As cyclists, we’re a weight obsessed bunch. After all, we have to fight the force of gravity a lot with all of the beautiful hills we have here in Colorado. We lust over the latest and greatest in modern technology, always counting grams. Often, we’re willing to plunk down a lot of cash on something that will save only a trivial amount of weight off our already light bikes. Then we turn our attention to the rider in the mirror and how they could stand to lose a few pounds. But how do we go about tackling such a monumental task?
First, set a goal for yourself. How much weight would you like to lose? When would you like to lose it by? Make sure that it’s a realistic goal and timeframe. For reference, the guideline for safe and effective weight loss is 1-2 pounds per week.
Next, focus on calories in versus calories out. If your goal is to lose weight you’ll need to be in a negative energy balance, or burning more calories than you are consuming. It’s simple to track the intake part, although it can be a little time consuming at first. There are plenty of good websites and apps to help you do some food journaling. To track your energy expenditure you’ll need to include your Resting Metabolic Rate (RMR), activities of daily living and calories burned from exercise. There are several online calculators to help you estimate your RMR as well as the extra calories you’re burning based on your daily activity level. Many of today’s modern training devices (Garmins, Polars, etc.) will give you an estimate of the calories you’re expending through exercise. If you don’t have one of these devices you can estimate your calories from exercise with various online tools as well.
One pound of body weight equals about 3500 calories. So to lose one pound a week you will have to be consuming roughly 500 calories less than you’re expending on a daily basis. This can be accomplished through an increase in activity level as well as cutting some calories out of your diet. One of the most effective ways of cutting calories is portion control. You can reduce your calorie intake by simply eating less of your current diet. This can make it a lot easier to adhere to your diet since you don’t have to drastically change the types of foods that you’re eating.
Another easy area to cut some calories early on in your training is carbohydrates. When you’re doing a lot of low intensity riding, your body’s fuel of choice is fat. It’s in abundant supply in the body (even in very lean individuals) and meets the energy demands for this low intensity work. This allows you to cut some of the carb laden foods such as pastas and breads out of your diet without adversely affecting your energy levels on the bike. As your training progresses and you begin to ride at higher intensities you’ll want to build these carbs back into your diet as they become an important energy source.
The way you feed on the bike can also help you to get your calorie intake under control. As mentioned above, early in the year when you’re building up your low intensity mileage the body has most of the fuel it needs already stored up. There is no need to load up on sports drinks or energy gels for short rides or even longer ones if you’re keeping the intensity in check. You’ll still need to be replacing the electrolytes that you’re sweating out so look for a low-cal or calorie free option such as Nuun or CamelBak Elixir tabs. There also isn’t a big need for recovery drinks after these low intensity rides, especially if you’re planning on eating a full meal within a couple of hours of completing your ride. As ride length and intensity increase proper on the bike feeding becomes more important. But, for now, cutting calories out of these two areas could help you shed a few pounds and become more efficient at using fat as your body’s fuel of choice.
Overall, you may have to be a little bit more diligent but the early season is the best time to shed those extra pounds. The further you get into the season, and the harder you start riding, the more you’ll have focus on eating enough calories to fuel your workouts and ensure you’re getting the most out of those hours in the saddle.