I haven’t touched a drop of alcohol since New Year’s Eve. I haven’t even really been tempted - not even in the pub watching England dismantle Ireland in the Six Nations last Saturday (sorry Stephen). If you read part 1 of my 'booze free' blog then you’ll know that I am not drinking for 90 days for research purposes. Namely to see if not drinking will effect my health (weight, muscle mass etc), mental health and cycling performance (mostly FTP results).
Before going into the results, it might be worth a quick note on how easy (or not) abstaining from booze has been. This is the longest I’ve gone not drinking since the age of about 15, so it’s quite a big deal. However, the first month has been surprisingly easy. I haven’t missed drinking, apart from the odd pang usually at about 5pm on a Friday night. It has probably helped that most people have been doing dry January. Perhaps February will be bit harder.
This January has been the club's busiest yet, with loads of people coming out to ride every weekend, despite the iffy weather. It’s been fantastic to see, and as always, post ride beers have certainly been a thing, however I haven't felt like I've been missing out. Having a recovery smoothie after a ride at the Dynamo felt a bit weird to start with, but is definitely something I could get used to. We all know cycling and beer go hand in hand (just ask the Belgians) but it turns out you can ride a bike without having a beer afterwards - who knew??
So not drinking has not been too hard during January. Let's see if its actually done any good!
By far the easiest stat to measure. My weight in early January had reached 76kg after a couple of months of consistent drinking and eating without much cycling. This is the highest my scales have registered for about a year and, whilst I admit it’s not a lot, I wasn’t best pleased. Not so much because of the weight gain itself but because I'm sure deep down that this means a dip in cycling performance. Another start that I am measuring is body fat percentage. In early January my body fat percentage had risen to 17.1%.
Throughout January, as per our ‘scientific controls’, I have not really changed anything about my diet, except the lack of booze of course. I have kept my intake roughly the same: a lot of pasta and pizza, the odd takeaway and every now and again, a bag of cookies. As of this morning (Feb 6th) the scales read 74kg on the nose. Now two kilos is not a lot, and it’s almost impossible to know if that’s down to the not boozing, but it is a stat going in the right direction, and I'll take that. I have a feeling that it will take some more time to really tell if not drinking is having a significant effect on my weight. My body fat percentage has reduced to 16% however, which is also good news.
Keen to get stuck straight into the race season, I signed up for the very first East London Velo winter crit race at Hog Hill. This was a 2nd and 3rd category race so quite tough, but I’d been racing this level in the summer, so I’d be fine, right? Mistake number 1. Thinking that giving up drinking (it had been all of 4 days at this point) was any kind of substitute for actual training turned out to be mistake number 2. I got my arse kicked all over the Hoggenburg, clinging on for dear life to the back of the back of the pack, clearly much work had to be done.
Fast forward two weeks to round three of the winter series and I'm lining up at Hog Hill again, still not drinking, but still not having really trained at all. This race turned out to be worse than the last one; not entirely dropped, but very much limping meekly over the finish line, rather than sprinting with the others. This was the turning point; I had proved that not drinking was not enough to do well in bike races, so the Wahoo KICKR smart trainer was set up and a subscription for Zwift was bought. Here I must admit to possibly crossing some of club scientist Jen’s control lines. I wasn’t using the turbo before Christmas and I didn’t have Zwift, so I may have strayed outside of the scientific lines. I'll take a rap on the knuckles from Jen though, if it means I can go up the Hoggenberg without my heart jumping out of my mouth!
I'm certain it's not the addition of Zwift, but racing last Saturday was much easier. This is mostly because it was at Lee Valley as opposed to Hog Hill a much easier track. I got a puncture on lap one and had to come in for a wheel change and therefore wasn’t allowed to contest the spring, being 2 laps down. However I felt comfortable in the bunch and not at all clinging on for dear life like the previous weeks. Progress? Perhaps. The next race at Hog Hill will be the real test.
Speaking of tests, I somewhat reluctantly completed the second FTP test of this little experiment in early February. Average watts of 300, giving me a current FTP of 285. Which works out as 3.85 watts per kilo, given my current 74 kilos. To give some context, this is 16 watts down on my end of summer FTP of 301. So nowhere near where I want to be, but it’s still only February, and it’s a bit of an improvement on January. Little wins are important, and it’s a good reminder that having a ‘proper’ off season certainly takes its toll!
Jan & Feb Stats:
|Body Fat %||17.1%||16%|
Much harder to define this one, but I’ve definitely noticed a big difference in how I feel. Most notably in my sleep, and quality of sleep. Everyone (and I mean EVERYONE) said how much better I’d sleep whilst not drinking. I didn’t entirely believe them - how much difference could it actually make? I didn't think I slept badly in the past, but boy was I wrong. After a couple of weeks I actually felt a bit dizzy and nauseous when waking up, because I’d been so deeply asleep. After getting used to that I have been sleeping more soundly and waking up much more easily - I.e. not snoozing my alarm 57 times! As a result of this great sleep I’ve had way more energy in the day, felt more focused and organised and therefore more productive.
So hang the cycling performance gains (if any); it’s been worth it just for the amazing quality of sleep. I wouldn't go as far as to say that I feel like a different person, but life certainly is a lot easier when you've got bags of energy. Remind me why I drink again...
Another thing that's been interesting has been people's reactions to this little experiment. Lot's of friends have scoffed and rolled their eyes ("they don't know man..."), some bet I wouldn't be able to do it and plenty couldn't believe I was even going to bother - why would I give up drinking? What madness! However, on the flip side, loads of people who were doing Dry January got in touch to chat about their results and some were even inspired to extend their break, or start one of their own. What's funny is how divisive drinking, or not drinking, can be. Everyone has had an opinion, but it feels a lot like more and more people are leaning towards not drinking, than have done in the past.
February is stacked with group rides, including a tough day out at the Hell of The Ashdown sportive, as well as more time on the Wahoo turbo trainer getting stuck into the Zwift 'Crit Crusher' training plan. Looking forward to seeing February's results.