All of us picked up and have continued cycling for some reason. Some of us do it as a form of relaxation, some of us do it as a social activity, some of us do it for general health and obviously some of us do it to lose weight or as a weight maintaining tool.
Now any active activity or exercise regime can be used to lose weight. Essentially, weight loss happens when you are on a caloric deficit - when your caloric input < caloric output. However, you don't want to go on a crazy deficit that'll not only severely decrease your cycling performance but also be counter-productive to not only your weight loss efforts but also your general health. There are proper ways to lose weight that will be good for your body, mind, and that are healthy and also sustainable. Here are some tips to inculcate and use cycling as a weight loss method.
1) Frame of Mind
Your frame of mind will be the most important thing in keeping your cycling weight loss journey sustainable. If you focus on losing weight and losing weight only, cycling can quickly become a boring painful chore. This applies to any form of exercise as well. You will also tend to overdo your cycling and exercise efforts when you only focus on losing weight.
Instead, focus on the general health benefits of exercise and cycling performance. The weight loss will surely follow. You have to understand that being healthier and being able to perform better in your exercise regime will ultimately allow you to lose more weight. In that same vein, if you're overdoing your weight loss, you will lose cycling performance and this will eventually cause you to lose your ability to lose weight.
2) Body Fat
Body fat is a big but important topic to touch one. First and foremost, your body weight is composed of different components, but to simplify it, your body composition consists of main fat and muscle. Essentially, what you should be aiming to do is to lower your body fat while maintaining or increasing muscle composition. There are ways to do this, which we will talk about later.
Secondly, we have to understand healthy levels of body fat. It isn't as simple as losing all your body fat entirely. Body fat is essential to keep your basic body functions running and essentially keeps your body running at optimum. Healthy body fat levels vary for different biological sex and age groups.
The third point is to understand that low body fat percentages are simply not sustainable for long periods of time. Do you have friends who participate in bodybuilding? This is the simplest and most apparent examples of low body fat percentages and how it is simply unsustainable for long periods of time. Bodybuilders generally keep within healthy body fat percentages for most of the year. They 'cut weight' and reduce body fat to unhealthy levels during competition periods, sometimes going to drastic measures. This also decreases their weight lifting performance. Professional cyclists are also the same. During competition season, they cut as much body fat as possible to be more efficient on race day, but maintain healthy body fat levels throughout the rest of the year. This cutting and putting the weight back on takes a lot of planning, dedication, nutrition and exercise tracking and is honestly not the easiest to do for the rest of us non-professionals, who have to live our personal non-sporting lives and juggle work and other commitments. Heck, some of us can't even afford to cycle everyday!
Last but not least, it is worth noting that muscle is essentially more dense than fat. This also means that muscle is heavier than fat. A litre of muscle weighs about 1.06kg while a litre of fat weighs 0.9kg. However, you also have to remember that muscle tissues burn more calories than fat - 10 pounds of fat burns 20 calories a day while 10 pounds of muscle burns 50 more. This essentially means that if at first you don't see any changes on the weighing scale, it could be that you're recomposing your body composition. If you maintain a caloric deficit, you will ultimately lose body fat and lose weight. We say that it is only a matter of time.
3) Caloric Deficit
As mentioned above, losing weight is essentially achieving and maintaining a caloric deficit, meaning your caloric output is greater than caloric input. However, there are healthy and unhealthy levels of caloric deficit.
You will lose a lot of weight fast if you're in crazy levels of caloric deficit. However, this is unhealthy and ultimately unsustainable. High levels of caloric deficit means that your body does not receive enough nutrients to support your daily activities and your daily bodily functions. High levels of caloric deficit (essentially starving) has been proven to decrease productivity, decrease muscle mass, throw your hormones out of balance and will cause mood swings, a drop in performance and lethargy. This is then counterproductive to your weight loss efforts because quality of life decreases, happiness decreases and you're less likely to be motivated to exercise if you feel.. shitty. Your exercise performance also drops and you lose the ability to simply burn more calories. Your muscles also need a certain level of calories to maintain its strength, density and volume. A high caloric deficit will only cause you to lose muscle and if you recall what we mentioned above, causes you to lose the ability to burn more calories and burn more fat.
So what amount of caloric deficit should you aim for? Generally, you should aim to be at a 500 calorie deficit.
4) Nutrition > Everything
Have you heard of the phrase 'abs are made in the kitchen, not the gym'.
If your aim is to simply lose weight, be mindful of what you put into your body. There are many many examples of people losing weight without exercise simply by making smarter choices in their diet and nutrition. Likewise, there are many people who struggle and fail to lose weight even when they exercise regularly. This is essentially because it is simply impossible to outtrain a bad diet.
A little non-physical related but possibly one of the most important! Look, let's not kid ourselves - exercising can be tough! Amidst 5-day work weeks and other commitments, sometimes it can get tough to fit in an exercise session everyday. Add a caloric deficit to that and it can really be challenging.
