The Bike Or The Body: Making Efficient Weight Loss Choices


If you are a cross country racer then you probably think a lot about weight, even if you don’t want to admit it. I’m pretty sure that every xc racer has thought about running a 3lb. fork instead of a 4lb. fork, or lusted after some super light race wheels when spec’ing out their next xc racing machine.

If you’ve ever had similar thoughts, repeat after me: “I am a weight weenie.” Ok, now we can move on.

While riders spend a lot of time and energy (and money) finding ways to lose 100 grams from our rides, we don’t often think that dropping a bit of body weight might make more of a difference. And if you take a step back and think about it, it might even be more efficient (ie. take less effort) to drop body weight instead of weight from your bike.

However, dropping that weight can be a double-edged sword, as you need energy from food in order to work hard and recover. That, and cutting down on the ‘good stuff’ isn’t always easy. Fellow blogger Mags quotes a euro-pro friend who says ‘How much he eats affects how much he trains’. So you can’t cut back on food too much, especially when you are training hard. But a little bit over the course of several months can make a big difference. It’s just that sometimes it’s difficult to make those little steps.

For example, say an xc hardtail weighs in at less than 24lbs and an xc dual suspension comes in at under 25lbs. and a typical male XC racer weighs, on average, 150lbs. with a decent amount of variation to account for body type. Even if you are on the low end of the weight spectrum at 120lbs, your body weight is still almost five times greater than your rig.

That means that losing one pound from your bike is a much larger percentage of the total bike weight (and is going to cost you an arm and a leg); on the other hand, one pound of your body weight is a significantly smaller percentage of your total body weight and doesn’t cost a thing.

To put it in terms that a weight weenie can understand, losing 4 pounds of body weight is the equivalent, in percentage terms, to dropping 314 grams from your 25lb. bike. Have you ever priced out what it would cost to cut 300 grams off your bike?

I have to admit that I am probably not the best person to be talking about eating right: my blog is practically a tribute site to Reese’s, I have never seen my stomach muscles, and I don’t resemble the typical greyhound looking XC/roadie racers. Even so, I lost a few pounds last year and was as light as I’ve been in the past 10 years. I believe this had a significant effect on my riding and I’m hoping to repeat the feat again after putting on weight this off season from lifting and eating junk food.

If I haven’t convinced you, websites like Analytic Cycling allow you to play around with scenarios that will help convince you that trying to lose weight around the middle makes more sense than weight weenie-ing parts.

Resources

There are some good books out there on sports nutrition but, personally, I don’t have the energy to focus seriously on diet after family, work, regular training, blogging, and my obsessive / compulsive focus on cycling. There just isn’t a whole lot of energy left to read books and create an entire plan.

If you’re like me, the following articles give a more condensed, although harsh, strategy that may make it easier to focus on dropping a bit of weight:

My personal weight loss plan

I lost those pounds last year by doing a few simple things that were realistic and didn’t force me to make a huge change to my lifestyle. This was a good thing, because it was just too much of a stretch to overhaul my diet completely to be more in line with the what is recommended in the readings above. Even so, a bunch of small steps can create positive results over time. I must also credit my wife who has a nutrition background and keeps me eating well on a general level.

Here are a few tips for keeping your diet ‘honest’:

  • Out of sight, out of mind. If there’s junk food in the house, I will eat it until it is gone – there is no will power in this house. Actually, it becomes my singular focus to gorge on the snack food until it is gone. The solution: Don’t buy junk in the first place. Normally, I open our pantry 10 times a day looking for something to snack on. Usually, it is empty of anything ‘good’ – even the baby sitter complains to the neighbors about our lack of quality snack food. Occasionally, I’ll grumble and complain to my wife about having nothing to eat. The choice then becomes either go to the grocery store myself to get something or not snack. I hate going to the grocery store as much as I hate standing in line at the post office or waiting in the doctor’s office. Hence more often than not I’ll suck it up and not snack.
  • Lay off the sauce. There seems to be a mystical connection between beer and mountain biking. Most seem to favor the dark, heavy beers. My personal favorites are cold and free however. Last year I just cut back on the beer and stuck with (gasp!) light beer. I understand that this step maybe just too much for some to deal with.
  • Cut out the soda. Cutting back on the empty calories in soda helped a lot. Sometimes I just had to have some carbonation with lunch and would get a diet soda, even though there is that whole blood/brain barrier thing with the artificial sweetners. Lately I’ve been going with unsweetened tea or plain old water at lunch.
  • Excercise in the morning. In the morning, I drink one cup of coffee and then jump onto the trainer or head out on the bike. I’ll take food with me but won’t eat a lot before going out. Sometimes, by accident, I end up bonking, but usually not by design. Even though bonk training is something that you hear a lot of pros doing to cut weight quickly, bonking bad probably does more harm than good over the long run. When I’m not riding that day, or riding in the afternoon, I’ll have a good breakfast.
  • After a trainer ride or a hard ride, I’ll immediately down some recovery drink. This satiates me enough to not totally gorge like I used to after epic rides. I’ll follow that up with a good meal (but not a huge one).
  • Stick to regular size Reese’s and not the king size. There is no way I could totally remove desserts from my diet. Rewarding myself for a hard ride with some candy once in awhile is not going to kill me. If I was a pro it might be different but I’m not a pro and I LIKE my Reese’s.
  • Here comes that funny feeling. Around 7pm or 8pm at night I get that empty, growling stomach. I go to the pantry and there is nothing to eat, so I go to bed with the hungry feeling. It takes some getting used to but once asleep the empty stomach is a non-issue. It should go without saying that this goes out the window if a race is coming up.
  • My ace in the hole. I mentioned before that my wife keeps me eating well on a general level. If it weren’t for her, doing this would be one of those major lifestyle overhauls that I mentioned in the beginning of this article. Some of the things she does for me are:
  1. she helps me avoid partially hydrogenated oils and transfats. Even the kids look at food labels for those “partials”.
  2. we cook with very little oil.
  3. we eat vegetables with every meal.
  4. she often uses soy in place of meat. Products such as Morningstar Farms are pretty good, although sometimes I really jones for ground beef instead of soy crumbles.
  5. she limits refined flours. Wheat bread only, wheat/blend pastas.
  6. she reminds me to eat fruits and vegetables.

Conclusion

It is extremely difficult for most people to make drastic changes to their lifestyles and diets. For racers, restricting your diet too much in an effort to control weight can take a whole lot of fun out of our racing and lives. Nonetheless, small changes over the course of several months can help you cut several pounds, a move that can make your time on the bike more rewarding.

And please don’t think that I don’t have the dollar menu at Wendy’s memorized or am not a recognizable face at the doughnut shop because I often visit these establishments, even though I always say no to the superize option.

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