By Julie Cornelius, MS
Most of the athletes I work with have some kind of weight loss goal that they are working toward. Athletes want to be lean, since a good power to weight ratio can help boost performance. Training to improve power, while maintaining a lean physique can translate into seconds shaved off of time trial times, faster speeds up hills and potentially better placing in races.
Weight loss for cyclists can be extremely challenging and frustrating. I hear over and over from athletes I work with, as well as countless others that they have trouble shedding those stubborn pounds. Why is that, and how can you effectively lose weight while maintaining training?
Tip #1- What you eat matters. Weight loss for athletes really does come down to the food you are eating.
Athletes are already spending a lot of time training and being physically active. For a non-athlete, adding in an hour a day of exercise can easily translate into weight loss without changing much about their diet. For an athlete, adding in more activity can detrimentally affect performance. It really does come down to what you are eating and when you are eating those foods.
Tip#2- Weight loss for athletes needs to be slow to ensure muscle is maintained and training doesn’t suffer. Whenever I work with an athlete who wants to lose weight, the first thing I tell them is that the weight loss is not going to be fast. Really rapid weight loss means cutting food intake drastically. This will hinder performance and training. Also, losing weight too quickly means that a larger amount of the weight loss will come from muscle. The goal should be to lose fat and maintain muscle, but this takes slower weight loss.
Tip #3- Timing of when you eat and the foods you eat can help you to lose weight more effectively.
The approach I take is to make small changes in the athletes diet and focus on eating the right foods at the right time.
One of the most key times a person should eat is right after a workout. Not only does this help to improve recovery after workout by replenishing glycogen, but it can also affect hunger throughout the rest of the day. Glycogen is how we store carbohydrates in the body. There are many factors and hormones that affect hunger in the body, but when glycogen levels are low, hunger is stimulated. If glycogen levels are depleted during a workout, and an athlete does not eat a carbohydrate rich meal right after the workout (within 30-60 minutes), my experience is that they tend to be much hungrier the rest of the day. This can lead to overeating on the wrong foods, something that can completely derail weight loss attempts. Another really key time for eating is during a workout. Not eating enough during a workout can leave you feeling really hungry when you get done and can lead to overeating the rest of the day.
Tip #4&5- Just Because you are exercising a lot, it doesn’t mean you can eat whatever you want. Little changes can make a big difference.
A lot of athletes seem to have the idea that because they are doing a lot of activity, they can eat whatever they want. This mindset can lead to eating less than healthy foods and some mindless snacking. When it comes to weight loss for athletes, most of the time, it’s the little changes that make the big difference. Cutting out little snacks throughout the day can add up, making slight adjustments to meals, and focusing on timing of when to eat can all lead to healthy (which might mean slow!) weight loss that won’t hinder performance and can be maintained long term.
If you are an athlete looking to lose weight and are having trouble shedding stubborn pounds, check out our 3-month nutrition package. This package includes a customized meal plan that works with your training schedule and includes coaching from Nutrition Coach Julie Cornelius.
Julie Cornelius, MS is Co-founder of Potential Energy Training & Nutrition. She has an extensive background in nutrition and graduated from the University of Arizona in Tucson, AZ with both her Bachelors of Science and Masters of Science in Nutrition. She has worked in fitness studios helping clients achieve their nutrition goals, spent two years teaching college nutrition courses, and was the founder of Julie Bar, an energy bar company. Julie is a long time cyclist and mountain biker who loves being outdoors. Julie helps individuals to meet their nutrition goals, whether it is eating to win an endurance mountain bike race, losing weight, or just eating to be healthier. Connect with Julie: firstname.lastname@example.org.