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Fat-busting for cyclists: healthy foods for weight loss

Nick Soldinger
12 Mar 2021

Eat yourself thinner with our guide to foods that make shedding weight both easy and healthy

Keeping weight down is often a key aim for racing cyclists, but that doesn’t mean you have to starve yourself – or make yourself miserable.

In fact, according to David Dunne, Team Wiggins’s nutrition supremo (whose diet guide you can find here), ‘The worst mistake a cyclist can make is to go out on a fasted ride for hours where they have nothing.

'Not only will you lose fat, but you’ll also lose muscle, too. And that’s the worst scenario when you’re trying to increase your power to weight ratio.’

So whether it’s preparing meals to fuel your rides, restocking after a hard session, or just filling your belly, we’ve assembled a cyclist’s kitchen cabinet of ingredients that are healthy and nutritious - yet also low in fat.

The 40 foods we’ve collected are divided into eight categories: Meat and Fish, Vegetables, Fats, Grains, seeds, pulses and nuts, Leaves, Fruit, Protein, and Flavouring.

For some meal ideas, check out the Cyclist guide on the best food for cycling: How to eat like a pro

1. Meat & fish

Salmon

Good for: This fish is packed with important nutrients so is a great one for satisfying your hunger for longer, and is relatively low in calories. It also contains a significant amount of iodine. This essential nutrient helps control your thyroid and so can help prevent low metabolism. 

Rich in: Protein, healthy fats, calcium, vitamins D and E. 

Sardines

Good for: They may be tiny but sardines are crammed with protein, which helps stabilise blood-sugar levels, making you less likely to get food cravings. They also contain most of the nutrients your body needs.

Rich in: Calcium, healthy fats, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, protein, sodium, selenium, vitamins A, B, C, D and E, zinc.

Chicken

Good for: Chicken is a superb form of protein, low in calories but absolutely rammed with nutrients such as iron and magnesium that your body craves, it feeds you while filling you up at the same time. Plus it’s low in fat – just eat it skinless, and not deep-fried!

Rich in: Vitamins A, B3, B6, and K plus iron, sodium, potassium and magnesium.

Mackerel

Good for: Oily fish should be a staple of your diet because it’s high in protein and low in fat, making it a super-efficient food for building lean muscle. Mackerel is also rich in omega-3 – which is vital for healthy brain function, so it could make you both a slimmer and smarter cyclist!

Rich in: Calcium, selenium, vitamin E, omega-3 essential fatty acids.

2. Vegetables

Carrots

Good for: Carrots are high in fibre and so are a great way to fight hunger pangs by filling your stomach with a low-calorie, non-fat food that’s rich in nutrients. Rich in beta-carotene, a compound your body changes into vitamin A, this can help keep your eyes healthy - although, sadly, it won't do anything to help you see in the dark!

Rich in: Calcium, magnesium, potassium, phosphorus, beta-carotene.

Sweet Potato

Good for: Stifling hunger. Wonderfully high in fibre, sweet potatoes not only make you feel fuller, but they also help regulate blood-sugar levels, releasing energy into your body slowly. So no sudden energy crashes and no desire to stuff your face with sugary snacks or junk food.

Rich in: Beta-carotene, calcium, magnesium, folic acid, phosphorus, potassium, selenium, vitamins C and E.

Cucumber

Good for: About 96 per cent of a cucumber is water and dietary fibre, making it a low-calorie, no-fat food that will make you feel full. But they’re also packed with nutrients that help improve your digestive system.

Rich in: Potassium, beta-carotene, calcium, iron, magnesium, sodium, vitamins A and C.

Beetroot

Good for: Team Sky's favourite vegetable. Want to improve your endurance and lose weight as a result? Believe in the mighty beetroot. High in nitrates, it’s believed that cooked fresh (not pickled) beetroot can have a positive effect on oxygen levels, meaning you can train for longer. Result!

Rich in: Nitrates, calcium, iron, potassium, folic acid, vitamin C.

Potatoes

Good for: Stifling your hunger. Arguably the most satisfying food for filling you up, these also contain most of vital nutrients we need. Ideally, eat with the skin on to benefit from its fibre. Packed with resistant starch, this survives your stomach to nourish microbes in your gut. Allow your spuds to cool after cooking to help increase this trait.

Rich in: Potassium, magnesium, iron, copper and manganese, vitamin C and most of the B vitamins.

