Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

23 September 2016

Is It A Junk Food? Or An Energy Bar? Or A Performance-Enhancing Substance?

Sometimes I give advice in topics about which I have absolutely no business advising anyone.  Sometimes I'm pressed into it:  Someone thinks I know something about some topic on which I'm about as well-versed as Hon. Dana Rohrabacher is on atmospheric science.  Other times, I think I know more about something than I actually do, or--believe it or not ;-)--lose sight of that (very thin!) line that separates my opinions from facts.

When people assume I know more than I actually do about something, they ask--and I give advice--about dating, family relationships, how to deal with co-workers and bosses, love, education, politics, fashion, careers or the existence of God(s).  When I think I know more than I actually do, I find myself giving advice about any and all of those topics, as well as health and almost any academic subject.  (I hope my department chair isn't reading this!)  And, of course, when I start conflating my opinions with knowledge, I start advising people about cycling equipment!

There is, however, at least one area in which I never have given, and do not plan to give, advice.  

Even when I was skinny and in excellent condition, I never presumed to tell any cyclist--or anyone else--what or how he or she should eat.  It's not for lack of knowledge:  I know, probably, as much as any layperson about nutrition--current notions as well as almost any from the past 40 years or so.  Nor is it from any noble desire to do good or not to do harm.  Rather, my reticence about proffering nutritional advice has more to do with the fact that I would have trouble doing such a thing with a straight face.

No matter what kind of advice I might give on the subject, I would be a hypocrite.  Even when my body-mass index was lower than my age, my diet would have appalled just about any nutritionist--whether of the orthodox, holistic or any other variety.  Not only did--do--I eat pretty much whatever I liked, whenever I wanted it, I gulped exactly the things we were told not to touch when riding, or ever.

Now, in my defense, I'll say that while I was on bike tours, I was more interested in sampling the local fare than I was in maintaining a regimen that would keep me at my maximum efficiency. (You would be, too, unless you were in a race!)  So, while in Europe, I downed lots of bread and cheese and dark chocolate--though, to be fair, I also ate plenty of fresh fruits and vegetables I picked up from roadside stands and farmers' markets.  

So..when I should have been gnawing on Power Bars or downing Energy Gels, I munched on jambon-beurre all over France.  In fact, one j-b I ate in a truck stop between Menton and Frejus--more than thirty years ago--remains one of the best sandwiches I've ever had.  Hey, if a place like that can elevate something with three ingredients--a demi-baguette, ham and butter--to an art-form, why in the world would you want a Clif Bar?

But my food choices while cycling have not always been even that elevated.  I was reminded of that today when, before starting a ride to Coney Island, I ate something I haven't had in a while:  Pop Tarts.



Yes, I admit it!  In fact, for a time, I never left for a ride without tucking one of those packets with two 'tarts into my jersey pocket or Camel Back. My riding buddies were doing the same, especially when rumbled up and down the trails in Vermont and upstate.

What made them so popular with our sub-segment of the mountain biking community in those days--about two decades ago--was the "rush" we got practically the second we swallowed a bite of one.  Especially from frosted brown-sugar cinnamon Pop Tarts:  I think they contained every kind of sugar ever concocted in a food processing plant!

Today I ate two cherry 'tarts'.  I was always partial to them, and to the blueberry and strawberry ones. Then again, it's hard to go wrong with any of those fruits.  But coming up with the brown-sugar cinnamon tarts was a real accomplishment.  As far as I know, neither the UCI nor the Olympic Committee has banned them!


I hear that now there's a whole-grain version.  Does that assuage your guilt?

8 comments:

  1. In my real cycling days I cursed food as such an inconvenience! Quick instant food was all I wanted, a chocolate covered caramel and nougat bar did the trick, or a handy banana. Those Mars bars were a wonder like rocket fuel, the US is just about the only place they were never sold, for countless decades they were so unchanged a mix of ingredients and size that economists could use them as a cost of living change index!

    Then I met my partner who was "interested" in food, my waistline was doomed but my tastebuds came alive.

    On a ferry crossing to France we were presented with fresh bread and butter as we sat down to order a meal. That bread and butter alone was enough to almost stop me ordering food and just ask for a second helping. This year at our first stop after arriving in the early morning in France we stopped at a cafe and it was one which did not do any breakfast food, the waiter saw our disappointment and said he could offer us "bread and butter" and we went for it pleasantly surprised to get a huge serving of confiture on the side. The poor guy had given us his breakfast!

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  2. Coline--Ah, yes, Mars bars. I first encountered them the first time I went to England, in 1980. Since then, I've encountered them--as you've noted--everywhere else but the US.

    Actually, during the last couple of years I lived in Park Slope, there was a fish-and-chips place that offered them as desserts--plain or fried! They also sold the bars over-the-counter. Nearly everyone who tried them said it was one of the most intense sugar rushes they ever experienced. I can just imagine what it would be like to eat one while drinking Ribena!

    As for French bread and butter, I agree: I could go to France and eat nothing else. Fortunately, it's a country that has so much good food that you don't have to!

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  3. You got me wondering why no Mars bar in the States. Wikipedia asserts that it's marketed around the world as the Mars bar except in the US where it's called the Milky Way bar. Supposedly they're one and the same. Hmmm. I'm gonna guess that true Mars bar afficianados would deny this vigorously. Are their any well traveled sugar fiends out there who know for sure?

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    1. I visited family in Canada long ago now and was instructed that much of my luggage should be their favourite British confectionary. It all went into the freezer the moment I arrived. Visiting a shop I wondered why all the fuss, there were "Milky Way" bars on sale but biting into one It was a surprise to find a layer of caramel much like in the British Mars bars and the soft nougaty filling seemed somewhat different too.

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    2. You would think that Mars would know better than to tinker with people's addictions. Hehe.

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  4. George Bernard Shaw once quipped that England and America are two countries separated by a common language.

    I wonder what he might've said about Mars and Milky Way bars. They're "similar', but so different!

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  5. I kept finding myself nodding vigorously through this article. Jambon baguettes in Paris? Oh my, I was loving those. Pop Tarts? So bad yet so good! (and they never go stale because they were never fresh to begin with!). And then you even bring up Mars vs. Milky Way -- When we were in England last summer, we had a little shop down the street from our flat and before we left the country, my wife and I bought every Mars bar that little shop had. The guy at the counter probably thought there was something wrong with us - but we tried to explain that we just can't get them in the U.S. Why are they so much better than a Milky Way?

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  6. Brooks--Why is a Mars bar so much better than a Milky Way? Why does a jambon baguette in the States, however savory, never taste quite like the ones in Paris? Why, for that matter, can we not resist Pop Tarts? Such are the mysteries of life!

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