Fuel For Sport

Back in November, in the original Fuel For Thought blog, I touched upon the subject of what powers the LifeCycle bike. Now, four months further down the road, I plan to lift the lid on why it works, and explain as best I can how the science that powers the LifeCycle bike can match any weight loss programme you care to mention.

It’s simple, it’s effective and it works.

But first, I need to explain something about the theory…

Every one of us has a unique factor that allows us to burn fuel by simply doing nothing: nothing at all. Zippo. Just sitting about, slothlike. That factor is called your Base Metabolic Rate, or BMR for short. You can calculate it in one of two ways:

If you’re old school like me, then BMR = (your weight [in pounds]) * 0.45    calories per hour

If you’re new school, then            BMR = your weight [in kilos]                     calories per hour

Either way, it gives you a number of calories that you’ll burn, every hour of every day, whether you’re sitting, sleeping or doing stuff. It is the number of calories per hour that your body burns, just to exist.

Now where those calories come from depends to a large extent on my good pal Omega 3.

Omega 3 is the Patron Saint of LifeCycle For Neuroblastoma.

I’ll try to keep this simple: if you have a low level of Omega 3 in your body, and that is by far the norm in the West of Scotland, then your BMR will derive its fuel from stuff called Glycogen. Think of Glycogen as your fuel tank: when it’s full you’re fine, but see when it’s running dry, you’ll feel like shit, especially if you’re trying to do stuff (like sport). Ask any marathon runner who’s ever hit the wall! The wall happens when your Glycogen store runs out and your body has to turn to fat instead. Whilst your fat stores will keep you going for a very, very long time, metabolising the fat back into useable fuel is a very inefficient process and degrades your performance significantly.

So, back to the storyline: if you have a low level of Omega 3, you’ll burn Glycogen at rest. However if you have a high level of Omega 3, you’ll burn fat in preference to Glycogen, and that is crucial, absolutely crucial to the long term success of LifeCycleForNeuroblastoma.

Here’s why…

You use up your Glycogen stores when you’re doing proper stuff like walking, running, cycling, aerobics etc. And thinking. The brain is a big consumer of Glycogen. And those Glycogen stores are limited. They are limited, on average,  according to your weight.

Your maximum Glycogen store (in calories) = your weight (in kilos) * 25.

So if you’re a 12st man, which equates to 76 kilos, your Glycogen store will be around 76 x 25, which is 1905 calories. It doesn’t matter how much you eat, or the quality of what you eat, if you are a 12st man (or woman), you can’t store any more than 1905 calories as Glycogen.

And here’s the killer: once you’re Glycogen stores are full, your body converts any additional calories to fat.

3,500 calories = 1lb of fat.

If you consume 3,500 calories more than you burn, you’ll put on 1lb. Conversely, if you burn 3,500 calories more than you consume, you’ll lose a pound.

I mentioned Omega 3 earlier: here’s the real killer fact…

Having a high level of Omega 3 in your body unlocks your fat stores and enables you to burn fat as fuel more readily.

Having a low level of Omega 3 in your body locks away your fat stores forever.

It doesn’t matter whether you only consume 1000 calories a day and do an hour at the gym every day: if your Omega 3 level is low, you won’t shift that fat. But you will feel like shit while you’re trying.

For the record, I possess (or at least I did at the time I was tested back in 2010), the highest level of Omega 3 ever recorded in Scotland. Why is that important? Because it allows me to burn humungous amounts of fat all day long, while I’m sat about the house or the office, thereby preserving my precious Glycogen stores for the LifeCycle bike.

Now let’s get serious with some proper numbers…

I weigh in at 11st 7lb, which is 73kg. That means that my BMR is 73 calories per hour. Now because I have a high level of Omega 3, I know that at rest, 50 of those 73 calories are coming from fat. I’m burning 50 calories an hour of fat 24 hours a day. And just as importantly, my BMR is only consuming only 23 calories an hour of precious Glycogen, and that’s great news because I need that Glycogen when I’m on the bike.

Why is all of this important?

Because it means I can maximise my Glycogen stores by taking on minimal amounts of food: all I’m doing, in effect, is topping up my Glycogen stores for the bike, and burning fat the rest of the time… the Holy Grail of weight loss!!!!!

My maximum Glycogen store is 73 x 25 calories, which equates to 1825 calories. That’s my limit.

I get up at 5:15am every day and I’m on the bike at 5:30am. I never eat before I leave the house. Research shows that working out in a fasted state burns significantly more fat than exercising after a meal. But what I do do is take a desert spoon of high strength Cod Liver Oil. Sometimes I take the capsules, it’s just a matter of what’s available. But critically it’s high quality Omega 3 and it provides me with 150 calories of fuel, enough to power the first 15 minutes of the new LifeCycle day.

