It doesn’t take a rocket science to figure out that the lighter something is, the easier it’ll go up a hill. When I first saw the Mount Mitchell elevation chart, I felt heavy. When I spent some time watching YouTube ride videos, I felt even heavier. Even though I wasn’t necessarily overweight, my first thought was I needed to lose about 5-10 lbs before attempting the mountain. My thinking has since changed.
I was a much heavier man this time last year. I had been a member of a gym and had worked out relatively frequently, running occasionally, doing time on the elliptical, occasionally grabbing some weights, but was never able to make a dent in my weight mostly due to poor and ill-informed eating habits.
Over the spring I did some reading and dedicated myself to dropping my waistband. Mostly I counted calories, which is something I recommend everyone do, athletic or not. I used the MyNetDiary website and iPhone app, but there are plenty other resources online (another example: TrainingPeaks). The diet was successful and by the summer I had dropped a lot of my excess weight. That is when I got back into running, and, as already discussed in this blog, got hurt and bought a bike.
Most of my weight loss was finished by the time I started cycling. I still counted calories, which I continue to do today, but dieting was a thing of the past. I still lost another 5 more pounds throughout the summer and into the fall just from actively riding, but have mostly remained in the 148-152 range since then. At my heaviest, I had probably been around 185 lbs.
I made my training goal for Mount Mitchell to drop another 5-10 lbs while increasing muscle mass. I mostly kept up my good habits over the winter and did not gain weight. Once I started eating in tandem with my training program, I found this to be a tall order, not impossible, but extremely difficult. The fact of the matter is, you have to eat to build muscle and fuel a workout.
I hired Kelli at Apex Nutrition, who has transformed my eating habits and it has showed with my performance. At first we started with a low number of calories, which turned out to be too low. I was hungry all the time and this was affecting my rides. Even with proper fueling, I would be hungry early on in rides and longed for the end so I could chow down. Since then I have modified my goal to maintain my current weight while gaining muscle strength.
After having a little bit of experience this year with training and dieting, my way of thinking has changed in terms of weight loss and the bike. Don’t get me wrong, riding a bicycle is a terrific way to lose weight for many people. Actor Ethan Suplee just revealed that his dramatic weight loss came on a bike. You can burn large amounts of calories just by spinning at a reasonable pace for extended periods of time. I have found, however, that when trying to dramatically improve performance, it is better to save the diet programs for the off-season or after the goal has been achieved.
150 is a great weight for my height. If I dropped to 140 as originally planned, I would probably be thought of as skinny. While dropping a size or two still would help, I have learned that dropping another size or two will not be key in getting me up the hill. My power, cadence and fueling will be far more important.
- Aaron West