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Form & Fitness Q & A

Got a question about fitness, training, recovery from injury or a related subject? Drop us a line at Please include as much information about yourself as possible, including your age, sex, and type of racing or riding. Due to the volume of questions we receive, we regret that we are unable to answer them all.

The Cyclingnews form & fitness panel

Carrie Cheadle, MA ( is a Sports Psychology consultant who has dedicated her career to helping athletes of all ages and abilities perform to their potential. Carrie specialises in working with cyclists, in disciplines ranging from track racing to mountain biking. She holds a bachelors degree in Psychology from Sonoma State University as well as a masters degree in Sport Psychology from John F. Kennedy University.

Dave Palese ( is a USA Cycling licensed coach and masters' class road racer with 16 years' race experience. He coaches racers and riders of all abilities from his home in southern Maine, USA, where he lives with his wife Sheryl, daughter Molly, and two cats, Miranda and Mu-Mu.

Kelby Bethards, MD received a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Iowa State University (1994) before obtaining an M.D. from the University of Iowa College of Medicine in 2000. Has been a racing cyclist 'on and off' for 20 years, and when time allows, he races Cat 3 and 35+. He is a team physician for two local Ft Collins, CO, teams, and currently works Family Practice in multiple settings: rural, urgent care, inpatient and the like.

Fiona Lockhart ( is a USA Cycling Expert Coach, and holds certifications from USA Weightlifting (Sports Performance Coach), the National Strength and Conditioning Association (Certified Strength and Conditioning Coach), and the National Academy for Sports Nutrition (Primary Sports Nutritionist). She is the Sports Science Editor for Carmichael Training Systems, and has been working in the strength and conditioning and endurance sports fields for over 10 years; she's also a competitive mountain biker.

Eddie Monnier ( is a USA Cycling certified Elite Coach and a Category II racer. He holds undergraduate degrees in anthropology (with departmental honors) and philosophy from Emory University and an MBA from The Wharton School of Business.

Eddie is a proponent of training with power. He coaches cyclists (track, road and mountain bike) of all abilities and with wide ranging goals (with and without power meters). He uses internet tools to coach riders from any geography.

David Fleckenstein, MPT ( is a physical therapist practicing in Boise, ID. His clients have included World and U.S. champions, Olympic athletes and numerous professional athletes. He received his B.S. in Biology/Genetics from Penn State and his Master's degree in Physical Therapy from Emory University. He specializes in manual medicine treatment and specific retraining of spine and joint stabilization musculature. He is a former Cat I road racer and Expert mountain biker.

Since 1986 Steve Hogg ( has owned and operated Pedal Pushers, a cycle shop specialising in rider positioning and custom bicycles. In that time he has positioned riders from all cycling disciplines and of all levels of ability with every concievable cycling problem.They include World and National champions at one end of the performance spectrum to amputees and people with disabilities at the other end.

Current riders that Steve has positioned include Davitamon-Lotto's Nick Gates, Discovery's Hayden Roulston, National Road Series champion, Jessica Ridder and National and State Time Trial champion, Peter Milostic.

Pamela Hinton has a bachelor's degree in Molecular Biology and a doctoral degree in Nutritional Sciences, both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She did postdoctoral training at Cornell University and is now an assistant professor of Nutritional Sciences at the University of Missouri-Columbia where she studies the effects of iron deficiency on adaptations to endurance training and the consequences of exercise-associated changes in menstrual function on bone health.

Pam was an All-American in track while at the UW. She started cycling competitively in 2003 and is the defending Missouri State Road Champion. Pam writes a nutrition column for Giana Roberge's Team Speed Queen Newsletter.

Dario Fredrick ( is an exercise physiologist and head coach for Whole Athlete™. He is a former category 1 & semi-pro MTB racer. Dario holds a masters degree in exercise science and a bachelors in sport psychology.

Scott Saifer ( has a Masters Degree in exercise physiology and sports psychology and has personally coached over 300 athletes of all levels in his 10 years of coaching with Wenzel Coaching.

Kendra Wenzel ( is a head coach with Wenzel Coaching with 17 years of racing and coaching experience and is coauthor of the book Bike Racing 101.

Richard Stern ( is Head Coach of Richard Stern Training, a Level 3 Coach with the Association of British Cycling Coaches, a Sports Scientist, and a writer. He has been professionally coaching cyclists and triathletes since 1998 at all levels from professional to recreational. He is a leading expert in coaching with power output and all power meters. Richard has been a competitive cyclist for 20 years

Andy Bloomer ( is an Associate Coach and sport scientist with Richard Stern Training. He is a member of the Association of British Cycling Coaches (ABCC) and a member of the British Association of Sport and Exercise Sciences (BASES). In his role as Exercise Physiologist at Staffordshire University Sports Performance Centre, he has conducted physiological testing and offered training and coaching advice to athletes from all sports for the past 4 years. Andy has been a competitive cyclist for many years.

Kim Morrow ( has competed as a Professional Cyclist and Triathlete, is a certified USA Cycling Elite Coach, a 4-time U.S. Masters National Road Race Champion, and a Fitness Professional.

Her coaching group, eliteFITcoach, is based out of the Southeastern United States, although they coach athletes across North America. Kim also owns, a resource for cyclists, multisport athletes & endurance coaches around the globe, specializing in helping cycling and multisport athletes find a coach.

Advice presented in Cyclingnews' fitness pages is provided for educational purposes only and is not intended to be specific advice for individual athletes. If you follow the educational information found on Cyclingnews, you do so at your own risk. You should consult with your physician before beginning any exercise program.

