I enjoyed your article in the recent VeloNews (May 22, 2008) about nutrition for cyclists. A lot of what you discussed I was already doing (learned from trial and error over my riding career of 25 years), but have a question I’d like to address to you that a lot of other cyclists might also find interesting.
I’m a 50 year old male and have been riding for 25 years. I would consider myself a strong enthusiast — I typically ride two or three days per week for a total of 100 to 150 miles and like to climb. I don’t participate in organized races but revel in friendly competitions with friends to crest the mountain first or always improve my split times on local rides. I consider myself fit and fairly lean, but over the last 20 years I have added an extra 20 lbs as I move into that middle age lifestyle that I just can’t seem to shake off.
Do you have any nutritional tips that could help me slowly nibble away at some of the excess weight I’d added while not impacting my endurance or energy levels while riding?
I appreciate any thoughts.
I agree with you that your concern is likely shared by many other cyclists in their forties or later. It is not uncommon that many cyclists can’t keep up with their eating habits of previous years and maintain a weight that is healthy and appropriate for their genetics and body type.
Other than a drop off in training time and miles due to other life commitments, several factors can contribute to changes in body weight and body composition on the middle years. Even starting as young as age 35 years we can lose muscle mass as a normal part of the aging process. This in turn lowers our resting metabolic rate, making it harder to maintain our usual weight. With a lowered resting metabolic rate, you burn fewer calories even at rest and also when going about your daily life activities.
Cutting back on food intake is always a bit of a challenge, because food tastes good and is tied to into many social and relaxing scenarios. You also want to be fueled for your 50-mile rides and feel good when trying to beat your friends to the crest of a mountain. While every athlete will need to adopt a nutrition eating style and plan that is personalized to them for long-term success at weight management, here are some of the weight loss tips that you asked for:
- Burn more calories from exercise during the week with a focus on strength training. Focus on two to three days of strength training when trying to lose weight. Since you usually ride two to three time per week, it would be beneficial to fit in strength training that is focused on muscle building. You can build muscle at virtually any age, and boost your resting metabolic rate.If your main exercise focus is cycling, it is also beneficial to do some weight-bearing exercise to keep your bones healthy as you age. Even if your schedule does not allow for more cycling, add in some other cardiovascular cross-training activity for 45 to 60 minutes on days that you don’t ride or weight train. This boosts your metabolism and allows for more calorie burning for the week.Another problem with riding only a few days weekly is that your energy needs are very high on one day, and not so high on others. You can also experience much more hunger on the endurance ride days, which can make it difficult to cut back on your calorie intake. Cross-training on your off days also allows you to focus more of your recovery nutrition after a long training day, as your energy needs will be higher.
- Check your body composition. Since you are focused on both muscle preservation and/or building, as well as body fat loss, have your body composition checked. This way you can monitor changes in body tissue, even if it is an indirect measurement. The scale only provides a really small part of the picture. Set a realistic weight and body composition goals for a specific time frame. Keep in mind that losing weight is sometimes done in stages when some real habit change is happening rather than temporary dieting. Often you will lose a few pounds at a time, stay there for a few weeks or longer before you can lose some more weight.
- Capture a week-long snapshot of your own big picture of eating. Just as you need to train and cross-train properly for the week, you can take a look at one week’s worth of typical eating. Keep a food diary and write down meals and snacks soon after you consume them. Estimate portions as best as you can and pay attention to how full you get. Also, notice your degree of hunger when you sit down for a meal or snack. Just the act of keeping a food journal can be helpful in losing weight. It really puts your habits right in front of you and results in plenty of accountability and self-monitoring. You can also learn to eat when you are moderately hungry and stop when you are moderately full, another important weight control gauge.
- Aim for a weight loss of one, or nor more than two pounds weekly. The more you decrease your food intake, the more you can actually lower your resting metabolic rate just through cutting back. A more gentle cutback of 350 to 500 calories daily, for a one-half to one pound loss weekly will help minimize this effect. Keeping the calorie deficit minimal also helps to protect against loss of lean muscle tissue, and will support your efforts at muscle building as well.
- Look for relatively painless ways to trim calories. Sometimes it can be just a simple cutback on portions at larger meals. Perhaps you noticed that you are getting overly full at specific meals? Stop eating when you feel nothing rather than full to stuffed, as this gauge indicates that you are appropriately full, rather than overfull.Your body really is designed to take in regular meals and snacks, and does well on a steady supply of fuel, rather than too large meals where excess calories are stored as fat. Get a handle on “portion distortion.” Remember what size bagels used to be two decades ago? Many were 2 to 2.5 ounces or 160 to 200 calories. Now the average bagel is easily 320 calories and often up to over 400 calories. Mega-size muffins and scones also add hundreds of calories. Notice what happens when you eat out. You can also save plenty of calories simply by packing a healthy lunch rather than navigating the perils of restaurant and quick lunchtime choices. Pack healthy snacks like yogurt, fruits, and vegetables.
- Stick with enough calories around training and during training. You still need to be well fueled when you head out the door and replenish, refuel, and repair after a hard ride. Cut back on calories away from your workouts. When you go on longer rides make sure that you have a good pre-ride meal/breakfast, consume carbohydrates from sports drinks on the bike, and recovery snacks and drinks after a long ride. Having a more modest sized dinner later in the day may be a better strategy. You also don’t need to cut back every day, your body calorie balances with food intake and exercise over the course of a week. It is also a good idea to not check your weight too often, only once weekly is fine.
- Aim for balance, adequate fat, and a few favorites. Healthy fats help you stay satisfied when cutting back slightly on calories. A few well paced nibbles of almonds, peanuts, walnuts, sunflower seeds and avocado add nutrients to your diet as well. Of course you should watch portions. It is also important to fit in a few treats here and there so that you don’t feel deprived and miss some favorites. Just set some specific guidelines for treats and alcohol which add low nutrient calories.
Monique Ryan, MS, RD, LDN is a nationally recognized nutritionist with over twenty-four years of experience and is owner of Personal Nutrition Designs, a Chicago based nutrition consulting company that provides nutrition programs for endurance athletes across North America (www.moniqueryan.com). Monique has consulted with the Chicago Fire Soccer Team for seven season, and was the nutritionist for Saturn Cycling from 1994 to 2000. She has also consulted with the Volvo-Cannondale Mountain Bike Team, the Gary Fisher Mountain Bike Team, and the Rollerblade Racing Team. Monique has consulted with USA Cycling, and was a member of the Performance Enhancement Team for the Women’s Road Team leading to the 2004 Athens Olympics. She has also provided nutrition consultation services to USA Triathlon for coaching clinics, athlete clinics, and for the resident athlete team and was a member of the USAT Performance Enhancement Team for the 2004 Athens Olympics. Monique is the author of “Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes,” 2nd edition (March 2007), from VeloPress, which provides sports specific nutrition for road cycling, mountain biking, running, triathlon, swimming, rowing, and adventure racing. She is also author of “Performance Nutrition for Winter Sports“(PeakSports Press), “Performance Nutrition for Team Sports” (PeakSports Press), and “Complete Guide to Sports Nutrition.” Monique is a regular contributor to VeloNews, Inside Triathlon, and Outside. She is a Certified Specialist in Sports Dietetics. As part of the FeedZone column, Monique will answer selected questions online. Please send your questions to RyanWebQA@aol.com.