You are currently viewing Cycling and Weight Loss – Part Two

Cycling and Weight Loss – Part Two

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In the second part of his blog on cycling and weight loss, John Phelan gives us the low down on how to get started…

Welcome back! In part one we examined the science of weight gain and weight loss. We also touched on the importance of having a highly efficient fat burning system in the body, and how this is key to successful weight loss and to keeping it off.  Let’s now look at how we can go about revving up our fat burning engine.  Note: converting your engine into a significantly more efficient fat burning machine can take 8-9 months to achieve.

The fasted ride.  This is a good place to start.  If you get out on the bike before breakfast on even one morning per week and get your diet in check for the rest of the week you will be rolling the ball in the right direction.  I would suggest you start with a 45-50min low intensity fasted cycle with the plan to gradually increase the cycle time to 3hours as the weeks and months go on.  You should also be looking to very gently increase the average speed for this fasted ride.  For those of you who are aware of the Borg Scale, i.e. rate of perceived exertion, then you want to be staying in and around a 2-3 out of 10 for effort here.  This effectively means that you can talk to yourself or others, in full sentences, without gasping for air.  If you’re a fan of coffee, like myself (bless me java, it’s been 6 years since my last coffee-free day!) then add it, without sugar, to your insides before the ride.  It is shown to facilitate fat burning in the body. 

On getting back home, build a breakfast that contains very low carbohydrate with higher fat and protein.  Why?  Because you shouldn’t have burned many carbs/glycogen on the cycle so there is no need to replace them in your breakfast.  Interestingly, you can do the fasted ride another way!  Have yourself a breakfast with zero carbohydrate – this means no milk, bread, cereal, porridge, etc.  A suggestion might be scrambled eggs and smoked salmon, before heading out for the exact same type of cycle.  This will lead to the same goal of switching your system over to a more efficient fat burning one.

Resting metabolic rate test

If weight loss is your goal, get cracking on the above carb-fasted ride strategy, but also keep a close eye on your calorie intake.  Follow the advice of less carbs on low acti5vity days and more carbs on higher activity days.  If you are looking for a more accurate approach, metabolic gas analysis is becoming a lot more accessible to the public.   We (myself and the Cork-based sports nutritionist, Catriona Courtney) are the first to bring this type of metabolic gas analyser to Ireland.  It’s called PNOE and it allows us to accurately test the resting metabolic rate (RMR) of a client to give the exact daily calorie requirements for basic human function. From this, a target calorie intake for weight loss can be easily calculated.  The RMR test also reveals what fuel the person predominantly burns at rest.  Ideally, for successful weight loss, the goal is to shift the fuel burning ratio to 70% fat and 30% carbohydrate.  For cyclists who are consuming too many carbs and are struggling to lose weight, their ratio could well be 30:70 in the other direction.  The ratio can be flipped by changing both the diet (reducing carbs, increasing healthy fats and protein) and the training (gradually progressive fasted cycles and introduce high intensity interval training with resistance training).  High intensity interval training on the bike can have many faces.  Here’s two for you.

  • Nice warm up for 10mins – Max speed for 30secs – Pedal easy for 90secs – Repeat four times

After the final interval, pedal easy for four minutes – Repeat the entire cycle two more times – Cool down for five mins

  • Here’s a less intense one. Warm up for 10mins – 45secs fast, 4mins 15secs easy – 40secs fast, 4mins 20secs easy – 35secs fast, 4mins 25secs easy – 30secs fast, 4mins 30secs easy – 25secs fast, you get the gist. Keep going until you get to 10secs fast and 4mins 50secs easy.

High intense interval training does not wave a magic fat burning wand, but what it can do is give you a lot of bang for your buck in terms of calories expended over a shorter time.  It will also help improve your VO2Max, a fitness measure shown to be the best predictor of overall health.  These workouts can be intense, but are less than an hour long.  There is no need to fuel up with carbs before these sessions because your body stores enough carbs in the form of glycogen to provide energy for intense exercise up to 60mins. Recover afterwards with a snack containing a ratio of 4:1 carbohydrate: protein.

Resistance training is all about building lean muscle mass.  Having more muscle makes your body more metabolically active, which in turns makes it burn more calories at rest.  Check out an earlier blog on this topic

The PNOE is also used to test for VO2max, i.e the maximal amount of oxygen you can inhale in one minute.  This test will also tell you what level of effort or heart rate/power results in the most amount of fat burning.  A handy number to know for your fasted cycles.  For those of you who are interested in using heart rate/power zones for training, this test will identify these zones too.

The diagram below is a snippet taken from a stationary bike PNOE gas analysis exercise test where you can clearly see the body switching over from a predominantly fat burning engine to a predominantly carbohydrate burning one.  This switch is happening because the power output or work rate has doubled, shown here with the pink background (150watts) changing to the purple background (300watts).  The idea behind the fasted cycling strategy is to push out this cross-over point so that you can eventually sustain a moderate work rate on a fuel source made up of predominantly fat.

PNOE gas analysis

To wrap this one up then.  Practice the fasted ride, and gradually progress in terms of distance first and then speed.  You will eventually reach a level where you’ll handle a Sunday cycle with your club and not require or desire the carby and sugary treats that are so freely available.  It goes without saying, if the same Sunday cycle ramps up a notch or two with the intensity jumping from a 3/10 to a 6/10 effort for longer than 60mins, then you better have that banana in your back pocket!

Resting metabolic rate and VO2max testing can be arranged at The Life Fit Studio in Cork for any interested parties. Just get in contact through the website