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Cycling and Weight Loss… Effort and Intake: How Hard You Work and When You Eat is the Ticket to Freedom

January 2015
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I have a problem:  I love to eat, hate diets and hate being chubby.  I quit smoking cigarettes just about the time my young(ish) metabolism decided to peter out on me.  After I regaining my taste buds and discovering that food really tasted good, the metabolism thing presented a problem, especially considering the fact that I’d just taken a desk job.  That’s a bad combination right there, let me tell you.  I went from 150 pounds to 195 before I knew it – and I really didn’t know it…  Being a six-foot tall guy and only weighing 150 pounds, I never had to weigh myself so I never did.  All of a sudden, there I was in a photo with a double chin and in crisis.  That was something like fifteen years ago now.  I started running in 2000, and managed to shed about 24 of those pounds.  It was cycling in 2011 and that provided the real ability to change.  My first year, training for triathlons (a mix of running/cycling and a little swimming), I logged in a little more than 1,800 miles for the year (May thru December), but 2012 I really ramped that up and managed 5,300 miles between running and cycling (mostly cycling).  I bested that in 2013 with 5,600 and then beat that with over 6,000 miles last year – that’s more than 18,700 miles to work on my weight and diet but I’ll guarantee you, my experience is an interesting one and it won’t follow the path most would think, where I’m constantly struggling to drop weight to get to a fitter size…

I have played with my weight a lot over the last few years, mainly because I can. I’ve learned how to tinker, to gain weight (mainly off-season – in season is just too hard), lose weight (the opposite) and maintain it. Going easiest to hardest, it’d be pretty much what you’d expect: Gain, Lose, Maintain.

Gaining weight is simple as it gets. Keep eating like I’m riding, polish couch with ass. Doesn’t get any easier than that.

Next up is losing weight, which is almost as easy, if it weren’t for all the effort required. Ride lots of miles, real fast. Eat well, don’t blow anything on silly calories, and eat at the right time… I’ll get into that last part in a minute.

Finally the tricky part, maintaining my weight between the seven or eight months I’m riding and the four or five I’m putting in my miles on a trainer. This is hard but more out of season than in.

We almost all find it quite easy to gain weight, so I’m going to concentrate on losing. For me, losing weight is all about the effort and the idea for this post struck me the other day watching a commercial for a tread climber.  It struck me, while watching that commercial, that none of the people who were walking on the thing were sweating…  Not even a little bit.  I think this gives the false impression that it’s possible to lose a lot of weight in a short period of time (six months to a year), without working all that hard.  To make matters worse, you’ve got governmental agencies saying that walking a half-hour a day will help one lose weight as well…  What they don’t say is it’ll take about 45 years, and therein lies the rub.

It is my experience that weight loss is all about effort.  While many people would rather not see a sweaty woman slumped over the arms of a tread climber, gasping for breath and dripping sweat all over the floor and machine.  That kind of effort is what it takes*.

I see a water Zumba class from time to time and it just breaks my heart. There is, of course, the reality that everyone has to start somewhere – I do get that, but even Richard Simmons was Sweatin’ to the Oldies. He was putting some effort into it, no?

There’s another school that says we should find that fat burning zone (zone 2), just cruise there and watch the fat fly off! Now maybe I’m doing it wrong (I do have a mean fast streak that I find impossible to throw a leash around).  Maybe it was my diet that caused the problem with the “zone 2” fitness schedule, I really don’t know.  That said, with the exception of Tuesday nights last year, I tried it and it’s just not me.  I did manage to maintain my weight which is a good thing, but I never felt quite right, like everything was in control – it felt as though I had to work too hard to keep from gaining weight and I often felt slow when riding with the rest of the guys.  If that wasn’t bad enough (and it very much is), there’s another school of thought that says if person trains their body to burn mostly fat, than every excess calorie that is consumed is stored as fat, do not pass go, straight to the gut…  If there’s any validity to that, I don’t want anything to do with it.  That said, while zone two isn’t all that hard, you still work up a healthy sweat over time.

