Back in 2005, I got bit with the cycling bug. At the time, it was about a lot more about getting outdoors, enjoying myself, and de-stressing from work. I started out weighing 265 pounds and quickly dropped weight, losing about 30 pounds that first year. But weight wasn’t my primary motivator for cycling… I enjoyed cycling, I enjoyed getting outdoors, and I enjoyed being able to eat what I wanted. I also enjoyed losing weight, developing a good aerobic capacity, and being “part” of the sport. I was a cyclist.
Over the course of the next few years, I continued to drop weight, getting down to about 215 pounds. Losing 50 pounds is no small feat, but it came naturally, and for the most part, without massive changes to my diet. I’m a big guy (6’5”) and I like food. Don’t get me wrong, there was a lot of cycling involved, but there was also a lot of food consumed and my diet has never been exceptional.
Burning calories is about more endurance and less about intensity
Losing weight is all about your long-term calorie balance. Being overweight is simply the fact that over your entire life, you’ve stockpiled calories (and no longer 7-10 pounds). You can be heavy and still be aerobically fit, capable of cranking out multiple centuries each year. Body weight simply depends on that balance of calories burned versus calories consumed.
What makes cycling so awesome is that it can easily burn 500 - 700 kcals per hour at an intensity that doesn’t leave you needing several days off to recover. Running is also an excellent way to burn calories, but it’s more intense. Burning 800 - 1000 kcals per hour is nice, but I’ve never gotten to the point where I can run 7, 8, 10 hours per week. Instead, I’ve been limited to about 5 hours running per week with anything more leading to injury. Yet with cycling, it is completely reasonable and achievable to ride 5 - 7 hours per week even with a busy work/family schedule. I’ve even been able to manage a few 30+ hr cycling weeks when I’m off from work, and let me tell you that no matter how much you eat, no matter what you eat, you will lose lots of weight if you do. And while your co-workers may not grant you “god” status, they will agree that you are a true cycling nut (aka, a cycnut). However, increase your weekly saddle time to no more than 10% each week, and periodically (say one week a month), drop back a few hours, before increasing again to allow for solid recovery.
A long, leisurely rides with friends is a good way of getting extra saddle time.
Fall is here. Drier air and cooler temperatures means hydration is less of an issue than it has been for most of the spring and all summer. But I want to point out a couple of tips as your sports nutrition changes away from sports drinks and starts to include more gels.
1) A typical sports drink offers approximately 150 kcal per 24 ounce water bottle. The sweet spot for rapid absorption is about 5 to 6 percent sugar solution. This is where the digestive track is most effective, in fact, more effective than drinking pure water. As a result most sports drinks are formulated in this range… about 200 – 240 kcals per liter of prepared solution. Gels require extra fluid to dilute them or they end up being too concentrated. Without supplemental water, you won’t absorb the sugars in a reasonable time causing them to just sit on your stomach.
The scientific designation of human beings, homo sapiens, literally means “man of wisdom”. And as homo sapiens, we have evolved a distinct set of evolutionary advantages. I’m not talking about abstract thought, language, or opposable thumbs. I’m talking about an uncanny endurance capacity for aerobic effort. Among primates, only humans have the necessary adaptations for endurance exercise.
Starting around 1.8 million years ago, homo sapiens (read this as you and me) began to subsist as hunter-gatherers. The hunting portion consisted of persistence hunting, where a combination of endurance running and tracking was used to pursue game to the point of exhaustion. In the true Darwinian sense, those that could survive did, and those that could survive well, excelled… and their offspring survived better as a result, passing on their superior aerobic genes. Later on, we started farming and began to form towns, mainly to grow wheat and hops in order to make beer, but that’s another story all together.
Our hunter-gatherer roots forced adaptions to a variety of systems. Humans have more sweat glands per unit of skin area than any other animal, allowing thermoregulation during intense activity. It turns out that persistence hunting is best performed during hot days, as the advantage over game animals is most dramatic. We developed large adrenal and thyroid glands, which produce larger quantities of necessary hormones. The adrenal glands help power the “fight or fight” response in humans, and as a result, we have a unique ability to use fats as fuels.