Coaching: How cyclists can lose weight this winter and keep it off

Posted on: October 11th, 2018



Losing weight properly should take a while and involve both training and diet changes

Losing weight properly should take a while and involve both training and diet changes


How cyclists can lose weight this winter


It’s fascinating to listen and watch while cyclists compare and discuss the various components on their bikes. Obscene sums of money are often mentioned in relation to tiny pieces of equipment.

A brake calliper will be held out in one hand. With eyes closed in concentration it will be gently cradle rocked up and down to assess its weight. This process will be repeated with all kinds of bike bits and pieces.

When a cyclist turns to up to meet his regular group on his brand new bike, the first thing his friends will do is pick up the bike and give it that gentle up and down movement to see how it is burdened by gravity.

Reductions of 700g will be barely detectable but much sought after. To reduce a bike’s weight by 700g will more than likely cost over €700.

And why do these cyclists want lighter bikes? To go uphill with less effort. To accelerate faster.

Amongst this group of weight obsessed riders there will be several standing in their cycling gear who will display a protrusion with potential for far greater weight loss than the bike or any of its parts.

For most cyclists seeking to reduce the effort of climbing, far more significant gains can be made by loosing some of the midriff than by spending vast sums on superlight equipment.

If there is a bulge in your cycling jersey around your middle then you can probably count the potential loss in kilos rather than the grams that the bike can shed.


Essentially weight loss or gain is a matter of accounting.

Take in more calories than you spend and the excess is stored on deposit as fat under your skin. Spend more calories than you are taking in and the body has to make up the deficit by taking from the fat stores under the skin.

One kilogram of body fat holds 7,700 calories of energy. Riding at a steady comfortable pace will use up somewhere between 500-700calories per hour. Cycling for 11-16 hours would burn the equivalent calories to 1kg of fat.

However when we are riding along at a reasonably comfortable steady pace only about half of our energy is coming from our fat stores. The rest is coming from glycogen (stored glucose) in the body.

This would suggest that to shed 1kg of fat from our body we would need to do 22-32hrs of steady cycling. It would take a long time to get rid of 3kg of midriff if we relied solely on upping the mileage on the bike.


So what can be done to speed up this fat loss?

There are a number of “do’s and don’ts”


Drop your calorie intake drastically. Your body will think it is starving. It will preserve its fat stores so that it can last as long as possible.

The body will break down muscle to provide energy. You will get lighter because muscle is much heavier than fat. There are two main negative consequences of this crash-style dieting:

  1. Lower power output due to muscle loss. Muscles are much heavier than fat and are high consumers of energy.
  2. Lower basal metabolic rate (the bodies tick over rate) due to having less muscle. This means when you return to normal eating you will put on fat faster.

The best approach is to begin by improving your diet without worrying about the calories too much. In general the less processed a food is the better it is for you.

Processed foods tend to be high in sugar, fat and salt. High sugar foods tend to make our bodies store energy as fat. Below are some guide lines.


  • Reduce/remove all confectionary and processed snacks. Replace with fruit, nuts and seeds.
  • Reduce/remove all sugary drinks (coke, fanta etc). Replace with water, sparkling water.
  • Reduce/remove all high fat processed foods and foods containing hydrogenated fat/oils (that is, most ready meals, some low fat spreads). Replace with home cooked meals.
  • Reduce/remove all fried food. Replace with grilled, baked, steamed, boiled foods.
  • Remove gels, energy bars (keep these only for racing) and energy drinks from training rides. Replace with sandwiches, fruit, home made muesli bars, water or zero calorie electrolyte drinks
  • Increase intake of fish (especially salmon, mackerel, herring, sardines, trout), nuts, seeds, salads, veg, fruit, beans.
  • Reduce/remove alcohol consumption.

It is likely that this approach will cause fat loss in most people. If this approach is not enough, combining it with a 10-15% decrease in total calories taken in will bring about fat loss. Remember that losing fat is a slow process. If you are dropping weight fast then it is probably fluid loss. This is not good as it means you will be dehydrated.


Aidan Ryan has been involved in track & road racing and mountain biking for nearly 40 years. He has won seven national track titles and represented Ireland on a number of occasions. He is a level 3 coach and holds a degree in physical education. Aidan has coached riders of all levels from beginner mountain bikers to European track champions, from leisure riders to ultra-distance record holders.