Fitness questions and answers for April 26, 2005

Immune System
Favouring one leg
Question about cramps
Amount of float
IBS and cycling
Clip in technique Question
Fitting advice
Watt Calculation
Lymph nodes and Training
Sleeping Disorder
Saddle sores
Supplement question for Pam Hinton
Climbing specific training
Sciatic nerve problem
Heart rate issue
TT training
Hamstring pain-another thought

Immune System

I am a 38 year old recreational cyclist (5'9" - 76kg). I have been cycling on and off for over 26 years but apart from one criterium and a couple of TT's in my teens I have not raced competitively. I am hoping that this year will see me compete in my first road race.

My question centres around the issue of the effect of hard riding on the immune system. I am still in the early stages of turning my body into a lean mean cycling machine and only averaging about 120km (75 miles) a week. This is achieved over five days of riding to and from work (20km a day) with perhaps a club ride on the weekend. I am pleased with the progress in my fitness level but concerned that I regularly feel 'run-down'. I find it difficult not to ride medium/hard and I regularly feel like my immune system is under pressure and dealing with some mild cold or flu like symptoms. It doesn't stop me riding to work but I just wish my body could remain clear and 'powerful' for a pro-longed period of time.

When my body is good I go hard. This often seems to result in me succumbing to another bout of feeling 'run-down'. It's like a cycle which keeps recurring. Can you recommend anything to boost my immune system; is my situation common and does the immune system become proportionally stronger as one becomes fitter? I am aware of the impact of sleep, diet, alcohol and daily stress on the immune system. I look forward to your response.


Perth, Western Australia

Pam Hinton Replies

Let me reassure you that what you are experiencing is not uncommon, but unfortunately that won't make your flu-like symptoms go away. In fact, your sluggish immune system is part of the body's normal, adaptive response to exercise training. Exercise, particularly high intensity or exhaustive exercise, causes the brain to signal the adrenal gland to make glucocorticoid hormones. Cortisol release during exercise is beneficial because it stimulates glycogen breakdown and synthesis of glucose in the liver, making more carbohydrate available to the muscle.

Cortisol is also a potent modulator of the immune response, which is both good and bad. Cortisol-induced immuno-suppression is beneficial in preventing excessive degradation and inflammation of skeletal muscle after exercise.

The downside of the immunosuppressive effects of cortisol is that it increases susceptibility to viral upper respiratory infections (URTIs) by shutting down cell-mediated immunity (see February 21, 2005 Fitness Forum for further discussion of the immune system). The increased susceptibility to infection in the 3-72 hours post exercise is the price that must be paid to reduce post-exercise muscle damage and soreness.

As you become a lean, mean cycling machine, you may find that your struggles with chronic infections diminish somewhat. Exercise training not only improves cardiovascular fitness and muscular strength and endurance, but it strengthens the immune system as well. Immune cells in the blood of exercised-trained individuals are less sensitive to the immunosuppressive effects of cortisol than the immune cells of sedentary individuals. As a result, the immune cells of fit people are less likely to be shut down by cortisol, increasing their resistance to infection. However, even the pros battle with URTIs after a sudden increase in training volume or following a stage race.

As you noted, adequate rest and a healthful diet are also key to staying healthy. If you were to make one change to your diet, consuming adequate carbohydrate during and after exercise, would be the one to make. Carbohydrate is the single dietary intervention that has been shown to reduce cortisol and catecholamine secretion in response to exercise and to maintain immune function after exercise. Vitamins A and C are needed to optimize immune function, so be sure to eat four servings of fruit (two cups) and five servings of vegetables (2.5 cups) every day. Vitamin D is also needed for a healthy immune system and recent survey data suggests that many Americans have vitamin D insufficiency. We have two available sources of vitamin D: food and synthesis in the skin with exposure to UV light.

So, if you live above 40°North or South, or if you religiously use sunscreen, you will have to rely more on food sources. Fatty fish, liver, and fortified dairy products are good sources of vitamin D. Of the minerals, zinc is needed for normal immune function. If you eat a normal mixed diet, including red meat, your zinc intake is probably adequate. However, if you follow a vegetarian or vegan diet, you may need to take a supplement. Remember, when it comes to vitamin and mineral supplements, more is not better. Stick with a multivitamin and mineral supplement that provides no more than 100% of the RDA. Staying well hydrated will keep your first line of defense against bacterial and viral invaders - the mucus membranes of your nasal passages, sinuses, and lungs - intact.

Another strategy is to reduce your exposure to the disease-causing bugs. Use a saline nasal spray to keep your sinuses open and flushed clean of allergens. These sprays are available over-the-counter or may be mixed at home using pickling salt and water. Don't forget the tried and true way to reduce your exposure to germs - frequent hand washing.

Favouring one leg

I have been struggling with a right knee injury for the past six months or so. I had been riding in a brace for most of the fall and winter, and recently have been off the bike trying to heed the advice of my physical therapist to give it some time. I have just now returned to riding with a taping regimen that helps my knee enormously. The problem is I have noticed a tendency to favour my left leg. Even when concentrating on trying to "split the workload" I still notice my left quad getting tired first. Are there any tricks that may help me ensure that both legs are contributing equally? Thanks!

Erik Turner

State College, Pa

Steve Hogg Replies

I assume that you are favouring the left leg because of the right leg injury. One small trick that sounds corny but worked for me many years ago and has worked for a lot of people in your situation is this. Do all your training on an indoor trainer for the time being. Pedal at moderate load and cadence, but, so that there is some muscular effort per stroke, rather than just momentum in the main as there would be at say, 100+ rpm in an easy gear. In this case your choice of resistance needs to be guided by what your recovering knee will stand.

Pedal away on the trainer and count pedal strokes on the right leg only, on every downstroke on that side. Count to 50 or so, relax and keep pedalling and start counting again. Eventually move to counting to 20 or 30 on the right leg and 10 on the left leg. Pressure on the pedals will follow awareness for most people who do this, providing of course that the injured knee can cope with the load and that the real problem at this stage is the self protection mechanism that you have developed.