Finally, there’s the old-fashioned “go out and ride (or run) till ya puke” way of doing it.  It’s not as difficult as it sounds; once you get used to it hurting, it doesn’t hurt so bad.  Also, it’s definitely not all out, every time (medium effort and easy rides should be incorporated into the schedule as well).  For peeling off weight, this worked the best for me.  As far as getting faster went, it had its problems because my medium and easy effort days tended to be faster than advised if I were to truly develop speed.  While I was quite fast, if I’d have been faster had I gone easier on my easy and medium days and a little harder on my hard days.

In the beginning, cycling, running and weight loss is not necessarily about balance – for me, the search for balance came later.  My first couple of years cycling I wanted to see exactly how low I could go, pertaining to the scale – and my max effort (without overcooking my body) was absolutely the quickest way to meet my weight goals.  In fact, it worked so well, I had to change direction a lot sooner than I expected to.  Looking back on photos from two or three years ago, I was skinny, and back down to that magic 150 line on the scale…  It took my wife complaining about how skinny I was getting to get me to eat more as a counterbalance.

*Consult your doctor before beginning a weight loss program.  I am not a doctor, I just ride a bike.  Really fast.

As for when I eat, this one took some serious tinkering while I was dropping weight.  I wasn’t used to being hungry all of the time.  Famished would technically be a better word.  Once I got my mileage up to 100 a week, a lot of info became popular about the proper fueling of the muscles (or maybe it finally hit my radar, whatever you want to call it, I’m good)…  Eat within 45 minutes of activity, 60/40 carbs to protein, etc.  I modified the first of those two and tried my best to stick with 30 minutes after and used the 60/40 rule religiously – and that was the breakthrough I was looking for.  There was an excellent unintended consequence to doing that as well:  Because I was eating so soon after a workout, I wasn’t in any shape to overeat.  Truth be told, I’d have much rather waited a couple of hours, when the real hunger pains hit, and go to town, but I was doing the “fuel for the muscles” thing and “they” said 45 minutes so I stuck with it.  Lo and Behold, I had a tough time stuffing myself, even after a hundred mile ride (which burns, in my case, about 5,200 calories, give or take).  Once I combined eating at the right time with a fair bit of mileage, I dropped weight like it was going out of style and I was rarely hungry enough to hurt my efforts (though a few handfuls of peanuts, an apple or a banana always helped me through a tough time or two).

Good luck!

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17 Comments

  1. I like the saying that you can’t outrun your fork. 🙂 Like you I weighed about 155 when I graduated high school and over the years I saw that go up to 260 by the time I was 45. Seeing some pictures of myself at my daughters graduation got me wanting to get a handle on this problem. Between eating healthier and moving more (mountain biking, hiking, etc.) I’ve got down to 180 and have kept it off for the last 5 years. It’s not always easy.. I find myself sliding into old routines that I have to mentally stop before they become habit again. My hats off to anyone that tries to take control of their weight and live a healthier lifestyle. Great writeup as usual and hope you dodge this bad winter weather. Stay safe!

    • bgddyjim says:

      We’ve dodged it so far though we’re expecting a good helping of snow on Thursday. It’s Michigan though, kind of have to expect getting smoked every now and again. Thanks brother. And congratulations on your success, of course.

  2. EpicGran says:

    So so true – it is really hard getting food in after a tough ride. I also find it interesting that we have some really large, and I mean large people in our social cycle group and they can easily cycle 100km on a Saturday and repeat on a Sunday but never drop weight – I am guessing it may be because they avoid anything challenging like hills or upping the tempo?? Very fascinating topic.

    • bgddyjim says:

      It is a great topic, isn’t it? Came up with the idea talking with my wife the other day… See, tempo is a tricky thing… I can ride easy, at 18 mph without hardly breaking a sweat, for 30 miles. At 20 mph I’m working and at 22 mph, I’m cranking. On the other hand, some of the guys I ride with, because they’re so used to going slow, 18 mph would be almost impossible… So, not to dodge your question, it is about tempo – but we all have to start somewhere. That’s why I like to call it effort. In fact, I ride with some guys who could do the 20 mph ride like I do the 18 – they put more effort into cycling than I’m willing to so they get better results.

