[Ken Kifer's Bike Pages]
ARTICLE: Stages of Fitness
Answering a question in the newsgroups about dieting, I describe how our bodies adapt to the demands we place upon them depending on our level of fitness.

What is the process by which one gradually builds up and becomes stronger and more fit? How does the process of moving from one level of fitness to another affect our diet and our dieting? How does it affect our muscles and strength? How does our fitness affect weight control? What affect does our stage of fitness have on body odor and sweat?


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Stages of Fitness

Douglas Purdy wrote:
Wait a minute! You guys have been cycling a while. I've read cyclists need to eat a lot to avoid losing too much weight. In my 3 months of commuting 10-20 miles per day I've lost a lot of weight, so much so, that I've been trying to eat more than I want to eat to slow the weight loss. Last night I ate a full extra meal, tonight 2 doughnuts, muffins for a break every weekday for the last 2 weeks ...

But you guys are writing as if some cyclists have to limit their food intake?!?! I'm confused.

People go through various stages as they exercise more. This not only involves eating but sweat and odor production as well and other aspects of our bodies.

Let's start will someone who has never exercised before. Let's assume a woman, so I don't have to mess with the double pronoun or singular-plural problems.

The first stage is going to be the hardest. It's best that she not plunge into heavy exercise, or she might discover that exercise can be dangerous. Instead, she should gradually walk farther and farther with speed picking up as well. At this point, her appetite might be better, not because she's exercising much, but just because she's feeling healthier.

In stage two, she starts riding a bike and starts building speed and distance. At first, her appetite will drop due to the heavy load placed on her system. It really doesn't matter at what level she was, the increase is what brings about this change. For example, during the first days of a bicycle tour, my appetite always drops.

In stage three, she has become accustomed to the new exercise load. Now she finds himself terribly hungry and wanting to eat as much as two or three people. To some extent, the body is playing catch up, but she is also having to eat to create new muscles. Her weight continues to drop. This is my condition on the second week of a bicycle trip.

In stage four, the muscle growing process has largely stopped; she has stabilized at the new level. Her body continues to fine adapt however, and she begins to feel less hungry. Now her weight has become stable. I reach this stage in the third week or so of a bike tour.

In stage five, assuming that the cyclist continues exercising at the same rate, her body continues to become more efficient. Now the cyclist is eating not much more than she was before she started training. At this point, she can actually start putting on weight if she continues to eat.

In addition, age, time of year, sex, and body type all enter in, so one cyclist will have a greater tendency to gain than another, even though they are cycling just alike.

Someone might ask, what's the sense of exercise if you're going to eventually have to watch your weight anyway?  1) The cyclist is now thinner, stronger, and healthier than before, so it's not a case of no gain, and 2) the battle of the pounds is going to be both easier and less important than it was before.

Sweat and body odor also change during this time. In the early stages, the cyclist is sweating a lot and has problems with body odor. After the body has become adapted, she sweats and smells less than when she started. (It's a good idea to use synthetic clothing as it doesn't retain body odor or create odors of its own.)

Of course, another problem is that the cyclist might not ride all year long; so, during the down season, she might have the same weight problems as ordinary mortals.

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