You probably already realize that being leaner will help you go faster, the trick is how to get there. One common scenario we see is a time-crunched athlete who has reached the point where his or her weekly workload (kilojoules) isn’t high enough to casually melt off pounds anymore, but it’s not realistic to increase caloric expenditure through additional training.
What difference does this extra weight make? A hefty one. Dragging around excess weight increases the energy cost of every mile and every effort, no matter whether you’re climbing or not. That means less energy for big efforts and race-winning moves. Essentially it reduces the number of matches you have to burn, whether you’re a competitor or a frequent flyer at the local training ride.
When athletes reach this plateau, fixing one or more of the following issues typically kickstarts the weight loss process again:
Weight Loss Roadblock: You eat too much on the bike
I’ll take some of the blame for this one. In years past I think I pushed during-workout calories on athletes too heavily. The longer we work with athletes using power meters, the clearer it becomes that you only need to replenish 20-30% of your hourly kilojoule output. For an athlete riding at 600 kilojoules/hr (a moderate intensity endurance ride for most moderately-fit adults), that means 120-180 calories/hr. But it’s not uncommon to see an athlete during a moderate-intensity 3- to 4-hour ride consume 240-260 calories per hour. It’s too much, and those extra calories are preventing you from utilizing more stored calories. What’s more, if you’re only going to be on the bike for 60-75 minutes, you don’t need any calories during your workout. You start with enough stored carbohydrate to have a high-quality workout, and all you need is fluids and maybe some electrolytes.
Weight Loss Roadblock: You’re combining calories and fluids during workouts
I’m a big fan of sports drinks, because they are incredibly efficient in terms of delivering fluids, carbohydrates, and electrolytes. And the combination is better than the sum of its parts, in that the sodium facilitates the absorption of the carbohydrate and also increases an athlete’s desire to consume more fluid. The thing to be conscious of, however, is that consuming a carbohydrate-rich sports drink when what you’re really after is the fluid can lead you to consume more calories than you need or want. When you separate your caloric intake from your fluid intake (calories in your pocket, fluid in your bottles), you can increase your fluid intake in response to intensity or air temperature without overloading your gut with calories.
Weight Loss Road Block: You’re eating after 7pm
For me the 7 o-clock rule has less to do with potential hormonal implications to eating before sleeping and more to do with the fact that the motivating factor for most evening eating is frequently habitual rather than nutritional. If you’re eating sufficient calories throughout the day to support your activity level, then extending your overnight fast (dinner to breakfast) by a few hours isn’t likely to negatively impact your recovery. You might be a little hungrier at breakfast but in the long run that’s not a bad thing, as you’ll see in the next section. Stop eating earlier in the evening, go to bed a bit hungrier, and you can achieve a meaningful decrease in your daily caloric intake.
Weight Loss Road Block: You’re eating too little for breakfast
If you’re doing things right as an athlete, you’ll wake up hungry in the morning. Satisfy that hunger with a substantial breakfast. The beginning of an active day isn’t the time skimp on calories. That doesn’t mean you should shovel greasy diner food down your throat every morning, but it does mean that active athletes need to do more than grab a Pop Tart and coffee as they run off to work. Add eggs and lean proteins, heftier carbohydrates from vegetables and even rice and potatoes, etc. Try to give yourself more time in the morning so you can prepare and sit down for a real breakfast. It will sustain you longer through the day, reduce your craving for mid-morning empty-calorie sugar snacks, and potentially reduce the calorie content of your lunch.
Weight Loss Road Block: You’re eating too much before short workouts.
I’m not talking about the size of the bar or snack you eat an hour before you head out the door or get on the trainer. I’m talking about the increased size of every meal and snack throughout the day, in anticipation of a 60-minute trainer workout in the evening. If you’re training 60-90 minutes after work, even if you’re doing a hard interval workout, you’re glycogen stores are completely replenished within 24 hours of completing the workout (most likely sooner, especially for experienced athletes). Those glycogen stores are what will power your relatively short workouts, even if you start the workout feeling hungry. Just by eating normally, the energy will be there. You don’t need to load up throughout the day for a one-hour trainer ride in the evening. Eat a substantial breakfast, keep your portion sizes normal or a bit light throughout the rest of the day, and you’ll have a killer evening workout and create a caloric deficit for the day.
By Jim Rutberg
– co-author “The Time-Crunched Cyclist” and “Chris Carmichael’s Food for Fitness”