Editor’s note: this is #2 in a series of articles focused on training advice for Zwifters. In each article, coaches bring their experience to the table and answer a single question. Here is this week’s…
Many cyclists are trying to lose a few pounds as they transition out of the winter holidays. What simple advice would you give to someone who is overweight and wanting to drop some of their extra baggage?
Rob Manning, Tailwind Coaching
If weight loss is your goal, don’t get sucked into the obsession with burning calories. Focus on how you burn those calories, not how many you burn.
Mix small amounts of very high-intensity intervals into your regular training to tap into your deeper energy stores. Not only will you burn off additional calories during your workout, you’ll continue to burn calories as your body recovers from those hard efforts later in the day.
Remember too that your body will only be comfortable shedding excess fat if it’s being properly fueled. If you’re already running a calorie deficit during the day and you pile on another 500 calories of riding, you’ll be way behind. Be sure to put back *some* of those calories to prevent your body from overcompensating in the opposite direction and slowing your metabolism down.
So the take home: ride hard, fuel right, watch the weight melt off.
Shayne Gaffney, GC Coaching
I like to tell my athletes looking to lose weight a few things…
1. Keep your eyes on your plate, not the scale. Focusing your energy on how much the scale says and performing frequent weigh-ins does nothing but set you up for failure. The athletes I work with for weight loss weigh themselves ONCE A MONTH, that’s it! Doing less frequent weight checks will allow you to see consistent improvements and set you up for success with a positive feedback loop.
2. Stay focused, everyone is given 24 hours and it is up to you to use them effectively. Successful, lean, mean athletes aren’t created, they are formed from consistently making good choices, training intelligently, resting when needed, and utilizing their 24 hours to the best of their abilities. Sometimes this means not watching television so you can squeeze in that workout after putting the kids to bed at 9 PM after working all day (people do it!). This can also mean not eating out, not falling into the trap of “fast food” and “convenience” stores, and preparing your meals ahead of time so you always have a healthy choice. Everyone has a finite amount of time, how do you want to use yours?
3. Weight loss is a century, not a criterium! This ties #1 and #2 together; don’t expect big changes to happen and to stick overnight. Weight loss isn’t a “30 Day Challenge” or a “7 Day Cleanse,” it is a life change that is hard at the beginning to make, has frequent bumps in the road, and will get easier as time goes on (I promise!). This is why having someone in your corner, like a coach, is a great asset to have. They can give you a kick in the butt when you need one and also give you a pat on the back when things are going well.
Philipp Diegner, Severe Coaching
Try to add 30-60min easy fasted sessions into your Zwift routine (2-3 times per week). These rides, preferably on an empty stomach before breakfast, will help you burn extra fat. Your energy system will tap into your fat stores right away as it will have very limited glycogen (carbohydrates) available to rely on.
As a nice side effect, fasted training has proven to be very effective in improving your fat metabolism – a main factor of good endurance. Even short sessions around 30min at 50 to 65% of your FTP can help and will burn a good amount of extra calories. For diversion, add a few 8-12s all-out sprints every other workout but avoid longer intense efforts that would require carbohydrates as fuel.
Troy Delfs, Momentum Cycling
Watts per Kilogram, the elusive Holy Grail of cyclists everywhere. To improve your relative FTP score you can train hard and increase your aerobic capacity, but you can also improve your performance simply by shedding a kilogram or two. So, how do you go about leaning down and speeding up?
By achieving Caloric Deficit!
It kind of sounds nasty and something best avoided but it is what you need to do in order to achieve weight loss. Essentially to burn fat and lose weight you need to burn more calories than you consume, simple as that. What that means is you can lose weight through:
- Increasing Caloric Expenditure through regular aerobic exercise: Ride On people!
- Decreasing Caloric Intake: eating fewer calories on a daily basis
My background, education, and expertise are on the Caloric Expenditure side of the equation so let’s start there. Quite simply the best way to burn calories as a cyclist is to ride your bike, a lot. Short 45 – 75 minute rides at a moderate to high intensity (75%+ of FTP) will burn a lot of calories in a short period of time but many of those calories will be from blood glucose and muscle glycogen stores.
To burn fat best, increase your ride durations (1.5 – 3+ hours) at a zone 1 – 2 intensity (40 – 75% of FTP). The more days you ride per week the more calories you will consume. Try to ride 4-6 days per week varying between shorter, high-intensity rides and longer, low-intensity rides.