What you need is of course motivation. And to keep yourself motivated, you have to be happy! Happy to be on a deficit, happy to be burning calories while exercising. If you've noticed, despite most of these tips on this list being physical tips related to exercise and diet, a lot of it point to the same thing - to keep yourself happy and motivated to continue your regime. From keeping a healthy caloric deficit to keep hormonal levels balanced, to feeling fresh, to enjoying the exercise (in this case cycling), a big part of everything in this list is to keep yourself happy and motivated so the weight loss regime is sustainable.
6) Tips and Tricks - Portion Control
Portion control is a big problem for many people. Try to ensure that 50% of your meal is made up of vegetables and fruits. Vegetables are low calorie foods which are high in fibre. So you'll feel full faster while still keeping the caloric input low. On top of that, they're mostly rich in vitamins which do you good as well.
Also, do note that too much of even the healthiest foods can be unhealthy. So watch the portion and amount you're eating!
7) Tips and Tricks - Sugar Sugar Sugar
Carbohydrates are essentially sugar - or at least will be simplified by your body into sugar. Don't get us wrong. You need your carbs to carry out your daily activities, much more if this includes exercise or cycling. A common mistake made by many people is to cut out carbs entirely. This again leaves them feeling lethargic and unmotivated to continue exercising. Again, you need to have that energy and motivation to continue working out.
Since you're getting your essential carbs, cut out sugared drinks and snacks. These foods and beverages are loaded with unnecessary sugar. Think of it as wasted calories or wasted sugars. Instead of getting in your essential carbohydrates, you'd have wasted your sugar intake by having too much simplified sugar by drinking or eating these drinks and snacks and it's left you not very full and pretty hungry still.
8) Portion Control - Protein
It is common knowledge that protein is important for muscle building and recovery. So keep your protein intake up! When you reduce your overall caloric intake to achieve that caloric deficit and maintain your protein intake, the ratio of your protein intake to your overall caloric intake increases. Aim for 25-30% as a general guide and work from there. Another guide would be to have 1.2 - 1.7 grams of protein per kilograms of body weight daily. This is another rough guide for people who train or exercise often.
9) Identify Your Food Habits
Spend more effort in being aware of your own eating habits. Are you a snacker? Do you tend to go without food for long periods of time and then binge eat? When you're more aware of your own eating habits, you can identify problematic eating habits and practices that you possess and adjust accordingly. For example, if you are a frequent snacker, perhaps you can start substituting your snacks for healthier ones.
10) Don't Starve While Training. (No, just don't starve)
Don't starve while training. In fact, don't starve yourself at all. This is counterproductive as it limits your capabilities to train harder, it'll make you feel crappy and tired, it causes you to recover a lot slower AND depletes your muscles. Remember what we talked about earlier about muscles?
11) Alternate Your Carb Intake
This is a trick many athletes and fitness enthusiasts have done. They increase their carb intake on their hard training days and reduce their carb intake during their rest days. This may be slightly trickier to try and get right but hey! Only one way to find out.
Oh man. We know Singaporeans don't sleep very much. But sleep. Try to get at least 8 hours of it everyday. A lack of sleep doesn't only hinder weight loss, it might even cause weight gain. But weight issues aside, the lack of sleep also causes a multitude of health problems such as high blood pressure and higher risks of heart attack. If that isn't immediate, it also causes lethargy and lack of focus, which is just not the way to go.
13) Fasted Training
Fasted training may not be for everyone. Some of us at the shop swear by it. Some like to stay away from it as much as possible.
There are plenty of benefits to fasted training. The first would be that you're essentially training on an empty stomach, meaning your body is forced to use your glycogen stores as an energy source. The second would be to condition your body to use your glycogen stores first and be more efficient on energy. It also trains your body to increase metabolic rate. Aside from these, it acts as a shock to your body, which is probably too comfortable being conditioned to train with food.
Of course, there are limitations to fasted training, purely because there are limitations to how much your body can use your glycogen stores. Therefore, keep fasted training short. Long trainings or rides fasted can leave you burnt out and unproductive before you end your session. A lot of fitness enthusiasts and athletes pair fasting with short intense workouts such as HIIT sessions. This can be done on your bike as well. 30-60 minutes would be a good way to start and see what works best for you.
14) Vary Your Training
Since we're on the topic of HIIT or intense training, vary your training styles. How your body basically works is that it gets conditioned to a certain kind of training after some time of doing it. And we mean every part of your body - nervous systems, muscles, cardiovascular. Ever wondered why a first ride can be absolutely tiring while only the second or third ride can feel a lot better? You probably did not get much fitter. Your body just got more used to it. The longer you do a certain type of ride, the more your body gets used to it and the less your effort your body has to spend to burn as many calories.
Shock your body a little. If you're used to doing short intense rides, do a long endurance ride once a week. If you're used to munching miles, vary your routine by doing an intense ride. For example, a 30 second full blast and 30 second rest interval ride.
As we mentioned early in the post, any active activity can help you lose weight. It is therefore up to you to adapt your activity and training, as well as your diet and nutrition, to make full use of your exercise regime and shed some weight. Finally, we'd just like to say good luck and stay motivated! Focus on enjoying your rides and eating healthier and you'll definitely shed some weight!