The Science of Exercise: Sugar, H.I.T.T. & Stuff

This is not a scientific post. I’m not dropping any science on you. It’s a topic of interest to A Dude and probably to many. Tonight on the way home from an errand, I ran into another bicyclist (he’s OK). Turns out he’s a student at the University of Texas. He was a super nice guy who had just come from a soccer game and wasn’t wearing a bike helmet. He was stopped at the sign near where Anthony Diaz was killed by a bus driver, and I asked him what happened to the ghost bike. He didn’t know, but guessed it was an upcoming marathon.

That mystery unsolved, the conversation shifted to him talking about his work in kinesiology. Which if you don’t know is the study of kinesi (whatever the heck that is). But seriously, he works on measuring oxygen in the blood, studies how horrible sitting is for your metabolism, what is more efficient for muscle-building, and so on. I learned some stuff in layperson’s terms since I frequently am fighting gravity and aging and other sciencey things. I figured I’d share with all 12 of you who might actually read this. Because he’s getting a master’s Degree… in SCIENCE, he actually blinded me with …. SCIENCE! Or maybe that was his bike light, I’m not sure.

H.I.I.T. Me Baby, Repeated Times

Most athletes who know stuff know about High Intensity Interval Training (H.I.T.T.). That’s where you go really hard and fast for a number of seconds, then you take a while to recover, and do it again, then repeat the process. Over time it helps you build both speed, endurance, and muscle. And as smarty pants reminded me, being sedentary is very bad for you. (For more about that, see my post Sitting is the New Cancer – Unless You’re on a Bicycle Seat.)

A recent sunset photo I took on a bike. Not too relevant to this post, but it’s pretty.

The reason we need to move is to build both kinds of muscles, but especially fast twitch muscles. The ones that help us get away from sabre-toothed tigers, wildebeests, or nowadays, muggers and out of control jackholes on scooters. As we age, if we don’t use them, we lose them. And that sounds bad. Doing H.I.I.T. — even for a few minutes a day — can reverse this decline and build muscle, says Dr. SCIENCE! But in a twist, he’s doing a study on Sprint Intensity Interval Training, S.I.I.T. which is the same idea but even faster and even shorter bursts of effort.

I’ve tried H.I.I.T. out on my bicycle sometimes. It happens naturally sometimes when riding with groups. If they go faster, you want to keep up. This makes you faster. Since they start early in the morning, I’ve not been on a shop ride in some time. That along with the loss of Sookie, the lighter Fuji bike, plus whatever allergies, fatigue and other issues I’m experiencing all have conspired to slow me down. But there’s nothing stopping me from adding some H.I.I.T. into my rides. (Well, a very sore tendon in my knee and quad are cramping my style A LOT.) Still I hope to try it out, Britney Spears soundtrack or not. (Oh baby, baby!)

Weird Science

Another thing he mentioned working on was studying the effects of juice (not sure I can say what kind) on aerobic efficiency. He’s looking at how a group who used the juice to use a bike and the other who didn’t compare. I wouldn’t think it would matter much, but then he talked about the need for maintaining and replacing glycogen stores. This is another word I’ve heard bandied about for some time. Apparently, it’s not BS at all: our bodies require the use of carbohydrates to replenish our stores.


SCIENCE guy said the use of simple carbs that are easily absorbed to refuel after exercise have a place when exercising. Something like complex whole grain oats would be good for before but would take a long time to break down. If you’ve ever been on a run and “hit the wall” or biked a long way and “bonked,” you know the horrible feeling with your energy reserves are literally exhausted. I’ve had it happen a few times and seen it happen to others, and trust me, it is not a pretty sight or feeling to experience.

Of course, there’s a difference between doing an 11-mile errand at a comfortable pace and going for a 50-mile faster ride. The former doesn’t merit a candy bar but the latter might. It was refreshing to have it confirmed that there really is SCIENCE behind the need to feed the body with sugars when doing aerobic exercise, as well as after along with the also pretty widely known fats and protein. I’ve been trying to manage my sugar cravings with some supplements, but maybe I just need to manage WHEN I indulge that craving, and time it better.

To illustrate these points, here’s a recent Bicycling magazine article about brown rice v. white rice. The latter of which along with all flours I’ve given up for 15 months now. But I’m still a fathlete. Keep in mind they say “70 miles is NBD” (no big deal) and they talk about professional racers. So if that distance is a big deal and you’re not a pro, take that with a grain of, er, salt. If brown rice doesn’t tax your system, and you’re not having it every day, I’d say go for it. (Not a doctor.)

