July 28, 2011

Fueling for Hot Conditions

I know, here comes a topic you already know about, but unless you have read my book Mastering Cycling, you may not know that a major limiting factor in performance tuning is your own level of nutrition, especially in hot weather.    No matter how well you have trained, your body’s engine will not run properly without correctly formulated and dosed fuel.  What you eat and drink prior to, during, and following a major expenditure of energy has a profound effect on your strength, speed, and endurance. It also greatly affects the speed and efficiency of your recovery after intense exercise.  

Let me offer a personal vignette about how things can go horribly wrong.  During the first Race Across America in 1982 I thought I had everything under control.  The mistake I made was equating feeling good with being properly hydrated.  I neglected to fuel adequately and literally lost the race on the first day with moderate to severe dehydration.  Ever been there?  It’s not a happy place.  To this day I recall the extreme conditions that led to my unquenchable thirst, dry mouth and lips, the sunken eyes, the headache, no availability of urine, severe muscle cramping and most memorable, cold hands and feet in 100+ degree heat!       

Please keep in mind that everyone is different, and your food and fluid intake before, during, and after a race should reflect what works best for you personally. Don’t wait until the day of the race to figure it out.  Some athletes prefer “sports” foods, such as gels and bars, while others like to munch on pretzels, gummy bears, or fig bars.  Above all, establish a plan for fluid replacement. Experiment with these strategies during training, so that you know how your body will respond.

The Week Before Competition

The week before a long competition, eat foods you are used to. Avoid new foods and those you think might cause gastrointestinal distress. While tapering your training before the event, eat carbohydrates and proteins in a 4:1 ratio, and don’t limit your carbs to pasta and rice. Fruit, yogurt, and chocolate milk will add to your glycogen stores and will provide needed vitamins and minerals. You may gain weight, but don’t be alarmed! A full reserve of glycogen weighs more than a pound, and 3 to 4 pounds (about 1.5 kg) of water are added during the conversion process.  For a short criterium this glycogen loading plan is probably unnecessary.   

Two Days Before Competition

Two days before competition, be sure to hydrate well. I cannot stress this enough. Increase your liquid intake gradually by sipping small amount of liquids frequently throughout this period. Continue to eat as before, but include other electrolyte sources, including my favorite, liquid colloidal trace minerals including calcium, magnesium, potassium, and sodium.  You are probably not going to find these, or the nearly 60 trace minerals that stabilize the primary electrolytes in the usual sports drinks.  Do some research, especially if your race will last more than a few hours, and you are expecting hot conditions. Performance tends to fall off when the electrolytes diminish in the body, so lace the liquids in your favorite sports drink and sip your way to success.     

One Day Before Competition

The day before competition, eat a good breakfast and a bigger lunch. These are your most important meals prior to race time, since they will top off your glycogen stores in time for your race. Eat familiar foods, and consume the same amount of fiber you did while you were training. Eat a good dinner, but don’t overeat or eat too late. Continue hydrating.  On the flip side of dehydration, we have hyponatremia in which it is possible to over-hydrate with pure water and literally wash the minerals right through your system.  For this reason, I stress small doses of mineral-laced liquids.  Another of my personal favorites is product called Acid Zapper, an alkalizing agent that assists the body in maintaining optimal pH levels. It improves endurance, shortens recovery, and buffers exercise-induced acid as it is generated.  It will also greatly assist in preventing cramps during your event.    

Three to Four Hours Before Competition

Three to four hours before competition, people who suffer from prerace jitters may struggle to get food down.  Eat whatever works for you for breakfast: cold cereal, oatmeal, energy bars, energy drinks, or small amounts of water along with copious amounts of acid zapper.  Anyone who has ever ridden a 100+ mile event or stage of a tour with a full bladder will understand the necessity of finding the perfect mix of just enough fluid without overdoing it.   It is common for athletes to experience some intestinal issues associated with pre-race anxiety in the hours before the scheduled start.  While I have gone on record as advising consumption of around 17-20 ounces two to three hours prior to your event and 7-10 ounces 10-20 minutes before your start, my current thinking is that while this may be the ideal way to hydrate, it probably may be excessive if the peloton has no plans of stopping for you.   Find your own balance in training to avoid this problem!   The expected temperatures during the race and the length of the race will dictate how much you need to drink. If it is very hot, consuming a small amount of fluid or energy drink immediately before the start may create a need to hit the bathroom, which is OK, because  you will begin to lose fluids soon after you begin. 

During Competition

What and how much you consume during a race depends on the length of the event and the weather conditions. Try to take in enough fluids to match what you lose; don’t wait until you are thirsty. Many athletes try to consume between 500 and 1000 milligrams of sodium for every hour they are on the bike, but excessive amounts of any electrolyte can cause nausea and vomiting. If you eat a gel or an energy bar, make sure that you also take in an appropriate amount of liquid. If the race is long, check the sodium content of your carbohydrates; some gels have insufficient amounts of sodium, so you may need to alternate your gel consumption with a sports drink or pretzels.  As before, you should already know what works best for you from your training experience. Above all do not try anything new during the race!

