I will stay in my comfort zone, or at the most will push the envelope at the edges of it.  As an ‘endurance athlete’ I am not strictly built for strength, though I enjoy staying in overall physical condition and applying what I know to my own fitness training. On my bike, my leg strength rather than my cardio-vascular system is often a limiter. It has been a long time since I have really tested my strength by pushing the boundaries of what I can achieve in the gym, and I have rarely pushed myself to the point of failure.  So my new autumn mission, in the gym at least, is to do exactly that….

To fail.

Over and over again.

Brilliant :)

Isolated hamstring stretch at the knee

HamstringsStrapBentLeg-640x4801-400x300 How to do this stretch:

Practice without the strap first as follows:

Lay flat on your back with your left leg straight along the floor and your right leg bent and relaxed, grasping your right hand behind your knee and holding your thigh vertical (see below under ‘TESTING YOUR OWN HAMSTRINGS AND LEARNING HOW TO STRETCH THEM EFFECTIVELY)

Slide your left hand under your lower back and then slowly straighten your right leg upwards just to the point you feel your back start to press down on your hand.  At this point focus on arching your lower back to maintain the space and you should feel the stretch shift into the area of your hamstrings behind your knee.

Hold this for a couple of seconds and then relax your leg back down, repeating on and off in time with your breathing, breathing out as you strighten your leg up, in as you lower your leg down.

Once you have got the hang of maintaining an arch under you lower back (this is essential), you can add the strap and increase the pressure or ‘pull’ on the stretch at the top of the movement by using your arms.  Move into and out of the stretch as suggested above and always maintain a curve under your lower back.

Be careful not to pull on your calf by having the strap too high up your foot.  Slightly more towards the heel is better.

To learn this and other stretches in my ‘stretching for cyclists’ workshop please get in touch to register your interest and I can keep you posted as to forthcoming workshops

Bike Fit Blog Part Deux

Finally I am getting round to the second part of this bike fit blog, and it’s all about the hamstrings.  If there’s one stretch I give almost EVERY TIME I do a bike fit or exercise program it’s a hamstring stretch, and there are two main reasons.  1.  If you have short/tight hamstrings the impact on your cycling is often significant.  And, 2.  I rarely see a rider who is stretching their hamstrings in the right way to make a real impact.

Tight hamstrings could be causing you…


So read on…!


cyclist for hamstrings


Understanding where your hamstrings are and what they do when you are on the bike can help you get to grips with looking after them.  The hamstring muscles at the back of the thigh originate at the base of your pelvis and then run down the back of your leg to cross the knee joint.  They are extensors at the hip (meaning that they contribute to straightening your leg on the down stroke), and they are flexors at the knee (meaning that they bend your knee on the upstroke).

Imagine you are on your bike and think about these muscles and what they are doing.  The pelvis end is constantly being stretched as you bend forwards to reach for the bars.  The knee end on the other hand, is never stretched while you are sat in the saddle as your knee is constantly bent and circling.  This combination can lead to tightness in the ‘lower hamstring’ at the knee, but actually good flexibility but often weakness in the ‘upper’ hamstring at the hip.  Effectively in terms of how the muscle functions, the ‘upper’ hamstrings work with the gluts, and the ‘lower’ hamstrings work with the calves.


So what? – you might think.  Well, the important point is that wherever your hamstrings are short, upper or lower, you will encounter problems.  As you reach for the pedal shortened hamstrings will pull down on the back of your pelvis and round your lower back, tucking your tail under and at the very least giving you a rather ugly position.  This can have knock on effects up the whole of your spine leading to a more ‘rounded’ upper back (and moving you away from the more desirable ‘flat back’), and maybe even giving you a pain in the neck pain by way of compensation.  The tighter your hamstrings, the greater the impact and the more likely you are to have a problem.


The place where all of us start when setting up a bike is the saddle.  Most riders experiment with saddle height and there is a lot of debate as to what the ‘right’ height should be.  All these discussions are healthy and as with any debate there is no absolute answer.  The same can be said about exercise.  Debates come and go about ‘good’ ‘bad’ and ‘dangerous’ exercises, but the truth is that the answer is always relative to the person, their goal and the condition of their body.  The same is true of saddle height.