  3. Chatter says:

    Biggest problem I see is that we as a society want weight loss to be easy. We also want our quantiffications to be easy. Thus we get the dreaded BMI which was used for assessing insurance and only works for the general population.
    I think the biggest trick is figuring out what works for yourself and sticking with it. Get off the scale and use hydrostatic weighing. Try to eat right most of the time but don’t kill yourself when falling off the wagon a bit.
    Now that my running mileage is in the upper 60s to 70s per week i fight the always hungry constantly. I finish a twelve hour twenty five mile run and i eat instantly just to be hungry again an hour later. Its at these moments I try to choose smart carbs and protiens and if needed a bit of fat. It is so improtant to hit that balance of carbs and proteins and with endurance activities the numbers get so high it can be a stagering prospect.
    Good post my friend.

    • bgddyjim says:

      Thanks brother, it’s a never ending mission isn’t it?

      • Chatter says:

        Its a struggle. I thought I was hungry when I was running fifty miles a week, boy was I wrong. Mixed with speed work and two very long runs on the weekends I find myself always hungry, the worst is waking up in the middle of the night hungry. Just when I thought I had it figured things changed. Now I went from 296 at the beginning of January and now I am at 281, but that is slowing back down. Time to hit the variables again. Got to fuel the body for the mileage but at the same time keep a deficit. Endurance athletics diets are so much fun…

  4. cycle1 says:

    Hi All, You’ve hit on a topic I’ve studied for years. I have done triathlons in the past and I am a cyclist. I’m about 5 years older than Jim. I will tell you this: its not JUST about how hard you ride (regarding losing weight), especially when you are older. I follow a Paleo diet in general except before and after a ride. Immediately after a ride it’s okay for me to have spelt pancakes and lots of sugar/syrup (alternatively sweet potatoes with brown sugar/syrup are excellent). This is because right after my ride my understanding is my body DIRECTLY uses the sugar without insulin getting involved to cause fat storage. It is my understanding that at other times (i.e., not immediately after bike ride; e.g., if bike ride is 1.5 hrs, I have about 1.5 hours after bicycle ride to eat all the sugar I desire) some of the sugar can eventually be stored as fat. Also, having some caffeine during that time immediately after ride is supposed to lessen recovery times. Since August I have lost over 15 pounds and I am only 7 pounds from my goal weight, but still feel I am losing when I adhere to what I said above. Above I tell you what works for me, always consult your doctor if you are thinking of embarking on a new diet as I am not personally responsible for what you decide to eat. I’m just telling you what I have done and what works for me. 

  5. cycle1 says:

    To clarify my above post, It is my understanding that after say a 1.5 hour bicycle ride, I have about 1.5 hours to eat all the sugary stuff I want, because my body is directly using that sugar energy for recovering (of course there’s some protein and fat in those pancakes too! ). However, for example 5 hours after that ride if I ate that sugar, insulin from my body (I do not take insulin and I am not diagnosed as diabetic) will get involved and be more likely to cause to sugar/glycemic energy consumed hours after the ride to be stored on my body as fat.

  6. cycle1 says:

    Also, thanks, Jim, for your blog! Its great. I really enjoy the topics and how informative it is. You really spur on some good conversations. 🙂

    • bgddyjim says:

      Why thank you. I’ve been trying to work out how I want to respond to your first comment… You’re right, absolutely, in that we all require different things based on so many different circumstances that it can boggle the mind… The one thing that doesn’t change is the need for our best effort. Thanks for commenting and thank you for the kind words.

      • cycle1 says:

        Re: “I’ve been trying to work out how I want to respond to your first comment”. Maybe this will help/clarify, I am not saying you should not work hard. I am a great believer in doing sprints and intervals. May main point is as we get older especially, even if your working hard, you still can gain weight (as some of the other posts verify), so you need to modify your diet a in addition to working hard in order to lose weight. In addition, with the Paleo diet, i have found even if I am not cycling much for a time, I am still able to lose weight…

      • bgddyjim says:

        I get you, no worries, but thanks for the clarification – it’s all good. Glad you found something that works for you too – I know it’s not easy.

      • cycle1 says:

        Jim,I think i posted this

  7. […] Cycling and Weight Loss… Effort and Intake: How Hard You Work and When You Eat is the Ticket t… […]

  8. bonnev659 says:

    i notice my training is helping me loss weight i gain in grad school and post grad school (when I stop swimming 2 hours a day and biking on weekends). now i am getting back to swing of things. happy riding!

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