The final installment of a three-part series, "tips to get lean" is written to help cyclists achieve their desired race weight and improve cycling performance.
11. Measure your progress
When asked in an interview about the most important tool for improving cycling performance, Lance Armstrong pointed to the scale. In doing so, he reinforced the notion that a goal that cannot be measured is really no goal at all. The cyclist that is seriously committed to sustainable weight loss will weigh in daily at the same time each day. Most cycling coaches recommend a weigh-in first thing in the morning, just after having gone to the bathroom and prior to eating. Track and post weight and body fat percentage (using the Tanita scale) in TrainingPeaks.com and track your progress over time. Some suggest that daily weighing is a bit excessive (I don’t agree), so choose one or two days per week when you will consistently weigh-in and post your results.
12. Train your body to burn more fat for fuel
Bob Seebohar has written an excellent book called “Metabolic Efficiency Training” that explains in great detail how to train your body to burn fat for fuel. Without taking away from the book, which is highly recommended, training your body to burn fat for fuel entails long, slow distance rides as well as eliminating sugary drinks from your shorter workouts. Go with water instead of sugar for workouts less than 90 minutes. For longer workouts, try substituting dried fruit for energy drinks and gels. Dried cherries are a favorite. Not only are they packed with carbohydrates, cherries also carry natural anti-inflammatory properties to help enhance your recovery.
13. Time your nutrient consumption
After a full night’s sleep, the human body awakens to a gas tank only half full. Stored carbohydrate and fat is burned while sleeping such that the amount of available carbohydrate for cycling performance is at only 50% of what it was just 8 hours prior. The long period of fasting and resting called sleep has taken a toll on the body’s ability to fuel performance. Accordingly, it makes sense for the cyclist to consume a higher carbohydrate food upon awakening to fuel performance for the day ahead. In fact, a strategy whereby high carbohydrate foods (whole grains and fruits) are consumed during the morning hours followed by meals that are higher in fats, proteins and low-glycemic carbohydrates (nuts, oils, seeds, lean meets, beans and vegetables) throughout the day leads to fewer cravings, greater feelings of fullness and lower overall calorie consumption.
A special note on post workout meals: Most athletes already know this, but it’s very important to begin replacing expended carbohydrate within 30 minutes of the conclusion of a workout. A recovery meal that contains both carbohydrate and protein in a 4:1 ratio has been shown to hasten carbohydrate replacement in the muscles when consumed within the 30-minute “window.” A blueberry smoothie with banana, almond milk and whey protein is a favorite recovery meal.
14. Treat yourself daily
A calorie restriction diet is difficult, so reward yourself daily for the progress you make. Allocate your calories wisely throughout the day and you will still have room for a daily treat. Try a square or two (120 calories) of 70-85% dark chocolate each night. The industry boasts that chocolate is high in bioflavonoids, but the real benefit is a little bit of chocolate takes care of the sweet tooth that often needs satiating in the early evening hours before bed. Eat it slowly, and savor it. You deserve it.
15. Buy yourself some new clothes
After a month or two of following these tips for getting lean, you will have lost weight and become leaner. As a result, your clothes will loosen, and people will notice the difference in your body composition. At first, people will say, “Have you lost weight? You look great!” Over time, as you near race weight, people may begin to ask the same question, but with more concern, followed by “you look skinny.” In our culture of overweight and obese people, skinny people are a clear outlier. People are either threatened by your leanness or associate it with illness. It can be tough to take. So, don’t flop around in baggie clothing. Buy yourself some new threads so that you continue to look great as the new, lean you.
16. Maintain a year round focus on optimizing body composition
To achieve optimal race weight, the aspiring cyclist will have worked hard and sacrificed to reach these levels. Just as peak performance in not sustainable year round, neither is race weight. That said, just because the season is over does not mean you should take your eye of the ball. If you have lost a considerable amount of weight, take steps in the offseason to assure that it does not all come back. Gaining back 2-3 kilos in the winter is not a big deal. But don’t let all your hard work turn into mush in the offseason by gaining it all back through poor dietary habits and a sloppy exercise regimen. Be the aspiring cyclist year round, and think about how you will continue to improve cycling performance from year to year. A lean, healthy and athletic body is a solid start!