By Andrew Hoodwin

Andrew has written another great article with really good information that should be taken into consideration with a range of factors, including a doctor’s checkup if you are sensing anything in your health that is causing you to have issues (or the potential for issues.) Note that his statements per se are not endorsed by the PBA and nothing replaces your own health management.

If there is one thing that cyclists are obsessed with, it’s numbers. Body weight in pounds, bicycle components in grams, millimeters of adjustment, cadence, speed, cranks, cassettes, heart rate, miles ridden, etc. If we’re not trying to drop some weight we’re attempting to raise our average speed. It’s always about the numbers. There are a couple of different sets of numbers you may not be paying much attention to; one you should, the other has been scrutinized way too much. These have to do with cholesterol and blood pressure.

Blood pressure, simply put, is the pressure exerted against your blood vessels by circulating blood. The top number, systolic represents the highest pressure when your heart is contracting and the bottom number, diastolic is the lowest in between beats. Normal resting BP is 120/80.  Anything much over those numbers is a concern as one in three Americans has hypertension measured at 140/90. High blood pressure is one of those silent killers; you won’t know you have it unless you have it measured. That would imply that you should be visiting your doctor at least annually. Do not ignore elevated blood pressure. You may not get a second chance.

Many things influence BP including; genetics, stress, quality of sleep, diet and exercise. You can’t do anything about genetics, but everything else is completely under your control. If you’re reading this then you’re probably taking care of the exercise part by having good cardiovascular health. Sufficient exercise helps by making your entire circulatory system stronger in a similar manner in which exercise builds muscle tissue. Plus the process of building more muscle tissue also builds more capillaries to transport blood to the new muscle tissue thus reducing the pressure exerted throughout your circulatory system.

Reducing your level of stress and increasing your quality of sleep can greatly improve your BP health. Easier said than done, stress can ratchet up your BP quicker than a lead change in The Tour de France.  You and only you can influence the amount of stress in your life; high BP is one reason to try and reduce the tension around you.

With the full lives most of us lead, restful and restorative sleep can be an illusive and moving target. You can and must guard against those things that interfere with your amount and quality of sleep. Besides, who wants to go through their day tired? Here’s a tease for you; sleep better and you will ride faster. That should motivate all of us to put more emphasis on our sleeping habits.

Eating healthy goes a long way in keeping your BP in check.  Avoid processed foods, those with a high salt content and try and eat as many fruits, nuts and vegetables that you can.  They are rich in the nutrients that you need to lower your BP.  If you’re riding a lot, then you’ll be sweating electrolytes out of your system so you will need to take something that will replenish your supply of magnesium, potassium, sodium and chloride. One of our sponsors, ZYM has a good product that will put back what you use up. Water, by itself, on a long ride is not enough, especially once it warms up.  This is especially true for those rides of more than two hours.

Besides eating healthy foods, there are several supplements that can help lower your blood pressure. They include; niacin, potassium, calcium and magnesium taken together, vitamin-D, coenzyme Q-10, alpha-lipoic acid and acetyl-L-carnitine. Other than coenzyme Q-10, these are very inexpensive ways to lower your blood pressure. If you have tried all of the above, then, if you must, take a prescription drug to help relieve this very dangerous threat. In this case, taking an expensive, artificial drug should be the last step in preserving the blood pressure part of your cardiovascular health.

Cholesterol is a different story. This is one health issue that you really need to educate yourself on before you start popping pills.

Cholesterol is a lipid (a fat) that is of significant importance to your body. To function properly, your brain uses a high amount of cholesterol. It also plays a critical role in building and maintaining of all cell membranes and also functions as the beginning steps in the manufacture of hormones and fat-soluble vitamins. (think testosterone and vitamins D & E)  Your liver is the central manufacturing plant for cholesterol.  In other words, your liver manufactures cholesterol as a normal bodily function. So why would you want to take an artificial drug that inhibits the normal function of your liver just to lower some numbers? Something to think about!

If your doc is telling you that you need to take a drug to lower your cholesterol just because the total number is high, then he’s using old information and may be doing you a disservice. Not all cholesterol wears a black hat.

New science.  Researchers have identified at least four different types of cholesterol, not including triglycerides. They are; high density lipoproteins or HDL. These are the really good guys because they transport cholesterol from the cells through the blood and back to the liver for reprocessing.  You want as many of these as you can get. By the old science, having more HDL increases your overall cholesterol and that was considered a bad thing. Not so. The other major category of cholesterol is LDL. Scientists have now discovered at least three different types of low-density lipoproteins, or LDL. One is a big fluffy LDF that we’ll call George. This big fluffy guy (George) is harmless as it is too large to get stuck in the miniature crevasses of your arteries. (Pun intended)  There is also a medium sized LDL and a small LDL. The small one is the only one that can do you harm as it can worm its way into the walls of your arteries eventually causing a roadblock. Not good. Researchers have found no bad relationship with any of the other LDL forms of cholesterol; only the smallest ones.

It appears that a diet based in dairy like eggs, cheese, etc does not increase the numbers of these tiny LDLs. A diet high in sugar and other simple carbohydrates is the culprit and will increase the numbers of your littlest saboteurs.  So, as long as you’re”earning” your high protein meals by peddling for hours on end, enjoy your omelets and cheese burgers as they, by themselves, won’t do you any harm and will provide you with the protein you need to rebuild your muscles.  That sure goes against conventional wisdom, doesn’t it? It certainly surprised me.

Since it’s still difficult to test for the additional three different types of LDL, it would probably be a good idea to eat smart and reduce your cholesterol (worry only about the LDL and triglyceride numbers)  naturally without resorting to meds that force your body into doing something it doesn’t want to do. These steps will bring your body into a balance and put your cholesterol where it needs to be.

Besides keeping your weight in check, eating high fiber foods, riding regularly, limiting your alcohol and lowering your stress level, there are certain nutrients you can take.  Some of the supplements that might help are; niacin, garlic, curcumin, green tea extract, fish oils and the natural form of vitamin D. Red yeast rice works really well too. (You’ll notice that some of these also help lower blood pressure.)

Okay, back to the numbers. For blood pressure, strive for the normal 120 over 80. Either number creeping over those limits should be watched carefully. Cholesterol? The total number of cholesterol is not nearly as important as the individual components. You want your HDL as far north of 50 as you can coax it. This is where the hours on the bike pay dividends as exercise especially aerobic will increase your HDL. On the other hand, LDL should generally be kept as low as possible, under 100 if you can. If you’re eating smart, keeping your stress down and taking extra good care of your body, those numbers will take care of themselves. Keep triglycerides as low as possible by taking the same measures. Now you can concentrate on the important numbers like MPH, miles ridden and your dress size. Don’t worry about George; he’s harmless.