Harvard’s MD Ulisses Abbud reveals the secret behind consecutive winnings on cycling
The USAC-certified Cycling Coach talks about his life behind the handlebars
The most interesting Brazilian cyclist, Ulisses Nunes Abbud, resides in Miami. He speaks about his life behind the handlebars, conquering outstanding results such as two consecutive first places racing at North Georgia’s famous Six Gap Century championships in 2020 and 2021 and much more.
The ultra-endurance athlete highlights in this interview his mountain biking, gravel, and road racing experiences and shares his world tour expertise as a cycling coach exclusively for Miami Cycling Show.
Ulisses is a former professional cyclist with 12 years of experience in cycling. He has a postgraduate degree in Physiology and since 2015 have been coaching from amateurs to world-class athletes around the globe.
Currently, Abbud works full-time as a cycling coach and participates in research and development programs with Supersapiens Inc. and Hammerhead. He still competes focused on ultra-endurance gravel events and Gran Fondos.
Historic achievements :
2022 – 2nd Red Bull Gravel X
2022 – 2nd Brasil Ride Gravel
2022 – 2nd USA Cycling Granfondo National Championship
2022 – 1st UCI Granfondo World Series
2021 – 1st UCI Granfondo World Series
2021 – 2nd USA Cycling Granfondo National Championship
2021 – 1st Florida State Gravel Championship
2021 – 1st Six Gap Century – North Georgia USA
2020 – 1st Six Gap Century – North Georgia USA
2019 – 1st Gateway 2 Gravel
2018 – 2nd Place County Games (S. J. Rio Preto Pro Cycling Team)
2018 – 3rd Road Brasil Ride (35-39)
2017 – 1st County Games (S. J. Rio Preto Pro Cycling Team)
2017 – 3rd Ultramarathon Canastra Warriors
2017 – 2nd Haute Route Pyrenees (18-39 and 4th GC)
2017 – 4th L’Etape Brasil
2017 – 4th MTB 12h Solo Brasil
MCS – How do you manage a PRO-status diet (the “dos” and “don’ts”), on and off the bike, and also your World Tour physical fitness?
U.N.A. – I could summarize the answer in 2 simple words: Discipline and dedication. Balancing your diet is mathematic: To keep a lean body you need to burn more calories than intake them. A common mistake is to think about it in the micro way by counting calories every day. What really matters is thinking macro, thinking per week, per month. Over and under eating a single day will not impact your body composition but can certainly affect your performance.
• Eat a balanced diet: include all macronutrients.
• Stay hydrated: Before, during, and after your workouts.
• Fuel your body before and after workouts: Never cut carbohydrates if you are an endurance athlete.
• Plan your meals and snacks, especially when traveling.
• Seek professional guidance to meet your individual needs.
• Skip meals.
• Over-consume unhealthy foods. It doesn’t mean not eating them.
• Restrict calories excessively: A sustainable deficit is around 500kcal per day.
• Neglect recovery nutrition.
• Rely solely on supplements: Supplements should be used to complement a healthy diet, not replace it.
World Tour physical fitness comes from balancing recovering, fueling and training out.
Recovering includes prioritizing sleep, listening to your body and respecting days off. Days off are rest days, not days that you should look for another kind of sport because you are bored at home. Usually if you feel bored it’s because you haven’t deserved that day off.
Fueling was just mentioned above.
Training is less complicated than people use to think. The most common mistake I have seen during my athlete and coach career is athletes neglecting Zone 2 training. Zone 2 is by far the most important physiological training zone and its benefits go way beyond improving your cardiovascular system. A subject will never reach a World Tour fitness just by riding Zones 3 and above but it is possible that a subject reach a World Tour fitness just by riding at Zone 2. Of course this is not ideal and the message I want to pass on is to incorporate 60-80% of Zone 2 into your training and save the rest for the other training zones (I particularly like to work with sub lactate and over lactate zones).
Make sure to warm up before exercising and cool down after. Gradually increase the intensity and duration of your workouts to avoid injury.
MCS – Winning twice (in 2020 and 2021) one of the most difficult rolling hills century events, “Six Gap”, conquering North Georgia’s mountains and living in the flat land of Miami, how did you practice training in order to be prepared to win the race?
U.N.A. – Miami is one of the hardest places to train. It’s hot, windy and flat. The fact it is flat means there will be no recovery on downhills and 5 hours riding mean 5 hours pedaling.
Climbing is holding a steady power for a longer amount of time, so you can simulate it on the flat. Yes, there are some small differences in biomechanics but if you know how to train it can be minimized.
• Increase resistance: Climbing requires more torque. Use your gears and the wind to create more resistance. Use a heavier bike (I like to train on my gravel bike a lot). If you have access to an indoor trainer, it can be a really powerful resource too.
• Build endurance: Mountain races are known to be long. You must be able to handle long hours on the saddle.
• Focus on technique: Practice proper cycling technique, including body positioning, standing up (which is commonly forgotten riding on the flats), cornering, and descending. This will help you conserve energy.
• Practice nutrition: Experiment with different foods and drinks during your training rides to find what works best for you.
Traveling few days before the race and do a course recon is also key.
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MCS -As an engineer in Physiology and Sports Physiology who graduated from Harvard Medical School, what is your vision on the trending topic: Endorphins depletion. Several athletes are losing motivation to ride their bikes after having been exposed to cycling under all seasons, too frequently, and for several hours. Would that happen or is it usually related to a genetic disorder?
U.N.A. – This is a great topic. Endorphins are chemicals produced by the body that can help reduce pain and induce feelings of pleasure or euphoria. It is commonly believed that endorphins play a role in the “runner’s high,” a feeling of euphoria that can occur during or after prolonged exercise.
While endorphins can contribute to feelings of motivation and pleasure during exercise, there is currently no evidence to suggest that a depletion of endorphins can cause athletes to lose their motivation. In fact, research has shown that the effects of endorphins on mood and motivation are relatively short-lived and may not be the primary factor driving an athlete’s desire to exercise.
There are many other factors that can contribute to a loss of motivation, including overtraining, stress, burnout, and a lack of variety in one’s exercise routine. It’s important to address these factors and work on developing a well-rounded approach to exercise that includes a balance of physical activity, rest, and recovery.
It’s normal to experience periods of low motivation. If an athlete is struggling with motivation, it may be helpful to seek support from a coach, or other trusted professional to help them stay on track and work through any underlying issues.
MCS – What is your opinion on indoor training? How impactful is this for any level athlete, and how often do you substitute gravel and road sessions outdoors for it?
U.N.A. – Indoor training is a great training tool. It can be really useful for beginners to world-class athletes because it provides a controlled environment to work on their fitness, technique, and mental toughness, regardless of weather conditions or time of day.
It can also be an alternative to do longer intervals or hill repeats, where you have no climbs or good training spots for longer efforts. Athletes who are short on time, have busy schedules, can also benefit from indoor training.
Indoor training does have some drawbacks though. It can be less exciting than riding outdoors, it can get really hot and athletes may miss out on the benefits of fresh air, sunlight, and natural scenery. It can be more challenging to maintain motivation when training alone indoors.
I use to ride indoors when I have some longer intervals to do and don’t want to take the chance of being interrupted by traffic lights, or when it’s raining and I’m not in the mood to go outside.
When riding indoors make sure to have a cap (it will avoid sweat from dripping on your face), gloves (it will avoid your hand to slip), have a towel close and a powerful fan to avoid core temperature to increase more than you can tolerate.