Your bike is actually one of the best weight loss tools around—here’s how you can use it to torch calories
Road cycling is famous for riders who spare no expense to lighten their bikes (and often their wallets). Lusting after featherweight carbon fiber gear can be a very expensive hobby. And while it’s always helpful to shave off a little weight, the best place to start is on your body—not your bike. Trimming a few pounds will help your performance by improving your power-to-weight ratio. Of course it’s also good for overall health, too. And the good news is that you don’t have to forego your favorite foods in order to lose weight. Here are some tips for unpacking that extra baggage you have been carrying around.
(Swapping out your pedals with our custom pedal wrench is a great place to start!)
Don’t Rely Solely on Diets
Yes, you lose weight when you cut calories, but all of the lost poundage isn’t fat. A significant percentage of weight loss—up to 30 percent—comes from muscle tissue. Cyclists on a diet often end up thinner, but become slower and weaker on the bike. As pioneering diet expert Covert Bailey wrote, “When someone says that they lost 20 pounds, the key question is: 20 pounds of what?” Some dieters can end up having a higher percentage of body fat even as they lose weight. And don’t forget that muscle burns calories. The more muscle volume you have, the more calories your body consumes. If you lose muscle, you will gain fat faster when you return to your pre-diet eating habits.
Ride, Ride, and Ride Some More
The average road cyclist burns about 40 calories per mile. At a relatively sedate 15 miles per hour, this means a weekly time commitment of 10 hours on the bike can burn a whopping 6,000 calories.
Boost Carbs, Trim Fat
Your problem may not be how much you eat but the nutritional balance among carbohydrates, fats, and protein. For high-level endurance performance, aim for 60 to 70 percent carbohydrate with less than 30 percent fat. This will also help with weight loss. It usually isn’t necessary to make radical adjustments to achieve these percentages. Small changes work best. For instance, don’t eat a whole bowl of chili with meat. Instead fill half the bowl with brown rice, then ladle a small amount of chili on top. Try substituting fat-free yogurt for sour cream and fruit for sweets.
Keep Your Upper Body Fit
Because cycling is primarily a leg sport, riders can lose muscle volume in their upper body. This is important, remember, because if you lose muscle, you don’t burn as many calories. The solution is year-round resistance training. But this doesn’t mean hours in the weight room. As little as 20 minutes twice a week during the cycling season, and 30 minutes two or three times weekly during the winter, will maintain and even increase your upper body muscle mass.
Go Long and Easy
Take a slow, long ride once a week, especially in the early season. Long rides (up to 6 hours) burn a lot of fat and give you a good endurance base for later in the season.
Recovery matters. After a ride, you need to refuel with plenty of carbohydrates. Don’t think that you’ll lose weight faster if you don’t eat. You’ll just get weak and not feel well. Also, be sure to take recovery rides that are slow and easy.
Embrace the Peak
Your weight will vary. Jeremy Powers, multi-time US national cyclocross champion, understands just how his weight will fluctuate during the racing season. “I will get my weight really low for a certain target event, but then come off that number by 3 or 4 pounds afterward,” says Powers. “I basically do blocks of not eating much, and then ease off. It’s all about give-and-take and finding balance.”
Fill Up On Water
To ride enough in summer heat to lose weight, you must stay hydrated. Be sure that you start summertime rides with at least two full bottles, and know where you can stop for refills along the way.
Short Rides Can Still Do It
Remember, even 40 minutes of cycling can help you lose weight if you go hard.
Eat in Moderation
Cut fat and eat more vegetables, but don’t go overboard. Moderation is important. If you have a sweet tooth, eat some candy or dessert once in a while. If you always deprive yourself, you might binge. You also need to be honest with yourself about what you are eating, says Frank Overton, owner and founder of Boulder, Colorado’s FasCat Coaching. “There is so much crap that people have in their diet that is just out of habit,” says Overton. “Try to reduce or cut out soda, sugar, junk food. Have a few less beers each week, or drink wine since it typically has fewer calories.”
Don’t Stuff Yourself
Stop eating before you are full. You don’t need to feel stuffed after every meal. “It’s okay to feel a little hungry,” says Overton. “That doesn’t mean starve yourself or skip meals. But if you can cut 500 calories a day, you will lose about a pound a week.”
Conduct a Dietary Audit
Overton also suggests trying to keep track of everything you put in your mouth for one week. “There are lots of good apps that can help with this,” he says. “So you log everything for a week, and then analyze it and try to figure out what you could cut out. You’ll be surprised at what you find.”
Get a Formal Plan Together
If you don’t want to go it alone, get help from a certified nutritionist, who can help you come up with a meal plan that will help you lose weight without going to extreme measures. There are also many online groups and forums that you can join for virtual support. Get quicker and faster results by pairing a sound nutritional plan with a structured weight loss cycling plan like Get Lean Now!, a Bicycling exclusive plan on TrainingPeaks.
Increase Your Pep and Get Out There
Have faith that as you drop weight, you will gain more pep. Exercise raises your energy level. Once you get used to the idea of riding, it becomes easier to get out there. It’s a reward in itself and really makes you feel rejuvenated.
Your bike is actually one of the best weight loss tools around—here's how you can use it to torch calories