The height of the saddle in a sense is just a reference to take an objective measure of the bike.  The angle at the knee when the rider is sat and pedalling is the more important element.  In regards to this I would say that an optimal ‘range’ would be from 145 to 155 degrees.  This 10 degree band of variation represents a significant difference in saddle height and would feel radically different to the rider.  In general more traditional road positions will be more towards the 145 end and a time trial or triathlon position would be more towards the 155 end.

The reason for this difference is largely due to the trade-off between comfort and power.  At the lower end (145) there is less stretch and the position may feel more comfortable – especially for longer rides.  A lower position will also tend to support a shallower pelvic angle or more ‘sat back’ position which is more appropriate for longer duration, lower intensity riding too.

At the higher end (150-155) the greater knee extension (leg stretch) facilitates more power giving more range on the down and up stroke.  This higher saddle encourages a more forward position on the saddle and an increased pelvic tilt too – more appropriate for higher intensities and recruiting those important gluteal muscles (see previous bike fit blog).  This position is probably less comfortable (certainly until you really work at it), and especially at lower intensities.  Theoretically it will add to power at higher intensities where is may feel more productive – provided of course you have the flexibility!



When I meet clients who have already had a bike fit it is far more common that their original saddle position has been raised as a result.  Higher saddle set ups are more fashionable at the moment, and I think one of the reasons is because of the boom in power measuring devices that are being widely used as training tools.  If a saddle is too low your power may be limited and moving it up in theory can help you get into a more powerful pelvic position to generate more force.

The only problem with this theory is that in practice this increased height may take your hamstrings beyond their comfortable range of movement.  The length of the hamstrings and your flexibility should be factored in when setting up your position.  You want to be sure that your hamstrings at the knee have a range of 150 degrees.  This will mean you can happily pedal away without any problems or tension being transferred to the pelvis, back and neck with a saddle height that correlates to a 150 degree knee bend.  If you are riding a higher saddle you need to be even more flexible. This is why I set this range as a minimum ‘ideal’ for any cyclist, and will recommend stretching for any rider with less flexibility than this.



—3. Slowly raise your ‘test’ leg towards the ceiling and notice when your lower back begins to flatten and press down on the hand which is under your lower back. Go up and down a couple of times to get a feel for this. 4.Have a look at the angle at your knee and estimate how many degrees of ‘range of movement’ you have. In the picture my leg is probably at about 150 degrees. (180 is completely straight and 90 is with your leg bent at a right angle to give you a rough idea)


Then to use this same movement as a stretch, focus on arching your lower back and maintaining the gap underneath you as you straighten your leg upwards.  Stop at the point just before your back begins to flatten down onto your hand.  Once you have got the hang of maintaining an arch under your lower back against the pull of your hamstrings you can use a strap to add a little more ‘pull’ to the stretch (see below), but DON’T ALLOW YOUR LOWER BACK TO FLATTEN or you will no longer be targeting the key tight spot.  This stretch targets the ‘lower hamstrings’, the tightest part for many cyclists and can start to improve your flexibility and riding position.


I am not saying that all other hamstring stretches are ‘bad’ or ‘wrong’, but most that I see do not effectively target the shortest end at the knee, and are not isolated stretches but ‘combinations’.  Any stretch where the lower back is rounded can be considered a ‘combination stretch’ and will not hit the tightest part of the muscle group or change the length of the hamstrings effectively.  Here are some common examples:


—The classic 'toe touch' mostly stretches the back.


—Seated stretches make it difficult to target the hamstrings especially if you are tight, and often stretch the back more too.


This stretch shows poor technique with the lower back rounding out to the floor and the hips coming off the ground. This gives the illusion of a ‘better’ stretch as the leg is higher but actually avoids hitting the tightest spots.

In contrast here is the isolated ‘lower’ hamstring stretch performed with a strap…

—In this picture I have the strap around the ball of my foot. If you have tight calves this might stop you isolating the hamstring so its actually better to put the strap more around the instep.

