One for the road?

Spring has sprung. Hurrah!

Well at least it had last weekend, though it seems to have retreated back to the Mediterranean for now. It was incredible to finally feel some genuine warmth from the sun, with dry roads appropriate for my non-winter bike, and an opportunity to go riding on the road dressed marginally more like a swimmer, than an Antarctic explorer. I don’t think I can over play how good it felt to finally know that we’re en route to change. While the weather was one factor, we also had positive news of vaccine efficacy and a ‘roadmap’ giving line of sight to being back in a pub. This is particularly sweet as a couple of my very best friends have significant birthdays this year and I am really excited for them as they (we) should get to celebrate properly. And what a party it’s going to be! I do fear for the state of the nation following the return to normality… in particular the day after legal limitations are lifted. I suggest it would be wise to have a brief national holiday, as the GDP will once again take a dramatic nose-dive due to the monstrous hangover that the majority of us will be harbouring.

There are few positive things about hangovers (none that I can recall?) and I haven’t missed them at all. In fact, sat here, 6 months on since my last, the proposition of another is quite terrifying. There is no doubt that my alcohol consumption has reduced such that my tolerance is going to have evaporated, and will be woefully exposed when I get back to consuming anything stronger than my staple beer of the moment, Michelob Ultra. I know that many will disagree that it is in fact a beer at all… but I quite like it. 3.5%, 73 calories a bottle, and it almost tastes of beer – what’s not to like? But comparing a couple of bottles of Michelob Ultra with a pint of the local’s Big Bang Theory is much like comparing Rachmaninov with Jane’s Addiction. Both Rachmaninov and Jane’s Addiction have made music, but their commonality starts and ends there, as side by side their creations could barely be more different. And while Michelob and Big Bang Theory are both beers, the end result is again, very different. One, I would run out of physical capacity to consume any more before it would be possible to become inebriated. The other begins to make me tipsy at the thought of the first pint, never mind after four or five of the monsters have claimed my mouth and soul, and turned me into a MAMOF (Middle Aged Man On Floor).

One problem is; the process of creating a hangover is amongst the most fun that I know how to have. Taking my last hangover as an example… with COVID cases growing, myself and two friends visited my favourite local pub, The Copper Room, for what I think we’d now acknowledge we knew was going to be our last social time for a while – on a Sunday afternoon. The pub was / is / will be superb, and operate a very clever COVID compliant ordering system supporting the notion of not leaving your seat. A little board sits proudly on your table, red on one side, green on the other. All you need to do, is turn it around revealing the red side to the bar… with that, the bar staff glide to your table, and promptly take your order, serving replacement drinks (and Scampi flavour Fries) with lightning efficiency. This is heaven! But, depending who has control of the sign, it can (and did) spell disaster. While it was an awful lot of fun remaining in the same spot for three hours, aside from the odd pit stop, with a thirsty Welshman driving a board turning cadence like his life depended on it, it did create perhaps a rather predictable result. Three particularly ‘chatty’ men left the pub, emerging into the fresh air, instantly becoming utterly incomprehensible, almost MAMOF’s. Comparing notes during the following week, we all concurred that; while Sunday was fun, Monday and Tuesday were even less fun than normal.

Just Chilling at The Copper Room

If you can’t do the time, don’t do the crime… but why is this particular crime so much fun?

While I am the first to admit that I enjoy a ‘few beers’, I am also very aware that even aside from hangovers it is not particularly good for me or you, and is not recommended in any way, other than in strict moderation – got it? When referring to a ‘few beers’, I must point out that I mean this in a very generic sense, and while not completely out of context, it’s certainly stretching the term; ale, lager, stout, wine (red, white, rose, fizz), spirits, liqueurs are all within the term ‘Beers’, and I really will drink and enjoy any of them in moderation – apart from rum! Rum is categorically not included in my definition of ‘Beers’. I’ve had more than one bad experience with rum and it does not give me any ‘comfort’ whatsoever… in fact, it breaks me mentally. I’ve heard many people say that gin can make them feel less than sparkly, when a similar amount of alcohol consumed through Prosecco or a nice Viognier would have them jumping for joy, and so they avoid it. My relationship with rum is very similar. Buried in a very tasty cocktail, I can get away with one or two. However, any more than that, and the devil hops on to my shoulder to begin questioning my very existence. So, it’s best to leave it well alone!

As I have said before, COVID has actually been positive for me in terms of my physical health. However, as my cycling mileage increased considerably and my bad habits reduced significantly, I was becoming increasingly frustrated by frequent attacks of gout. While blood tests showed the tell tale signs of elevated uric acid levels, providing confirmation that gout was indeed likely, it didn’t make much sense to me as I wasn’t consuming the usual suspects (seafood, offal (who does eat that?), excessive alcohol) and was cycling 200 miles per week. Given the frustration, and needing a resolution, I entered into the world of the internet with some trepidation, but mostly desperation to find an answer. Even now I’m not sure what article I found, where or how, but I do remember it was found amidst Naproxen and boredom in the middle of the night, while awake from the pain of the duvet touching my ‘gouty-toe’. If you’ve not had Gout before, trust me, you don’t want it. I know it sounds horrible, but there’s no oozing of fluid, or anything infectious… it is just a form or arthritis, buried deep inside a joint, and it is evil! The joint can be permanently damaged, and is certainly susceptible to repeat events, and the pain is hideous, and while I’m sure it’s nothing compared to childbirth, it is certainly the worst pain I have experienced. It is also a particularly embarrassing reason to have to give to your boss as to why you haven’t boarded an early morning flight to Italy for a meeting, where the full truth is that you couldn’t even try to leave the house for that matter, as you couldn’t put a sock on (never mind a shoe) when you got up at 4am to get dressed.