3. Fats

Olive Oil

Good for: Managing your weight. It’s strange to think that fats can actually help you lose weight, but healthy unsaturated fats like those found in olive oil can help stave off hunger pangs. The oil also contains oleic acid, a compound that actively helps to break down excess fat.

Rich in: Unsaturated fats.

Avocados

Good for: Hunger pangs are your body’s way of asking for more of the nutrients it needs. Avocados are a rich source of healthy monounsaturated fats that provide slow-burning energy and suppress those pangs. 

Rich in: Iron, copper, phosphorus, potassium, beta-carotene, folic acid, vitamins B3, B5, K and E, plus fibre and protein.

Peanut butter 

Good for: Stifling your hunger. Like avocados and olive oil, peanut butter is rich in fats that will actually help you lose weight by keeping those pesky hunger pangs at bay, meaning you’ll feel fuller for longer. Keep to two tablespoons of it when spreading on wholemeal toast or rice crackers.

Rich in: Magnesium, potassium, protein, unsaturated fat, vitamins B6 and E.

4. Grains, seeds, pulses and nuts

Chia Seeds

Good for: These South American superstars (Chia is the ancient Mayan word for strength) are rich in fibre and dense with omega-3. Sprinkle a spoonful of these into your breakfast cereal and you’ll get essential fatty acids while stifling hunger pangs for longer.

Rich in: Fibre, protein, B vitamins, zinc.

Wholegrain bread and pasta

Good for: Carbohydrates are important to your diet, so eat the right ones. That means thinking brown rather than white when it comes to bread, pasta and to some degree rice. Your body burns twice as many calories when it digests whole foods compared to the processed versions.

Rich in: Calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, manganese, vitamins B3, B5, zinc.

Oats

Good for: Thanks to their high-fibre content, oats are incredibly filling. They also provide you with stacks of slow-release energy, which will help you feel fuller for longer. Not only that but they also stimulate your digestive system and lower your cholesterol. 

Rich in: Calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, manganese, vitamin B5, folic acid, silicon.

Lentils

Good for: High in protein and fibre, lentils are also packed with resistant starch, which can help you burn more fat. They’re also full of iron, which is vital for maintaining high energy levels. Eat with foods rich in vitamin C like kale or broccoli for the best results.

Rich in: Calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, zinc and folic acid.

Quinoa

Good for: Managing your weight. This South American seed has more and better proteins than most grains. It’s actually a perfect vegetable protein, which makes it ideal for converting fat into lean muscle, while the high fibre content will leave you feeling full up and hunger-free.

Rich in: Calcium, iron, magnesium, phosphorus, potassium, vitamin B3.

Nuts

Good for: Stifling your hunger. Almonds (although technically a seed, not a nut), cashews and pistachios are the three lowest-calorie nuts, and all contain enough nutrients to help make you feel fuller for longer. Avoid roasted nuts as heat can destroy those all-important nutrients. 

Rich in: Potassium, calcium, protein, fibre, omega 3 fatty acids.

5. Leaves

Romaine Lettuce

Good for: Stifling hunger. To lose weight you need to expend more calories than you consume and lettuce – high in water content and low in calories – can help. Eating a large salad will fill you up. Mix up the leaves for taste but be sure to include nutritionally rich Romaine ones.

Rich in: Fibre, iron, potassium, sodium, magnesium vitamins A, B6 and C. 

Kale

Good for: Managing your weight. Kale is one of the healthiest things you can put into your body. High in fibre but low in calories, it will make you fill fuller for longer, and will also supply you with a dazzling array of vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants. A perfect food.

Rich in: Fibre, potassium, calcium, copper, iron, magnesium, manganese, vitamins A, B6, C and K. 

Broccoli

Good for: Managing your weight. Like kale, this is one of the best things you can put in your body. Nutrient-rich, fat-free, low in calories, high in fibre, protein and water content, it’ll feed you and fill you up, leaving you satisfied for longer. A perfect food. 

Rich in: Calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, vitamins A, B2, B6, C, D, K, beta-carotene and folic acid. 

Spinach

Good for: Stifling hunger. Spinach contains green leaf membranes called thylakoids which decrease hunger pangs and increase weight loss. How? By producing a hormone in our body that tells our brains that our tummies are full. Ain’t nature clever?

Rich in: Beta-carotene, calcium, folic acid, iodine iron, magnesium, potassium, selenium, vitamins B6, C and K, zinc.  

6. Fruit

Apples

Good for: The fibre and polyphenols boost good bacteria in your gut and so help stave off hunger pangs. They also reduce cholesterol and will help you avoid constipation. Grab a Granny Smith’s for the best results. 