So there it is…simple but effective.  If the news on this test was bad, don’t panic!  With the correct, targeted stretch big improvements can come quite quickly and you will really feel the difference.  I have had numerous examples where this stretch alone has eliminated back pain completely.  If you would like to learn more about Stretching for Cyclists then I have a workshop coming up in September at le Beau velo in Shoreditch.  Places are limited so get in touch to book if you are keen.  Go to the workshops page of this website for more information…





Bike Fit Part 1

It's all in the hips! Having worked with dozens of riders I am constantly reviewing and revising the biomechanical aspects influencing performance, pain issues, and style.   In this first of several blogs on key ‘body’ elements of bike fitting I thought I would discuss one important measure that can affect your power and your back:  Pelvic tilt.

Pelvic tilt:  What is it?

I measure pelvic tilt both on and off the bike, as a key indicator of posture, possible problems and potential for movement.  The position of the pelvis tells me about the tension and balance of the muscles around it, most notably those acting on the front of the pelvis and those on the back – the hip flexors and quads at the front, and the hamstrings and gluts at the back.  I measure the length of these muscles too to identify any tightness/shortness that may be influencing the angle, and the potential for a rider to get into the ‘optimal’ riding position.  Importantly, if the muscles at the back of your pelvis – the gluts and hamstrings – are short, they will affect your ability to bend forwards and get into a comfortable or aerodynamic position on the bike.

These measures are precise to avoid guesswork, measured by my CHEK inclinometer specially designed for the purpose.  The great thing about taking this measurement on the bike is that we can change a bike position, either on your own bike or by using the bike fitting jig, and assess the impact of any changes on this all important angle.  It’s good to eliminate the guesswork because sometimes you expect one thing to happen and something quite different is the result!


What does it all mean??!!

As with so many things, there is no such thing as a right or wrong angle of the pelvis per se, but there are optimal ranges for certain disciplines and types of riding.  In essence, the harder you ride, the steeper the angle needs to be, and the more forward (or anterior) pelvic tilt you want. Traditionally, you would achieve this naturally by going onto the drops when you want to go hard, increasing the tilt on the pelvis by shifting forwards and down.  Sometimes though a poor bike set up, or poorly fitting bike can make this impossible, and equally sometimes the muscles at the back of the pelvis are so tight they will not allow for this natural movement.  Sometimes the bike is the limiting factor, sometimes it’s the body, and sometimes it is a bit of both.

In time trial terms, this innate understanding has been taken to the extreme and a lower, more forwards position is well known to be more effective for threshold type time trial efforts.  This is not only about aerodynamics, but also about getting into a more powerful position.  Top TT and triathlon frame manufacturers facilitate this with steep seat tube angles of up to 78 degrees, and forward sliding seat posts that can take a position even further.  On the bike steeper seat tube angles facilitate increased forward (or anterior) pelvic tilt and more power.

Tech talk

The UCI 5cm rule (which stipulates that the tip of the saddle must fall 5 cm behind the bottom bracket) limits this for some cycling events, but not CTT events (which are not governed by the UCI), or triathlon events.

The Adamo saddle has become popular amongst riders not only because it takes the pressure off your private bits, but the truncated front end makes it possible to get more forwards without breaking this rule.

The truncated Adamo Saddle

For smaller riders, this becomes even more important as a steeper seat tube angle is essential for the bike to fit.  Emma Pooley (one of our smallest riders) has used the Adamo to get into the best position she can to essentially fit a bike which is always going to be less than ideal (More on bikes for the tall and small later on!)

Triathletes – Horses for courses

Many a cyclist or cycling bike fitter would look at a triathlon position and say – “what on earth is going on there?!!  That’s far too aggressive!” But aggressive angles and high and forward saddle positions are taken to their absolute extreme by age group triathletes (who are not involved in drafting on the bike leg of their event).  When you time trial and then have to get off the bike and run, an increased pelvic tilt and higher saddle keep the hip and knee angle as open as possible, making it more comfortable and less of a shock to the body.  Contrary to what you might think looking at this as a cyclist, if you have the flexibility and are in good enough shape, this extreme looking position really is optimal for triathletes.  But there is quite a big if in there….

