Lesson learned from a pretzel
"Stuff that would make a maggot gag."
That's how I once overheard my father describe my diet though he substituted a slightly saltier term for "stuff." And while I thoroughly enjoy my maggot-gagging menu, I understand my father's point of view.
After all, more than one "Fitness Master" column has explained that most taste preferences are not innate but acquired.
That kid you see who adds four packets of ketchup to his French fries didn't eat them that way the very first time. As he grew accustomed to the sugary sweetness and mouthfeel of a diet packed with processed foods, he soon found that one packet of ketchup just wouldn't do. Then two became three, and three became four until his father decreed, "No more."
But the opposite of this is also true. That's why after years of not eating ice cream I can blend fat-free cottage cheese with a milk substitute, stevia, erythritol, and cocoa, freeze the mixture, and swear it's as rich and creamy as the real thing.
That's also why I rarely write about my own diet. Even though I'm convinced my eating habits allow me to exercise intensely about 15 hours a week (and recover quickly from it) while protecting me from colds and flu (I haven't had more than the sniffles in three years), they're too far left of center to be of much help for you.
But the topic for today is the one time in the last few years that I ate a "normal" treat and why I won't be doing so again anytime soon.
Our last school day before the winter vacation traditionally is a half-day in which we hold activities rather than typical classes. We serve a snack in the middle of the morning, and generally it is a glazed doughnut and cider.
But the teacher who runs the organization that provides the snack wanted to do away with the doughnuts. She remembered that I had offered to provide soft pretzels for another activity years ago and asked me to do that.
As I was counting out the still-warm pretzels for distribution that day, I fondly reminisced about eating a couple in Philadelphia about 25 years ago. Maybe the aroma or the nostalgia got to me, but since I planned to ride for three hours after lunch, I thought I'd eat one of those pretzels.
Did those estimated 250 calories ever taste good. So good, in fact, I took home three of the extras.
What didn't go so well, however, was that afternoon's ride.
I lacked my usual power. But even as I wrote that in my training log afterward, I did not attribute it to eating the soft pretzel.
What I did attribute to eating the soft pretzel was how famished I felt in the hours after the ride even though I refueled properly with complex carbs and high-quality protein immediately after the ride.
Now I've been weighing and recording the foods I eat along with my workouts for nearly 30 years. I know how many calories my body needs to recover after a three-hour ride.
I ate enough. I should not have felt ravenous that night.
Yet I did and wound up eating 300 more calories than normal, which really shouldn't have been that big of a surprise. After all, the highly processed grains in a soft pretzel break down in your digestive system just about as rapidly as table sugar. Eating one instead of my specially made, high-performance snack before the ride caused a spike in blood sugar that triggered such a secretion of insulin that my blood sugar was too low 90 minutes or so later.
Which was while I suffered from a lack of power during the ride.
Eating extra afterwards was my body's attempt to stabilize matters albeit a bit more than I first suspected. I weighed one of those extra soft pretzels I had taken home. My estimate of 250 calories should have been 280.
All in all, my decision to substitute a soft pretzel for a suitable pre-ride food added 330 calories to my diet that day. Plus, it caused me to enjoy my ride less.
So why do I share this tale of woe with you?
To bring to light just how significant daily food choices are. If I make a similar mistake every day for a month, the end result is nearly three unwanted pounds, as well as a daily reduction in performance.
Now I know we live our lives at a whirlwind pace and that sometimes planning meals takes a back seat to the desire for convenience, but it really shouldn't. Your health should always assume the driver's seat.