Time for another installment of our Real Advice series – hard-earned practical knowledge from real riders here at our home office. This week we delve into the topic of weight loss for cyclists.
It’s no secret that losing some weight is one of the best ways to make yourself faster, a better climber, and just feel a lot better all around. Cycling is great exercise, but often riders—both beginners and more experienced riders—can fall into the same traps that prevent them from losing weight, and sometimes even gain it while riding.
There’s a million weight loss guides out there, and many are more authoritative than anything we could offer up. But at the end of the day we’re just like you. We have families, full time jobs, and sometimes it’s hard to think about eating right. So here are some basic, easy tricks and tips that we’ve used over the years to get down to race weight, or shake off the effects of a long winter. There aren’t any magic bullets or miracle diets here. Losing weight takes time, and progress may be slow at first. Everyone is different though, and what works for one may not work for another. If you have something that’s worked for you, feel free to make liberal use of the comments section below and join the conversation.
1. RIDE MORE: Losing weight can be a simple equation of calories in vs. calories out. If you want to lose weight, you need to expend more calories, which means more saddle time. That can be tricky though, as most of us feel squeezed to get in enough riding as it is. Here are some tricks we use to get more riding in:
- Try commuting to work at least a few days a week
- Ride early before work or school, when the day is still your own, and you probably don’t have the work and family responsibilities you do in the evening
- Extending your ride by just 15 minutes can burn up to 75 more calories (hey, every little bit helps)
- Instead of trying to squeeze in one long ride, try going for two shorter rides that may accommodate your free time better
- If you are short on time, ride harder (within your ability level). A 30 minute spin is not the time to take it easy and soft pedal. Raising the intensity of shorter rides can help you both build stamina and burn more calories.
2. EVERYTHING IN MODERATION: Most people have a mentality that working out entitles them to pretty much eat whatever they want afterwards. While the occasional slice of pie ain’t gonna make or break you, the truth of the matter is that unless you’re spending all day in the saddle or riding hard at a racing pace, that last ride probably didn’t burn more than a few hundred calories. While fueling and recovery are important, most riders way overestimate how many calories they actually need to eat.
- Before your ride, eat only a moderate snack like some bread with peanut butter or an energy gel.
- If your ride will be less than 90 minutes, you may not need a mid-ride snack. Save the gels and energy bars for longer, harder rides.
- After your ride, eat a small meal with a good blend of protein and carbs (see our guide here).
3. TRACK CALORIES OUT: A heart rate monitor may seem unnecessary for most riders, but it’s the most accurate way to track how many calories you have burned in a ride. Wearing one while you ride can help guide how many calories you should eat over the course of a day.
If you’re not wearing a heart rate monitor or using a power meter, we would recommend taking the “calories burned” number on you cycling computer (or on a stationary bike or treadmill) with a big grain of salt. They usually way over estimate how many calories you’ve burned on a ride– usually to the tune of about 150-300%.
4. COUNT CALORIES IN: There is all kinds of conflicting info out there about the accuracy of calorie measurement, but for most people counting calories works.
- Read food labels, and pick foods that have a lower amount of calories PER SERVING.
- Avoid the triple threat of fat, salt, and sugar. Fat, salt and sugar are bad for losing weight, so choose foods that have less salt, sugar and fat per serving
- Go for fiber. Foods that are high in fiber and low in sugar have plenty of health benefits, and can help you feel fuller for longer. Avoid granola bars that have added fiber and are loaded with sugar. Instead choose beans, whole grains, and fresh fruit and vegetables.
- Lay off the soda. Soda is loaded with empty calories, sugar and other stuff that isn’t exactly conducive to weight loss.
5. STEP ON THE SCALE: Studies show that stepping on the scale regularly can help keep you accountable. Keep a scale at home, and weigh yourself every day in the morning, and again in the evening. Don’t get discouraged by what you see though. Weight can vary depending on how much salt you ate, how much water you drank, etc… It’s the average downward trend we’re looking for. We’re playing the long game here.
6. KEEP A JOURNAL: Keeping track of weight, calories in, calories out, and distance/time ridden can help you stay accountable to yourself, and track your progress. If you are meeting your goals, it can help give you that positive motivation to see it written down. If you are not, then you can look at the numbers and see where you might have room for some fine tuning.
7. EAT BREAKFAST: In today’s fast paced world most of us either skip breakfast, or just grab something from the Golden Arches on the go. However, choosing a healthy, filling breakfast like a homemade fruit and yogurt smoothie, fresh fruit and toast, or granola cereal can help fuel you throughout the day, and delay those feelings of being hungry.
8. PLAN YOUR MEALS: Planning out your meals may be one of the most important things to help you lose weight. Below are some tips our employees use to make sure they can eat healthy, even when they’re in a rush.
- Don’t eat out as much. Eating out means eating meals full of hidden calories and questionable ingredients. Eating out is ok occasionally, but when possible eat food you’ve prepared yourself. Plus, it’s expensive, and you need that money to buy new, smaller bike clothes.
- More lean protein and veggies, less cheese and red meat.
- Just because it’s a salad doesn’t mean it’s healthy. Lay off the bottled dressings and shredded cheeses. Try making your own dressing with olive oil and vinegar, and using avocado or cottage cheese instead of shredded cheese.
- Bring your lunch. This gives you the power to know exactly what you’re eating and how many calories are in it. If you’re pressed for time in the mornings, make it the night before.
- The same goes for breakfast. Try making or preparing your breakfast the night before, and then putting it in the fridge.
- When you make dinner, make big batches. You can then refrigerate or freeze them to reuse on nights when you may feel rushed or don’t have time to make a fresh dinner.
- Lastly, eat real food whenever possible. This means avoiding pre-packaged, processed foods and eating more veggies, fruits, lean meats, beans and whole grains. While convenient and sometimes low in calories, processed foods are stuffed full of sodium, saturated fat and other stuff that can prevent you losing weight, and probably won’t make you feel your best. The Feed Zone Cookbook by Biju Thomas & Allen Lim has some great recipes for cyclists.
We’ll be the first to say that we’re not experts on the topic, so before you follow any of our recommendations, it’s best to consult with a doctor, trainer, or dietician who can help you figure out a plan that’s right for you. You shouldn’t in any way, shape, or form consider this to be an end all be all prescription for shedding some pounds.