Weight Loss for Cycling

The title for this followup to my previous post may see similar until you look carefully at the context.  If your only goal is to lose weight (think Biggest Loser) than you don’t need to worry too much about overtraining, performance or fitness.  As you lose body fat your performance will increase due to improved power to weight ratio and your fitness will improve due to increased training, but your fitness may not improve as quickly if you are losing weight.  So what happens when performance and fitness becomes the primary goal?

A Hollow Faced Cyclist

My sister once saw a lecture at the University of Colorado.  She said the guy giving the talk was a serious cyclist.  I asked her why she knew?  Would I recognize his name?  She said it was the “hollow face”, below the cheekbones, that gave it away.

In cycling, power to weight ratio is very important.  It is most beneficial when the road turns uphill, but also during accelerations often encountered in a race.  Some body types are better served by utilizing raw power on the flats, but still, every cyclist needs to minimize body fat to maximize performance.

Once I had reached 165 lbs in 2009, I was satisfied that I had reached my ‘racing weight’.  I raced through the cyclocross season, and after the holidays I started the 2010 season in January at 172.5 lbs (a 7.5 lb gain).  I think it is important to let your body rebound a little in the off season.  It is good for your mind and body, and the couple pounds will come off easily if you are training with a focused mindset in the spring.

Last year I raced at 160 lbs and was climbing better than I ever have before.  This year I hope to race at 155 lbs and if I can gain 5% in power output through training, I will be well on track to attain my goal of a Cat 1 racing license.  But now with performance as my goal, rather than weight loss, I need to be more careful about losing weight so I can stay healthy and not lose power producing muscle.

I still keep a daily weight log.  Again, this is very helpful to make sure I am on track toward my goal, but not losing weight too quickly.  Losing weight too fast will more likely cause muscle loss or enough calorie deficit to impact training and recovery.

I also focus more on my diet.  I try to eat a fruit and vegetable at every meal.  At one meal of the day, usually dinner, I try to have a large vegetable portion, following the recent recommendation to fill half your plate with vegetables.  I don’t eat a lot of meat, but I do try to have a ‘portion’ of lean meat per day (i.e. chicken breast with dinner).

I’ve found through ballparking calorie counts in my mind and tracking my progress that I haven’t had to count calories… yet.  If I do, I would most certainly use .  The online service can count calories, and interfaces with my training log to automatically incorporate calories burned through exercise.  There is even an iPhone app with a bar code scanner to add foods quickly and easily.

Although I have tracked my calories before, I have not tracked my macronutrients (carbs, fat, protein) but I have thought about the benefits.  I would like to know if I have been balancing my diet as much as I think I have, and I am sure tracking my sources of calories would increase my awareness and likely improve my diet further.

Another important aspect of my current weight management is that I do not burn, nor eat, the same number of calories every day.  My long rides this year have consistently burned >2500 calories, an entire day’s worth of food.  I also have 2-3 days per week with no workouts, so I can’t eat the same way every day.

I approach this problem in a few ways.  First, I very much agree with Joe Friel’s five phases of eating described in The Cyclist’s Training Bible.  You can read the book for the full description, but I will simply to three phases:

  • During Rides: Easily digested food.  Processed food/drinks OK.  Mostly carbs.
  • Pre/Post Ride: Easily digested food.  Low fat.  Real food preferred, processed OK.
  • All other times: Real food.  Fruits + Vegetables.  Quality, low glycemic index carbs to refuel.

For example, if I am not riding, I will eat 1/2 – 3/4 cup oatmeal (thick cut) and raisins for breakfast (400-500 Calories, not easy to digest).  If I am eating before a ride I’ll eat 3.5 bowls of cereal (700 Calories, easy to digest) and two shots of espresso.  On days I ride I pack a lot more food for dinner at work, but I make sure to  include lots of fruits, vegetables, and high quality carbs (sweet potato, rice, hearty bread, etc).

I have found rather quickly that having longer, harder, quality rides depend upon adequate calorie intake.  I will consciously eat more the night before a big ride, as I have found this to correlate with feeling good the next day.  Most importantly I have learned to listen carefully to my body’s signals.  Usually hunger is my guide, but occasionally, by listening to my body carefully I can sense the need to eat when I am not terribly hungry, or other times I am hungry but can sense that I am just bored or thirsty.

I only have one hard and fast rule.  I work the night shift (3pm-3am) 3-4 days per week.  You may have heard ‘no eating after 7pm’, but I had to modify this a little, so for me it is “No eating after midnight.”

I know every competitive cyclist is looking to optimize body composition.  Maybe I have a few ideas that some can adopt, but realize that we all have our own unique bodies and goals.  The key is to have the patience, flexibility, and self awareness to find what works best for you.

About Russell

I have been racing bicycles for a decade. This blog will chronicle my efforts as a Category 1 road racer lining up with the pros.
This entry was posted in Personal, Training and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

One Response to Weight Loss for Cycling

  1. says:

    great article….thanks

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