Why can I cycle 200-250 miles a week and still not lose weight?
Hey guys, throwing myself out there…one of our fellow cyclists asked a question that I have discussed a few times in the past with friends and family. It’s a little long but really, it’s the short version with as little bias as I can manage. Feedback is encouraged!!
Question: Why can I cycle 200-250 miles a week and still not lose weight?
Short answer: Your training is similar to an endurance athlete, which is fine, but it has a counter-intuitive side to it as well, if your goal is to lose fat. When you train for long distances, you’re trying to get your body to work as efficiently as possible for as long as possible. For the first 4-6 weeks, you will see a lot of results from that routine, but after that, your body isn’t going to respond to that stress in the same aggressive manner it did in the beginning. Physically, your body has adapted to that stimulus. Don’t let that discourage you! What you do from here is switch it up. Throw in short, explosive , anaerobic work to build strength and muscle mass (just take a look at a sprinter of any sport). If you’re interested in simply losing weight, both paths will get you there, but if you want a shortcut, it is always a good idea to mix the two tactics. Maybe a simple “Sprint-Distance-Rest” split could work for you.
Now let’s talk about food! The correct answer regarding nutrition is to always seek out the help of a registered nutritionist or dietitian. If you are like most every-day recreational commuters, there is little desire to go that far and beyond. The easiest answer here is to meet the basics of dietary requirements and live by a few simple rules: Eat often (4-6 meals a day), eat close to the source, keep a colorful plate, and for each meal, eat a fist of protein, a handful of carbs, and a handful of veggies/fruits.
When efficiency is the goal, it’s much more effective for your body to burn sugar (carbs) for energy, followed by protein (muscle), and finally fats. Don’t read that wrong, you CAN operate on minimal carbs (keto diet), but your body prefers to use glycogen versus ketones (carbs v. fats) because it’s more difficult to burn fats than carbs. Muscle is the only tissue in the body that burns fats. On top of that, muscle continues to use energy just sitting there doing nothing. During exercise that lasts longer than an hour, the goal should be to replace the glycogen stores being used the whole time. If not, your body will start breaking down muscle for fuel. Personally, the longest I have rode in one sitting is 4.5 hours. For rides like this, my basic eating schedule is below:
Night before: ~100g of starches with dinner
Morning of ride: As much overnight oatmeal as I can tolerate with fruits, nuts, almond milk, and maybe coffee.
Start – 45min into ride: sip on water
@ 45 min: start sipping a protein/carb/sodium drink for every 15 min thereafter
@1.5 hour: eat a PB&J or a protein bar with a high carb count; continue sipping drink
@3 hour: eat again
When finished: Eat a full meal based on your macronutrient requirement along with a good multivitamin pack. Please do not go and stuff your face with a giant donut because you “earned it”. I get it, you’re did a lot of work and want to reward yourself. Remember, you have been eating throughout the whole ride and your reward is going to be looking good naked when that time comes!
One more thing to think about is muscle balance. When you’re in the saddle for long periods, over a long course of time, it’s easy to develop imbalances if you don’t take care early. Imbalances down the road lead to injury and injury means gaining all that weight back! Research how to use a foam roller before riding (this is an entirely different topic, so I’ll cover it next time). Be sure to stretch directly after rolling those muscles out. Finally, don’t neglect resistance training at least twice a week. Break those days into upper body and lower body. Push/Pull is a good 2-day split as well. The point here is to build muscle evenly, maximize fat burning potential, add power to your rides, and of course feel better about the mirror!
With that said, you should be focused on preserving muscle, fueling your rides with carbs, and doing resistance training at least 2-3 times a week.