Rich in: Calcium, magnesium, phosphorus, vitamin C, beta-carotene, pectin, fibre and polyphenols.

Grapefruit

Good for: Low in fat, high in fibre, this fab fruit will fill you up, supply you with key nutrients, while a particular antioxidant in it is thought to help your liver break down fats more efficiently. For the best results choose fully ripe grapefruits.

Rich in: Fibre, calcium, magnesium, potassium, vitamin C.

Berries

Good for: Antioxidants in berries can actually alter gene activity in fat cells, making it harder to gain weight. Blueberries are particularly high in these. All berries, though, are low in calories and high in fibre, so will keep you feeling full without making you fat. 

Rich in: Calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, beta-carotene, vitamins B3 and C.

Oranges

Good for: Not only are they rich in fibre, but the high vitamin C content in oranges is also a great aid to fighting fat. The vitamin increases the production of a compound called carnitine in your body, which oxidises fatty acids, essentially melting the fat cells. 

Rich in: Calcium, potassium, beta-carotene, folic acid, vitamin C. 

Bananas

Good for: Bananas are rich in potassium, which is vital to blood flow. By improving your blood flow, you speed up your metabolic rate which means fat gets burned faster. They’re also high in fibre so they’re great for making you feel full up for longer. 

Rich in: Potassium, beta-carotene, vitamins B6, C, K, fibre and pectin.

Lemons and limes

Good for: The zingy scent of lemons and limes can literally get your mouth watering, which in itself is a great aid to digestion. They're also high in vitamin C, so you won't get scurvy while on a long voyage.

Rich in: Potassium and vitamin C

7. Protein

Eggs

Good for: Eggs are high in protein and healthy fats, and the yolks are densely packed with nutrients. That means your body’s getting exactly what it needs so you won’t feel hungry for longer. Plus they’re super adaptable and easy to cook! 

Rich in: Calcium, iron, manganese, zinc, B vitamins, high-quality protein. 

Tofu

Good for: Stifling your hunger. Not only does tofu lower your cholesterol but it’s also a perfect vegetarian source of protein. As with all proteins, it’s great for creating lean muscle and burning fat, but studies have also shown that tofu is a great appetite-suppressor too.  

Rich in: Iron, amino acids, potassium, calcium, magnesium, vitamin A and K. 

Cottage Cheese

Good for: Low in fat and carbohydrates, this is the cheese it’s OK to eat when you’re looking to lose pounds. Made from curdled milk and whey, it’s one of the best dairy sources of protein, helping you build lean muscle while making you feel fuller for longer.

Rich in: Protein, calcium, sodium, vitamin A.

Beans

Good for: Yes, they’re small but they’re rammed full of protein and fibre which means you’ll feel fuller for longer while having loads of slow-release energy inside you – all without loads of calories. Lima beans are particularly high in protein. 

Rich in: Calcium, protein, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, iron, B vitamins and folic acid.

Chickpeas

Good for: A superb source of vegetable protein. High protein foods require more energy from the body to process, so they burn more fat. Protein, then, is good for building lean muscle. Chickpeas also add bulk to a meal so fill you up.

Rich in: Beta-carotene, Calcium, magnesium, iron, phosphorus, potassium, protein, manganese, folic acid, zinc.

8. Flavourings

Chillies

Good for:  Boosting your metabolism. The compound in chillies which give them that kick, also heats your body and melts fat. A single chilli also contains a day’s supply of beta-carotene making these tiny, spicy superstars great for helping your skin cope with harsh weather rides. 

Rich in: Vitamins A, B6, C, iron, copper and potassium.

Ginger

Good for: Ginger isn’t just a great way to bring some zing to your dinner, it’s great for your circulation, digestive system, and metabolism. Its rich photochemistry grants it anti-inflammatory and anti-oxidative properties which may also help with joint and muscle pain.

Rich in: Calcium, magnesium, phosphorus and potassium.

Cinnamon

Good for: Even a small amount has been proven to help regulate blood sugar levels which curb food cravings. There’s also evidence that it makes fat cells more responsive to insulin which basically means your metabolism melts them far more efficiently.  

Rich in: Fibre, calcium, and magnesium.

Black Pepper

Good for: Black peppercorns contain something called piperine that inhibits fat cell production. It’s also been used for centuries as a digestive aid and is also great for preventing or relieving bloating. 

Rich in: Calcium, magnesium, potassium, manganese and phosphorous.

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