Weight Loss for Cyclists

Originally published at: https://fascatcoaching.com/tips/weight-loss-for-cyclists/

Between September and March 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)
  • 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

Listen to the Weight Loss for Cycling Podcast:

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 and sugar 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 or white 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. Also check out our Winning in the Kitchen Podcast and Training Tip.

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:

  1. 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.
  2. 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 250-500 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.

3754Start with the perfect plan to increase your FTP – Sweet Spot 1.

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 training 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:

  1. Try eating several small meals over the course of the day rather than three large ones
  2. Drink lots of water – a liter before every meal – it fills you up
  3. Pay attention to the glycemic index of foods and try to avoid HIGH GI foods
  4. Eat bulky foods that are not calorically dense like salads and vegetables
  5. Speaking of vegetables – include them with every meal. Kale ‘n eggs!
  6. Make a habit of snacking on fruit and vegetables instead of your usual quick fixes
  7. 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.
  8. Practice your “Push Aways” – push yourself away from the dinner table before you are full.
  9. 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 2020 , FasCat Coaching

Frank wrote this training tip 16 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. 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.

[fbcomments url=”http://fascatcoaching.com/tips/weight-loss-for-cyclists/ ‎ ‎ ‎ ‎ ” width=”680″ count=”off” num=”3″ countmsg=”wonderful comments]

@FRANK I am working with a nutrition coach to help meet weight loss goals. She has a MTB background from her college days but is more Crossfit, power lifting and gymnastics focused. I’m in a cut currently, seeing slow weight loss, cycling goals are for mountain biking- get stronger and a bigger engine. I want to finish the Marji Gesick 100 MTB in September and am doing several local MTB races this spring with two 100 mile gravel events scheduled also. I’m doing ss3 currently and about to move to something more MTB focused (I think).

Question- Saturday I did a ss group ride with individuals much stronger and faster then me. We rode for 3.5 hours on pebble covered soft sand and 22 mph crosswinds. This was rough. Calorie goal is 1800 and four apps calculated calorie burn at 1800, achieved intake for the day was 1786. Remember I’m in a cut. Had bananas every 45 min on the ride.

Would you do anything different with the nutrition goals on a day like this? My nutrition coach says we will change it when the intensity is longer… current macro goals- carbs 166, fat 60, protein 150.

Side note- I am never sore, recovery is fast day to day. RejuvenAtion week saw 3 additional lbs lost.

Thank you in advance!

Hey there - I think this means you are in a calorie deficit and if that is the case your power will be diminished during your training and you will experience rides like you did.

If you have a nutritionist coach - you should be speaking with them about this bc we don’t have your background, goals, etc… I will say this: the CrossFit culture has a much different take on nutrition than Endurance sports culture. The word ‘cut’ is troublesome… As is ‘keto’ and ‘fasting’.

We don’t use apps to calculate your caloric expenditure but you can use your powermeter and its super easy (its your kiloJoules)

Excellent! This information regarding power meter training is very helpful! Thank you so much!

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Quick question to this wonderful info… I put on 4lbs over the winter and have maintained that for 2 months. Today I did my highest FTP test yet, but with the extra 4lbs put me very slightly down watt per kilo. I’m in phase 2 of SS and would like to start cutting calories for a few weeks, but worried it will hurt my power :grimacing:. Should I worry about weakening power or just push through to drop my winter weight?

HI @lindsay.marx ‘cutting calories’ generally does tend to limit your recovery.

Limited recovery may lead to a decrease in power output.

Given the proximity to your season, I would suggest winning in the kitchen, not trying to cut calories and instead focus on high quality carbohydrate meals that include greens and vegetables , healthy fats and lean cuts of protein.

All of which are in our Winning in the Kitchen Intro meal plan - if you haven’t followed yet?

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Hi coaches, I really struggle to win in the kitchen during recovery weeks. I had a big week on the plan last week (3rd week, middle of SS plan), and as usual, I am craving carbs and sugars the first few days of recovery week. I am not trying to gain weight this week—any ideas on tricks to deal? I’m not trying to necessarily lose weight right now (i.e., not aiming for deficit), though I’d be happy to if it didn’t feel difficult right now. Thanks, Zach

Hey Zach,

This is something I struggle with as well - my solution has been to switch to less calorie dense foods and focus on getting those micronutrients in during the rest weeks. I use the Winning in the Kitchen recipes and add some of my own variation.

So a non-dense version would be: Oatmeal + fruit + greek yogurt for breakfast, Chipotle burrito bowl for lunch, snack of choice, and bowl of health with some fish or lean protein on it. Training Tips – Tagged "nutrition"– FasCat Coaching

Hydrating throughout the day and setting realistic times where you expect to be hungry - the hour before lunch, then hour before bedtime - is also important. You’re allowed to feel hungry and still be giving your body the fuel it needs, just don’t try and lose a lot of weight on rest weeks, your expenditure is down and you’re rying to recover and adapt to the training.


Thank you for this, tocayo! I appreciate it. Yes, I feel like I know these things but sorta forget them if I don’t remind myself to practice, so your clear narration of principles and options is really helpful. And yes, thanks for reminding me not to try to lose weight or not much during a rest week, just focus on rest and repair and healthy, reasonable choices for the kitchen. Those snack time plans are key too, especially when I’m in back-to-back zoom meetings during busy periods! I either end up eating nothing, or eating something stupid–more often, eating nothing then eating too much later.

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