I’m one of those people who can gain a kilo by looking at a bowl of ice cream. We bought a bathroom scale last March and even though my jeans told me I’d gained some weight, number 90, glowing at me in all its digital truth, was a shocker. Seventy-five is the number I like, 80 not so much, 85 was my guess where I was at, but 90?
By the end of June that same scale registered a number I liked a lot more — 78.3 kilos. Twelve kilos gone in three months.
How I Used Cycling For Weight Loss: The Story of 12 Kilos Gone Missing
Before I tell you what I did to burn all that fat, let’s start with how I got to 90 in the first place.
Where the Fat Bastards Came From
It started with a badass crash, the one where you slide on the asphalt for three seconds and then sit in a pool of blood waiting for an ambulance to pick you up and then go straight to surgery because a bone is sticking out from your elbow as if an elephant stepped on it and the only way to fix this mess is to screw a titanium plate to the good parts of your bone to hold everything together.
Patched up, I was back on the bike as soon as I could hold on to the handlebar. Things were going great for six weeks until one sunny afternoon a minivan flying 90 km/h plowed at the back of a parked Yaris I was sitting in.
After that, riding a bike decreased, alcohol consumption increased. I’d ride once and then not touch the bike for two weeks. Another ride or two, nothing for weeks. A glass of wine, two glasses, more glasses. Wine, it takes the edge off — for an evening — and then you’re back the next day where you started from only this time the edge is sharper. More wine then.
This is not a scientific research paper but I’m sure the fat I’d gained came from alcohol and lack of sleep and riding. The food, I ate the same food, nothing had changed.
Burning Fat Cells the Old Way
If someone asked me a year ago what’s the best way to use cycling for weight loss, I’d say go and ride a lot of long, slow rides. This kind of riding is fueled mostly by fat so the idea is you spend hours and hours dieseling away one fat cell at a time until you burn the ballast off.
It’s how we used to do it anyway. You come to your first training camp after an end-of-the-season break 10 kilos overweight because you haven’t sat on a bike for six weeks and ate like a pig and you start with slow, two- to three-hour rides. After a week, you bump your rides by an hour and then you go into five-six-hour territory and keep going. The kilos, they melt away and in two months you’re normal again.
Question is, had the weight loss happened because of long and slow rides or because of the return to healthy diet and regular training?
Burning Fat Cells the New Way
This is how I’d burned 12 kilos in three months in a way I’ve never tried before.
I started with the long-and-slow method except I didn’t have time for long rides and because I haven’t had a decent week of training in 18 months, I couldn’t even do anything longer than two hours for the first week. For about five weeks I rode between 90 minutes and two hours four to five times a week. Slow.
How slow? In good shape, on the same roads I’ve been riding for the last 10 years, I’d average 32-34 km/h. This time I was doing 26-27 km/h.
Note about average speeds: they’re relative, I know that. But when you ride on the same roads for years, average speed is a reliable gauge between slow and fast rides.
This laid the foundation and built back some endurance I had lost while not riding. At the end of the fifth week I had no trouble averaging 28-29 km/h and doing rides over two hours once or twice a week. And the weight?
I dropped two kilos.
And then I went — stuff this riding slow business, let’s open some gas, let’s rock and roll.
I’d get out on the road and jack up the pace. Same two-hour ride but I’d push hard from start to finish. How hard? Hard enough to stay focused on keeping the pace up for the whole ride but not hard enough to have killed the legs by the end of the ride.
Sometimes, I’d pick a five- or seven-kilometer stretch of the road and ride in a time trial pace, close to full gas, recover, go back to my hard pace and then do another one. I’d would do this once a week.
Another thing I did that I wasn’t good at — I gave myself plenty of rest when I felt tired from riding hard. One day’s not enough to recover? I’ll take another one.
Every time I went for a ride, I was fresh and ready to put the hammer down. Every time. This, I believe, was an important part of the strategy because every ride was fun and when it’s fun to ride hard, you ride hard and enjoy it and you can keep going week after week like this without forcing yourself.
The average jumped to 32 km/h and when I stepped on the scale after three weeks of going hard every ride, the digits flashed 82, a six-kilo drop in 21 days and in 10 more days I was down to 79 and then 78 a bit later.
What about the food? Nothing. I ate the same food I had been eating before. Alcohol? Yes, cut that down. Couple of drinks per week, maybe three, that kind of thing.
My aim is to drop to 75 kilos, and then I’m good. Best thing about this — I can stand up out of the saddle on a climb without feeling like someone is burning my legs with a blowtorch.
One Other Thing I Did
My last meal is usually around six. Between that and the ride in the morning is good 10 to 12 hours of fasting. If you skip breakfast before your ride, that’s another two hours your body will get its fuel from the vast fat deposits under your skin without any extra joules coming from food. And it’s not just any two hours, it’s go-go two hours.
After that, when I’m back home, I’d warm a cup of milk in the microwave, add a teaspoon of honey and call this a recovery drink and wouldn’t eat for another hour and keep burning fat. Sports physiologists call this the afterburn effect or EPOC (Excess Post-Exercise Oxygen Consumption).
They say it’s real but I’m not qualified to judge. All I know is that I lost 12 kilos in a blink of an eye and regained good form doing that.
Takeaway Points to Use Cycling For Weight Loss
- start with a decent endurance base
- go out and ride short but hard, two- or under two-hour rides
- rest is key, rest until you feel fresh again
- ride hard only when you’re fresh
- don’t ride tired, or at least don’t ride hard when you’re tired
- cut down on alcohol
- if you’re not doing it already, cut down on sugar
- fat and protein in food is your friend just like complex carbohydrates