Thursday, August 5, 2010

Quiet Roads & Chemical Cocktails

Quiet country roads are everybody’s favourite place to train, if you are like me and live in the centre of a large city then you savour every moment you can spend some time on one. I’m sure many of you would remember a time when the only clue to alert you that another cyclist had been out training on your favourite back road would be a discarded banana peel by the roadside. How times have changed.

These days I’m alarmed at the amount of discarded energy gel sachets I keep seeing when out training. Since when did going for a ride require such technologically advanced nutrition? Those little foil packets seem to be everywhere these days, I have even seen them strewn about my local suburban cycle path. It makes me feel a little bit like this..

You may be interested to know that the crying native American in the commercial was actor Espera Oscar de Corti, who was in fact not a native American at all but the son of Sicilian immigrants, he was however known for his portrayals of native Americans in Hollywood films. His native Italian ancestry was not made public until the end of his life. Damn, TV lied to us again!

As cyclists we need to be extra careful to tread lightly wherever we go. Why?.. Because basically everybody pretty much hates us. I don't want to lapse into stating the obvious (its so boring) but littering really doesn’t do us any favours as a group, think of it as another excuse for “motorists” to bleat about how irresponsible cyclists are. Of course we all know that the amount of littering done by cyclists is insignificant when compared to the amount of drink cans, fast food wrappers and cigarette butts tossed away by everyone else. Oh and that lone shoe you keep seeing by the roadside? Its mine, I’ve been looking all over for it. If you have any sense of responsibility towards your fellow cyclists put that little packet back in your pocket and dispose of it thoughtfully.

“Motorists”, I love that term. It sounds so quaint, whenever I hear it I imagine one of those vintage cars being driven by a gentleman wearing an overcoat and airmen’s goggles. Or perhaps a villainous scoundrel and his henchman as can be seen in the rendering below.

I might also add that we need to be extra careful with our litter when racing, all it takes is an angry resident to complain about our roadside refuse and before you know it another permit for a racing circuit is revoked by the officialdom. Just like dangerous riding on the road or running red lights its always just a few bad eggs misbehaving. Of course the problem is we all get tarred with the same brush, so lets start helping ourselves by trying to do the right thing. End of tiresome rant.


Energy gels are great because they allow you to get a quick hit of fuel in a few seconds instead of fumbling around with wrappers and choking on inhaled pieces of food as you struggle with the speed of the peloton, I know, I've been there too. For this reason I totally recommend energy gels for racing, but for training? They are convenient yes but personally I think its overkill to use them while training when you are probably better off just eating real food.

In our modern world we are exposed to all sorts of nasties on a daily basis whether they are in the air we breathe, the water we drink or even what we wear or put on our skin. I don’t want to sound alarmist but chemicals are everywhere and we should be trying to minimise our exposure to them when we can. What does all of this have to do with energy gels? It’s all in the ingredients…

I have done some basic research into some of the ingredients listed on the back of a popular energy gel I just happened to have at home. Chemical cocktail anyone?

Potassium Chloride (KCI): Found naturally in the human body and vital for functions including the beating of your heart, used in food processing as an alternative to salt. Too much of the stuff can cause side effects such as irregular heartbeat, stomach pain and my favorite, weak or heavy legs (just what every cyclist wants). Of course its only used in small quantities in your energy gel but how much are you getting from other sources? You may also be interested to know that it is also used as fertiliser and is the same deadly substance used to administer lethal injection. Fun! Don’t be too afraid, almost any substance can be lethal in a high enough dose.

Potassium Sorbate (202): Commonly used in food processing to curb the production of yeasts and mould in cheese, yogurt, dried meats and sometimes wine. Not really considered to be too much of a problem unless you have an allergic reaction but in large quantities can cause nausea, diarrhoea and in an ironic twist, nutrient loss in food (just what every cyclist wants).

Sodium Benzoate (211): Naturally occurring in some fruits but chemically manufactured for use in food processing, used as an ingredient in many foods and soft drinks because it works very well at killing bacteria, yeast and fungi. Recent scientific research has shown that this stuff can actually damage DNA which may lead to neuro-degenerative diseases. I suppose its logical that if it can destroy yeast cells then in can at least damage human cells. Boffins have also discovered that the chemical reaction between sodium benzoate and ascorbic acid (300), also known as vitamin C, creates benzene which happens to be a known carcinogen. Nice! Some energy gels combine the two but you should also consider if you are taking vitamins as well as consuming sodium benzoate from other sources. Recently banned in the UK.

I never really looked at the ingredients of the food I consume too closely as I assumed that I have always eaten pretty well and avoided processed foods where I could,  but after having just a little look into the potential problems with food additives I will definitely be switching the brand of my energy gel and pay more attention to the labels of the food and drink I consume.

Oh and don't get me started on the phthalates which might be leaching out of your bidon as you have been reading this. As if going for a ride wasn't already dangerous enough.

Stay healthy everyone.


  1. I've noticed the same thing about the discarded gel wrappers. Really a terrible calling card left by fitness freaks. I've never been able to eat the gels made by GU. They make me feel light headed and a bit dizzy.

  2. Power Gels give me a gurgle in my gut.

  3. Power gels...who needs them anyway, i usually go for the 'Pantani cocktail' of cocaine and viagra whilst racing, works every time apart from the twelve hour hard on(not good, when on the winning podium wearing lycra!!). But for the old school amongst us, just stick to a squirt of whisky in your bidon! Also, are you sure Mr. Muse that the American Indian is Espera Oscar de Corti, it looks a hell of alot like Gianni Bugno?!!

  4. Pantani sure knew how to party. He was a virtual prisoner in his own home as his entourage tried to keep him off the marching powder but for some reason they kept finding him coked off his head. A search of the house revealed large amounts of llello hidden in the wall cavities of his home.
    The native American looks more like Raymond Poulidor to me.

  5. give me good old methylisoclorihexadine any time!

  6. remember when Gianni Bugno came to ride the Warny??