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Bicycling Magazine Logo

The smallest loser

How to shed those last, stubborn five pounds -- without hindering performance

By Kelly Bastone
Bicycling Magazine

If you're like many cyclists, you eat healthily--yet still can't shed those pesky pounds that keep you from your goal weight. The final five are typically the toughest because you've already adopted lean-eating habits. And because your workouts demand adequate fuel, slashing calories can sabotage your performance.

To melt those pounds without bonking on the bike, get detail-oriented, advises Hale Deniz-Venturi, RD, CSSD, a sports dietitian for Chicago Endurance Sports. "Small changes add up to big results," she says. For example, lighten up and your improved power-to-weight ratio will make you a faster climber--trimming one pound saves you about three watts, so shedding five "helps you maintain a faster pace than someone who's carrying those extra pounds," says Kelli Montgomery, a coach and nutrition consultant in Connecticut.

Just don't try to lose all five at once, Montgomery says: "If you're training hard, a pound a week is all you can afford to lose. More than that, and you're probably not getting enough calories to recover from workouts," which will cause your body to break down muscle fiber for fuel, rather than rebuilding it. Ideally you should slim down during the off-season, rather than before a race, says Deniz-Venturi. "Otherwise, your glycogen levels will dip and compromise your performance," she notes.

Both experts recommend that cyclists get an objective BMI measurement to help identify their ideal weight--one that's neither too heavy nor too light, which saps strength. Then, try these tips.

SWAP SMART

Pick nutrient-dense, low-calorie veggies and whole fruits. A half-cup of grapes saves 195 calories over the same amount of raisins. Instead of juice at breakfast, eat an orange--and save 40 calories or more. Snack on an apple, rather than pretzels: A study published in Nutrition in 2003 found that people who snacked daily on three apples or pears and made no other dietary changes for 12 weeks lost an average of 2.7 pounds. "Eating more fruits and vegetables boosts your fiber intake, which will keep you feeling fuller longer," says Montgomery.

THINK BEFORE YOU DRINK

"Beverages contain surprising amounts of calories," says Montgomery. Limit sugar and creamer in coffee, and dilute juice with seltzer to make a low-calorie soda. And save the big glasses for water--caloric drinks such as milk and smoothies are best sipped from small cups--so you don't end up quaffing a meal's worth of calories.

EAT ALL DAY

"Don't ever be without food," says Deniz- Venturi. Go more than four hours without eating and you'll be famished by your next meal. On busy days, when you're not as focused on proper fueling, pack healthy snacks like carrot sticks and string cheese.

WRITE IT DOWN

Spend a week keeping a log of everything you consume as well as when and how much. "A food diary is a window into your habits," says Deniz- Venturi. Keeping track can help you identify how you can trim even further. "You may not be able to identify one major problem," she notes. "Usually, it's the little things that add up."