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Reviews of books about distance cycling, touring, training and the bicycle industry

The Performance Zone: Sports Nutrition And Recovery

The Performance Zone

The Performance Zone: Sports Nutrition And Recovery

I took up cycling a little over thirteen years ago and am still embarrassed by how little I knew about sports nutrition at the time. I’m talking about the “cover your face and hide” type of embarrassment. I started cycling to lose weight and ignorantly thought the best way to do it would be to starve myself on a ride and drink only water. It was not just a bad idea—it was just plain stupid. After an hour ride I was worn out and it took me two days to recover. However, I used to take solace in the fact I had given myself a “good workout” (what a fool).

As I grew more accustomed to cycling my friends tell me I was “bonking” or “hitting the wall.” I didn’t know what either of these phrases meant at the time—but my well-meaning friends told me I just needed to eat a lot of carbs during a bike ride and everything would be fine. Without any guidance I began ingesting too many carbs and started gaining weight again—in spite of increasing my workout time! It was a really discouraging time in my life!

Somehow I eventually found and read The Performance Zone: Your Nutrition Action Plan for Greater Endurance & Sports Performance, by John Ivy and Robert Portman, and my cycling life changed forever! This book is a primer on how your muscles grow, work, get fuel and recover. The book explains how to calculate your hydration, carbohydrate and protein needs for numerous sports. I would call The Performance Zone a “must read” for anyone participating in endurance sports, such as cycling, hockey, swimming, football, etc. Over the past ten years I’ve bought at least a dozen copies of this book—some of the copies were given  to fellow athletes, other times I bought copies to replace ones I “loaned” to friends (some of my friends can’t add or subtract, but they are great “book keepers”).

In my situation, based upon cycling speed, weight and a few other factors, I was able to plot out a suitable course of action. I followed the instructions and started consuming 30 grams of carbohydrates every 30 minutes and my performance vastly improved (I am close to being a Clydesdale, so your nutritional needs will vary). Not only did my speed and distance improve, but so did my recovery time. I quickly went from getting exhausted after an hour ride to riding for three or four hours before work and then doing it again the next morning. Eventually I worked my way up to doing Century rides before going to the office!

This paperback book is available from Amazon.com for under $10.00 (Basic Health Publications, Inc., 146 pages). While this book is a great introduction to sports nutrition, there are a few other books I would also recommend to serious cyclists, such as The Paleo Diet for Athletes, The Athletes Guide to Recovery, and Distance Cycling.

 
 

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Disease Proof by Dr. David Katz

Disease Proof by Dr. David Katz

Disease Proof by Dr. David Katz

Imagine if a pharmaceutical company introduced a drug that promised to cut your chances of contracting all diseases (including diabetes, cancer, and heart disease) by at least 80%? I imagine you would immediately have four questions: How much does it cost? What are the side effects? How can I get a prescription? And, How can I invest in the company? While such a drug is not available, you can achieve an incredible 80% reduction in your chance of developing a devastating disease by making a few simple changes to your diet and lifestyle. Disease Proof, a new book by preventive medicine specialist Dr. David Katz, provides a road map for making the diet and lifestyle changes that will “add years to life, and life to years.”

David Katz, MD, MPH, FACPM, FACP, is a remarkable physician. He received his BA from Dartmouth College and his MD from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine. According to his website, Dr. Katz “helped develop and found one of the nation’s first combined residency training programs in Internal Medicine & Preventive Medicine, and formerly served as the program’s director. Dr. Katz currently co-directs a one-year post-doctoral residency program in Integrative Medicine at his center in Derby, CT.”

The basic premise of Disease Proof is that you can slash your risk of disease by making just four adjustments to your diet and lifestyle—don’t smoke, eat healthy foods, exercise, and maintain a healthy weight. The book begins by analyzing the past 20 years worth of medical research and concludes, “the leading causes of death and disease are largely within our control because they result from what we do or don’t do with our feet, our forks, and our fingers—namely, whether they are physically active, consume a healthy diet, or smoke—on a daily basis.”