Question about cramps

I am 34, 190lb, and enjoy riding road bikes from the March-October months. I am not a serious racer or anything, but ride 100-200 miles/week and have no problems riding with the Cat 4/5 groups. Anyway, when I am getting back into shape year-in/year-out I inevitably get cramps in my calves. This always occurs during hard efforts while riding in groups. The cramps go away after about the first month of riding. So I got a mild cramp last week - that did not surprise me, but what did was afterward for several days there was a knot/soreness sensation in the exact location of the cramp. This does not hurt or anything, but just causes a little discomfort. Is this knotting sensation normal after a cramp? What causes it and any ideas why I have never had this after getting cramps in the past? Thanks.

Bill Kane

Huntington Beach, CA

Steve Hogg Replies

Generally speaking, calf cramps on a bike stem from one of two things or a combination of both. The first is lack of flexibility in those muscles and the second is a cleat position that is too far forward on the shoe. There are other reasons calves can cramp on bike, but those two account for the great majority.

So the remedy is twofold; indulge in some calf stretches and read this post: and this post and position your cleats as suggested there. One or the other of these remedies should make a difference.

As to the painful residual knot; a health professional I am not but it is likely the cramp was more severe than normal and did some minor damage.

Amount of float

This is primarily a question for Steve Hogg. In a recent article, you stated, "SPD- SL's are a good pedal system but in my view do not have enough freeplay."

What would you consider an adequate amount of float? Thank you very much!

Pat Cusack

Steve Hogg Replies

If you are putting me on the spot and want a hard number I would say that a total of 10 degrees plus the ability to angle the cleat will keep all but the functionally strange and unusual happy. Shimano claim 6 degrees for the SPD-SL's but often with new cleats it is less than that until they wear a little. They are a good pedal but are sold willy nilly by a lot of shops because of quality of design and manufacture and relatively cheap price, without considering whether the intended buyer needs more play than they provide.

For many, many people SPD - SL's are fine and will cause no problems whatsoever if the cleats are positioned properly. There is though' a largish minority for whom more rotational movement is necessary for a wide variety of reasons. I get to see them because they have a problem caused by being sold a good pedal not appropriate for their particular circumstance. If Shimano made an optional cleat with greater play it would be of benefit for many people.

IBS and cycling

I am a 25 yr old amateur rider in the Netherlands, weight 70kg, riding approx 20 hrs a week, resting HR 46.

I've recently been diagnosed as suffering from irritable bowel syndrome. My symptoms (cramps, spending way too much time in the toilet etc) are usually confined to the time I spend NOT riding the bike. However, I have been known to cramp up whilst on the bike, but as this is often when I am really pushing it it's hard to tell if this is IBS related, or just "normal" suffering...I've been experiencing these symptoms for some years but always put it down to side effects from training. A recent worsening led me to consult my doctor who confirmed that such a problem is not usual.

Do you think this condition might affect my performance / potential as an athlete?

James Cavell

Kelby Bethards Replies


I have treated and diagnosed quite a few people with IBS. None of them racer types. Your question seemed to have two parts; could it be just normal suffering and will the IBS affect your potential as an athlete?

Yes, racers can get some GI distress and cramps from racing...the body will start to shunt blood from other areas to serve the musculature and at extreme efforts there are some autonomic nervous system-related changes that can happen. These all can lead to the crampiness you are experiencing. Even for the non-IBS riders. Now, the IBS can predispose you to cramp a little easier than the others but no two people (athletes) are alike, so it may not.

In regards to IBS, and potential as an athlete, I think it shouldn't limit you too much as far as potential. You will learn, with time, the best diet that works for you and things that aggravate/alleviate the troubles. It has been my experience that people don't tend to dehydrate to much with IBS, as they would or could with the Colitis type illnesses. The exception is if you are having a bunch of diarrhea. It that is part of your symptomology, then you will need to be very diligent about hydration, EVEN OFF the bike.

Hope this helps…some of the dietary experts on the panel may also have some stellar input...were you given medications for this?

Scott Saifer Replies

Hi James,

The bowel is normally responsible for reabsorbing water from faeces so it plays an important role in water and electrolyte balance. If you have diarrhea frequently, you may have trouble maintaining appropriate hydration and electrolyte status. If your irritable bowel actually starts higher up in your small intestine where some nutrients are absorbed, you may also have trouble getting adequate nutrition from your food. In any case, yes, irritable bowel syndrome could have a negative impact on your performance and potential as an athlete. And of course if you cramp up in the belly while you are racing, you're going to have a hard time focusing on your racing.

Do not lose heart however. Some cases of irritable bowel can be cured or at least controlled by careful attention to diet or by medical (drug) interventions.

Clip in technique Question

This is not so much a question on fitness as it is a question of technique. Crits as you know start out notoriously fast. The challenge I and others face is getting our shoe clipped in ASAP. I generally push down with my strong leg and wait for the opposite arm to reach the 1:00 position before attempting to get my other foot in. Sometimes I miss (even with practice) and it causes havoc trying to catch back on. Is there a technique that is preferred over others? I noticed in watching "The Hard Road" that some racers snap in at the 7:00 position. It seems faster...but I haven't tried it yet. Thank you.

Duane Perry

Wahiawa, HI

Kelby Bethards Replies


I guess this is a sort of personal preference sort of question/answer. I have been racing on and off for 20 years, and what I would suggest is picking a position to "click" in and do that over and over and over. Do it the same each time and the beginning of each race. The ritual will become second nature. I still miss my pedal, but that isn't something that should "make or break" the race. I start off the same as you, pedal down hard once, sort of picking my path in the pack, when the other pedal is up, I take a brief second to glance down if I have trouble then click in. I don't pedal a few times, fiddle around, etc.

