Written by: Will Girling
15 top tips to help drop weight and still perform
Feeling light on the bike, and not carrying a few extra pounds can make the difference between feeling like a seal going uphill or soaring up it like an eagle.
Weight has a huge importance in cycling but also in health and finding your ideal riding weight is a sought-after goal by many avid cyclists.
Here are my top tips for helping you achieve that race weight.
Be in a calorie deficit – This might sound silly but if you’re ultimately not in a calorie deficit you will not drop the excess body fat/weight you want. Even if you cycle 20+ hours a week, if you have fast cake hands and you’re eating more than you’re burning it won’t come off.
Understand where you are – This could be one of the most crucial ones! If you don’t know what you’re having in general- let alone how much of it- how do you know what to change? Write a food diary for yourself for one week. You may be surprised as what you snack and just happened to forget about.
Be conservative – Knowing you need to be in a deficit is important and once you’ve seen how much you’re consuming you can start taking a few things out. Don’t drastically drop out all your food and have an apple a day- this might drop weight quickly but may not be all the right weight and you will find you may plateau quickly, will you then go to half an apple? Do it steadily and start with around 200 calories a day reduction and see how your weight is after one week.
Not all days are equal – Eat for the day’s activity rather than eating the same every day. If you’ve got a rest day and you’re going to have it nice and relaxed then you really don’t need to eat a huge amount and could probably have less because your energy expenditure is less. But if you’re going out for a big weekend ride with all your friends for 5 hours then you can definitely eat more calories.
Think weekly rather than daily – Carrying on from the previous point, rather than eating the same every day and focusing on daily intake think about your week and where you could do with more calories and less and plan accordingly. If you needed on average 2500Kcals a day that would be 17,500 a week. You could divide that weekly amount better in relation to your rides with less on lounging days and more on hard riding days.
How much should I lose – Your weekly weight loss should be around 1% of your bodyweight in pounds per week. This will change depending on how lean you are already. If you’re bigger you will find you have more scope to have a slightly bigger drop but if you’re on the leaner side aiming for 0.5% might be best. Why? Because the amount of muscle loss with bigger weight drops when you’re leaner can make up a larger percentage, so it’s better to go steady and lose
Keep Protein high – This is an obvious one but when in a calorie deficit and trying to drop weight it’s important to keep protein high to prevent muscle loss during this time and it’s also satiating, keeping you feeling fuller for longer! Aiming for around 1.8-2g/kg/bodyweight would be ideal in this situation.
Carbs for performance – Dropping all your carbs out when riding lots is a no-no. You will quickly lose all your energy and feel tired, lethargic and probably end up bingeing when someone brings some cake into the office. Instead of eating fewer carbs and riding worse, why not fuel for your workouts or rides so you can work as hard as you can, get the most out of that session and in turn burn more calories because you worked harder? One study suggests that ingesting carbs before working out increases the post-exercise “afterburn” effect more than the fasted state. That means more calories burned throughout the day, not just during your sweat session, though not fully conclusive, some food for thought there
Fats for weight loss? – Having a high fat, low carb diet for dropping body fat gets mentioned a lot but is it right? Fat has 9Kcal per gram whereas carbohydrate and protein are only 4Kcal per gram. So you could quite easily over consume on fat and end up not being in your calorie deficit anymore PLUS you could have twice as much protein and carbohydrate than you could fat if comparing equal amounts.
Think long term – In relation to fat for weight loss, and when comparing two identical, calorie deficit matched diets between low carb high fat and high carb low fat, the latter has been shown to work more effectively BUT – here’s the big “but” – does that work for you! If you’re riding lots and lots and training hard then realistically you’re going to struggle on the bike and in your sessions, you will underperform on your wattage and may get cravings causing you to ultimately binge two weeks down the line ruining your progress.
The best diet is the one you can stick to – The decision between eating more or less of carbohydrate or fat should be dependent on your activity and what you will actually stick to! If my special, amazing fantabulous diet here “diet special” would make you lose more weight but you absolutely hated it and felt rubbish on the bike, the likelihood is that you won’t stick to it. As long as you’re in a deficit and eating a well-balanced diet with lots of vegetables and enough protein to stop muscle loss you will lose fat.
Fasted riding – Research has demonstrated that fasted cardio does not increase fat burning over a 24-hour period. While your muscles adapt to using more fat when you exercise, you don’t actually lose more fat overall on the days that you exercise versus days that you don’t. If you’re wanting to increase your ability to utilise fat at a higher rate during exercise then it’s great but if you’re doing it just for increased fat loss you could be putting yourself through a harder session for no reason.
Tracking your food – If you’ve done a food diary and followed the tips above but are still struggling to lose the fat you want then here are some more tips. Keep another food diary for a week but actually weigh all your food or scan the barcode of the foods you’re having into a calorie tracking app which will give you an accurate measure of how much you’re exactly consuming. Then repeat the above tips of reducing your calories by about 200 a day or 1400Kcal over a week, keeping protein high and carbs adequate for training and see if you lose weight then.
Increase your non-exercise activity – What does that mean? Well if all your riding and any training your do is exercise activity we want to increase what isn’t that and our way of controlling it can quite easily be through step count. Setting yourself a step count means you will always have some level of calorie expenditure you can control and ensure you’re hitting, even on your rest days. This is a great way to increase your calorie deficit without reducing your food or adding another session in.
Use Volume – When dieting you’re going to be a in a calorie deficit and as such you can sometimes find yourself feeling pretty hungry. The best way to combat this is to have meals high in volume. Make the most of vegetables to create filling meals such as a noodle soup, tomato based curry sauce, stews and stir-fries. The number of calories in non-starchy veg, such as broccoli, cabbage, cauliflower and bell peppers is very small so why not make the most of it and eat more?
Here’s a recipe that makes a low calorie, low carb ice cream that can really fill you up and curb your sweet cravings.
- 200g Frozen raspberries – Or any berry
- 150g Fat free Greek yogurt
- 30g Whey protein
WHACK it all in a bowl
USE a hand blender to combine it all (this may take a few minutes, you can use a food processor but will need to stir frequently)
BLEND till smooth
Literally that easy and you will have made yourself a Frogurt/ ice cream style snack.
William Girling – Head Nutritionist at “One Pro Cycling” and www.willgirling.com