After Competition

After your event start eating and drinking within the first few minutes if possible, preferably in the first 30 minutes to maximize absorption. Carbohydrate will replenish your blood sugar and glycogen stores. Protein is necessary for your body to repair any cellular damage to your muscles and to shorten your recovery time. Nut bars plus fruit, smoothies, and chocolate milk will provide carbohydrate and protein. Post-race recovery drinks are commercially available that replenish small amounts of electrolytes, carbohydrate, and protein. Carbohydrate consumption should be at least one gram for each kilogram of body weight (pounds/2.2). Usually 10-20 grams of protein is enough for most cyclists. Drink fluids for the next few hours either until your weight returns to its prerace value or your urine is pale and not deeply colored.


Good nutrition is mandatory to help you exhibit your highest levels of athleticism and enjoy overall good health.  Like your mom always told you, eat a balanced diet that includes carbohydrate, protein, and fat. As you get closer to your competition, the majority of your calories should come from carbohydrates (50-65%), much of which should consist of fruits and vegetables. Limit your protein consumption (12 to 18 percent of calories) to lean meats, nuts, and low-fat dairy products. Avoid saturated fats, and include healthy fats in your diet, keeping overall fat consumption to 20 to 30 percent of your daily calories. Nutrition and hydration before, during, and following an event are very personal requirements; if you stick to my 3 simple rules, you will be “ready to rock.”

1.    Experiment during training. Try a variety of sports drinks, gels, energy bars, or other high carbohydrate food to find out what helps you kick ass, thus maximizing your performance and endurance. 
2.       Establish a nutritional plan and stick to it.
3.       Don’t ever try anything new during your “A” race.

For specific product information described above, or more reading check out my new book Mastering Cycling available at book stores or request a personally autographed copy from:  www.johnhowardsports.com

March 21, 2011

Training Camp and Olympics

This highly visible photo of me racing in the '76 Montreal Olympics has recently appeared here in Pez Cycling. The photo was taken by my long-time friend, Ted Furtado.  Ted was not given due credit for the photo, so I wanted to be sure he got it.   
Bernt Johansson spent most of this race on my wheel, then went on to win after my crash in the rain.  We had raced together in Sweden the year before.

(Click photos to see larger images).
In the group shot here, Ted sits on the railing in blue stripes. This photo appeared in my book, "Mastering Cycling" showing The Dorset Training Group, America's first ever cycling camp started by Anne Cram in Vermont in 1975.  (Photo by Anne Cram)

Thanks, Ted, for your friendship over the years and the entire series of historic shots!    

January 6, 2011

John Howard Sports on Slowtwitch

I was pleased to find that some questions have been asked about me on Slowtwitch, so my JHPS team went in to provide the answers.  Posters JHPSmidatlantic and GinaSport are two of my FiTTE specialists who chimed in with some history and info.  You will also find some great stories and comments from fellow posters.  Enjoy the thread, and I welcome your comments.
~John Howard


September 7, 2010

El Tour de Tucson 2010 Honors John Howard

Richard J. DeBernardis, President and CEO of Perimeter Bicycling, recently announced that University Medical Center 28th El Tour de Tucson presented by Diamond Ventures is dedicated to the legendary John Howard. This year's official dedication is Thursday, November 18th at the Tucson Convention Center.

As a long-time participant, John says, "El Tour has always been one of my favorite events.  It supports some important Tucson charities, giving back to the community and brings cyclists together for a day of fun and adventure.  El Tour typifies what cycling is all about.  Everybody wins, we ride, we have fun, stay in shape and community services reap the financial rewards.  I'm humbled to be a part of the mix."

This year’s event will officially be dedicated to John on Thursday, November 18th at the Tucson Convention Center.  For an invitation to the Dedication Dinner for John, click here.

The UMC 28th El Tour de Tucson presented by Diamond Ventures will be held Saturday, November 20th.  Approximately 9,000 cyclists will participate, supported by 2700 volunteers and 30,000 spectators.

July 20, 2010

Tips for a Controlled Descent

As the Tour de France meanders into the climbs and descents of the Alps and Pyrenees in the next few days, a lot of us will be testing our own boundaries where gravity is concerned. The descent is your reward for the effort it takes to climb that hill or mountain, so learning the essential skills that will bring you down safely is an important rite of passage for a competent cyclist. The art of descending is all about skill, perceived then practiced. Let's leave courage out of the equation for now because that implies taking risks as opposed to calculating them. It is to the subject of learned skills and the preservation of life and limb that I dedicate a few thoughts about cheating gravity and getting away with it.

Any discussion of the techniques involved in descending must start with getting to know the dynamics of a particular descent. Many of the best Tour riders scout the difficult sections of a race in advance, because it gives them an idea of what must be negotiated ahead of time. As you descend, you must feel the bike and connect with it so that you are a single unit. Get in tune with the pitch of the hill, the camber, and the way it banks, then climb back up that hill and ride it again. Skill and confidence improve with familiarity. 

