Significant weight loss was one of the major factors behind the Tour de France triumphs of both Sir Bradley Wiggins and Chris Froome. If you have put on a few extra pounds or just feel that losing a few could raise your performance on the bike, how is best to go about it? Follow these top tips to help get your scales moving in the right direction.
Find how much you need to lose
Many riders will just conjure a number out of thin air, find out how much their mate weighs or base their target weight on a generic formula such as BMI. However you have to take your body composition, build and previous sporting background into account. Try to shed too much weight, especially if you are taller or have well developed upper body musculature, and you could end up sacrificing power.
Head down to your local gym and get a qualified fitness professional to measure your body fat using a skin-fold test. All of the Great Britain Cycling Team riders do this, as once you know your body composition, you can calculate how much you can stand to lose. Devices that measure body composition using an electrical current aren’t as reliable or replicable as a qualified and experienced person using calipers.
Avoid faddy and crash diets
Don’t believe any hype about miracle, rapid weight loss or food type restrictive diets. Don’t try and crash weight off too rapidly. Realistic sustainable weight loss is approximately 0.5 kg per week. Any more than this is likely to be water weight or power reducing muscle loss.
Heavy training is not the time to lose weight
Periods of hard or heavy training are not the best time to try and shift weight. You need energy to train and, if you are restricting food intake, you will be compromising your gains from your workouts. Try to schedule in weight loss periods during blocks of lighter or lower intensity training.
Weight loss is all about energy balance. If your weight is stable, your energy balance is neutral, if you’re gaining, it’s positive and, to lose weight, it needs to be negative. It’s really that simple. Half a kilo of fat is approximately 3500 kcals so, to lose that over a week, you need a negative daily energy balance of 500 kcals. To put this in perspective, that could be six digestive biscuits, two Mars Bars or just under three pints of beer.
Find your metabolic rate
You need to know how many calories your body needs each day just to exist. There are a number of online calculators you can use that will take information such as age and body composition into consideration. They’re not 100% accurate but provide a good enough starting point.
Log your diet and exercise
Log the calories you take in from food you eat and the exercise you burn from exercise. Again there are some excellent online resources with extensive databases of foods. Calorie expenditure from exercise can be a bit of an estimate but accuracy is improved by factoring in heart rate and, if you are training with a power meter it can be very accurately gauged. Aim to hit that daily deficit of 500 kcals.
Consistency is key so avoid big fluctuations. A day when you are massively under isn’t a good thing for encouraging fat loss so, if you do a lot of exercise in a day, such as a big weekend ride, make sure you eat appropriately. You will find the act of logging all your food and drink is beneficial on its own. It will make you more aware of portion size, less likely to consume unnecessary snacks and reveals which foods and drinks are surprisingly calorific.
Get on the scales at the same time daily but don’t compare one day to the next. Inflammation from a hard workout can cause a kick up and dehydration could give a false low. Plot a graph and you’re looking at the overall trend over at least a couple of weeks.
Cut out the processed foods
There are some obvious candidates to cut from your diet if you are trying to lose some weight. Sugary snacks and drinks should be avoided off the bike, alcohol is empty calories and can lead to unwise food choices and processed foods and low fat so-called diet meals are often laden with sugar.
Protein with your carbs
Not too long ago the traditional cyclist’s diet was very carbohydrate heavy, focussing on pasta, rice and potatoes. You still need the energy that carbs give you if you’re riding but not the amounts that were previously thought. If you’re not training hard, you don’t need many starchy carbohydrates and should focus on brightly coloured vegetables instead.
Balance your carbohydrates with protein at each meal. You will feel fuller for longer as the protein causes the energy from the meal to be released more slowly. Spread your protein throughout the day so, for example, have an omelette with your porridge in the morning, some oily fish with salad at lunchtime and some turkey and rice for your evening meal.
Slow release low GI
The Glycemic Index provides a guide for how quickly the energy from the food you eat is converted to glucose in your bloodstream. Obviously, as cyclists, there are times when you need that quick sugar hit but, in general, look for whole, unrefined low GI foods.
Fruit and veg
Five a day is the absolute minimum and, to support an active body, you should be looking to exceed it. Gut health is crucial to optimal performance on the bike and for facilitating weight loss and is significantly improved by a high fruit and vegetable diet. Vegetables are especially good if you’re trying to lose weight as they’re low calorie, dense in essential nutrients and fill you up.
Small and often
Don’t just have three big meals per day as you’ll struggle in between them, you’ll suffer from energy dips and be tempted to reach for sugary snacks. Spread your calories out throughout the day, including regular healthy snacks such as nuts, seeds and raw vegetables.
Think about and appreciate your food. Don’t just mindlessly shovel it in in front of the television. Eat slowly, put your knife and fork down between mouthfuls and chew thoroughly. You will improve your digestion and will feel fuller.
Fasted rides are often publicised as a good method for aiding weight loss, they can work for some riders but the most curent thinking is that they may be more beneficial if you also take some protein on board.
Prevention is better than cure
This may sound obvious but, if you go through an annual cycle of ballooning in the off-season and then struggling to get it off in the spring, you may what to take a more pro-active approach to weight control. Gaining a few pounds over the winter is perfectly normal, can help to prevent illness and keep you warmer on winter rides but piling on half a stone or more just isn't necessary.
If this sounds like you, use an online calorie and activity logger for a couple of months and find out what it takes for you to maintain your weight. You will find it really won’t be too bad or restrictive and you won't have a mad March weight panic.