A go faster position on a road or track bike

Putting the time trial/triathlon thing to one side, any rider wanting to go faster at times, whether that be racing, or just out on the road needs to get lower and push harder for all the same reasons.  So the same elements apply for simply getting down onto the drops and going for it.  If you have raced at all you will know that feeling of being on the tip of your saddle and biting the handlebars.  This is not just about trying to reduce your drag, but is how your body can generate the most power, and your power centre is your pelvis.  The difference on a road bike in particular is that the position needs to be more dynamic.  At times you need to be able to go hard, and at other times you need to be more relaxed and working in an endurance position.  This is naturally more ‘sat back’ with a shallower pelvic tilt to allow the more endurance orientated muscles to take over and save the power house that is your butt for when you really need it!

So why does an increased pelvis tilt help produce more power?

  1. Critically it facilitates the glut muscles on the down stroke as you extend your hips.  Some of the most powerful muscles in the body and with more ‘fast twitch’ fibres, the gluts want to contribute more at higher intensities
  2. Biomechanically it reduces the distance between your pelvis and the bottom bracket by shifting your centre of gravity forwards, meaning less power is lost
  3. It helps you to get lower and achieve a ‘flatter’ back, reducing your frontal area and improving your aerodynamics

Next time…More about saddle height, knee angles, and what might be stopping you getting into your that faster position, and what you can do about it.  You must be on the edge of your seat ;)

More from ‘The Feed Zone’

In case you are on tender hooks, here is my post-mortem on my diary free experiment.  Ten days on from my moratorium I have been dipping my toe back in the diary pond to compare notes on my bodily functions and how I feel about all things ‘cow’ – now.  But first some observations:



The first task if you want to change your diet is to raise your level of consciousness.  Food is habitual and ‘diet’ literally means ‘the food you eat’, so if you want to change what you eat you need to engage the brain a little as well as your will power.

So for the first week of my dairy free plan my main task was remembering NOT to eat dairy, and having got over this hurdle I have to say that I genuinely felt instantly better in myself.  My energy was a little better and my digestion seemed improved.  I was feeling smug and to be honest didn’t even find it that hard (except for the remembering part).


In preparing for this experiment I knew that this challenge would mean me getting plenty of alternative sources of fat in my diet.  I love fat.  I need fat.  Don’t ever ask me to go on a low-fat diet.  I would have to kill you, and eat you – for your fat.

—Fat Friends. I got through this 440ml of coconut oil in about 3 weeks, and the 250ml of Udo’s oil just about lasted the distance.

So, in the knowledge that cutting diary would mean cutting a lot of fat, I prepared myself by getting other sorts of fat in the kitchen, such as a wide variety of nut butters, coconut oil, and Udo’s essential oil.  Coconut oil in particular is a fat I have wanted to include more often for a long time, but don’t seem to have managed it.  It is made up of Medium Chain Fatty Acids and is easy to digest – not requiring any bile, and also has anti-fungal and anti-bacterial properties, helping to keep the bad guys in the gut at bay.  One reason I haven’t managed to get a lot of this lovely fat in my diet up until now is that I don’t really like the taste and smell of the oil for cooking, but I found that spreading coconut oil on gluten free toast turned out to be rather tasty, so this was at least a short-term and instant solution.

Another handy replacement for milk was coconut milk, which I gradually managed to manipulate into a new and improved pancake recipe.  My desire for a pancake breakfast was so persistent that I developed a coconut version using rice flour instead of buckwheat flour with eggs.  This lighter pancake was just as tasty, and of course – dairy free.


In looking at other milk alternatives I entered into a debate in my household over a blender.  I had been speaking to a Nutritionalist colleague of mine about non-meat sources of protein and she suggested that a high quality blender is a great kitchen tool because you can make your own nut ‘milks’ fresh, as well as nut flours and all sorts of lovely soups etc.

This seemed like a cracking idea to me and already with a juicer now in the kitchen and with my hand blender having just died a death, I was keen to purchase said food saviour in spite of its heady price around the £500 mark.

3 of these or….

