By Jim Rutberg, CTS Pro Coach
Truth be told, I’m writing this as much about and for me as I’m writing it to hopefully help you. I am my own example. I’m that guy who got fat and slow over the winter and is now staring down the ever-shortening runway toward a goal event. I also know I’m not alone, so for all of you who are squeezing yourself into jerseys that are a little tighter than you’d like, here’s what we’re going to do to get back to being leaner and faster.
Just Keep Pedaling
The only way get back to being lean and fast is to keep riding while you’re fat and slow. Some of your rides and workouts will be frustrating. As I huff and puff my way up climbs that seemed routine last summer I fight against an inner monologue reminding me how slow I am. “Give up”, it says. “Turn back.”
No. I won’t give up and I won’t turn back. The only way is forward, however slowly. Replace the negative self-talk with positive thoughts: every mile and every climb is bringing you closer to being the athlete you want to be. The fitness will come, the adaptation will happen, but only if you keep pedaling.[blog_promo promo_categories=”coaching” ids=”” /]
Push Yourself but Don’t Bury Yourself
It took time to get fat and slow and it will take time to go the other direction. It is tempting to go full-throttle on every climb or to try to achieve power outputs you could sustain last summer, but that’s a fool’s errand. You have to be pragmatic, embrace the fitness level you have right now, and establish training intensity ranges that are appropriate for where you are right now. Your current ClimbingRepeat power range might be what your Tempo range used to be, and that may be disappointing, but true nonetheless. The quickest way to bring those power outputs back up is to do the best work you can with the engine you have now.
Both for the sake of fitness and weight loss it is better to train more frequently than to go really long once or twice a week. Your shorter, more frequent workouts will be higher quality, meaning you’ll be operating at a higher intensity for each hour you’re training. Long endurance rides have their place, but as those rides get longer you go slower because you don’t have the endurance to maintain a strong pace. It is a more effective use of your time to ride only as long as the pace is effective for improving performance. Better to do 2-3 good hours than a 5-hour ride where you’re just groveling along after hour three.[blog_promo promo_categories=”camp” ids=”” /]
Eat on the bike
When your jersey fits like a girdle it’s like having a judgmental partner along on every ride asking, “Are you really going keep eating?” But during rides that are longer than one-hour consuming calories is important for maintaining training quality. This is even more crucial when you are incorporating an interval workout into a 2-3 hour ride. Caloric restriction will help with weight loss, but you have to look at caloric restriction across the whole day and the whole week, not necessarily during workouts where you need the energy to perform at your best.
Recently the concept of Low CHO (low carbohydrate availability) training has gained popularity. The idea is that you start training sessions with low carbohydrate stores and this helps the body improve its ability to provide energy from fat. There are two details many people miss about Low CHO training: 1) it’s not intended for all training sessions and 2) it means starting the workout with low carbohydrate stores, not restricting carbohydrate intake during the actual training session. Low CHO training is most appropriate for long endurance rides. When you have interval training scheduled you want to do that with High CHO availability. If you’re going to ride Low CHO plan it for a long weekend ride, but consume CHO calories as you normally would during a long ride. And understand from the beginning that you’re not going to feel very strong.[blog_promo promo_categories=”bucket list” ids=”” /]
Don’t Miss Out on the Easy Wins
We have a lot of hard work ahead of us but it’s easy to focus on the hard stuff and forget about the easy stuff. Drink plenty of water, especially as you increase your training frequency and the weather starts getting warmer. Get more sleep; even an hour more than usual is good. There are also some easy choices we can make to cut out excess calories. If you drink alcohol, stop for a while. Skip dessert. Pass on the appetizers. Personally, I also use a nutrition-tracking app on my phone called MyFitnessPal. More than the calorie counting alone, the most valuable aspect of the app for me is how clearly it illustrates where I’m wasting calories.
For instance, I have nothing against bread or pasta but two slices of bread for a sandwich tick off nearly 300 calories but aren’t very filling or satisfying. In contrast, making a giant and very filling salad (lots of fiber and water from vegetables and fruit) is a much more satisfying and nutrient-dense way to “spend” those 300 calories. As an athlete and a coach I don’t recommend tracking every meal throughout the year, but I do believe it can be useful for relatively short periods of time when you’re focused on specific goals.
Not the religious kind, although that probably wouldn’t hurt. Rather, have faith in the process. We know training works. We know that applying stress to the body and providing adequate nutrition and recovery yields positive adaptation. It won’t be noticeable tomorrow, or maybe even next week. But if you have faith in the process and stay the course the results will come.
Update: As you can tell from the comments below, I originally posted this last spring. In the months after posting it, I kept at it, leaned out, and had a great summer and fall season. But seasons come and go, and at this time of year we hear from a lot of athletes who are struggling to stay motivated as they battle with unwanted weight. If you’re one of them, just keep moving forward! These tips can help you get to your goal. – Jim Rutberg, CTS Coach and co-author of “The Time-Crunched Cyclist”