Many athletes train with a goal of losing weight. Don’t sabotage your training and weight loss goals by improper fueling! Fuel to perform and the rest will take care of itself.
Recently I was chatting to a man I met while cycling. He told me he had raced Cat. 2 in his day and was cycling at a decent pace despite being in his fifties. It was about two o’clock and he was ten miles from finishing a seventy mile loop. Shortly after we started chatting he said ‘I’m doing a bonk ride, I haven’t eaten today, I need to lose this belly.’
My first thought was, “This is a terrible idea!”
Then my second thought was, “I’m going to have to wait to pull out my MASSIVE cherry Bakewell flapjack as that would be really rubbing it in!”
Instead of lecturing the poor hungry guy on how he could lose weight by eating regularly and improve his cycling at the same time, I bit my tongue.
Let’s use some rough figures to work out what is happening to this cyclist’s body.
If he ate his last meal at eight o’clock the previous evening, his next meal would be nearly eighteen hours later. He’s used around 400 kcal in his sleep and then more than 2000 kcal cycling. Yes, a good portion of these calories are going to come from fat stores but it’s the body’s reaction to this ‘shock’ that negates the benefits of fasting in this way.
First, was this guy likely to get home, sip a recovery shake and later eat some lean meat, quality carbohydrates and vegetables? Not likely. More likely he was going to have a massive fry up (I know this because he told me). This sort of fasting causes the body to go into what is known as ‘famine mode.’ If your body doesn’t know when the next meal is coming, your metabolism slows down and your body burns less calories. This is not ideal for weight loss. Second, fasting can affect your ability to make sensible food choices. When glycogen stores are low you will be more attracted to quick fix, sugary solutions: blood sugar spikes, insulin spikes, the sugar high passes and the next energy slump follows. The cycle continues when you are drawn to another quick fix food.
Using rough numbers I estimate that this cyclist’s BMR (essentially basic calories required during a day of lying in bed) to be 2,000Kcal. Adding in the 2,000kcal burned while cycling equates to a 4,000+Kcal deficit if he fasts for a full day. This is an extreme example. So, what is a better alternative?
- Make breakfast a priority – Albeit as inactive as it gets, you are in fact fasting while you sleep. Kick start the metabolism with some slow release carbs such as porridge on training days and aid recovery with high protein options such as scrambled eggs on rest days.
- Have a sensible deficit – If you are looking to lose weight then aim for no more than a 500kcal/day deficit. Any more is unsustainable whilst trying to maintain sporting performance.
- Time your intake – Try to limit high glycemic index foods (those with simple carbohydrates) to the hour before and during training when your body can readily use as a fuel source.
- Use the recovery window – Start the recovery process straight after a training session. Consuming a recovery meal or drink within 30 minutes of finishing a session not only aids muscle repair but it will hold off those sugary cravings until your next meal.
- Sleep – Get enough of it! Studies have shown that lack of sleep affects our cravings. Sleep is the ultimate form of recovery. Plan ahead and prepare food in advance, then when you do have those tired days you should have premade well balanced food at hand to keep you on track.
- If in doubt write it down – Keep a food diary for seven days. The commitment to recording your diet and awareness of what you’re actually eating can be enough to sway your choices. It’s also a great way to highlight any bad habits.
In a nutshell, make improving your performance the priority. If you balance consistent training with good quality nutrition and optimal recovery, you’ll enjoy your sport more and achieve your desired body composition.