I said it as a joke, though I was really serious. Maybe that's why nobody found it funny.
As I coasted to the end of the grocery store parking lot where bicyclists gather on fair-weathered Sundays to ride to the renowned training ride called the Derby, somebody said, "Didn't expect to see you here."
"Mountain Bike Mark texted me that he's too trashed to do the Derby. Said you led the group up some serious climbs yesterday and really made him suffer."
Once I stopped, I looked for the guys who had done the hellacious hillfest the day before and did not see a single one even though all four often do the Derby.
"So," another guy said, "you going to tell us what you're taking to recover so quickly?"
The guys joke about performance-enhancing drugs all the time, so I figured I'd do so too. "Okay," I said. "You got me. I take two of something about 15 minutes after every hard ride, and I feel like an animal the next day."
"And what's that?"
I summoned my most mischievous grin, paused for a bit to increase the effect, and finally said, "Squash preferably acorn, with four heaping teaspoons of erythritol."
I had forgotten to mention the four ounces of sugar-free pancake syrup and the teaspoon or so of cinnamon. Maybe that's why nobody laughed.
I share this story not to prove that my jokes usually bomb, but to begin a column on how good for you and easy to make a meal of acorn squash can be.
At the end of an intense, four-hour hill workout, I reach a point way past hungry. This occurs because I consciously limit my carb ingestion during the ride to force my body to burn a higher percentage of fat as fuel. Since carbs are the preferred fuel for intense exercise, what I call a "deep sting" usually develops in the major leg muscles sometimes before I finish, a feeling that's still with me as I begin to eat the baked squash soon after the ride.
But I can feel the sting lessen as I eat, and the last of it goes away as I stretch while taking a shower. After that, I elevate my legs for about 30 minutes, make sure I have three more meals high in high-quality carbs (featuring baked potatoes, 100-percent whole wheat bread, or a great supplement from Parrillo products, Pro-Carb) every two hours after that, and I can almost always ride as hard and long on a Sunday as I did on a Saturday.
Now you may read about such a regimented pattern and decide I'm a head case, highly superstitious, or both, but science supports my eating plan.
Way back in 1981, a study using runners and published in the American Journal of Clinical Nutrition ascertained that starchy, complex carbs such as squash, potatoes, and whole-grain breads allow you to store more glycogen after a workout than if you consume simple carbs, like white bread or typical pasta, snack cakes, candy bars, cookies, pretzels, soft drinks, fruit drinks, or even fruit.
Combine that with the fact that the body needs about 20 hours to fully restore nearly depleted glycogen stores in muscles, and you can see why getting the best type of energy immediately is absolutely crucial to working out all-out on back-to-back days. That's why my feedings start with a massive amount of baked acorn squash.
But even if you don't have a family member working out quite so hard, your family would benefit from occasionally eating baked acorn squash.
The acorn (aka winter) squash gets five stars the highest possible ranking at Self's Nutrition Data website for aiding weight loss and achieving optimum health. The site also calls the vegetable a "good source" of dietary fiber, vitamin A, vitamin B6, folate, and magnesium, and a "great source" of vitamin C, thiamin, potassium, and manganese.
Here's how I make it. Done well, the taste reminds me of a mash of chunky apple sauce and baked sweet potato.
Preheat your oven to 420 degrees. Cut in half and seed two medium-sized acorn squash, a bit less than 3 pounds. Place the halves in a Pyrex dish filled with about a inch of water.
Bake for 40 minutes.
Drain water, scoop the meat from the shells, and put in the Pyrex dish. Spread evenly. Add 4 ounces of a sugar-free pancake syrup and stir. Mash the meat until you reach the desired consistency. Sprinkle 4 heaping teaspoons of erythritol (a great sugar substitute) on top along with cinnamon.
Broil at 500 degrees for 4 minutes. Turn off heat, but leave in oven until ready to serve. (In order to eat immediately after a long ride, I make mine beforehand and reheat in a microwave.)
This recipes normally yields about 1000 grams, enough to nearly fill a normal dinner plate. Since the sugar-free syrup and the sweetener I use claim zero calories per serving, the meal is only slightly more than 400 calories, 93 percent of which are the high-quality carbs so crucial to athletic recovery.