by Frank Overton, February 2003, revised 2016
Between September and February is the best time for bike racers to lose weight. As an aspiring cat 4 bike racer I lost 12 lbs in the off season to get my Cat 1 upgrade. Consequently nutrition and weight loss coaching is a staple for all the athletes I coach. Because weight loss makes an enormous impact to any cyclist’s performance! There are several simple dietary suggestions that I’d like to make before plunging into a caloric deficit (diet). Often times these simple lifestyle changes will result in a leaner, happier, and faster athlete. So here goes, these are ‘go slow‘ foods:
- Avoid all foods and beverages with high fructose corn syrup (this includes convenience store gatorade and soft drinks)
- Try to stay away from processed foods with partially hydrogenated fats
- Avoid sugary foods like cookies (sorry, Phil), cakes, and low-fat foods (that’s code for high in sugar)
- Avoid added sugar altogether, its evil
- Try to stay away from saturated fats found in red meat, cheese, butter, and fried foods
- Avoid alcohol
For weight loss, athletes should also start paying attention to the back label of foods where ingredients like high fructose corn syrup, partially hydrogenated fats, and sugars are displayed. You have to be an ingredient detective! Grocery shop in the perimeter of the store, not down the aisles where food is in boxes. Here are some healthy ‘go fast‘ food choices you can make:
- Complex carbohydrate (just exercise portion control): sweet potatoes, quinoa, brown rice
- The post race/ride burrito! (with rice, veggies and protein)
- Fruit like apples, oranges, mangoes, bananas (bananas can replace energy bars)
- Rice cakes – to use on the bike
- Snack on fruit or raw vegetables like carrots, broccoli, edamame, green and red pepper slices
- Eat more vegetables
- Have a salad for dinner with chicken or fish
- Kale & Spinach – antioxidant rich
Try switching to go fast food choices for a month and see where your weight goes. The next level is to go:
- Dairy Free
- Gluten Free
- Sugar Free
Eat 3 meals a day and 4 snacks. Drink 1 ounce of water per pound of weight each day. This basically subscribes to Dr. Phil Goglia where 80% of weight loss occurs in the kitchen thru food choices and 20% occurs from exercise.
If you are already “winning in the kitchen” [the 80% part] with go fast foods try using these two tools to take a harder look at your diet and food consumption:
- MyFitnessPal: Complete a 3 day dietary recall . Download the app and start logging in everything you put in your mouth for 3 days. Not just what, but how much. Be detailed. Your coach can analyze your ‘food diary’ but often times in the exercise itself, the athlete will realize all the empty calories they are consuming.
- Your PowerMeter: 1 kiloJoule on the bike equals 1 calorie of food. Ride 1,000kJ’s and that’s equivalent to a burrito. Ride 2,000 kJ’s and it’s easy to see why you can lose some weight as long as you don’t eat everything that isn’t nailed down in the kitchen when you get home.
OK, that’s all good but you still need to hit your “climbing” weight. Well, as Eddy Merckx rather eloquently said, “Eat Less, Ride More”. Don’t we all wish. Basically it all comes down to taking in fewer calories than your daily caloric requirements, otherwise known as a caloric deficit. Some athletes can successfully ‘diet by math‘ to lose weight and if you want to try, I recommend a 500 calorie caloric deficit per day. Over 1 week that is 1 lb. 10 weeks = 10 lbs. Don’t diet more than that because your power on the bike and recovery off the bike will decrease.
Before I go any further there are times in an athlete’s training schedule when it is OK and not OK to lose weight. After the season is over and during your base phase are great opportunities to trim the fat. During your weight program or once you start your intensity and begin racing are not. Instead back up and try modifying your diet with the go fast and go slow foods described above. If it’s the right time of year to cut calories try some of these tricks I’ve successfully used in the past:
- Try eating several small meals over the course of the day rather than three large ones
- Drink lots of water – a liter before every meal – it fills you up
- Pay attention to the glycemic index of foods and try to avoid HIGH GI foods
- Eat bulky foods that are not calorically dense like salads and vegetables
- Speaking of vegetables – include them with every meal. Kale ‘n eggs!
- Make a habit of snacking on fruit and vegetables instead of your usual quick fixes
- On the bike, teach your body to burn fat by riding slow enough that it is using your body’s fat stores as the primary source of energy (~70% HR MAX or FAT MAX). You can determine your “FAT MAX” with metabolic testing in the lab.
- Practice your “Push Aways” – push yourself away from the dinner table before you are full.
- Brush your teeth right after dinner to avoid snacking at night
Remember to consume plenty of carbohydrates once you start your intervals and begin racing. Dieting during the season is risky business and could hurt your cycling decreased power output by way of reduced recovery, muscle immunosuppression and a reduction in performance.
Disclaimer: if the recommendations above are not working for you, I suggest working with a nutritionist: one that can look at your training plan, use metabolic laboratory data (FAT MAX) plus your powermeter data (kJ’s = calories) AND design a meal plan for long term sustainability. Because after all, we are talking about lifestyle changes, not diets. Above all, congratulations on the commitment you made to your health and to your power to weight ratio! Chris Froome here you come.
Copyright 2017 , FasCat Coaching
Frank wrote this training tip 14 years ago but still coaches athletes to this day about making better food choices to achieve healthy sustainable weight loss and ultimately a change in the athlete’s lifestyle. Recently Frank completed the 14 Day Conscious Cleanse. Stay tuned for what he learned. To talk with Frank about your cycling and losing weight, please call 720.406.7444 or fill out a New Athlete Questionnaire to set up a Coaching Consultation. Otherwise you can find him riding and eating healthy in Boulder, CO.