By Rocco Vaselino, retired Italian cycling icon and vermicelli expert
Greetings my American cycling friends. It has been weeks since Rocco has shared any of his valuable Italian cycling secrets with you, so this column is long overdue, just like Rocco’s bills. How any of you have survived this long without an epistle from Rocco is indeed a mystery to me. But, then…so are most of you.
_MG_3118-2Outside of navigating the old Fiat 124 back home from the Christmas party at 2:00 AM with somewhat impaired vision and shaky coordination, Rocco’s biggest winter problem is keeping off those added kilograms of fat due to holiday eating, drinking, eating, drinking, eating, etc. Through my years of experience, however, I have found there are many things you can do to maintain your mid-season weight until March. After March, you should be able to consume seven or eight full meals a day, or you are not getting in enough miles. Here, then, are tips for keeping your girlish figure through the holiday season and into early spring…
Eat before you go grocery shopping. If you don’t, you’ll be drawn to the Little Debbie snack rack like a six-year-old child to a drunken birthday clown. A light, healthy snack before shopping will keep you from buying impulse garbage. Drink a liter of Pellegrino water. Munch on a few rice cakes. Fill yourself with low-calorie food so you’re not tempted to buy a box of Nilla Wafers, and then sheepishly pay for the empty box at checkout. If your wife does the grocery shopping, as is the case in Rocco’s domicile, make sure to send her off with a half-dozen Reese’s Peanut Butter Cups in her pocket. “Don’t drive angry” and “don’t shop hungry.”
Be proud of what’s in your shopping cart. Don’t be one of those poor souls who has to approach the checker with head hanging in shame over a cart full of Cap’n Crunch, Sunny Delight, Hostess Ding Dongs, Marshmallow Fluff, canned beer, beef jerky, and liter bottles of Mountain Dew. Show some dignity. And don’t cruise up to the checkout, beaming with pride over your whole wheat bread, fresh vegetables, kale, and fruit, and then ruin your exit by flinging a National Inquirer on top of the pile. Show some class.
At dinner, take smaller portions and eat slower. The time to evaluate how much food will satisfy you is when you’re half done eating. The slower you eat, the greater the chance of you becoming fed up with the lousy food and the boring company. Don’t eat with the crazed verve of a Rottweiler on a pork chop. If you want more, have a small second helping, but feel intense guilt and low self-esteem. It is entirely acceptable to weep unashamedly. And it’s not necessary to finish everything on your plate, either, unless you have an Italian mother, whose feelings will be hurt if you don’t eat three massive helpings of her baked ziti. That she made especially for you. You ingrate…
Eat as much pasta as you want, as long as you eat a corresponding amount of ANTI-pasto at the same meal. They will cancel each other out, and you will gain no weight! Once again, you benefit from my decades of scientific research. And here’s an FYI…Vermicelli (Italian: [vermiˈtʃɛlli], lit. “little worms”) is a traditional type of pasta, round in section similar to spaghetti. In Italy vermicelli is slightly thicker than spaghetti but in the United States (curiously) it is instead slightly thinner. Now you know, and you’re a better person for it. You’re welcome.
Cut out most of the junk food. As an example, I had a sandwich for lunch today, but, instead of the entire $3.49 bag of Lay’s potato chips, Rocco made a big salad. Instead of the creamy, fatty salad dressing, Rocco used some pure olive oil with balsamic vinegar and fresh-ground pepper. Instead of a sugary drink, I had sparkling water. The savings amounted to around 500 calories, or 40 minutes on the trainer. Do you like riding the trainer for 40 minutes? Do you? Liar! Nobody does! Watch your caloric intake, and you can spend less time on your two-wheel torture machine, and more time exploring conspiracies theories on the Internet.
Foods to avoid include soft drinks, ice cream, tripe, haggis, excessive red meat, bleached flour, Slim Jims™, rice pudding served by a religious zealot, anything that comes in a box, anything that’s handed to you through your car window, my wife’s leaden Bohemian dumplings, and anything fried. There are plenty of tasty alternatives out there if you just look. Eat a pear sometime. Or, eat just one…
Don’t be fooled by “Low Fat” or “Reduced Fat” labels on food. Nabisco Snack Wells suck you in with the promise of low fat, only to load you up on high calories and the insulin crash caused by refined sugar and white flour. Some of you, who I will not embarrass by mentioning by name, live for this violent buzz.
Read the ingredients. Did you know that something as apparently benign and harmless as Jell-O is made from cow hooves, red dye, sugar, cartilage and connective tissue? I don’t care HOW many miniature marshmallows you put in it…that pretty much ruins it for me. Gelatin is included in many foods, including many types of yogurt. Until a few years ago, the two primary ingredients in Oreo filling were sugar and beef fat. McDonalds used to fry those yummy cherry pies in animal fat. Sunny Delight and some Gatorade flavors contain vegetable oil, apparently an essential ingredient in a fluid-replacement drink. Before buying food or drink, read the ingredients and pay attention to the calories, fat, salt, and all the other things that make food delicious.
Remember, there are 3,500 calories in a pound. The most any of us can burn in an hour on the bike is between 800 and 1,100 calories, and this at a sustained high pulse rate. You can easily see that it makes more sense to eat correctly than to try to burn it all off on the bike. I’ve mentioned it before, but Race Across America winner Lon Haldeman told me that one of the years he won, he was sponsored by McDonald’s and he ate nothing but McDonald’s food for the entire eight days, covering 3,170 miles. He gained three pounds!
Rocco often lurks behind bovine individuals riding the Lifecycles at the health club. (Don’t judge me.) As I watch what appears to be two bear cubs fighting in a sack, I wonder if they realize that their lethargic twenty minute “cardio workout” will only burn as many calories as are found in three wintergreen Lifesavers. The way to maintain your slim profile throughout the winter is through careful selection of what you eat…not so much through exercise, (although two hundred easy miles a week helps.) You must change what you buy at the grocery store, you must change how much you eat and how fast you eat, and you must cut down on junk food. Rocco would heed his own advice, only I plan on carbo-loading from now until April…