Also consider changing weather in the mountains, the potential for road hazards, sand, gravel, dirt, leaves, and freshly fallen rocks on sharp road cuts. If you are venturing into unfamiliar terrain, assume that the worst-case scenario awaits, and avoid speeds that compromise your personal skill level. Descending requires 100 percent of your attention, so do not allow yourself to become distracted and never take your eyes off the road in front of you. 

If you know a skilled and experienced cyclist who will ride with you and enjoys playing the gravity game, join him or her. Follow his lead, though not with blind abandon, and attempt to duplicate his moves downhill. Ask questions, and wait for answers. As a rule, the best line through a downhill turn is outside, inside, outside, but the quickest way down may be completely inappropriate in traffic.
The manner in which you are set up on your bike is also a factor. Triathletes on steeply angled, forward-positioned time trial bikes, need to reduce speed exponentially, as these bikes may compromise a safe descent.

A fun way to learn descending techniques is to carve cones (water bottles) placed in an empty parking lot. You can safely learn how to control and balance your bike on the flats, which will make you more adept at controlling it on descents. In case you are wondering, practicing these techniques on a mountain bike on loose surfaces translates well to a road bike. For example, sliding your weight back on the saddle, reducing your center of gravity, light feathering of the brakes, and adjusting the brake bias are skills common to both road and off-road riding.

A less common, although potentially terrifying experience for an inexperienced cyclist generally occurs when one's center of gravity is too high and the mechanical set up of the bike is not optimal. A very sudden loss of control, which is characterized by high-speed oscillation, can be corrected with a remarkably simple action: simply clamp the top tube with the knees. It also helps to drop your center of gravity by bending the elbows slightly and sliding to the rear of the saddle. 

In case you think your discomfort with gravity is indicative of your cycling rank, consider the plight of a Gianni Bugno, who won two back-to-back world professional road-racing championships in the 90's.  Supposedly, Gianni had difficulty with fast descents early in his professional career, but he resolved the problem by listening to classical music at a largo tempo while descending on his bike. The slow, melodic music had a calming effect. As you acquire your descending skills, don't just practice, learn to enjoy the thrill of a controlled, safe descent.

Learn more about descending and other cycling techniques in my latest book, "Mastering Cycling," available at John Howard Performance Sports.

An Introduction to FiTTE System for Cyclists

I was a member of the U.S. National cycling team in the mid-1970s when I staged my first bike fitting clinic. The curriculum for that clinic was a performance-based, hands-on fitting concept that evolved into a holistic solution for riders known as FiTTE.

The acronym for Fitness, Training, Technique and Equipment relies on the simple elements of functional anatomy, a contribution of our partner, Dr. Ernie Ferrel. Dr. Ferrel, an avid racer in the 1980s, used the elements of biomechanics to treat his cycling-focused chiropractic patients. FiTTE essentially addresses two critical areas of cycling: Performance tuning and injury prevention.

Kansas City-based FiTTE System practitioner Gina Poertner comments, "John and I see a lot of frustrated people who are not comfortable on their bikes. When you are looking for solutions, you need to find the most experienced practitioners. A very common problem for cyclists are knee issues, often times due to weak VMO (Vastus Medialis Obliques, a key cycling muscle in the quads), tight rotators, and issues with pronation or supination of the foot. Before this problem becomes chronic, we need to nip it in the bud quickly, and that's exactly what we do with FiTTE every day."

In addition to my work, based out of Coastal Health and Wellness Center in San Diego and Santa Barbara, California, FiTTE has now grown into a fully certified system with practitioners around the globe and is the world's longest operating bicycle positioning system, established in 1982.

FiTTE clients have captured 173 national titles, 18 world titles and two Olympic gold medals. According to Ralph Walker, CEO of John Howard Performance Sports, "We are extremely proud of our accomplishments as a cycling services-based company; we can help any cyclist improve his/her performance and comfort, we lower the risk of repetitive-use injury, and we document those results for each and every client. We optimize the cyclist then adjust the bike accordingly, not the other way around."

The PowerFiTTE Process

A two to 2.5-hour procedure, the PowerFiTTE process includes:
  1. Full mechanical performance/comfort tuning based on the elements of functional anatomy.
  2. Biomechanical analysis and soft tissue mobilization of key muscle groups for improved power.
  3. Full user-friendly written documentation of all critical performance, efficiency and set-up data, before and after.
  4. A prioritized demonstration of your key-need cycling specific stretches and/or strength exercises for improved training.
  5. Full assessment and recommendations for injury patterns. Can include adjustments to bike and rider or cleat positions to accommodate.
In upcoming articles on Active.com, I will explain key elements of a successful bike fit and how the FiTTE System can help you ride pain free.

Learn more about proper positioning and other cycling techniques in my latest book, "Mastering Cycling" available at John Howard Performance Sports.