While it is true that some diseases are inherited (such as Huntington’s disease, sickle-cell anemia or cystic fibrosis), the truth is that eight out of ten serious illnesses could have been prevented by changes in diet in lifestyle. And the fact is that most medical doctors find that prescribing drugs is a lot easier than instructing patients on how to develop a healthy lifestyle—and I really don’t blame doctors for this sad state of affairs! Thirteen years ago my physical health was horrible—I was morbidly obese and suffered from a multitude of major medical problems. My family practice doctor would load me up with prescription drugs and send me on my way. When I hit my lowest point I decided to turn my life around. I am not a physician, but I do know how to thoroughly research a subject, so I started reading dozens of books on health, exercise and nutrition. Then I went on a healthy diet and started a serious exercise program. The next time I saw my doctor he said I looked fifteen years younger than the last time I was in his office, so I explained what I had done. Before I left his office I asked him, “Why didn’t you tell me to eat healthy and exercise?” He cracked a smile and said, “You know, after telling that to thousands of patients and having them all ignore me I guess I just gave up.” He was probably right—the vast majority of people have to hit bottom before they are willing to even consider changing their diet and lifestyle.

While Disease Proof does discuss DNA, genetics and the Human Genome Project, it is not a difficult book to read (medical jargon is kept to a minimum). “One of the eye-opening revelations provided by the Human Genome Project, which was completed in 2003, is that the genes themselves don’t lead to disease. It’s the interaction of certain high-risk genes and unhealthy environmental influences (including poor diet, physical inactivity, and smoking) that combine to trigger disease.” Dr. Katz discusses how diet and exercise can literally change the behavior of our genes and how heart disease, cancer, stoke and diabetes are not really the cause of death, but rather “the results or effects of how people live.”

Over half of the book is spent on nutrition, and while it does not offer a strict Paleo diet, it is what I would call “Paleo friendly”, i.e., eat a lot of fresh fruit, vegetables, lean meats and skip the pre-packaged garbage that makes up most of the typical American diet. Dr. Katz wisely observed, “The longer the shelf life of a food product (such as neon-orange cheese puffs), the shorter the shelf life of the person who consumes it regularly.”

I realize that most of the readers of this blog are probably already following a fairly healthy lifestyle, but I am certain you have a lot of family members who could use a bit of a nudge towards healthy living—this book would make a wonderful gift for them! The hardcover edition of Disease Proof retails for $26, but is available from Amazon.com for only $17. The Kindle edition sells for $12. This book was published in September of 2013 and was printed by Hudson Street Press (304 pages).

 

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The New Rules Of Lifting: Six Basic Moves For Maximum Muscle

The New Rules of Lifting: Six Basic Moves for Maximum Muscle

The New Rules of Lifting: Six Basic Moves for Maximum Muscle

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: I am a cyclist, not a bodybuilder—I lift weights because I have to, not because I want to. This past Saturday the temperature outside was in the low 40’s (5 Celsius), the wind was gusting at 30 MPH and it was pouring down rain—and I decided that a few hours outside on the bike sounded a lot more appealing than lifting weights inside. However, I do recognize that weight lifting is an important part of overall fitness. If you not a weightlifter but would like a great book to help you develop a weightlifting routine I would strongly suggest that you pick up a copy of The New Rules Of Lifting: Six Basic Moves For Maximum Muscle by Lou Schuler and Alwyn Cosgrove.

The problem most cyclists have with weightlifting is simply time—they think that time on the bike is more beneficial than time spent in a weight room. However, while cycling will improve your aerobic fitness and endurance it will very do little for upper body fitness. Even if you have no intention of ever participating in a race you still need to engage in some sort of resistance training to improve your sprinting and climbing, as well as increasing your bone density (cyclists have a tendency to develop low bone density). Strong lower back and abdominal muscles are crucial if you want to ride very long in the drops. Without a strong core you are going to have trouble every time you ride!

Schuler and Cosgrove have been able to create a great workout plan that will stress all the body’s major muscle groups—and they have condensed it down into just six basic movements (the squat, deadlift, lunge, push, pull, and twist). For each of these movements they offer numerous variations to achieve the goal. For example, with the traditional squat they offer variations such as the heels-raised back squat, one-and-a-quarter squat, front squat, and quarter squat.

