Calorie Counting: The First Step to Getting Faster On Your Bike

James_Big_JeansOne of the best things you can do to get faster on your bike is to lose weight.  Think about it this way.  If you are 25 pounds overweight, then every time you climb a hill you are carrying all that extra blubber up with you.  You could shave a few pounds off your bike, OR, you could lose the 25 pounds and shave off the equivalent of a WHOLE BIKE!

There are a lot of myths about losing weight.  However, there are only two basic things you really need to know if you want to decrease your waist line.

  1. Calories consumed must be less than calories burned.
  2. There are approximately 3500 calories in a pound.

So forget about carbs and fats, the time of day you eat, boosting your metabolism and all the other concepts that lead to myths about how to trick the body into losing weight.  Focus on burning more calories than you eat and consuming a nutritionally balanced diet.  To lose 10 pounds you must create a deficit of 35000 calories.

This is physics folks.  The math is simple and there are no gimmicks.  I’m not a dietician.  I can only tell you about losing weight from my perspective.  I lost 40-45 lbs and I’ve managed to keep it off for 6 months.  I credit counting calories for both losing and maintaining my weight.  Furthermore, my weight loss is one of the main reasons that I have become a much faster cyclist.

Graph of weight over the last six months

This graph shows the fluctuations in my weight over the last six months. My goal is to hover around 160.

I tried one other time in my life to lose weight.  I was successful in losing over 30 lbs, but my approach was much different.  I didn’t keep track of calories because back in 2002 their were no smartphones with apps and crowd-sourced calorie information to take advantage of.  Basically, I just starved myself as much as I could tolerate and ate when I could no longer tolerate it.  This is a horrible approach because you end up feeling guilty about everything you eat and eventually you get so frustrated that you give up and the weight goes back on.

Calorie_Counting_03Back then, calorie counting was much more of a chore.  Was I going to carry a notepad around all the time?  Now it’s much easier.  I just reach into my pocket and pull out my iPhone 5c with the MyFitnessPal app.  The program does all the calculations for me and even keeps track of nutritional information.

The whole process of actually seeing the numbers was eye-opening and completely changed the way I approached eating.  At 5’10” and 204 pounds, I was not morbidly obese.  However, I was no longer looking athletic.  I had always considered myself a big eater.  I loved to eat.  Although I think I was eating mostly healthy foods, I was eating way too much of them.

Counting calories made me reconsider what I was putting into my body.  At the most aggressive moments of my weight loss I was eating only 1400 calories per day, which was a deficit of about 900 calories (I would add more calories based on how much I was exercising).  When you are only eating that much it seriously makes you reconsider the 550 calorie blueberry muffin for breakfast.  That ends up being over 1/3 of all you can eat for a day and it’s not particularly filling.

Seeing my calories caused my relationship with food to change.  Pastas, breads, rice, cheeses and desserts were not evil, but they were definitely meant to be eaten in moderation.  I developed a love affair with fresh fruits and vegetables.  Everyone knows that they are healthy options, but the process of tracking my nutrition made me realize just how great they were.  They are nutritionally dense and low in calories.  Eating a good mix of fruits and vegetables helps you to avoid hunger and get many of the vitamins and minerals that are needed in a healthy diet.

pie graph of macronutrientsPeople ask me all the time whether I avoided carbs to lose weight.  After all, “low-carb” is the buzzword of the day.  My answer is “absolutely not”.  Fruits and vegetables are made primarily of carbohydrates.  Any diet that suggests cutting back on those is a bad idea in my book.  Endurance athletes, such as mountain bikers, need carbohydrates to fuel their muscles for peak performance and recovery.  I do avoid carb-loading and high-doses of calorically dense foods like pasta.  However, that is to avoid eating too many calories, not because I am trying to avoid carbs.

Should you avoid fat?  My focus is not on avoiding fat, but making sure that the fat I am consuming is healthy.  I avoid eating saturated fats and trans fats, but I go out of my way to eat healthy fats from sources like olive oil, nuts and avocados.  Fat and fatty acids are used by the body for a variety of important functions and are vital to a healthy diet.  On top of that, most athletes rely on their fat stores for valuable energy production when competing.

For me, the key word is balance.  Depriving your body of any of the three macronutrients – carbohydrates, fats and proteins – is a bad idea.  I try to eat 20-30 percent of my diet in protein, 20-30 percent of my diet in fat and make up the rest with carbohydrates, about 50-60 percent.

Counting the calories on my phone doesn’t just allow me to avoid weight gain, it also helps me to keep these macronutrients in balance.  Furthermore, I also use it to track cholesterol, sodium and potassium intake.

Myfitnesspal tracks micronutrients like cholesterol and sodiumEven though I am no longer trying to lose weight, I continue to track my calories because it helps me to keep everything in perspective.  For some people tracking calories is tedious or frustrating, for me it is freeing.  It makes it easier to enjoy a beer with dinner if I know that I didn’t overeat at lunch.  I can also take a day off from healthy living if I know I’ve been well-behaved the rest of the week.  I appreciate the boundaries that tracking the calories gives me.  How many cookies are too many?  I don’t have to guess.  I can just look it up on my phone and enjoy the appropriate amount without worrying about overdoing it.

One of my biggest fears when I was losing my weight was that I would put it all right back on again.  My big appetite has not gone away.  I still like to eat.  But keeping track of what I eat has helped me stay on the right track and I think it can help you too.  If you’ve struggled  with weight-loss or think that your cycling could benefit from carrying a few less pounds up the hills, then I encourage you to give it a try.  Doing so will help you to ride faster and feel healthier.  What do you have to lose?

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9 thoughts on “Calorie Counting: The First Step to Getting Faster On Your Bike

  1. Pingback: Man Loses 50 Pounds – Time Lapse Video | Quickdirt

    • For most of the time that I was losing weight, I was riding my bike for about 4 times a week 2 hours per ride. But, it doesn’t matter how much you work out as long as you eat fewer calories than you burn. I was training for specific races, but I could have lost the same amount of weight with less exercise. It was all about tracking calories.

  2. How many calories were you eating at the very beginning of your weight loss journey? Did you start out eating 1400 calories or do you bring it down gradually?

      • Did you cut bread or pasta or anything like that? And did you do any strength training at all or was your exercise primarily consisted of cardio?

        • I don’t really eat bread or pasta on a regular basis. I basically follow a Paleo diet about 90 percent of the time. I make exceptions to be social, but at home by myself it’s all vegetables, fruits, lean proteins and healthy fats. I currently do push-ups, sit-ups and pull-ups, but not do it while I was losing weight.

  3. Pingback: Man Loses 50 Pounds – Time Lapse Video – How to Lose Weight Fast?

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