The number

August 22, 2022 Comments Off on The number

A new Garmin runs about $500.

A new Fitbit, $120.

An iPhone will set you back $800.

An Apple watch, about $370.

If you want a subscription to Strava, $100/year-ish.

The purpose of these gewgaws is to provide you with numbers. Numbers that show speed, weight, distance, watts, calories burned, elevation gained, rpm’s, heart rate, cadence, resting pulse, hours slept, and many, many, many other parameters.

But there is one number they don’t show. And it’s the only number that matters.

In order to get this number you only have to spend about $4. The device you need is a soft measuring tape. And the number you need is the circumference of your gut.

Gut girth is the single best predictor of overall health. It doesn’t matter how many KOM’s, leaderboards, PR’s, or max watts you achieved if your gut exceeds 40 inches for men, 35 for women. In fact, anything more than 35 for men and 32 for women is less than ideal.

Your waist, by the way, is not where you button your pants. It’s the space above your navel and below your rib cage, which for me is an inch and a half fatter than where I button.

The single worst thing you can do to your body besides smoke or be sedentary is to encase your viscera in fat. Visceral fat causes all kinds of terrible things like heart disease, diabetes, insulin resistance, high blood pressure, hardening of the arteries, stroke, breast cancer, colorectal cancer, and everybody’s favorite old-person disease, Alzheimer’s.

If you’re curious what kind of fat you have, take your finger and poke your belly. If it’s taut and hard, you have serious problems inside. If it’s soft and springy like a baby’s, you may still have lots of deadly visceral fat depending on your girth, but it’s going to come off easier than the fat beneath a hardened gut.

A quick glance at your weekend peloton will show that fat stomachs are endemic to cycling. That’s because cycling makes you hungry, unlike running, and because many cyclists simply exercise so that they can eat more. It’s also because bad eating is part of the cycling community, typically enshrined in its most hallowed ritual, the post-and-pre-ride coffee shop stop, where riders get a 450-kcal drink and a 500-kcal clump of sugared dough to “fuel them for the ride” that lasts a couple of hours and burns less than a thousand calories.

One time I ran into a girl I knew as I was coming down Mandeville. She had just started her ride. “Where are you going?” she hollered.

“We’re going to get coffee in Santa Monica!” I hollered back.

She u-turned and joined us. Having completed about five miles of her ride, we sat down at Philz Coffee and she ordered a giant piece of avocado toast, big enough for three hungry people, a solid 800-kcal bonanza. “Want some?” she said.

“We’re good,” we said. She wolfed the whole thing down and then rode back to her home, never even doing the ride. Needless to say, she would have badly failed the tummy test.

Cyclists have fat guts and the accompanying visceral fat because they actually believe that they need to eat a gel every half our or so to “keep their energy up.” Here’s a fun scientific fact: The thinnest cyclist in your group has an inexhaustible energy store of fat. Inexhaustible means “cannot be used up.” In order for even a thin cyclist to use up all his fat stores he would have to fast for 50 days, stay in bed, and die. No person could use up all their fat energy by exercise because the muscles would tire out long before the fat was all consumed.

Even anorexics have more fat than they can ever use. They die from suicide and from medical complications associated with anorexia, not because their bodies run out of energy a/k/a starvation.

Cyclists promote the lie that they need energy to ride because it assuages their desire to eat. And while bonking is no fun and can bring your ride to a halt, with proper training you can ride many hours and many miles never eating a bite at all. Scott Dickson, the only American to ever win Paris-Brest-Paris, was famous for doing 150-mile training rides in the Texas 100-degree heat and drinking only water.

This isn’t to suggest you can do a Tour stage, or even Paris-Brest-Paris, on nothing but water and expect to do well. But few cyclists ever ride the Tour, or even race, or even ride very far or very hard. You can do massive amounts of work on a bike with the fat you already have. For your purposes it is inexhaustible.

Every month or so I get spam email from a cycling “coach” about my age who “coaches” what are euphemistically called “masters athletes” but in reality are simply fat old people on bicycles. There’s a lot of talk about fitness, training regimens, and of course his cash cow, the “supplements” that he sells so that the fat old people on bicycles can improve “performance.”

If you are over 30, don’t meet the above guidelines for a healthy waist, and are using a coach for any purpose other than to trim your gut, you are wasting your money. The reason that coaches and training gewgaws focus on the esoterica of athletic performance is because the mundane reality of getting your waist circumference down to 35 inches or less is neither sexy nor fun. The only way you can do it is by continuing whatever silly exercise you’re doing and combining it with the hardest exercise of all, a/k/a putting down the fork.

So here’s some free advice: Fire your coach, cancel your Strava subscription, toss your Garmin/Fitbit/Wahoo, and practice using your elbows a lot less. After a couple of weeks, measure your gut. Smaller? Keep at it. No change? Move your elbows even less.

That is the cheapest good advice you will get today.


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