The basic premise of the book is that by doing these six basic movements you will work all of your major muscle groups. While this approach will not satisfy professional body builders, it will do wonders for the rest of us! Let’s face it, do you really need a special exercise to improve the abductor pollicis brevis muscle? (In case you are wondering, it is the muscle that runs from your thumb to the center of your wrist).

The authors show how to perform these exercises is several ways—with barbells, dumbbells, weight stations, etc. Until two of my sons move out of our house I am not going to be able to have an entire room set aside for weight lifting, so I do my weight training with a set of Bowflex SelectTech 552 Adjustable Dumbbells. Each Bowflex SelectTech 552 dumbbell adjusts from 5 to 52.5 pounds (in 2.5-pound increments up to the first 25 pounds). Because of the beautifully designed dial system you can change the weight of a dumbbell in a matter of seconds. Each dumbbell has fifteen different weight settings available (5, 7.5, 10, 12.5, 15, 17.5, 20, 22.5, 25, 30, 35, 40, 45, 50, and 52.5 pounds).

The New Rules Of Lifting: Six Basic Moves For Maximum Muscle is a paperback book (7.5×9″ with more than one hundred photographs) and has 301 pages. This book retails for $18, but is available on Amazon.com for $14. The Kindle edition sells for $12. This book is published by Avery (a member of the Penguin Group).

 
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Posted by on November 18, 2013 in Book Reviews

 

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Cave Wraps: 40 Fast And Easy Paleo Recipes by Ivy Martin

Cave Wraps: 40 Fast And Easy Paleo Recipes by Ivy Martin

Cave Wraps: 40 Fast And Easy Paleo Recipes by Ivy Martin

Like a growing number of athletes, I follow a Paleo Diet—some people refer to it as a “high fat” diet, but I prefer the phrase “nutrient rich” since the emphasis is on vegetables, fruit, nuts and healthy portions of meat. My lovely wife is an incredible cook who can take just about any normal recipe and turn it into something that is both tasty and healthy (we sure have a lot of almond flour, flax meal, coconut oil and raw honey in the kitchen cabinets now). However, my wife works during the day and I am left to fend for myself at lunch—I work in my office at home in the mornings and usually go to my real office in the afternoons. I used to go out to eat at local restaurants for lunch, but I thought it would be easier to stay on my diet if I ate at home. Unfortunately, my culinary skills are pretty much limited to use on a Weber charcoal grill so I started looking for things I could make at home and when I found Cave Wraps: 40 Fast & Easy Paleo Recipes For The Best Damn Wraps Ever by Ivy Martin I felt like I had struck gold!

As the name of the book suggests, there are 40 recipes for making wraps—most of the wraps use slices of thick meat (turkey, chicken, ham, beef, salmon, etc.) to hold the ingredients together instead of bread, but some of the recipes call for large pieces of Romaine lettuce leaves. I’ve made nearly every wrap listed in this book (all by myself) and, to quote the old GEICO commercial, they are “so easy a caveman could do it.” Not only are they easy to make, but they taste fantastic! The Maple, Bacon & Ham Wrap is better that any breakfast sandwich I’ve ever had at a restaurant, and the Apple Festival Turkey Wrap is now my favorite meal! Bacon lovers rejoice—a lot of the recipes call for that blessed ingredient! Other frequently used ingredients include pecans, walnuts, maple syrup, apples, pineapples, coconut, honey, and eggs.

When I started trying to make these wraps I was having trouble finding high quality cut meats to use. It’s hard for me to believe, but some of the healthiest cut meats on the market are sold at Wal-Mart! The Prima Della brand uses whole muscle cut meats and are gluten-free, soy-free, and contain no fillers or MSG. Another good brand is Boar’s Head, but I’ve had trouble finding a store in my area that sells it. When you buy meat for your wraps you will want it cut thick, so tell the folks at the deli counter that you want either number three or number four thickness (on most commercial meat slicers the number one setting is very thin and the number four is about 1/8″ thick).

Cave Wraps: 40 Fast & Easy Paleo Recipes For The Best Damn Wraps Ever by Ivy Martin is a 93-page paperback book and has beautiful full-color photos to go along with every recipe. This book retails for $20, but I only paid $17 for it on Amazon.com. You can buy the Kindle edition for only $9.

If you are not familiar with the Paleo diet I would suggest you read the Paleo Diet for Athletes—this book really changed my life and way of thinking about nutrition.

