Question: When is a MAMIL (Middle Aged Man In Lycra) not a MAMIL?
Answer: When it is a guinea pig!
One of the best things about my wife’s food blog is that I get to eat it. She cooks things that actually go on the table every day, not weird pumpkin spice quinoa balls with foamed tarragon clouds and powdered click bait. But she has been doing this for about two years now and we are beginning to run up against the buffers of exciting everyday meals that we eat on a semi-regular basis.
So what to post next? Well, we thought it might be fun to combine my love of cycling with her love of food and do a narrative experiment based around feeding me a “normal” performance diet.
It comes, along with dad jokes, guilt about pension savings, the suspicion of a beer gut and the tang of bile whenever millennials are mentioned. You also have to have a bicycle.
I have always ridden my bicycle. People who read the Guardian call this “living car free”, but I find that phrase ironic because it accepts the premise that having a car is a human default. Which it isn’t. I have managed quite nicely without one, thank you very much, and have reached middle age healthier and happier for it. And middle aged I am, for my UCI license now says “Master”, so there it is in writing.
If you spend any amount of time on a bicycle, then you are also going to end up in Lycra. No other material allows you to explore the power of your own imagination to defeat the gathering reality of an aging physical form. It is also comfortable to ride in. This is especially useful in Malaysia, where you are constantly wet: either drenched in your own sweat or a tropical downpour. Despite being a Muslim majority country, most Malaysians also don’t care about what people wear in public spaces, I have even been wolf whistled at by a car full of women in headscarves. I do feel out of place in TESCOs though.
The number of books I have about cycling has also steadily increased. I used to read Marx and C19th industrial novels for fun. Now, my literary settings tend to involve rain soaked cobbles or clockwise loops. I occasionally squint at Le Equipe and wonder about improving my back-of-the-class-schoolboy French.
I see Belgium as a legitimate sporting nation.
For all of these reasons, and for the pile of tyres, wheels and gear parts in one corner of our utility space, I am a MAMIL.
Sleek and glorious.
As wise as I am tedious.
And as fast as my legs will carry me.
There’s no chance of me winning anything, or undergoing some profound physical metamorphosis, but well chosen, but it is possible that good “ordinary” food that can be eaten by the whole family could improve my cycling performance by a measureable degree. I could lose a bit of weight (a couple of kilos, no more, this experiment isn’t about that) and ride faster and stronger without having to forgo wine or observe portion control.
What’s more, this is going to be easy, reasonably cheap and therefore repeatable – so you can try it at home with your own pet MAMIL as well.
How Project MAMIL came about
Cycling nutrition has come a long way in recent years. Today’s athletes are super lean, with body fat levels normally achieved through international sanctions or civil war. They aren’t feeble though, Chris Froome posted a normalised power of 325 Watts for the five and three quarter hours of riding in Stage 20 of Griro de Italia 2018. That’s almost half a horse power. For six hours. Up and down hills.
As you can imagine, providing food to fuel this kind of “limits of human possibility” physical performance is an exact science. Team Sky, along with other teams, have their own chefs who prepare meals that are both varied and nutritionally exacting. They carb load, caffeine titrate, guzzle isotonic energy gels, nibble the odd banana and consume more post-race pasta than a very, very Italian thing. But it hasn’t always been
People have been racing bicycles properly since the 31 st of May in 1868 when an Englishman called James Moore won a 1200 metre race in Paris (we have always been half decent sprinters and time trialists, you see). The first edition of le Tour de France was in 1903 and the other Grand Tours had their maiden runs shortly after. Several one day classics had already been around for a decade or so as well.
For much of these twelve decades though, cyclists had been eating plates of rare steak for breakfast and dinner. If they couldn’t get steak, especially likely in post-War Europe, they ate rabbit or horse. They drank wine or beer as well as or instead of water (depending on the purity of the local supply). In one 24-hour race, Maurice Garin (known as “The Little Chimney Sweep” because he was little and used to be a chimney sweep) consumed 24 lamb cutlets and 7 litres of tapioca, along with wine, hot chocolate and two kilos of rice. Have you ever tried to eat a litre of tapioca?
This might sound ridiculous, but equally bizarre are the people who insist that you can ride at the limits of human physiology whilst consuming nothing but roots and leaves. Or by eating a low-carb, high-fat diet based on the contents of Lindow Man’s mummified stomach. Granted, a lot of people survive on a vegan diet for a short time during their 20s, supported by amino acid supplements and iron tablets, but “survival” is not good enough for riding a Grand Tour. There are a handful of “true” vegan pro cyclists (no keto cyclists as far as I know) and doubtless they are paragons of human virtue, but call me when one of them wins a GT, or even just a stage.
A normal diet for a pro-cyclist will consist of a mixture of high quality protein (red meat is good, although not always when actually racing), a high proportion of carbohydrates and some nice vitamin rich vegetables. Meals tend to be lean, with as little fat as possible, and won’t have too much sugar –although whilst racing, cyclists might consume some simple sugars to top up carbohydrate rich energy gels. Coffee is permitted in fairly copious quantities, and alcohol, especially wine, is no stranger to the pro table. You won’t find much cheese to go with it though. This doesn’t sound too radical, and that’s rather the point. Cycling is a dynamic sport in terms of the demands it makes on the body and so you can’t fuel up with an incredibly narrow diet. If a pro is trying to lose weight they might eat a little less carbohydrate and a little more protein, but they aren’t (if they are sensible) going to start consuming nothing but cabbage soup. Sorry biohackers, the gods who walk amongst us aren’t waking up at three a.m. to enjoy a beetroot suppository in a cryo-chamber.