Boxing has a nickname: the “Sweet Science.” Exercise science, however, is of course a huge field of study. Pro bike groups like multiple Tour de France winners Team Sky in the UK (seven? I lost count) have mastered the science of exercise. They extract maximum efficiency for the least energy expenditure possible from their riders. As well as things like aerodynamics, diet, weight, bike materials and shape, gear ratios, and a whole lot more. I recall seeing last year a spot showing they even wash the racers’ bike kits separately to prevent saddle sores. It’s a fascinating subject.

That’s Just a Taste

I could probably geek out on this stuff more if I were more technically-minded. I do find it fascinating. These days, I’m mostly in biking to get from Point A to Point B as fast as possible (which isn’t very fast) and staying alive. Perks include: not having to spend money on a polluting car, getting some exercise, enjoyment, things to write about in this blog and my book, as well as hopefully I’ll teach safe cycling some day soon. But I think some looking into how to do things more efficiently, especially as I’m slowing down way more than I should be for my age, even as a fathlete, makes sense for me. For many people like me, a lot of improving our sports activity has to do with having access to quality health care (including alternatives like acupuncture and massage), plus organic food and supplements. I lost mine with the job, and that stuff ain’t cheap.

Just yesterday the US president, Tinyhands Orangehead, said he was going to try to make even harder by attempting to abolish the Affordable Care Act. I try not to be too political in this blog, but there are times when injustice needs to be called out, so I do it when I can. This is one of those times. Reducing health insurance for millions of people is cruel, costly and just plain wrong. There will be a fight over it for sure, especially for those with pre-existing conditions like me. Then again, the ACA is too expensive so I don’t even have it.

Sign on bike rack at University of Texas near where Anthony Diaz’s
ghost bike was located.

But I know a good and mostly free way to maintain your health: go ride your bike! And if you don’t have one, maybe you can go get a used one. Earn one at your community bike shop. Also, to improve your performance, you should really go to bed. As soon as you’ve read a few of my postws. And which I’m going to do now. Sweet dreams, dear reader. And remember sugar is not the enemy, because SCIENCE says so. But low-quality chocolate and right-wing fascists are definitely our opponents.

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11 thoughts on “The Science of Exercise: Sugar, H.I.T.T. & Stuff

  1. I’m liking this a lot. So, there was a time last summer on my cycle trip when after a day of probably 75k, I had been drinking a lot of water, eating etc etc, and to be fair it was late 30’s so pretty hot, when I literally went a bit odd. I was very confused and couldn’t make sense of anything. I was physically exhausted and struggled to do the next 15k. But as I’d been doing this sort of mileage each day for about three weeks I thought I’d be getting fitter not more tired! Is that what ‘hitting the wall’ is all about? That utter exhaustion and confusion?? Katie

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Wow, sorry that happened! Thanks for sharing. I think that fatigue accumulates over time and we get depleted. The answer may be different for everyone but I think it’s generally to just rest and replenish. You were with a group, I think? We’re you carving up and proteining up after? Hard to stop on a cross country trip unless rest days are built in. And just water may not be enough sweating alot or not. Did you use hydration tabs? At least, you made it and that is awesome.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Oh thank you! In fact I was on my own the whole time, so it may have been that I wasn’t strict enough with food. I didn’t use hydration tabs which would have been a much better idea. I was going for 27 days and had 3 enforced rest days, although some days I did fewer kms. I reckon you’re right and fatigue accumulates … Thanks so much for the advice; next time I’ll concentrate more on food and rehydration for sure. Katie

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Ha! I’d be far too slow for you! I’m heading over the pond to live in the States for three years starting in June and hoping very much to find some good routes whilst I’m there. 🚴‍♀️🚴‍♀️🚴‍♀️

        Liked by 1 person

      3. I doubt that with my advancing decrepitude. That’s great, where in the us? New York? Maybe we’ll go for a ride some time if you make it to Austin, Texas. Check out adventure cycling association and the area you’re going if they have a city or bike group map.

        Liked by 1 person

      4. We’re going to New York. Should be fun, but am anticipating cycling in the city is similar to London … chaotic! That’s a good idea about the cycling association, thanks very much. I’ll let you know when we arrive!

        Liked by 1 person

      5. Cool! Maybe I’ll bike up from Texas. Ha! Transportation Alternatives. Depending on your local area, the best source may be your local bike shop… maybe not so friendly, it is New York. 😉


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