Monday, 5 November 2012

My body is a machine

I don’t mean this in a “Man, did you see that guy go? He’s a MACHINE!!” kind of way, I mean it literally. My body is a machine. Bursting with complex combinations of chemical reactions, billions of them, all working more or less in tandem and building up into macro biological processes, wrapped and supported in a musculo-skeletal frame so I can make cups of tea, go to the pub, and wander around forgetting quite why I went upstairs or happen to be walking around with a dirty plate.

Like any machine, much can be learned by studying what goes in and comes out of it. Inputs include solid fuels, gases, and external stimuli on the sensory systems. Outputs includes other solids and gases (as my wife will confirm) and heat usually as a result of "work done" such as moving around or maintaining my internal status quo via homeostatic processes.

I spend a lot of time thinking about what comes out, and how to make it better. I train my machine by subjecting it to physical stresses through regular training, it responds by optimising its internal processes. The way I metabolise stored chemical energy can be altered depending on the way in which I stress myself in training. The optimisation comes unconsciously during an adaptation period following training. Following that I’ll reap the rewards by being more efficient, stronger, or faster – maybe elements of all three.

What I don’t think so much about is what I put into my machine. Actually, that’s not true, I spend a lot of time thinking about what I eat on a micro level (this sandwich, this pizza, this pint of beer, this day), but I don’t spend any time thinking about the macro scale. This is odd, seeing as I spend quite a lot of time thinking about the net effect - my weight.

Photo by Dave Medcroft, sourced from flickr

I have never looked at what I’ve eaten over the course of a week to see what it looks like. Every day starts with a blank page. This is in contrast to my output where I review my training diary regularly and adapt the next week or few weeks based on the completed sessions. My suspicion is that the one or two "bad" days per week wipe out most of the "good" days, and as such I'm not managing my inputs as well as I manage my output.

If I were a car, I’d have correctly inflated tyres, carefully setup suspension and tracking, a well-tuned engine, and my lights and windows would always be clean and clear. And then I’d fill it with cheap Californian low-octane petrol, and wonder why it doesn’t perform as well as it should.

So, after a week where I’ve eaten probably the nicest meal I’ve had in my life (at Dinner by Heston Blumenthal, for my wife’s birthday - mildly hung over the next day), a client schmoozy meal at Gaucho (steak, cooked blue, with starter, dessert, bread, too much beer and wine - fairly hungover the next day), and rounded off with a take-away pizza (with too many starters) from my good friends at Dominos pizza on Saturday night (damn you and your continually tempting 30% off deals) – it’s time to get a grip.

What does “get a grip” mean? Sure I could lose a few kg (and fully intend to) but this isn’t primarily a weight management discussion. I want to become more educated about what I’m eating (my fuel) and how it impacts my performance (or my potential to perform). I want to understand what happens if I fuel myself with BP Ultimate rather than low-octane juice. What's the point in training if you don't pay attention to what you eat?

Here are some things I’m going to be paying some more attention to than I have been of late:

  1. Alcohol intake (one of the first things I wrote on this blog was about alcohol, I’ve slipped dramatically backwards in this respect)
  2. Calorific intake and macro-nutrient split over time periods longer than one day
  3. Adjusting nutrition based on the exercise load and sessions for a given day (the frequency, intensity and duration of training and rest)
  4. Fuelling during exercise – what’s the right thing to eat and why, how is it training my body?

Why do this now? Firstly, there are no big races coming so it's a good time to look holistically at training and improve my knowledge - if I cock something up there’s no race-day impact. There’s a huge amount of discussion in the press and podcasts about endurance nutrition right now, and it feels like we’re turning a corner with understanding and implementation.

Secondly, I’ve decided on my A-race for 2013, and it’s going to be very important that I give myself the best possible chance of completion. I’ve already entered it, but there’s a secondary component I’m trying to be a part of. When I find out if I’m in or not, I’ll share my plans.

Finally, there's nothing like a picture of you looking really crap to deliver some motivation. The picture at the top is me from Little Stoke parkrun two days ago - legs are OK but what is going on with that belly!

Like I said, it's not primarily a weight management exercise, but losing the few kg I've gained since finishing my Ironman adventures of 2012 would not be the worst side effect...!

1 comment:

  1. First rule of running: never look at photos of yourself running!