For the average MAMIL, this is a really great thing. As with most men my age I think of special diets as inconvenient, slightly suspect and even a little effeminate. Not that my throbbing masculinity is remotely threatened by lettuce, I just don’t want it on my plate three times a day. The idea that one can “eat what you like and just do more exercise” is solidly appealing. It seems common-sense and fundamentally healthy to put all of that pasta to practical use. Especially because we all know that I am going to eat it anyway.
But can we do better? Without too much effort?
I think so. And, more importantly, my wife thinks so as well.
How I am going to do it
For science! The only variables here are going to be my diet and possibly my waistline – the level of training and the intensity at which I train will not alter. We are also going to measure any improvement using to similar events that are three months apart (one in April and another in July).
Beyond that, there’s nothing to it. I will eat what I am fed. I don’t habitually snack and I don’t have a sweet tooth (at all). The only threats to this are the fact that I do like to have a beer or three (I will be cutting down and switching to wine) and that we are going on holiday to Thailand in June for a week. And I do like Thai food. But maybe I can persuade my wife to let me take my bike and I can put some training in while we are there…
To the left you will find a few articles, two about being a MAMIL and another about cyclists and food.The rest is going to be posted here – including data from my weekly training ride, daily commute and any competitions I take part in.
My food plan
The rules are simple:
Everything on this feeding plan must be for the whole family, not just for me. This is a huge issue when you look at meal plans for athletes. Nine times out of ten they completely ignore the fact that people don’t live in a bubble and don’t have time to prepare and eat separate meals.
This is not a “diet”. Because I am a grown man and I will eat what I like, I would be sad if my diet was defined by giving up things that I enjoy, so I am not going to do that. Obviously we are going to plan and modify what I eat – which is why this is called a “feeding plan”. Also, I can’t abide daft diets which claim that eating nothing but animal fat and kale will make you into a super cave man. They are nonsense.
No faff! Because faff is not sustainable. There shall be no faffing.
Keep it simple, keep it cheap. Because this feeding plan would be useless if it based on super difficult to find ingredients or requires expensive supplements to work.
How I train
I do not MAMIL that hard, or maybe I do. There being no general standard for MAMILs beyond the “local club ride” and seeing as I do not have time for a local club, I have no idea whether I am routinely faster or slower than other people of my age and experience outside competition.
Within competition, which I manage to experience about four or five times a year, I am tolerable. A mid-field finisher heading towards the top third in my age range. I do ride a bike that’s about half the cost of everyone else’s though – a point which gives me a great deal of satisfaction.
My average weekly mileage is somewhere just over 180km (or 110 miles or so in old money) spread unevenly across six days. During the working week I commute 25km every day. On Saturdays I do not ride and then on Sundays I go out for a 60km steady state effort along reasonably flat roads. Every once in a while I will replace this with an interval session chasing monkeys up hills in a local forest park. I also play with my two-year-old daughter quite a bit, which counts as exercise and makes up for my job, which is fairly sedentary. I do not cross train. There will be no cross training. MAMILs are not tri-curious.
I am 35 years old and was fairly athletic in my youth. I can do a metric century (100km) in 2hrs and 58min and an imperial (160km) in 4hrs and 55min, both of these times are on reasonably flat terrain and in competition. My average solo rolling speed is between 31 and 33 kph depending on the weather, as tested using repeated runs over a 60km circuit. I have no idea what my power numbers are because I do not have a power meter. My resting heart rate is 58bpm and I tend to average 165 when rolling at my average speed across my test course. I am 172cm tall and weigh 78kg. Which makes me a “chonkeur”, which is like a roleur but chonkier. I am 35 years old and was fairly athletic in my youth.
My race bike is a Polygon Helios C3 from 2016 (told you it was cheap), which is an aluminium framed bike with endurance geometry. It has a carbon fork, a 105 7000 group set and Mavic Kysrium Elite rims with Yksium Pro tyres (the clinchers, not the UST). It weighs in at 9.25kg with pedals.
My race bike is a Polygon Helios C3 from 2016 (told you it was cheap), which is an aluminium framed bike with endurance geometry. It has a carbon fork, a 105 7000 group set and Mavic Kysrium Elite rims with Continental Sport Pro II tyres. It weighs in at 9.25kg with pedals. My commuting bike is a steel framed Marin Nicasio with Continental Gatorskin tyres. This one has a Claris mix groupset (the crank is FSA) and weighs in a 12.5kg or a bit more if I put the rack on.
My commuting bike is a steel framed Marin Nicasio with Continental Gatorskin tyres. This one has a Claris mix groupset (the crank is FSA) and weighs in a 12.5kg or a bit more if I put the rack on.
See how I’m doing:
This isn’t just about the numbers of course, it’s also about the journey in between and all the great food I am going to be eating. So if you want to check in to see how I am doing or even follow along, make sure you stay up to date with weekly meal plans published every Sunday, progress reviews by yours truly complete will all the Strava info you can handle, and all other things MAMIL related.
Now if you’ll excuse me, I need a beer. Diet starts Monday.