Then I jump on the bike and spend the next 80-90 minutes commuting to work. The time it takes is entirely dependent on the wind direction. The bike burns up 900 calories.

By the time I’m showered and at my desk (normally 7:15am), I’ve burnt up 900 of my original 1825 Glycogen calories on the bike and a further 161 (7 hours @ 23/hr) through my BMR. I’m down to 1076 calories of Glycogen.

Time for some food…

I don’t do the cereal thing for breakfast. I gave that up years ago when I realised that most cereals are sky high in carbohydrate, which merely causes an insulin spike followed by a sugar crash and has you heading for the sweetie machine. So I scoff a wrapper’s worth of oatcakes (six at 45 calories each) along with half a small tin of salmon: more Omega 3. The sum total of my breakfast is around 400 calories, enough to partially top up my depleted Glycogen stores, but most importantly, enough to stop me getting hungry for the next few hours.


Because the salmon is high in protein and it has been proven that a meal with a significant proportion of protein (30% is enough) reduces the insulin reaction and hence releases the food fuel into your body at a slower rate.

In effect, a mix of 40% carbohydrate and 30% protein in every meal turns your petrol into diesel and it keeps you going for much, much longer. If Duracell did ready meals, they’d certainly make ‘em with protein. Remember the old Marathon Bar advert: “keeps you going with peanut power”: peanuts are heavy on protein.

And so it goes on throughout the day… Grazing.

Something to eat every two or three hours: always small, never big, and with one eye on the Glycogen meter. I know that to get home without discomfort, I need 1300 calories of Glycogen in the tank at 4pm. I can manage that comfortably by grazing a combination of carbs and protein: furthermore, I never get hungry while I’m doing it. It might look like I’m eating like a pig to the untrained eye, but it’s all calculated. It’s fuel: LifeCycle fuel.

The bike home always consumes more calories than the ride in, usually because of the wind direction. I reckon on needing 1100 calories on a good day and up to 1400 calories if it’s blowing a gale against. And I always keep an emergency supply of biscuits or sweeties on the bike in case I miscalculate. That happens, on average, about once every two months and usually involves cake at work (which causes an insulin spike and sugar crash… and burn).

Generally speaking, when I get off the bike, I’m down to my last 600 calories of Glycogen and it’s then a battle of will to avoid topping it up by emptying the fridge before my tea. The fridge nearly always wins but I just console myself with the fact that 2,000 calories has just gone the other way so I deserve a wee treat.

So the moral to this story, and the reason why the LifeCycle project is working so well, is because a sky high level of Omega 3 in my body allows me to burn fat all day long, which in turn preserves my precious Glycogen stores for the bike. And I get by throughout the day by snacking on mini meals of carbs with a high proportion of protein. It’s deadly simple and  it works.

It’s delivering 36 miles every day on less than 3,000 calories.

Fuel  For Sport

Fuel For Thought

I believe in fate: not the kind of fate that deals you a bad hand but the kind that makes you stop and think “hang on a minute, how on earth did that happen? I mean really, how on earth did that just happen”?

Let me give you an example. Suppose you’ve been married for 20 years and you have three lovely kids, although the number of kids is actually completely irrelevant in this debate. Suppose that your partner/wife/husband/whatever is your perfect soul mate and has been for all of that time. Right, think about how you met. Stop reading this for a few moments and think about the circumstances of how you met. What was it that brought the two of you together, at that time, at that place? If it was a chance meeting, then it gets really weird. Suppose you weren’t even supposed to be in that place at that time. Suppose that one of you was running late, or was meant to be somewhere else altogether. How on earth did that work?

I firmly believe that something out there sets each of us out on a path that will eventually lead to our own end. But along the way, things happen that are sometimes just unfathomable, like they were just meant to be: and when that happens, you’re better just strapping yourself in and enjoying the ride.

There is one such story that underpins everything that this project is about and that’s what coming up…

Let me turn the clock back 25 years to the time that I lived in Cumbernauld. I worked at what was then the Burroughs Machines factory in Wardpark but the factory closed in 1987. I had a job lined up in New Zealand and sold my cottage in The Village (everyone I knew who lived in Cumbernauld referred to Cumbernauld Village as <em>The Village</em>). But due to a set of circumstances that I won’t go into here, I didn’t go. Some of my mates did go but I stayed, and at relatively short notice, I needed somewhere else to stay, so I bought a new house up on the hill at Balloch. It was a new build and I’d lived there for a couple of years when the family next door sold up and a new couple moved in. Younger than us, they were both medical people, and he was Celtic daft. He used to tell me stories about people coming into his practice on a Monday morning wanting to discuss how the game had gone on the Saturday. And I remember him telling me a story about a wee bhoy dragging a front door on his back across some waste ground in the east end and when asked why he was carrying a door, replied “because we don’t have one”. This guy had a different outlook on life from everyone else I knew, and quite possibly different from anyone else I’ve ever met since. However in ’92, we both went our separate ways, he and his family to Lenzie, and mine to East Kilbride. That was it: game over, nice to know you, see you some other time maybe.