Get it done right away, then race. I think the key is, as in any sporting activity, the repetitiveness of the manoeuvre trains you and your brain to get it right 90% of the time. Then once you are in, GO LIKE HELL.

Fitting advice

I have really liked what Steve Hogg has had to say about fitting for correct positioning, however it is a bit hard to glean enough to do the adjustments myself from the Fitness articles on Cyclingnews so I am looking to get some professional help. Steve's system sounds great, but the problem is that I am located here in the U.S. and so it isn't really an option to go into the shop. I was wondering if he is familiar with such fitting services that do have locations in the U.S. such as Wobble Naught and whether or not this is a good option. Thanks.

Lang Reynolds

Dave Fleckenstein Replies

I live in the town from which WobbleNaught originated and can certainly attest to the inadequacies of the system. I, personally, find the system, like all formula driven systems, is severely flawed. A bike fit needs to integrate not just a rider's dimensions, but also how they move on their bike. For example, you can take two rides with identical dimensions and they will both receive the same "laser precision" fit, which I find to be overly aggressive. Rider A has normal hamstring and extensor flexibility and successfully adapts to the system. Rider B has tight hamstrings and hip ER's and rather than flexing from the pelvis, flexes almost solely from the lumbar spine.

To demonstrate what happens at a very small joint with mere millimeters of motion (the lumbar motion segment), I'll use motion at the elbow as an analogy. First, flex your elbow as aggressively as you can. Now hold it there for two hours. Not too comfortable, right? That, in essence, is what occurs at the lumbar vertebrae when someone with tight hamstrings attempts to gain a more aggressive position - they flex maximally through their lumbar spine and place the joint and associated disc under severe stress. This type of stress is what breaks down the disc and posterior elements of the spine. I would also contend that these people do not gain hamstring flexibility to adapt - I have many patients who only developed increased pathologic motion at their lumbar vertebrae in response to the stress.
I would have you look at my thoughts regarding normal spine function (don't yawn too loudly!).

I would further state that all fit programs have their success stories and people with their bikes stickered up - indeed, my normal fit is not too far off one of the formula systems ( I would also state that I work flexibility and core stability daily like all good cyclists). However, for most cyclists that have some physical deficits (we all do!) having a skilled professional who can meld the body to the bike addressing both rider and bike is the most effective way to be fit.
For truly qualified professionals, I would personally recommend the Boulder Center for Sportsmedicine (, Eric Heiden and Max Testa's facility as UC Davis (, or Eric Moen, PT in Seattle who has been a CN columnist in the past. Best of luck!

Watt Calculation

I am a 45 year old male triathlete and have been doing sports for 40 years non-stop. I would like to know the actual calculation of wattage in cycling. If I am 160 pounds in weight and I cycle a distance of say 40 km. how much watt would I be pedaling? I appreciate your help.

Tevfik Orten

Scott Saifer Replies

Hi Tevfik,

We would need a lot more information to calculate your wattage. Wattage is a measure of power. The power required to move a rider and bicycle forward depends on (at least) the frontal area and shape of the rider, the speed, the rolling resistance, the terrain (hills?), the weight of the rider, and the clothing. Anything that makes it harder to move forward (a dragging brake or soft tire for instance) increases the wattage required to do the same speed.

The only way to accurately assess your power output during a 40 km ride is with an on-bike power measuring system such as PowerTap, SRM or Polar. If you want a rough estimate, check out On that site you'll find several calculating tools for such things as power, and plenty of explanation and discussion.

Lymph nodes and Training

First of all, thanks for the good you guys provide to all of us, as your feedback is always very useful and insightful. I'm a male road and mountain biker, 36 years of age; 6ft, 175lbs. My question is - after about a week of a general ill-feeling (fatigued) and a swollen lymph node under my right arm, I paid a visit to my doctor. He diagnosed me as having a sinus infection and prescribed a B-Complex shot, some nose drops and antibiotics. After three days (of the seven prescribed) of taking my meds, I have begun to feel better (regain energy), but my lymph node does not seem to be decreasing in size, or becoming less painful.

In your experience, how long do lymph nodes (underarm) remain inflamed AND if I'm feeling better physically, should I at least train lightly on the bike (Zone 1)? Thanks in advance for your reply. A quick note: the doctor also prescribed a chest X-Ray, ultrasound on internal organs and blood-work. All of which looked very good.

Jeff Blackston

Costa Rica

Kelby Bethards Replies


You know, you just can't keep a cyclist off his/her bike...As far as the lymph node interests me in that, a sinus infection should cause the lymph nodes in the area (face, neck) to enlarge, but if my anatomy serves me correctly your arm isn't too close to your nose. SO, what does that mean? A couple of have a concomitant viral process (viral syndrome) going on and you may have some other lymph nodes inflamed that you haven't found yet. Or that node, under the arm, could be infected itself, and the antibiotics will help that, unless it's viral (in which case they won't help, and it'll just resolve). Could it be inflamed from your sinus infection, I doubt it, but stranger things have happened in the medical world. We have lymph nodes all over the place and they can become inflamed/enlarged for many reasons.

So, how long should you expect it to be there? It'll remain inflamed until the infection is gone (Lymph nodes are one place that our infection fighting cells hang out and battle the evil pathogens of the world). It may be enlarged for a few days beyond resolution of the infection but not as painful. So, are the antibiotics helping...maybe, maybe not.. your body may be just fighting this off itself (viral process) and you coincidentally feel better on the antibiotics. Do not stop taking the antibiotics once you've started them, they will help the sinus infection. If you feel good again and that lymph node doesn't change, be seen again about it. The fact it hurts, is reassuring to me that it is fighting an infection.

I would think you can start back into zone 1 training...but LISTEN to your body. Infections take far more energy than most of us (myself included) realise. So if you feel wiped out, turn around and GO HOME. You'll know when to ramp back up.

