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What’s the fastest way to lose weight safely?

Cyclist magazine
18 Jan 2021

Lighter is faster, but only if you approach weight loss the right way. Illustration: Will Haywood

When all is said and done, weight loss (or gain) comes down to calories in versus calories out. If you consume more energy (calories) than you use you’ll gain weight, and vice versa.

So weight loss is about consuming fewer calories than you require for your activity levels, but the trick is to lose the ‘right’ weight so it doesn’t hurt performance.

Cycling obviously requires energy, which means that you can use it to tip that energy balance. Longer, lower-intensity rides burn calories as you cycle, while shorter, more intense sessions such as speed work and intervals burn calories on the bike but also in the hours after training as well.

Both are tough ways to lose weight, though. Exercising isn’t the best way to get the job done simply because it’s much easier to reduce your intake by 500 calories than it is to burn 500 calories.

There’s also evidence to suggest that as you train more you will, usually imperceptibly, increase calorie intake. So either way you have to pay attention to the other side of that energy balance equation: food and drink.

Your training should simply be about doing what you need to support and develop performance. Focus on your diet as a means to lose weight. To twist an old Hungarian saying, ‘A man with one arse can’t ride two bikes.’

Whatever method you use to cut the weight should support health. If you’re not healthy you can’t train, so don’t ‘crash diet’. You’ll lose muscle mass as fast as, or even faster than, fat tissue.

This is bad news because muscle mass allows you to lay down more power and is itself a sink for blood sugar, which means that when you finish dieting you’re more predisposed to gain fat. Over repeated bouts of crash dieting, fat mass can actually go up.

The fastest way to lose weight safely is to consume a high-protein diet with healthy fats and lower-carb plant foods that are lower in calories but full of vitamins and minerals. This is the best way to meet your nutrient needs without over-consuming calories.

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What you lose is also a factor. You want to lose body fat before you lose muscle, and a high protein intake supports this. And in terms of the speed of weight loss, the faster you lose weight the more impact it will have on your training.

In fact an athlete, unless supported by experts, shouldn’t aim to lose weight any faster than a normal, sedentary individual. No more than one to two pounds [0.5kg-1kg] per week is ideal.

If your legs are feeling overly empty it’s a sign you’re not recovering between training sessions. If you’re trying to lose weight you’re going to have to take some kind of hit, but you might want to look at two elements: fuelling and recovery.

Given that we’re not trying to lose fat by doing anything as stupid as cycling in a fasted state, some fuelling before and, on longer rides, during exercise may be useful. And add some dense, starchy carbs to a protein-rich meal for recovery.

The key is to increase your carb intake on training days. On rest days I’d go for a 50/50 split between protein foods and fibrous veg/low-carb fruit, and on training days an even split between protein foods, starchy carbs and fruit/veg.

By the way, energy gels and sports drinks can be seen as another carb source – you don’t have to ban them. But if the ride is less than an hour try to stick to water, or water with a low-carb electrolyte. Good luck!

The expert: Drew Price is a nutrition consultant who has worked with sports teams, elite athletes and sports food companies. He is the author of The DODO Diet, which examines intermittent fasting and food coaching for active people. More more info visit drewpricenutrition.com

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