 
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Posted by on November 1, 2013 in Book Reviews, Sports Nutrition

 

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The Paleo Diet for Athletes by Cordain and Friel

The Paleo Diet for Athletes

The Paleo Diet for Athletes

Unless you have lived under a rock for the past few years, you have probably heard about the Paleo Diet (“the caveman diet”). The diet purports to emulate the diet that our ancient ancestors had—a lot of meat, vegetables, fruit and nuts, but no refined sugar, grains, legumes or dairy products. For the past couple of years a friend of mine has encouraged me to try the diet out, but diet’s restriction on carbohydrates pretty much ruled it out for me—I am a distance cyclist and on long rides my muscle glycogen stores would be depleted before I got halfway through my ride. However, while browsing on Amazon.com a few months ago I found a book titled, The Paleo Diet For Athletes: The Ancient Nutritional Formula For Peak Athletic Performance, by Loren Cordain and Joe Friel (Rodale Books; revised edition; September 2012). If you are an athlete and have either started or are considering starting the Paleo Diet you really need this book!

The entire Paleo Diet is summed up in just one paragraph from the book: “The fundamental dietary principles of the Paleo Diet for Athletes is simplicity itself: unrestricted consumption of fresh meats, poultry, seafood, fruits, and vegetables. Foods that are not part of the modern-day Paleolithic fare include cereal grains, dairy products, high-glycemic fruits and vegetables, legumes, alcohol, salty foods, processed meats, refined sugars, and nearly all processed foods.”

While I disagree with Cordain and Friel on the origin and development of mankind, I sincerely appreciate this book. The first third of the book deals with the nutritional requirements of athletes and this section alone is worth the price of the book! This is absolutely the best treatment of the nutritional requirements for athletes I’ve ever seen—especially for endurance athletes. The second section of the book discusses the authors views of the development of our stone age ancestors (interesting reading, but we all have different views on this matter). The last section of the book give 80 Paleo “energy-packed” recipes—again, interesting reading but there are better Paleo cookbooks on the market.

Thirteen years ago, before I started cycling, I was morbidly obese and in terrible health. In hindsight I realize that the majority of my problems came from a poor diet and lifestyle. At that time I held elected public office and served on the board of directors for nearly a dozen civic groups, which meant I seldom found time for a real meal, and never had time for either proper exercise or sleep. My road to recovery started with the Atkins Diet and cycling—then I gradually withdrew from public life and started focusing more on my health.

While I’ve basically followed the Atkins Diet for thirteen years, I couldn’t follow their guidelines while cycling because a low-carb diet just isn’t compatible with endurance sports like distance cycling. The Paleo Diet is more of a “sensible carb” diet than a “low carb” diet. In fact, The Paleo Diet For Athletes has convinced me to consume more carbs during and after a long bike ride than I had before! Switching from the Atkins Diet to the Paleo Diet was not a problem at all for me—basically I just had to give up dairy products and cereal grains. The surgeon who repaired my esophagus back in June had already told me I needed to give up dairy products, and I’ve always felt uncomfortable after eating cereal grains anyway. So, switching to the Paleo Diet was really easy for me and the food tastes so much better!

The biggest difference between the normal Paleo Diet and the Paleo Diet For Athletes is the use of carb gels before, during and after exercise. As the author states on page seven of the book, “Perhaps the most important refinement made to my original Paleo Diet was Joe’s recognition that consumption of starches and simple sugars was necessary and useful only during exercise and in the immediate postexercise period.” In my case, for example, they would recommend that I consume a 100-calorie pack of carb gel 10 minutes before my bike ride, then 300 calories of gels and/or sports drinks per hour during the ride, followed by 600 calories of carbohydrates within 30 minutes after the ride (along with protein powder). The amount of carbs gels you need will vary depending on your weight and the length and intensity of your exercise.

I realize that some people would never try the Paleo Diet because it involves the consumption of red meat. If you are a vegetarian due to religious beliefs I can accept that without any problem. If you are a vegetarian because you think that makes you morally superior to the rest of us, well, you have my sympathy. If you are a member of PETA please feel free to stop by my office and I’ll grab a crayon and big piece of construction paper so I can explain the facts of life to you in a way you can understand (hint: human beings are carnivores and we have eight incisors for a reason—and it’s not so we can tear into pieces of tofu).