Sleeping Disorder

Firstly, congratulations to for being the most up to date and well informed cycling site around; like many millions of others I am addicted to your site and if I miss my daily edition I do feel like less of a person!

Background - I'm 28 years old and have been involved in cycling/triathlon for the past seven years. For the past two years I've been concentrating on bike racing and I take it pretty seriously (I think), I usually complete between 400-500km/week depending on the timing of the season and like to complete in Club Racing every week (A Grade) as many state opens as possible (C Grade). I train methodically using a Heart Rate-based approach with particular emphasis on adequate recovery between sessions.

Problem - For the past 3-4 months I have been experiencing a type of sleep disorder, which as you can imagine effects my training, which subsequently compromises my ability to progress, especially in racing. I have tried almost everything - herbal remedies, cutting out caffeine, no liquids after 8pm, blood tests which revealed nothing abnormal and so on and so on. The problem is that I seem to fall asleep no problems at all usually around 9.30pm-10pm then around 2-3am I wake and can't for the life of me get back to sleep.

In the past I was getting up and continuing to train at 5am but I have realised that this makes the situation worse. Recently I seem to have stumbled on a possible solution - I had reduced my carb intake in an effort to reduce my weight (I'm 6'1 and between 80-85kg - in an effort to keep up with 65kg climbers!). This was a wrong decision as this decision has resulted in my body being starved of the fuel it requires to complete my training sessions and races. Since realising this I re-introduced large amounts of carbo's into my diet and thankfully my sleep did improve.

However, on the weekend just gone I completed a race on Saturday (120Km) and then a four hour ride (120Km) on Sunday - a big weekend in all - since then I have had trouble sleeping again. It appears that my carb intake was inadequate for completing such a big weekend. Have you ever heard of people suffering from sleep deprivation through lack of carb intake? To me, and I am certainly not a nutritionist, it seems that if I have inadequate carb intake then my body goes into a state of over-exhaustion or over-metabolism to try and find the fuel it requires to recover hence I get limited sleep. Obviously trial and error will eventually sort this out and my plan is to significantly increase my pre-race/ride nutrition for the longer days on the weekend but I would be very interested to know if you have any advice or information which may help me solve this problem. Many thanks and keep up the great work.

Paul Amidy

Merewether, Australia

Kelby Bethards Replies


Hopefully one of the dietary oriented panelists will or has gotten back to you (as they are far more qualified that I about this)...but I have been trying to find evidence/articles about carbohydrate intake, insulin response and sleep. We used to joke about it in med school (oh the lively bunch we were) how after a big carbo type lunch we all felt sleepy from what we thought was the insulin surge and carbohydrate processing. SO, what am I saying? I think there is something to what you are mentioning with carbohydrates and sleep...The other question is, if you found something that works, like having more carbos before big weekends, to help you sleep, why not do it? If you want some guidance on medications used for sleep (not necessarily addictive ones) let me know.

Saddle sores

Can you please recommend a treatment for saddle sores? I have an open sore and it is very uncomfortable to ride. I can't afford to take time off the bike for it to heal. Are there any remedies that might help to get rid of this thing quick?

Mike Lifshotz

Kelby Bethards Replies


This depends on the size/location/depth of the sore...if it's not too big, or deep, or in a high pressure area, you should be able to heal it with triple antibiotic, good cleansing and care off the bike. BUT, remember, cyclists have withdrawn from stage races, etc, with saddle sores, so don't cause a bigger problem by riding on it if it worsens.

Another thought, if you could get your hands on a seat that alleviates the pressure that is right on the sore (different shape, gel, etc) then maybe could heal better. Especially if your current saddle is the cause.

The quickness of the healing depends on well you take care of it…the better you do at elimination of the cause, the quicker your body can heal it. (ie: if you have a bruise that you hit with a hammer every day, its gonna take a hell of a lot longer to heal than if you leave it alone).

Mike Lifshotz then said

Thank you for your response. The sore is right in the groin area, it isn't that big and is soft and raised. There is a little stuff coming out either blood or puss. For the past couple of days I have been using iodine and baby powder to keep it clean and dry, and I have been using noxzema in the area when I ride. Does that sound like a reasonable solution to the problem?


Kelby Bethards Replies

Yeah, and as long as stuff (puss/blood) is coming out, you can continue to coax it out. Don't do that too hard; you don't want that to "pop" inward...that'll wreak havoc. It doesn't sound like too high of a pressure area, so what you are doing is fine. You may want to try using a little triple antibiotic on it when you ride just to tip the scales a little farther in the direction of healing.


I am looking for suggestions regarding adjusting the amount of insulin taken pre-rides.

For too long I have suffered "blackouts" whilst cycling as well as at work. My neurologist doctor is not convinced epilepsy is really part of my life, and believes there exists a possibility all problems are caused by the insulin.

I have used insulin for 36 years, used to get warning-signs when hypos were en-route, and I have become very cautious when balancing food and insulin with the most recent blood-check. If any other cyclists suggest, perhaps, taking "No insulin" pre cycling, I might get convinced this is worth a trial.

No accusations will be made if advice is not ideal! Any ideas that might enable me to cycle without collapsing can only be a worthwhile attempt. Thank you very much.

Lance Sanderson.

Kelby Bethards Replies


Hi, I don't wanna dig too much, but could you give me some more info? Things like age, how much insulin do you use daily (Lantus, humalog, regular, lispro, etc)? How much extra do you take before rides, or not?

I would generally state, that while Hypoglycemic episodes are dangerous, running a little high, hyperglycemic, during exercise is not.

Lance Sanderson then said

You are welcome to any information you wish, especially when I hope you can help me avoid further 'blackouts'.