I am not a dietitian or a nutritionist and if weight loss is your principal goal then I strongly advise that you get professional nutritional counseling and guidance. That said, here are my suggestions that I have gained through 20+ years of racing and numerous years of coaching.
- Cut out the crap. Sugar, alcohol, fatty foods…. all the good stuff really….. so maybe don’t cut it out completely, but do try to cut back on these empty calorie foods
- Eat a balanced diet with plenty of veggies, fruits, complex carbs, healthy fats, and complete proteins
- Avoid ‘diets’ but rather make healthy food choices that you can realistically maintain through your lifestyle
- Be conservative with the use of gels, sports drinks and other fast simple carbs (they tend to cause dramatic changes in your blood sugar levels)
- Consider trying some Fasted Riding; low intensity rides done in the morning prior to eating anything – a proven way to train/force the body to burn fat stores
There are tons of diets, theories, and suggestions available on the Internet. Some are gimmicks, some work and others are unproven or may even be dangerous. The secret with anything whether it be nutrition or exercise is to do your research, get professional advice and find what works best for you personally.
David Lipscomb, CIS Training Systems
How long do you think it takes to form a new habit? A week? A month? A year? The answer is at least 2 months (or about 66 days, on average) according to research.
That said, my advice for someone who is looking to drop a few pounds, is to stop treating weight loss like a sprint, because in truth, it’s a marathon.
Let me give you an example of what I am talking about.
Do you remember the old children’s story about the Tortoise and the Hare? You know the story where the hare said, “I am the fastest animal in the whole wide world. I’m faster than a cheeky cheetah, a kicking kangaroo, and a racing rabbit.” “OK,” said the tortoise, “I’ll race you then!”
Because he had started so fast and since the tortoise was so far behind, the hare decided it was safe to take nap under a tree. Meanwhile, the tortoise ambled along slowly enjoying the sun on his shell and taking the odd nibble of grass from time to time. In time, the tortoise passed the sleeping hare and crossed the finish line first.
What is the moral of this story? Slow and steady wins the race. Take your time to make small changes that stick better because they aren’t intimidating (if you do it right, you will barely even notice the changes you have made!).
If you are looking to focus on dropping a few pounds, the last thing you need to do is reinvent the wheel overnight. Work on thinking differently as it relates to weight loss. Crash diets and excessive exercise programs do not work, let us be honest with ourselves.
Add a positive habit per week until it becomes part of what you do on a day to day basis. For example, you could start with something simple like drinking more water, or getting more rest for the first week. Then maybe the next week focus on eating 2 to 3 fruits and vegetables each day. Lastly, add additional protein to every meal. And the list goes on.
Keep at it, never give up, go the extra mile and #getafterit. Take it from someone who knows. In May of 2009, I weighed 252 lb., and thanks to CIS Training Systems, I am fit and lean at 185 lb., and have kept the weight off since 2012.
Noel Bonk, Bonk Werx
Dropping weight is the low hanging fruit for many cyclists. I do primarily recommend that athletes work with a licensed nutritionist or dietitian, preferably someone who has knowledge on endurance sports. Whatever you do diet or weight loss wise, do it in moderation. Don’t go crazy trying to drop a lot of weight quickly, remember to be realistic and patient.
As far as advice I give my athletes, I start with having them track eating habits. Most cyclists will regularly track their ride data but don’t bother to track it when it comes to their eating “data.” You can start this pretty easily with a food log or journal. I personally like the app MyFitnessPal as it allows you to scan in or search almost any foods. It also breaks out macros and calories and can connect with several other fitness apps. Just seeing what and how much you are consuming can be an eye-opening experience. In many cases, once the athlete sees the big picture with their eating habits, it serves as a self-correcting measure to get their diet on track.
Also, just like you may regularly schedule time for bike training, get yourself on an eating schedule. This doesn’t have to be overly complicated, but set a time for each meal and a hard cut off time at night and stick to it. Track how you are or are not progressing and adjust the schedule and nutrition as needed.
Here are the key themes I see expressed by our coaches above:
- Take it slow: if you want to lose weight in a healthy way and keep it off, you need to change habits in a sustainable way. This doesn’t happen in 7 or even 30 days!
- Get advice from experts: the web is full of advice, but if you can talk with a nutritionist, dietitian, or coach their guidance will multiply the effectiveness of your efforts.
- Be purposeful about your rides: fasted, longer zone 1-2 rides or high-intensity interval training are your best two ride types for weight loss. Use them!