In case you can’t tell, I really like the Paleo Diet For Athletes! Like most men, I would rather die than count calories or have to measure my food before every meal. On the Paleo Diet I’m eating a lot of fresh fruit and vegetables, along with a sensible portion of animal-based protein (red meat, fish, turkey, chicken, etc.) at every meal. It seems like I am never hungry and my weight is still dropping and energy levels are increasing.

The Paleo Diet For Athletes retails for $16 in paperback, and Amazon.com has it for $13 (or $9 for the Kindle version). As I mentioned above, if you are an athlete you need to read the section of this book on the nutritional requirements of athletes, even if you don’t follow the Paleo Diet.

 
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Posted by on September 13, 2013 in Book Reviews, Sports Nutrition

 

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Tour de France 100 by Richard Moore

The 100th running of the Tour de France gets underway this Saturday and I can’t wait! My wife will tell you that the only reason we have a wide-screen high-def TV in our house is so I can watch the Tour (and as usual she is absolutely correct). Every June I get a copy of the Velo Magazine Official Tour de France Guide and carefully study the routes for each stage and team line-ups. The 2013 Tour de France promises to be especially exciting due to the six mountain stages with four summit finishes—including two climbs up the Alpe d’Huez in the same day! This year my pre-tour reading material included Tour de France 100 by Richard Moore, a book sent to me for review by VeloPress.

Tour de France 100 by Richard Moore

Tour de France 100 by Richard Moore

The full title of the book is Tour de France 100: A Photographic History of the World’s Greatest Race. I don’t want to bury the lead, so here it is: This is the most beautiful book about cycling you will ever see! The photos are simply stunning. Even though I’ve read dozens of books about the Tour de France this book has a lot of photos I’ve never seen published anywhere before. While I own several thousand eBooks (an occupational hazard), this is one book that you really need to have in your hands to appreciate. This hardcover book measures 11″x12.5″ and has 224 pages with over 250 color and black and white photos.

My wife hasn’t been on a bicycle since the day she got her driver’s license, but she watches every stage of the Tour de France with me. Even non-cyclists can appreciate the beauty of the French countryside, the excitement of the crowds that line the routes and the incredible endurance of the world’s greatest athletes (plus I’ve noticed that my wife pays special attention to the race when Fabian Cancellara in on the screen).

Léon Scieur in the Alps during the 1920 Tour

Léon Scieur in the Alps during the 1920 Tour / Credit: Offside/L’Equipe

Tour de France 100 divides the history of the Tour into twelve sections, beginning with the early years (1903–1914). The black and white photos in the early sections show the Founding Fathers of the Tour riding (and sometimes pushing) their steel bikes with metal water bottles and several spare inner tubes wrapped over their shoulders since outside help was banned in the early days of the Tour.

While the Tour began in 1903, this year is only the 100th running since the Tour was interrupted twice by war. On page 55 of the book there is an interesting photo from stage two of the 1936 Tour—it shows the peloton passing a small group of French soldiers near Amiens (during WWII Amiens had a Gestapo prison that was bombed by the Allies as part of a raid to free French Resistance fighters).

Eddy Merckx ("The Cannibal")

Eddy Merckx (“The Cannibal”) / Credit: Offside/L’Equipe

One of my favorite riders in Tour history is Eddy Merckx (“The Cannibal”). Merckz won the Tour de France and the Giro d’Italia five times each, had one win at the Vuelta a España, and claimed nineteen wins at the Classics. Chapter seven of the book is aptly named The Cannibal, 1969–1977. This chapter has some of the most spectacular photos in the book (black and white photography had come a long way since the early days of the Tour).

The Armstrong Era, 1999–2005 is the focus of chapter eleven. Whether you love or hate Armstrong, you have to admit that he was fun to watch. I don’t know about you, but I still have a few posters of Lance hanging in my garage (and a few more scattered throughout my house).

Andy Schleck on the summit of the Col du Galibier

Andy Schleck on the summit of the Col du Galibier / Credit: Bryn Lennon/Getty Images

The last chapter of the book covers the growing influence of Australian and British riders. Here you will find photos of all the modern cyclists most people are familiar with—Cadel Evans, Bradley Wiggins, Chris Froome, Andy Schleck and many others.