Regretfully, I am now 47, and my 'intake' of you-know-what is as follows:

Pre-breakfast: 5 or 6 units Novorapid
Pre-lunch: 5 - 7 units Novorapid
Pre-dinner: 12-14 units Novorapid
Pre-sleep: 12 units Lantus

Before the last ride (Sat.16th April) I did not alter the amount of insulin, but had a slightly larger breakfast. En-route I did two blood-sugar tests, and with an 8.4 I was happy enough to keep consumption cautious. The ride was thankfully on the famous Bristol-Bath cycle path, and was in fact my first ride for almost a year. Nothing wrong with my legs, so the 26 miles total did not hurt in any way!

I fear that I possibly get no warnings of blood-sugar low-levels/hypos approaching, but I would always have something to eat each half-hour. Is it possible my sugar level could drop VERY suddenly ? Another fear is that the Tegretol I have been taking for a few years (because epilepsy might exist) could be causing me to suddenly fall asleep ? If I was to try cycling again, would it be a very bad idea to take NO INSULIN before the cycle ride? Thank you for your efforts so far.

Kelby Bethards Replies

So, I need to do some looking up of things; you are doing your blood sugars in grams/dL (or mg/dl?) - I need to look up the normals for that.

A few things - I do not think that Tegretol will cause a narcolepsy type Picturen - rapid sleep onset. It may make you sleepy, but I have never seen it cause people to black out.

I also would say that I would think it is safer to run on the high side with your sugars...diabetics over time, in my humble experience, do lose the warning signs that most of us feel until their sugars are far lower than most of us can tolerate.

I do not think it would be dangerous to skip the rapid acting insulin before a ride and take it along, in case, and see what your sugars do; as long as you have the Lantus in the "background" I think you will be safe. People don't usually get into trouble with mildly elevated blood sugars - whereas they pass out (black out and worse) with overly low sugars.

Supplement question for Pam Hinton

Pam Hinton writes in one of her usually excellent responses:

"Remember, when it comes to vitamin and mineral supplements, more is not better." I'm sure many of us, me included, would like to hear why. I have thoroughly enjoyed and benefited from Pam Hinton's past comments, and hope she will elaborate on the supplement issue.

Michael Ross

Pam Hinton Replies

Hi Michael,

You want to know why "more is not better" when we're talking vitamin and mineral supplementation. Let me elaborate on Scott's response. First of all, let's clear up a few misconceptions about the nutrient needs of athletes and the ability to get adequate nutrition from food alone. Athletes often believe that their vitamin and mineral needs are significantly higher than those of the average non-athlete so that they need more than the RDA. What athletes do not realize is that RDAs are set above the mean requirement for the general population, so that there is a "safety factor" built into them. For example, take the RDA for iron for women 19-50 years of age, 18 mg per day, and compare it to the mean requirement, 8 mg per day. You can see just how large the margin of error is.

Yes, athletes may require more of some nutrients than non-athletes, but the increment is small relative to the safety factor. My point is that athletes will meet their nutrient needs if they consume the RDAs, which can easily be met be eating a well-balanced diet. Now, to the question of why more is not better. Consuming excessive amounts of any nutrient (even water) can have detrimental effects. By consuming "more" of a vitamin or mineral supplement you can create a nutrient toxicity or deficiency. Vitamin and mineral excesses can have some nasty consequences. The potential for toxicity is greater for fat-soluble vitamins compared to water-soluble vitamins because the excess is stored in the liver and body fat and the excess can accumulate to toxic levels over time. For example, consuming just 3-4 times the RDA for vitamin A results in toxicity symptoms: loss of appetite, hair loss, bone and muscle pain.

Excess vitamin D causes calcification of the organs, high blood pressure, and kidney dysfunction. Large doses of water-soluble vitamins can also be harmful. For example, vitamin C normally acts as an antioxidant, preventing damage to the cell membrane by reacting with harmful molecules. However, at high levels (>50 times the RDA), vitamin C can act as a pro-oxidant, reacting with iron or copper to generate compounds that can cause cell damage. Megadoses of vitamin B6 can cause degeneration of nerves, resulting in unsteady gait, numbness in the extremities and impaired tendon reflexes. Consuming more than the RDA for iron can result in iron toxicity. Because iron is a pro-oxidant, it damages cell membranes, and can ultimately result in loss of organ function.

It is relatively easy to understand how you could accumulate toxic amounts of a nutrient by over consuming a supplement, but how you could become deficient is a little more complicated. Here's how it works. By consuming too much of one nutrient, you can create a deficiency of another. This can happen in several ways. If two or more nutrients are absorbed by the same pathway (i.e., transport proteins) in the intestine, then there is competition among those nutrients for absorption. For example, zinc, copper, and iron are absorbed by the same pathway. So if you consume large amounts of one of these minerals, it will monopolize the transport system and you will absorb less of the other two minerals.

If this competition goes on for long enough, eventually you will become deficient. If two nutrients have similar chemical properties, they can interfere with each other's function in biochemical reactions. For example, calcium and magnesium are similar chemically, but have opposing actions on blood clot formation. Calcium is needed for the clotting process. At high doses, magnesium will substitute for calcium, inhibiting blood clot formation. Similarly, at very high doses (above the upper tolerable limit, see Fitness Q&A April 18, 2005), vitamin E interferes with the actions of vitamin K. Another thing to keep in mind is that "more is not better" because "more" may be a waste of money.

Absorption and excretion of vitamins and minerals are highly regulated. In general, the more the body needs, the more is absorbed from the intestine. By limiting nutrient absorption to what is needed, the chances of toxicity are reduced. (And, you realize where the unabsorbed excess ends up?) Likewise, if your intake of the vitamin or mineral is already adequate, then the excess that is consumed either will be stored or excreted. However, these built-in safety mechanisms of absorption and excretion can be overwhelmed if nutrients are consumed in large amounts.

The take home message is this: you can meet your vitamin and mineral needs by eating a well-balanced diet. If you want some insurance that your needs are covered, then take a multivitamin that provides no more than the RDAs.

