Fat and Slow is No Way to Go Through Life: A Guide to Mounting Your Own Comeback


“Fat, drunk, and stupid is no way to go through life, son.”

I always loved that line from Animal House. And when it comes to being an athlete, fat and slow is no way to go through life, either. But the truth is, fat happens.

I know very few people who have stayed consistently lean and in shape from their teens all the way into the 40s and 50s. At some point priorities shift and life gets in the way and you pile on some serious pounds. Hopefully those pounds are a tradeoff for something positive, like taking a big step forward in your career or spending more time raising wonderful children or taking care of your parents. I refuse to chastise or shame people for being out of shape or gaining weight, because you never know the decision making behind their current scenario. Instead, my goal is to help people get back into shape once they decide to recommit to training. So, when inGamba founder Joao Correia explained his situation to me and his plan to make turn his comeback into the #fitbyspring campaign anyone can participate in, I was all in.

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Joao’s history in cycling reads like a fairy tale. He was a high-level amateur in the 1990s in Portugal but largely gave up cycling to come to the US and go to college. He ended up in the publishing industry and rose through the ranks to be the associate publisher of Bicycling Magazine. He decided to return to racing, 25 kilograms heavier than before college, and progressed all the way to the European professional ranks with Cervelo Test Team in 2010.

Not unlike CTS, inGamba started by leveraging Joao’s knowledge and network within the cycling community, and not unlike me Joao spent a lot less time on the bike as the business started to grow. Fast forward 4 years and Joao has gained about 20 kilograms. Now it’s time to get him back into fighting shape! We’re not aiming for his pro race weight, but a more sustainable and reasonable full-time weight of about 75 kilograms. Taking off about 10 kilograms and regaining some fitness will go a long way to reconnecting Joao with his identity as a cyclist.

Here are the biggest changes we’re going to make in Joao’s life, and if you have gained some weight, lost some fitness, and spent some time focused on other priorities these are the same changes you can make to get back in the game.

Build Your Toolkit

To really make progress you have to have an arsenal of tools at your disposal. If you have a bike but can only ride it outside on the road you’re missing out on the opportunity to train indoors if necessary. If you only have warm-weather gear you can’t ride on cold days or if it’s raining. If you don’t have a lot of time to train (which is most likely the case), training without a power meter or even a heart rate monitor diminishes the precision of your training. It’s not that you can spend your way to fitness, but rather that you need to reduce or eliminate as many barriers as possible to getting the work done. When you have the gear you can do the work.

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Start eating like an athlete

Gaining significant weight is common when an athlete – pro, amateur, or recreational – stops or seriously cuts back on training. It’s not just the reduced caloric expenditure, either. Many times it’s because habits change. You don’t see yourself as an athlete anymore so it doesn’t matter if you overeat or eat junk. Some people gain the first 10 pounds and then give up, figuring they’re already bigger and less fit so what’s another 20 pounds? And for pros and elite amateurs who spent a long time focused on their weight and every morsel of food, there’s often a period when the pendulum swings to the opposite extreme: you eat everything and care very little about your weight.

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Now it’s time to get back to eating like an athlete. Initially I think it requires some dramatic cuts: no alcohol, no dessert, no fast food. Shift food focus to predominantly plant sources of nutrition, which means significant reductions in dairy, meat, poultry, fish, and eggs. You don’t need to go full vegetarian or vegan (unless you want to); this is more about increasing fruit and vegetable intake and being more mindful of exactly what you’re eating. Focus not only on what you’re eating but how much. Make portions smaller. And slow down. When you take more time to enjoy your meal you are more likely to feel satisfied by less food.

Sort your schedule

The whole reason you need a comeback is because you spent time focused on things other than training. You have to reclaim that time if you’re going to mount a serious campaign to regain your fitness. Consistency is one of the most important aspects to making significant progress, and it’s not enough to vaguely say, “I’ll ride 4 times a week.” When? What days and at what times, specifically? If you don’t know, figure it out. Otherwise the other forces and priorities in your life will make that decision and steal your training time.

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Do the work

You’re in this situation not because you’re lazy but because you worked hard on something else. You worked hard to build a business, to raise great kids, have a successful marriage, or any of a hundred other accomplishments. You’re not afraid of the work, but you still have to actually do it. If you commit to 4 rides a week, do them. And do them well. Finish your intervals. Hit the intensity levels dead on. Go to sleep, stick to your nutrition plan, stay hydrated and stay focused. You didn’t halfway commit to whatever led you away from training, so don’t halfway commit to this.

If you want to join Joao in his #fitbyspring campaign go trainright.com/ingamba and you can start a 4-month coaching package with your first month absolutely free. You can also follow Joao’s journey on Twitter and Instagram by searching the hashtag #fitbyspring and posting your own #fitbyspring images. And finally, there’s a #fitbyspring Strava Club you can join!

Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach of CTS

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Comments 10

  1. Pingback: #Fitbyspring: A guide to making your comeback « inGamba

  2. Love this article. Super helpful and very motivating. My weight is something I have been not fixing for years. But recent lifestyle changes are really going to help along with your challenges. I am up for the challenge & your recent challenge to ride 40 hrs in Dec led my fantastic coach Renee to suggest a challenge for me to hit every workout in Dec ….dead on. Thx.

  3. Great idea…timely for me as well as I approach the big 50 about 6 kg over my target weight. Skip fast food…easy. Eat a plant based diet…check. But come on…no alcohol?? Who would suggest such a thing???? In all seriousness, I think your time crunched workouts are great; the other thing is to focus on a large and potentially unattainable goal. For me it is a Half Fe man this year and the whole death ride next the next. Great reminder…thanks!

  4. Thanks for the motivation, I am at that point and wanting to get back. Please recommend a trainer and/or roller for training indoors. With so many options I cannot decide. Wahoo, Cyclops, Kinetic, etc, magnetic, fluid, etc?
    Happy Holidays!

    1. Antonio,
      Just got a Cyclops Jet Fluid Pro trainer. Spent about $370 with S&H; it’s a great ride! Check out the reviews on www.roadbikereview.com

  5. This article came at the perfect time. Its been three years since I just dropped out of sight due to working full time. I lost all my training partners and put on 30 pounds during this time. Last night I met someone who I’d ridden with years ago. He looked great and I felt like a total loser. Thanks for the kick in the pants.

  6. Funny, as I get older I seem to be LOSING weight! In my teens — before I started riding — was about 210 lbs. A year or 2 after getting into cycling, was down to the 160s. Recently — age 47 — I’m down to 150 – 155. (I’m 6’2″.) And its definitely NOT because I watch what I eat or count calories, trust me!!!

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