No matter what kind of rider you are, it’s all too easy to suffer from an expanding midsection. Not only can this hamper your performance, it can also affect your overall health.
The key to long-term weight loss is not merely counting calories or cutting down on carbs, but following a programme designed to reshape your body while improving its composition and maintaining its power.
Fundamental to this is balancing blood sugar levels, which is crucial for losing fat while promoting increases in muscle mass. To put it another way, balancing your blood sugar levels will allow you to boost your energy and performance while you're in the process of losing weight.
Adopting the following principles and eating plan will not only produce results fast, but will also improve your cycling performance and overall health.
1. Eat little and often
It’s essential for cyclists to keep their bodies fuelled frequently with the right foods. Doing so ensures there's a steady supply of glucose entering the bloodstream to be converted into energy. This reduces the insulin response as well, enabling your body to burn fat rather than store it, which means effective, healthy weight loss paired with constant energy levels.
Two to three hours after eating, your blood glucose levels drop, so you should aim to eat around every three hours even if you’re not training. In practical terms, this means eating breakfast, a healthy mid-morning snack, lunch, another healthy snack in the afternoon and an evening meal.
During training sessions, or all-day rides, you may want to add an additional snack or two. Choose these with care — treat them like mini-meals and make them count nutritionally. You can pick various foods to suit different times, such as when you need to hydrate, aid recovery or provide your body with additional nutrients. Here are some examples:
- Pots of natural low-fat yoghurt, cottage cheese or fromage frais and fruit
- Pots of hummus, guacamole or fish pate with a handful of carrot, pepper, cucumber and celery sticks
- Nut and seed bars (no added sugar)
- Piece of fruit with 30g of hard cheese
- Plain popcorn, crackers or pretzels (combined with some form of protein)
- Oat cakes or pumpernickel bread
- Hard-boiled egg and vegetable sticks
- Flavoured, low-fat milkshakes
- Miso soup and lean ham/chicken
- Homemade trail mix — a variety of nuts, dried fruit and mini plain shredded wheat to snack on
2. Include protein
Many weight-loss diets fail to work as intended and can lead to a loss of muscle mass, a slower metabolism and even weight gain. To avoid such a scenario, it's important to ensure you include sufficient protein in your diet. Especially as protein is one of the main constituents of your muscles.
Including protein has other important benefits, too: it slows down the rate of digestion and the speed at which sugars are released into the bloodstream, helping you feel fuller for longer and thus reducing your appetite. Because your blood sugar doesn’t vary so dramatically, you’re also less likely to suffer from cravings and, as a result, overeating.
Not all proteins are as beneficial for your health as others, though: red meat and dairy foods contain a high proportion of saturated fats. While it’s ﬁne to have the odd steak, try to include more lean poultry, eggs, vegetarian protein foods and ﬁsh (particularly oily ﬁsh — a good source of anti-inﬂammatory omega 3 fats).
Quick tip: a portion is roughly 75–100g, which is about the size of the palm of your hand. This is equal to two eggs or three egg whites plus an egg yolk. For beans and pulses, it’s 125g/half a cup (cooked).
Fill just over a third of your plate (30–40 percent) with protein and combine this with a range of colourful vegetables, which contain vitamins, minerals and ﬁbre that help counter the acidity of protein-based foods.
3. Cut out the junk
Sugar comes in many disguises, whether it’s sucrose, glucose, sorbitol, corn sugar, malt, molasses, golden, rice or maple syrup. All of these can contribute to unstable sugar levels, insulin resistance and weight gain.
Focus more on wholegrains (oats, barley, quinoa, rye) as these will help to control cravings and maintain even energy levels when you're out riding.
Fruits and fruit juices that release the sugar they contain fast are ﬁne before, during and after rides, but eat or drink them too often and it can send your sugar levels soaring. Mix them with antioxidant-rich berries, citrus fruits, apples and pears that release their sugars more slowly.
4. Eat essential fats
Forget low-fat, calorie-counting diets; eating the right type of fat is crucial for losing weight. Essential fats are those that your body can't make itself and so must obtain from food.
Known as omega 3, 6 and essential fatty acids, they help your body make hormone-like substances (called prostaglandins) that control your metabolism and reduce inﬂammation. This means that such fats are used by your body to help you burn off excess fat and improve the levels of cholesterol and triglycerides in your blood.
The omega 3 fats found in oily ﬁsh such as salmon, trout, mackerel, sardines and herring, and some nuts and seeds, including ﬂaxseed, hemp and walnuts, are typically lacking in people's diet. Aim to eat oily ﬁsh at least twice a week and try to include a range of nuts, seeds and omega oils in your diet daily. Monounsaturated fat is also beneficial, so you can snack on avocados drizzled with olive oil.
5. Get supplementary help
To keep your blood sugar levels stable, it may be useful to supplement your diet. Start with a high-strength multivitamin and mineral formula containing 20–50mg of each of the key B vitamins (B1, B2, B3, B6) needed for energy production, at least 1g of vitamin C and an essential omega supplement.
You may wish to add other nutrients known to help stabilise blood sugar and burn fat — top choices for this include chromium, magnesium, alpha-lipoic acid, conjugated linolenic acid and protein supplements or powders. Getting the quantities right can be difﬁcult, so it’s worth seeking support from a dietitian to tailor a programme to suit your needs.
- Breakfast: protein-boosting porridge made with porridge oats, milk or water and a half scoop of protein powder or ground seeds. Top with yoghurt and half a cup of berries or fruit
- Mid-morning snack: one piece of fruit plus some nuts and seeds
- Lunch: mixed bean or chicken salad using half a can of mixed beans and at least ﬁve different vegetables, sprouted seeds and dressed using an omega-blend oil. One slice of rye or pumpernickel bread spread with pumpkin seed butter or tahini
- Mid-afternoon snack: one protein shake
- Dinner: seared salmon with steamed veg and half a cup of cooked buckwheat noodles. Use a palm-sized piece of ﬁsh and wide selection of veg