Now roll that same clock forward just over twenty years to the summer of 2010. Through a series of coincidences, again connected to huge uncertainty over my job and me ending up working on stuff that I could not have anticipated twelve months earlier, I found myself with a team of guys that ultimately led to me being challenged to develop a Wellness program. It was like a dream job for six months of my life. But I was blinkered by the notion that Wellness was somehow just tied up with exercise: you know, go out walking, ride a bike, go down the gym, and everything will be fine. But it wasn’t, and I quickly came to realise that there was something else, two other things actually, that combined to promote Wellness: Nutrition and Motivation.

I knew plenty about exercise, having done it and studied it on and off for thirty odd years. But nutrition was new. I just ate stuff, like everybody else. Hungry: eat. Not hungry: don’t eat, and that was pretty much it. Big doorstep corned beef pieces and the occasional pint of beer or six.

So I’d found myself challenged to source a nutritional programme to run alongside Exercise and Motivation. Enter the God of Fate…

My wife was away on Skye, doing <em>The Ridge </em>with some of her closest friends on her birthday weekend. I was holding the fort back home and one of my tasks was to get the kids to school in the morning. That in turn meant a later than usual commute into Glasgow with no time to lose. On this particular morning, I was driving up the Old Glasgow Road and I re-tuned the wireless to Radio Scotland: can’t remember why, possibly because I was bored with the drivel spewing forth from the adverts on Clyde or Real Radio. Anyway, I immediately fixated on this conversation that was taking place on Good Morning Scotland… “in the West of Scotland, death begins at 40”. Did I just hear that right? I had always been brought up on the notion that <em>Life Begins At 40 </em>in the somewhat forlorn hope of offsetting middle age. So <em>Death Begins At 40 </em>was a new one on me and I pumped up the volume. This bloke was going on about nutrition, or should I say the lack of it, and the fact that the western diet, on top of the traditional West of Scotland diet, was killing people at 40.

Hang on a minute… I know that voice…

That’s Tom: that’s the bloke I lived next door to all those years ago in Cumbernauld. That’s the bloke who was Celtic daft and practised in the east end of Glasgow. And here he was talking about nutrition amongst people who he saw, day in and day out.

“I need to (re) find this guy” I thought, “he <em>is</em> the missing link in the Wellness programme.

And some…

I’m not going to bore you with the minutiae of what’s happened since: but suffice to say that Tom and his research work on nutrition has had the biggest single influence on the likelihood of a successful outcome to the LifeCycle project. Tom opened my eyes to Omega 3 and the profound effect that it has on the human body and especially on your Wellbeing. Now at this point, I’m not going to go off on one like those adverts you click on Facebook and waste fifteen minutes of your life. Instead I’m going to tell you <em>how</em> the stuff that Tom taught me has made this project sustainable, for when I moved to Stewarton in the late 90’s, I cycled one summer to and from Glasgow on my Flying Scot and I couldn’t hack it: I was knackered. So I gave up two wheels and carted myself up and down the road on four. And I’ve been doing it ever since. So how come now, many years on from that experience and in my sixties, have I now discovered how to make that journey not only doable, but enjoyable?

The answer lies in Omega 3. It’s not a coincidence that the Gravatar that sits beside my name on Social Media has an Omega symbol with a 3 inside it. That number 3 is the primary driving force behind LifeCycle and if my writing this blog could change one thing in the life of everyone who reads it, it would be for the reader to go out there and research the benefits of Omega 3. They are indeed profound.

Working with Tom has taught me a lot of things: I have learnt that my personal fuel tank has a capacity of around 1800 calories of glycogen, enough for just over two hours of full on effort on the bike. I’ve learnt that at rest, I burn around 20 calories of that precious glycogen but around 50 of fat. I like that. I’ve also learned that I can get into work <em>fasted</em> and burn 30% more fat (hence preserving those crucial glycogen stores for more important tasks) than if I eat before leaving the house. And I’ve learned that if I eat little and often, with a balance of 40% carbs to 30% protein, then I can turn my body fuel from petrol into diesel, and that I can make it last for ages. I am still, even now, in the early stages of understanding how my body deals with 35 hilly miles every working day, but it is a dream job to be able to experiment with this food and that timing, to seek out what works best: however right now, something’s working well.

All of which brings us back to the beginning of this piece, and <em>fate</em>. Fate dictated that I would be re-energised after 25 years: and fate dictated that not only would that rediscovery have an impact on my professional life, but it would also have a profound effect on my personal Wellbeing too. And it has also fuelled my body and my motivation to see this project through to the end.

Fate has dealt me a good hand, and I’m gonna play it the best I can.