Losing weight, for many people, is a good idea and bicycling can be an effective part of a weight loss plan. Specifically, improving your body composition (the ratio of fat mass to non-fat mass) may help you avoid diabetes, cancer, and cardiovascular disease. If you race then you may improve your power by shedding a few pounds. (Alternately, you may improve your power if you add a little bit of muscle.) Weight loss is a complicated issue though.
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Our focus at Reddiyo isn’t weight loss. We want to help you have fun on your bike. At the same time, we know many of you may want to shed some lbs. Weight loss is a touchy subject. Pop culture, endurance sport culture, and social pressure can contribute to unhealthy weight loss practices and negative emotions. Diet trends come and go. Nutritional extremism is everywhere. Go looking for nutritional advice and you’re confronted with a galaxy of nonsense, gimmicks, and unhealthy, unsustainable eating strategies. These diets are sold as scientific miracles but too often they’re either dangerous, ineffective, or both. If weight loss is your goal, then we want you to make informed, healthy decisions. Here are a few things to consider.
We eat for all sorts of reasons, many of which have nothing to do with actually being hungry. We eat because we’re happy, sad, bored, there’s still food on the plate, and everyone else is eating. If you’re about to eat, ask yourself a question: “Am I hungry?” If the answer is yes, then you should eat. If you’re not hungry, then don’t eat. Wait a while. This is all about awareness and understanding the signals your body is sending you.
Fuel Your Workouts
Weight loss is mostly about eating a little less and moving a little more. It’s a bit more complex than that if you’re training hard though. What you eat is crucial to your health and energy needs. If you’re training hard then you need fuel for your workouts. Reddiyo provides fueling recommendations as part of your workout for longer rides. Don't try to cut calories here or you will undermine your training.
Off the bike, you need the nutritional building blocks to repair your muscles and recover from hard rides. If you’re not eating for your needs then your training and your body will suffer. Your brain needs fuel (carbohydrates specifically) to function. Your tissues need raw materials to build back stronger after training sessions.
Most of your daily food intake should come from whole foods as opposed to frozen dinners, fast food, candy bars, and what you recognize as “junk food.” I won't dive deep into all the diets that are out there, but it’s hard to go wrong with the Mediterranen Diet, with its emphasis on whole grains, beans, vegetables, fruits, nuts, seeds, and healthy fats like olive oil. It includes low to moderate amounts of dairy and meat. Try to consume carbohydrate, protein, and fat at all meals.
On the bike is a different story. Sports drinks, gels, gummy bears are good choices for most people while riding. Those processed carbohydrates move easily into your bloodstream to provide workout fuel and preserve muscle glycogen. However, these foods aren’t ideal while you’re sitting at your desk, driving your car, or going about your typical daily tasks. Try and limit your on-bike foods to your time on the bike.
Cooking at home is good for you. You’re likely to eat healthier food and consume fewer calories if you cook. Do more of it. Include lots of vegetables.
“I just did a big ride—I can eat whatever I want!”
We've all said that! Successful weight loss involves navigating a gauntlet between too little and too much food. It can be challenging. A post-ride meal is a great time to enjoy yourself. (Immediately post-ride, it’s a good idea to drink a carb/protein recovery shake with a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio of carbs to protein.) There's a place for burgers, pizza, fries, beer, and dessert, no doubt. It's also easy to undermine your weight loss efforts with post-ride indulgence. The fact is, you can't out-exercise unhealthy eating.
Understand this: If you’re not sleeping well then you’re not getting fit! You don’t get fit while training. You get fit while sleeping and recovering from training. Training stress induces positive changes to your body but sleep is when all those changes happen. Disrupted sleep both impedes fat loss and causes muscle loss—not good! If you’re having trouble sleeping then you may want to consider several things: caffeine, alcohol, and electronics at night.
Consuming caffeine within six hours prior to bedtime, or consuming alcohol within four hours prior to bedtime has been shown to disrupt sleep patterns. Keep your consumption of caffeine and alcohol outside of the 6- and 4-hour time windows respectively.
Electronic devices give off blue light which affects your brain and disrupts sleep. Below are several steps you can take to reduce your blue light exposure and improve your sleep. If you can make some of these changes just a few days per week then you’re making progress.
- Turn off your electronics 2-3 hours before bedtime.
- Avoid fluorescent and LED lights for nighttime reading. Use regular bulbs or a candle.
- If you use electronics at night, find out if you can dim the brightness, use the “night mode” setting, or wear blue-light blocking glasses.
- Make your bedroom as dark as possible. Use heavy drapes and block any sources of light in the room.
Strength training improves your metabolism and body composition, helping you retain or add muscle and bone mass. Getting strong makes you more efficient on the bike and more durable. Try to get 2-3 strength sessions per week. If you are new to strength training, we put together an ebook with everything you need to get started including a sample plan. Request your copy here.
Finally: Be Patient and Aware.
“Be patient?” That's no fun! Well… so what? Life isn't always a birthday party. The best cyclists don't become the best in a few weeks. They ride for years. Similarly, weight loss—healthy, sustainable weight loss—takes time. New healthy habits take time to develop. The human organism doesn’t change overnight—but it does change. Focus on the process discussed above: Pay attention to hunger. Fuel your workouts appropriately. Choose healthy foods. Cook. Enjoy your food but avoid gluttony. Sleep well. Lift weights.
Most importantly, take time to reflect on why being healthy and fit is important to you. Awareness is crucial: awareness of your goals, your training, and your emotions. If you connect emotionally to your hard work, if eating well and riding your bike are important to you on a deep level, then you'll succeed.