In the past few years I’ve written over 400 product reviews for cycling products—and along the way I’ve only put five or six items in the “highly recommended” category. Tour de France 100 is the only item I’ve ever put in the “must buy” category! If you don’t buy this book you are missing out on what I believe to be the best cycling book ever published. After you buy the book you will probably read it twice—the first time you will go through the book you will probably just look at the photos (and that is going to take a while). The second time you can actually read it!

Tour de France 100 retails for $35, but is available through Barnes & Noble and Amazon.com for under $25. The author of the book, Richard Moore, is a sports journalist and the author of several other cycling books, including Slaying the Badger—a book about the struggle between Greg LeMond and Bernard Hinault during the 1986 Tour de France.

I would like to thank the folks at VeloPress for allowing me to use a few photos from the book in this review. If you would like to view some of the other photos from the book you can visit the Tour de France 100 blog.

Images from “Tour de France 100″ used with permission from VeloPress, copyright © 2013. All rights reserved.

 
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Posted by on June 28, 2013 in Book Reviews

 

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Andy Pruitt’s Complete Medical Guide For Cyclists

Complete Medical Guide For Cyclists

Complete Medical Guide For Cyclists

I live in the far-north suburbs of Chicago and some of the greatest medical schools in the nation are located just a short drive from my house. I’ve been able to a lot of spend time with several young medical students and I have to tell you they are the brightest people I’ve ever met in my life! However, as brilliant as these med students are, they are never going to learn everything about medicine (and they will all quickly tell you that). Even physicians who have practiced for many years will sometimes have trouble diagnosing conditions they are not familiar with. Unless your physician specializes in sports medicine they are probably ill-equipped to deal with some of the routine problems cyclists encounter. The one book that has helped me more than anything else with medical and physical problems related to cycling is Andy Pruitt’s Complete Medical Guide For Cyclists.

While the title of the books says “complete medical guide” it really deals more with “physical therapy” than with medicine, but that is fine with me—diagnosing medical problems from just reading a book a few entries on WebMD can be rather dangerous.

The first four chapters of this book deal with how to properly fit your bike by adjusting saddle position, handlebar position and cleats (or pedals). In my opinion, the majority of medical problems cyclists encounter begin a poorly fit bike. Pruitt explains how to find your ideal position on the bike and this alone is worth the price of the book.

The second section of the book deals with “Remedies For Cycling Injuries” and it covers the majority of things that cause us pain, such as patellar tendonitis, back pain, Achilles tendonitis, carpel tunnel syndrome, saddle sores, and road rash. Pruitt not only explains the cause of these problems, but offers suggestions on how to overcome them.

The last section of the books deals with “Getting The Most Out Of Cycling” and discusses issues such as overtraining, weight loss, performance testing, developing a training program, stretching and rehabilitation.

While this book is very thorough, there are a few things it does not cover, such as cold weather cycling (something I tend to spend a lot of time doing). I have yet to find a book that deals specifically with winter cycling—most of what I know about this topic has come from trial and error (a lot of error) and from reading some of the “adventure cycling” books where experienced cyclists tell you about how they overcame problems with things like hypothermia and frostbite.

One section of the book I do disagree with is the chapter on “Health Maintenance” (chapter 15). Pruitt devotes just five short paragraphs to vitamin supplements and his basic opinion is that cyclists “get all the vitamins they need from their daily meals.” However, in the next chapter (“Aging and the Cyclist”) he does mention the need for older cyclists (you know who you are) to take omega-3 fatty acids, acetyl-L-carnitine and absorbable diindolylmethane (DIM) for their anti-inflammatory benefits. Reasonable people can disagree, but I am a firm believer in vitamin supplements—and if you don’t like the idea of taking supplements, well, don’t take them.

Andy Pruitt’s Complete Medical Guide For Cyclists is published by VeloPress and retails for $19, but you can find it on Amazon.com for around $12. This 6″x9″ paperback book is well illustrated with photographs throughout and has 224 pages. This book will benefit any cyclist, regardless of how long they have been cycling—from “weekend warriors” to distance cyclists.

 
 

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