Climbing specific training

I've decided to splurge and spend some time in France climbing up and down most of the climbs I see every year in the Tour De France. That's the good news; and the bad news - my days are breaking down to about 20-40km of climbing each day and I'd like to feel as strong and confident as possible. Looking at it from a numbers perspective - I figure to be spending a couple hours of day climbing, at let's say an average of 7% - with kickers every now and then.

From everything I've read here, I know to spend the next few months building up to it by

a) Losing weight if possible.
b) Working on my MSS threshold. What I'm a little unclear on is how many times a week I can do those workouts? Should I be riding just under MSS for an hour - or just over it for 10 minutes? Also, I've read that you don't need to be climbing to do this work, but do I need to be at least simulating climbing cadence? (Try as I might, I ride the flats at 90 but the climbs at 70)

Last but not least - is it okay to go over LT and then back under it as a work-out? I figure that will happen whenever a climb goes from 7% to 11.5% unless I get off and walk. Thanks.

Dean Georgaris

Dario Fredrick Replies

Hi Dean,

You raise some very good questions regarding preparation for your big climbing endeavour. It sounds like you will be doing multiple hours of climbing on consecutive days, requiring a solid endurance base and good climbing fitness.

For your training, I recommend spending much more time training on climbs at a level of intensity that is a bit lower than MSS (30 min performance threshold), around 85-95% of your MSS heart rate. You will not be able to hold your MSS power for multiple hours, and you need to be sure that you develop your aerobic endurance capacity to perform and recover well day after day. You can build your time spent at this range of intensity during training over a period of days until you reach a level of endurance that comes close to what you will be doing come July.

Training at or above MSS is certainly beneficial, and as you mention will be necessary for specific climbing segments of steeper gradients. However, MSS intensity and above can be very fatiguing and takes much more time to recover from. With this level of intensity, a little goes a long way. Once or twice a week should be sufficient, depending on your time availability and recovery. Also, rather than doing hour-long intervals at MSS, it is better to break it into smaller blocks. If you were measuring your power output during training, you would see that the quality of work for 6x10 min intervals ~MSS HR (with sufficient recovery between) would be higher than a continuous 60 min interval.

I do recommend spending as much time training on climbs as possible, given that your position, gearing selection, cadence and pedaling action will be different than on flat terrain. Muscle recruitment and efficiency are specific to position and pedaling style, so if you have the option to train on hills, it is preferable. Work on smooth pedaling action with relaxed shoulders and arms to minimize unnecessary energy expenditure.

I also recommend using gearing that will allow you to ride a good cadence (>70 rpm), even for steeper sections of road. If you force yourself to ride a significantly lower cadence (<70 rpm) for much of your climbing by limiting your gearing options, your rate of fatigue will increase and it will become more difficult to recover on consecutive days of riding. It is also worthwhile to ride a good cadence for injury prevention.

Regarding weight loss, while your power to weight ratio will affect your climbing speed, be sure not to compromise your fueling during training or refueling for recovery. It is better to increase your power and endurance capacity than to try to lose weight and potentially limit nutritional quality. If you eat a sensible diet, your consistent training will likely take care of optimizing your body mass. Best of luck and enjoy the view!

Sciatic nerve problem

I'm a 42 year old road racer. I am having problems that are really quite depressing. The problem is that when I try for a sustained hard effort, I have to stop or get out of the saddle due to pain and numbness in my left leg. The pain covers the hamstrings, outer quad(?) and terminates with a numb and tingling foot. Easing up provides relief, though the foot takes a while to come back. I also have some symptoms off the bike.

Although this problem has now come to a head and I've had to cancel my racing plans for the immediate future (very depressing because I've trained really well over the winter), I'm beginning to think that I've had this problem for a lot longer than I initially thought. Two years ago I had a bad crash (40mph into a hedge) and ever since then I've not felt quite right. Anyway, I've found myself a Physiotherapist who says the problem is my sciatic nerve. He is treating me with a mixture of ultrasound, electronic pulse massage and physical manipulation., but the problem is just as bad. I get temporary relief and then a few hours after the treatment the problem reoccurs. My questions are:

1 What is your view on the treatment of such problems?
2 Should I stick with the Physio or seek someone else?
3 Is there anything that I could do to speed up recovery?
4 Is it wise to ride the bike - even at reduced intensity whilst the problem persists? Thanks for your time.

Darryl Gunson

Kelby Bethards Replies


Are you doing any abdominal wall strengthening and toning exercises at home daily? I don't mean crunches/sit-ups so much as pelvic tilts and so on to help hold tone in the abs and stretch the lower back. Some people with hyperlordosis (exaggerated curvature forward of the low back - whether it's noticable visibly or not, it can be there) have sciatic nerve type troubles. I did for a while...until I did a certain set of exercises that helped me a lot.

The two things that helped me:

Pelvic tilts...while flat on your back, knees up (like a sit-up position) I would tighten my abs, but don't do a sit your lower back flat as possible to the floor, thus your pelvis tilts and hold it for 10 to 15 seconds and rest a minute before the repeat - do a set of 10.

Hip flexes; again flat on your back but legs straight. Pull one knee up to your chest, but DO NOT use your arms to do it; use your abs and hip flexors. Again, hold for 10 to 15 seconds, and then do your other leg. Do each 10 times.

These helped me alleviate the pressure on the sciatic nerve and stretch the lower back, which is difficult to stretch. Cyclists tend to get hypertrophic lumbar area muscles that have a lot of tone...and are difficult to counter. That's why strong abs are important. Sorry if I have over simplified anything or if you are already doing these type of things; maybe some of the others on the panel can help better than myself.

