Nobody would ever spend $2K on a set of Zipp wheels and then put them on a department store bike that sells for $89.99 (well, almost). To really get the most out a machine and the experience, you have to keep the end goal in mind from the ground up, and from the inside out. The frame material, the geometry, components, etc. must all be taken into consideration. That is obvious when it comes to a bicycle. What is not so obvious is the parallel I see in many of the bodies of cyclists. Much focus is put into performance and training methods and hours upon hours of time and energy is devoted to base miles, intervals, with even more $$ put towards coaching or better gear. But how much is all the training and gear worth, if the fundamentals of health are never addressed? You cannot be fast or strong without first being "healthy". And if you think you are fast now by cutting corners on the basics of healthy human physiology, just imagine the heights your fitness would reach if you put your training on top of a mountain of healthy lifestyle factors. It's like putting a set of Zipp 404s on your mom's rail trail bike. You just aren't going to get out of it what you put into it and will probably ruin the whole machine in the long run, which in our case is our bodies.
I covered this topic in greater detail at the Trek of Pittsburgh Winter Lecture Series earlier this year and wanted to revisit it. There are a handful of core principles that must not be overlooked or you will limit your ability to improve, no matter how you train. And bear with me, even though some points may sound familiar, that doesn't mean that they are weak. Following these points will improve every area of your life, even as you age, AND will allow you to become stronger after each work out or ride.
Some people can get by with less sleep, but if you're training to perform, you're goal is not to "get by". Your goal is to maximize your training and to do that you must recover from the slight damage you do to yourself while training. Much has been written on this but here are some basics: During an normal and complete sleep cycle, one will go through the stages of sleep (REM being one of them) in a pattern. The deepest stages come quick, which are followed by the longest REM stages. Note that for a complete cycle it takes around a 7-8 hour period of sleep. If you are getting less than 7 or even 8 hours, and many "get by" on 6 or less, you simply are not getting rested physically (which takes place in the deep stages), or mentally (which takes place in the REM stage). And this isn't for athletes, this is for "normal" people. Obviously if you're riding 10-15 hours a week, you're going to require more rest. Eight hours is not unreasonable. Just turn off the tube and try it for a few nights. (If you can't fall asleep, then jumpstart going to bead earlier by forcing yourself to get up earlier, that will make you ready for bed.)
*side note: REM is when information is transferred from short to long term memory. Ever pull an all nighter for a test, or get the obligatory 1 or 2 hours, take the test, and have no idea what you "learned" 1 or 2 days after the test? Now you know why.
Maybe this helps:
The next is really simple. This is what the Journal of the American Medical Association has to say about the standard American diet (SAD):
"... suboptimal intake of some vitamins, above levels causing classic vitamin deficiency, is a risk factor for chronic diseases and common in the general population, especially the elderly."
"Most people do not consume an optimal amount of all vitamins by diet alone. Pending strong evidence of effectiveness from randomized trials, it appears prudent for all adults to take vitamin supplements."
Again, this is for "normal" people, the general population, which is everyone. But the extra demands we put on our bodies from training and racing should have us supplementing our diets with a high quality multivitamin/multimineral with at least as much diligence as we try and work out or ride. I've used a liquid, whole food supplement for over 7 years and love it.
3. Omega3 Fatty Acids
This is also a no brainer and it goes something like this:
Less than perfect diet = inflammation.
Extra exercise = inflammation
Omega 3 Fatty Acids = best way to naturally bring down inflammation, sharpen cognitive functions, and limit your risk of developing a chronic disease. Fish oil is usually the best source, but UDO's 3-6-9 Blend is a great vegetarian option.
So there are 3 very simple ways to dramatically improve your health and allowing you to get faster and stronger for each workout that you put in.