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Home » Cycling » Riding a Bicycle is NOT a License to Eat: What to Expect When Cycling to Lose Weight.

Riding a Bicycle is NOT a License to Eat: What to Expect When Cycling to Lose Weight.

August 2015
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I often write about the vast quantities of food I consume because I put in a lot of miles, but I always try to qualify (or maybe quantify) that with the fact that “vast quantities” is very much a loaded term.  What I think is a lot, isn’t to someone who weighs 250 pounds and is either vastly overweight or obese.  My “vast quantities” to the majority of the American public is closer to eating like a bird.  This is why I stay trim.

I saw a fellow the other evening that I haven’t seen in quite some time.  I asked how he was doing and he asked how cycling was going, and then he dropped this:  “Yeah, I took my bike out yesterday and rode five miles so I could have dessert today.”  I didn’t say anything because it was his party, but five miles?  That’s, at most, worth one chocolate chip cookie.  No milk.  And therein lies the rub.

All too often people look at a minute amount of activity as a license to eat vast quantities of food and then wonder why the weight isn’t burning off.  It’s sad, really, because he probably ate 50 miles worth of desert, thinking he was going to be okay, when he’s going to gain a quarter-pound because of that one dalliance.

As an example, I recently rode a full 105 miles and ate a 6″ Subway BMT sub with spinach, green peppers, cucumbers and mayo (at the 80 mile mark).  During my ride I had a few hundred calories worth of Hammer Perpetuem, another few hundred worth in the form of Hammer Heed, a couple of bottles of Gatorade (another few hundred) and one Hammer Gel (call it 150).  That’s all I needed to get through the 105 miles…  But I burned somewhere between 5,000 and 6,000 calories…  Doing the math, that’s about 1,500 calories on the ride, so at best I’ve only got 3,500 left for the day to “splurge” on food.  Now to me, that’s a lot to play with.  I had a couple of hot dogs, some watermelon and some coleslaw for a late lunch and then a Quarter-Pounder and French Fries with a PowerAde for dinner…  I skipped desert, even though there were half-dozen choices at the family dinner party we went to…  Well that QP and French Fries were just over 1,000 calories.  Add the two hot dogs (200 each with bun, only mustard) and the coleslaw 100, 100 for the slices of watermelon, plus 160 for a can of Coke…  I’m close to my limit for the day – and I skipped desert after a hundred-five mile day.

In other words, I may ride some intense mileage but I can only get away with a Quarter-Pounder.  Not a Quarter-Pounder, a few Cokes and desert…  I have to be smart about what I eat or I’ll have weight issues even riding 250 miles a week.

Another issue I see a lot of is people eating too many calories during their chosen activity.  If you need a gel to get through a 5k run, you’re misinterpreting what your body needs.  Nobody needs, especially if you’ve chosen running as your weight loss activity…  Look at it this way:  You give up your first mile and a half for that gel.  For cycling, under normal conditions, you shouldn’t need a gel for less than a 30 mile bike ride (though a bottle of Hammer Heed or an equivalent will certainly help keep the speed up if you’re trying to average above 20 mph) – and I should clarify, a 30 mile bike ride only takes me about an hour and twenty minutes.  If you’re slower, then a little sustenance might not hurt, though that should be done wisely.

Take, for instance, my slower recovery rides.  I don’t even count those as calories burned when I prepare for the ride or eat dinner afterwards.  No extra food, desert or treats.  I treat those days as if I’d sat on the couch and even at my slow recovery pace I’m riding at a pace too fast for many to sustain (16 mph average, 18 mph+ actual) – and I’m usually not even trying to lose weight, just sustain it…

The point to this whole post is to hopefully illustrate the sanity that must come with physical activity when it comes to fueling it while still keeping the weight under control.  All too often people count heavily on activity to justify diets that only top athletes can afford – Michael Phelps comes to mind.  In other words, Michael Phelps can eat like he does because he spends eight hours in a pool swimming with an intensity most normal folks can’t even fathom.  Doing water aerobics for 45 minutes, three times a week does not mean that one gets to eat like him.

In the end, what this boils down to is simple… I’ve ridden between 230 and 250 miles a week for the last month. I ride every day and average between a 16 mph average on slow days and 22 mph on the fast and I still have to eat reasonably.  If I were riding another 400 miles a week and with the intensity of a cyclist in the Tour de France then I could afford their 6,000 calorie a day diet but I’m not – so I have to stick with my 3,000 calorie a day diet.  Of course, that still provides a lot more leeway than the 2,200 I’d be stuck with if I didn’t ride.

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8 Comments

  1. I think you have highlighted the most common misperception about exercise. Nice post.

  2. Sue Slaght says:

    Bang on with this misperceptions of how any calories are burned when exercising. I will say that for me, whether cycling or running, at a strenuous level for me, I need to eat every 45-55 minutes or it is a bonk fest. However that doesn’t mean a banana split. 🙂

  3. tischcaylor says:

    Right on. I don’t know how many times I’ve gained weight when I turned up the running — not because I don’t know better but in spite of it, because I’m extra hungry (or more likely, just think I am). These days I know that’s a real danger when I increase training, so I try to watch my calories especially closely when I’m running more.

    • bgddyjim says:

      I always go by this: I should wake up famished during my high-intensity stretches. If I could take a morning banana or leave it, I need to slow down on the big dinners. 😉

  4. Runbug Jones says:

    *Now* you tell me! 😉

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