Heart rate issue

I am a 55 y/o masters racer. I have been racing on and off for many years. I turned 55 this past March and decided to train hard and give it my best shot for this year. I raced this past weekend on a 2.5 mile circuit with one climb on each lap. I was easily with the pack until the last lap when all hell broke loose on the climb. My HR climbed also to 185. If I could have had about 10-15 sec. to recover from the climb, I would have been OK, but someone attacked right at the top of the climb and I could not respond. What is the best training to help with this type of situation? Thanks for your help.

Joe Hepp

Ric Stern Replies


Great that you are still racing at 55!

Prior to attempting any intense training you should make sure you are healthy and able to complete intense, and maximal workouts. This is especially important for the 'older' competitor. You should always check with your doctor prior to undertaking any intense, heavy workouts, especially if these are new to you.

There are several possibilities that could be your 'limiter'. It could be that your maximal aerobic power (MAP) along with your sustainable power isn't high enough. Depending on how long the climb was and how hard everyone and yourself was racing on the rest of the circuit it could be that on the last lap others had more in reserve and could go faster up the climb. It could be that the leaders were riding at a lower percentage of their MAP and sustainable power throughout the race (compared to you). To increase your MAP you need to focus on intervals of ~ 3 - 8 mins at greater than TT effort. To increase your sustainable power, intervals of ~ 15+ mins at TT effort need to be worked on. By increasing your MAP and sustainable power you'll have more in reserve if you continue to race at the same effort and should be better able to respond to attacks and recover at a faster rate.

On the other hand it could be that there was a recovery period prior to the climb, and the climb was say shortish (~ 30+ secs) and others were able to generate more anaerobic power than you. This could be trained with intervals at very high effort of ~ 30-secs.

Additionally, it could be that you started to run out of energy and you didn't have enough left in the 'tank' on the last lap. During races (and training) you should consume sufficient carbohydrates, electrolytes, and fluid to make sure you don't become depleted or dehydrated. A good quality sports drink with electrolytes that is ~ 6 - 8% carbohydrates when made up will help prevent you slowing up on the last lap.

TT training

Just wanted to thank the panel for your help in answering all the questions .Fitness Q&A is my favorite part of the Cycling news page. I am a 43 year old male living in the Northeast U.S. I am a Cat 3 racer, full time worker, homeowner, etc. who's been racing for eight years. I participate mostly in crits and stay away from hilly road races.I do the local Thursday night 15km TT throughout the summer.

Last year I did my first 40k TT in August, finishing in the top ten of 40+ masters division. This year I set one of my goals as a top five finish. Problem: this years District TTs have been moved to late May. Six weeks from now.

I have about a 1800 mile base now. I have done 3 crits so far, and done fairly well..I don't plan on doing any more crit racing until after District tt.Can you point me in the right direction? I've have not ridden my tt bike yet this year. The local tt doesn't start until June.How much of my training should be on my tt bike as opposed to regular bike? If I concentrate on my tt program only, will my crit racing suffer come June when I start racing again? My only training tool is a heart rate monitor. Any help will be greatly appreciated.

Warren J

Ric Stern Replies


It's never to start late to prepare for your TTs! I would start training on your TT bike now, and generally advise everyone to ride their TT bike *all-year round* (you don't have to use your best wheels - any training wheels will be fine). This is to help you adapt to the generally more 'aggressive' position of a TT bike. You may find that your power output is lower on your TT bike compared to your road bike, and it's only by regular riding in this position that you can help to bring your TT bike power up to your road bike TT power.

In general, it's probably beneficial to do at *least* ~ 60-90-mins per week (all-year) on the TT bike, at efforts just below, up to and just above TT power.

You should generally focus, on longer type intervals of ~ 1-4 x 15-30 minutes, once or twice a week, to help increase TT power. This will possibly also help with your crit racing as well, as your lactate threshold will be increased, and this will have the benefit of increasing your recovery from any intense efforts.

Hamstring pain-another thought

I read your and Kelby's response to the gentleman's hamstring pain on cycling news. As a cyclist dealing with the same symptoms, I thought I'd chime in that my cause is Piriformis Syndrome, caused by lifting huge objects during a late season home improvement project. The Piriformis muscle spasmed, and causes my sciatic nerve to bleed pain into my hamstring- feeling like a cramp coming on- while I pedal, push with force, and especially on the upstroke when concentrating on pedalling good circles. It doesn't hurt while climbing out of the saddle, as my quads do more work and the hamstring is not pulling.

Just a thought - as it perplexed me all winter trying to figure out how I got Hamstring Tendonosis, IT band syndrome, a sore lateral calf...and a numb foot top all at once. Only to find out it was none of those things.

Tim Kelley

Steve Hogg Replies

There are a mulitude of causes of hamstring tendinosis on a bike and yours is one of the less common, though I have come across it. Generally, if the piriformis is spasming the hip externally rotates without accompanying pelvic asymmetry, though this may be present for other reasons. This external rotation can provide a diagnostic jigsaw piece.What you say is correct and valid, but when giving advice on a forum like this we all have to play the odds a bit. I will pass on your email to Bryan, the gent with the hamstring issue. Thank you for contributing.

Dave Fleckenstein Replies


I would further question if this is true piriformis syndrome and would instead be very suspicious of a disc related irritation. Piriformis syndrome is an extremely overused diagnosis. The branch of the sciatic nerve that is intertwined with the piriformis is associated with sensation and pain in the lateral calf.

I would seriously question the whether or not your L5 or S1 nerve root was irritated based on your description of pain and the anatomy of the nervous system. I have had literally hundreds of patients with "piriformis syndrome" that resolved fully by addressing their lumbar spine. What you are more likely describing is that, as you flex forward, you place tension along the nerve root and annular fibers of the disc - when you are out of the saddle, they are slack. I would certainly be much more concerned about the integrity of your disc and nerve root. I will actually be in Jackson in May and would be more than happy to talk to you. By the way - how's the snow?

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