I digress… whether correct or not, the article told me that your kidneys process materials in order of ease of removal from your blood… therefore the more things that you put in to process, the longer it will take to process the tougher items – and purines (a source of uric acid, and as a result gout, which is the urid acid crystallising in your joint) are well down the list of things to process, and so can build up if your kidneys are busy working on something else. Somehow, or something, allowed me to conclude that fructose was fairly near the top of the list… which got me thinking… how much fructose was I actually consuming? (Now, if you are a doctor reading this and don’t agree, I apologise… please forgive me… but I don’t even know who wrote the theory, and debating it with me is somewhat pointless as I expended my gout / kidney function knowledge just by acknowledging that I have had both)

At the time, I was riding some 200 miles per week, and being summer I was consuming a lot of fluids while on the bike, and every drop of the consumed fluids contained a popular energy drink. It was a ritual that I’d get my two bottles out, put energy drink powder into both, fill them with water and head out. Not once did I actually consider what was in them and what I was actually consuming, or indeed WHY? Only with my new found interest in whether it may be contributing to my sore foot did I find that I was actually consuming a significant number of calories via these drinks, purely in the form of fructose. With that, I stopped using the energy drink powder immediately, and the manufacturers profits reduced immediately too (I was consuming A LOT!). In fact, other than the free Haribo that come with a Wiggle or Sigma Sports delivery 🤩, I cut out fructose altogether. I built a new regime for riding… using only water on short rides, zero calorie electrolyte tablets on medium rides, and a small amount of Maltodextrin mixed with electrolytes on longer rides. The result was absolutely profound!

Not only have I now been gout free for 9 months (rather than 4 weeks, beforehand) but I’ve lost weight, and can genuinely ride faster for longer, with a clearer head. I had no idea how significant the impact sugar was having on me in general, never mind on the bike. In the old regime, I genuinely used to enter some sort of weird brain fog after about an hour, where my brain seemed kind of, well, numb. I was never confused (not more than normal, anyway), but in hindsight I certainly wasn’t ‘right’. It seems totally counterintuitive to remove sugar and energy drinks and yet ride faster and further, feeling better. But in my experience, this is what I found.

Now… as I am sure any solicitor would also advise me, I feel that at this point (or probably I should have done earlier) I must offer some caution – perhaps ‘Do not try this at home’. While I have been taught / trained, spectacularly failed exams, and then later taught others the subject of Statistics, I have never been trained in or had my knowledge or theories tested / validated in any way on the topics of sports nutrition, or any nutrition or biology for that matter (other than GCSE, and I can’t see the process of photosynthesis being relevant here, even if I could remember it). Therefore, please be aware that; I am a sample of one, so can not be considered statistically significant, and this experiment was conducted in an uncontrolled environment, subject to many other noise factors that cannot or have not been controlled, and therefore, I am unable (and unwise) to offer conclusions with any confidence that;

a) the result (i.e. no gout, and riding faster and farther) is purely down to removing fructose from my intake, or b) you will get the same benefit, if indeed point a) is actually due to causation.

It’s my opinion that point A is correct, but it’s only opinion and while I will stick to my new regime, we’ll never really know what action delivered what benefit. Was it eliminating fructose, the healthier COVID lifestyle that eradicated Gout over time, an increase in mileage, or combination of all of these and more? Who knows! Though, as I’ve said before, cycling is full of opinions. Whether it’s your mate, the local bike shop, Magazines, or unhinged bloggers… we’re never short of an opinion that we’re doing something wrong, or could be doing it better, and so if you’re happy with your diet, your on bike fuelling and not suffering with gout… please totally ignore me! This is not an instruction, or advice, merely sharing my observations of a correlated action and outcome.

I don’t think it’s unfair to say that small changes can make big differences in many areas… whether you think of this in the context of your personal life, work or the world in general. Certainly, where cycling is concerned, small changes can make enormous differences. In my time as a cyclist, I have found that seemingly minimal changes in bike set up, can give really significant improvements in performance, comfort or sometimes both. However, whether these improvements are sustained, is up for reasonable debate, and I think a lot of the initial ‘impact’ is actually due to placebo effect, or at least the excitement of trying something new. My very first ‘upgrade’ on my Felt F6 was removing the stock Vittoria Zaffiro’s it came with and replacing them with Rubino Pro. I remember returning something like a 1.5 mph average speed increase on a one hour ride, immediately. Much as I remember the difference was notable, and I sincerely loved the Rubino Pro, I equally sincerely doubt they were really worth 1.5 mph over the Zaffiro on every ride. The Rubino Pro’s did however become my go to tyre as they were truly an excellent all-rounder, landing me with only 1 puncture in 4 yrs (16k miles!), and I only abandoned them for Tubeless when Vittoria ‘upgraded’ them to include Graphene, and strangely made them less robust. A cynic might say a revenue generating move?

But spending money on upgrading your bike (or any hobby that you love!) can be very therapeutic. Heading out on to the road with something new, whatever it is, makes the ride feel different, exciting, perhaps unknown. So if you get joy from buying new kit for your bike, that makes your next ride, or next 20 rides more interesting and engaging (even if not faster or further), then who am I to argue?

And if it makes your life more interesting, engaging, perhaps content for a few hours on a Friday or Saturday night to have a ‘few beers’, again, who am I to argue (I’ll possibly be next to you at the bar!)… providing you’re prepared to accept the consequences.

One for the road, anyone?

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