My partner Kevin on the other hand put the argument that with this money, he could buy a disc wheel (which is not actually true when you check the price tags), an argument I naturally opposed due to my favouritism for the body over bike approach.  Short term the disc might make you faster, but think of all the extra training you could do and muscle you could build with all those lovely nutrients.  The debate goes on, but I did not get the blender.

...one of these...


This brings me on to a warning about some ‘substitute’ foods that can be as bad as or worse than the food you are looking to eliminate or reduce.  Almond, soy and rice milk are some of these alternatives that are fairly widely available on supermarket shelves these days, but soy in particular is something I do not want to include in my diet.  Even the almond and rice milks on offer often contain a load of sugars and preservatives that I do not want, so I was mindful not to fall into this trap.


And speaking of soy, one of the surprising benefits of eliminating dairy was that I instantly eliminated all traces of soy from my diet.  Probably the only soy that I would have in my diet ‘normally’ is that which is in most chocolate or ‘gluten free foods’ in the form of the emulsifier ‘soy lecithin’.  Since I am gluten intolerant and therefore likely soy intolerant I had removed these traces in one foul swoop, something that perhaps was a factor in my tummy feeling better.

I also instantly eliminated a lot of sugar, by removing deserts and chocolate from the menu, and I definitely felt the benefits without too many cravings or problems.  I made sure I had some dark chocolate in the fridge for a couple of squares after dinner, or tried to use fruit to satisfy any sweet cravings.


—Nice cuppa

To my surprise the thing that I missed the most through the whole process was a nice cuppa.  I tried to like tea black, I tried different sorts of tea, but nothing came close to your straight forward English builders tea with milk.  Although I don’t drink a lot of tea, this will be one to watch and work on for me.

So overall I have learnt a lot and won’t be rushing to re-introduce all those old habits which I have so successfully knocked on the head over the last month and a half.  I won’t completely eliminate dairy from my diet, but I am much more mindful of its effects and am still experimenting with alternatives that work better for me.



So one final plug (before I stop my ramblings about diet for a while) is for a new book on the market called ‘The Feed Zone Cookbook’, the first food/cook book FOR CYCLISTS I have found prioritising ‘real food’ ideas and practical suggestions over ‘sports nutrition’ products.  Several of my clients (and their wives!) have been experimenting with in the pocket ‘real food’ for on the bike.  As well as a great common sense introduction to this book the recipes on ‘hand helds’ for your back pocket are particularly interesting.  Thanks to Christoph for sniffing out this excellent book.





Fellow fitness foodie…

In my experience, it is not often you come across health and fitness professionals who walk the walk as much as they talk the talk, so meeting Felicity Cole on an F12 triathlon training camp last week was a breath of fresh air.  Still in the midst of my ‘dairy free lent’, and gluten free as usual, the prospect of travel and a change of food was a little daunting, but both Felicity and the surprisingly food conscious nutritional approach of the F12 camp reassured me that the tide is beginning to turn for ‘sports nutrition’. —'The Sun's out, get the guns out'...

We are grinning because top triathlon coach Ralph Hydes who is taking the picture is about to get run over by a slow moving Spaniard in a van.  The gesture he gave as he passed was slightly different to the French one I am more familiar with but in a similar vain.

The short trip to La Manga on the Med in Southern Spain gave me a chance to sample what F12 have to offer cyclists, triathletes and fitness enthusiasts.  Felicity was our escort and guide for the few days while we were out there, and an elite duathlete and triathlete to boot.  Felicity is also a fellow fitness professional working as a personal trainer in London, allowing her just enough time to fit in her full training schedule around her work.

Felicity’s hard earned body turned heads from the airport to the treadmill in the gym at the La Manga resort.  She puts in two or three training sessions most days in each of the triathlon disciplines, as well as maintaining a strong body in the gym with strength and conditioning work.  She doesn’t rely on heavy carbohydrate stodge, gels, or ‘sport nutrition’, but eats clean, properly prepared natural food.

I mention Felicity in this blog because she too has smelt a rat with much of the marketing around ‘fitness food’ and has found her own way of eating in a more healthy and holistic way, whilst still performing to the highest standards.  It was great to be able to compare notes on our experiences and research, and to see another professional doing such a fabulous job of being a role model for other endurance athletes trying to eat healthily.

In the meantime my diary free lent is almost coming to an end, and I am looking forward to a big fat chocolate egg….or am I?  The results are almost in and I will share them with you very soon…

Food For Thought

It’s nothing personal Does my penchant for cheese have anything to do with ‘le cheese roll’ around my middle?

FOOD FOR THOUGHT:   ‘Quick and easy’ foods can be ‘displacing foods’, meaning they take the place of a more nutritionally sound option.  Cyclists often include these with a view to squeezing in more training instead of prioritising eating well.  I see nutrition not just as calories or carbs, but vitamins, minerals, co-factors, enzymes and anti-oxidants.Pancakes. Buckwheat pancakes have been a breakfast favourite for me for a while, especially before riding.  I get through quite a bit of milk this way, and generally melt butter on the top and add a sprinkle of sugar or squeeze of honey.  When cereal and toast are out of the equation for breakfast (as they are on a gluten free diet) you have to get a bit creative with the options.  Like many people I find it difficult to eat meat and fish first thing in the morning unless I am really hungry.  I try not to get too attached to gluten free bread so my pancake discovery was a real winner for getting my day off to a cheerful start, especially when I am exercising in the morning.  Breakfast is the meal of the day where it’s hardest to include some variety and avoid the ‘easy’ options, so getting to grips with some alternatives will be tricky.FOOD FOR THOUGHT:    Most people eat a lot of the same foods, especially for breakfast, and sometimes even having the same lunch every day.  Gluten (wheat) and dairy are the two most common food intolerances in the West, partly because we tend to eat so much of them (bread, cereal, pasta, cake, biscuits, milk, cheese).  Though these foods are ‘convenient’, many people (including some top cyclists such as Bradley Wiggins) do better without them.  For cyclists these foods can become ‘displacing’, getting in the way of including more vegetables, and meat and fish, richer in vitamins, mineral and anti-oxidants.


Custard and cream.  I’m coming clean with the ‘pudding’ factor here.  Like many cyclists I like thesweet stuff and especially after hard riding or in the winter.  Cyclo-cross in particular seems to call for a roast dinner followed by a hot pudding.  Home-made apple crumble is a favourite, and what better to pour all over it than custard or cream :P   In fact aside from the dairy itself, I’ve noticed cream is often poured over the sugary stuff.

Cyclo-cross = PUDDING!

FOOD FOR THOUGHT:  Anyone else have a pudding problem or is it just me?  Most puddings also include both dairy and gluten.  If you know any that don’t include either – get in touch!  I’m all ears.

Tea.  I drink coffee black in the morning, but like one or two cups of tea in the afternoon with milk.  I monitor my caffeine intake and coach my clients to avoid caffeinated beverages after 2pm.  Including caffeine after this time can affect your sleep.  I’m never tempted by coffee in the afternoon but I sometimes sneak in a cup of tea around 4 or 5pm.  Cutting out dairy means losing the afternoon tea.  No bad thing.

Old fashioned tea and cake....

…or poncy coffee?

FOOD FOR THOUGHT:  A cup of coffee (or tea) is never far from a cyclist but caffeine after 2pm can impair your sleep quality and recovery from training.  My record breaker for coffee consumption was a rugby player who was drinking 20 cups of instant every day.  At least if he was a cyclist it would have been decent coffee ;)

Chocolate.  And last but not least, there is the queen of all dairy foods – chocolate.  I am not a chocoholic by any means, but I bet if I wrote down what I ate for a whole month, there would be fair few chocolate bars in there.  In fact if I get stuck for food out on a ride I have found that a Snickers bar hits the spot for me preventing ‘le bonk’ without causing too much digestive distress.  The Cyclists favourite of cake is out of the question out on the road or at races (because of the gluten) and most ‘performance bars’ are gluten based too.  The nuts in a snickers bar seem to slow down the sugar just enough to make it manageable.  See this is what happens.  You start to justify dodgy food choices because you are an ‘athlete’.

I believe that many nutritional sins are committed in the name of ‘performance’.  Don’t believe the hype.