Why your diet matters right now


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I know, I know, it’s highly controversial, and somewhat paradoxical. But right now, right this second, with just over a month to the biggest Holiday Season, the time when we stuff our faces stupid, and eat more than when we rode for the longest time, is the best time to go on a diet.

If you’ve just fallen off your chair reading that, or shouted at your computer, '“he’s a bloody idiot” (or words to that effect), then pick yourself up, calm down, and find out why today, and not tomorrow, not next week, and not for your New Year’s Resolution is the best time to start your diet.

It’s an incontrovertible fact that if you have to cycle up hill at a given power output you’ll be faster if you weigh less. This is your power to mass ratio. The higher the number, the faster you’ll be (under specific conditions). For sure, you might be faster with a change of wheels, tyres, bikes, and wearing less clothes - I won’t argue that. But, under specific conditions you’ll be faster at a given power output if you weigh less. Or, to think of it another way, you’ll be able to ride at a previous (slower) speed for less power.

Now, before you start thinking that everyone needs to lose weight, that’s simply not the case. There are quite a few cyclists who are the correct weight and don’t need to lose anymore. Sorry people, if you want to go faster you’ll have to up your power output (or get some more bling lightweight/aero kit depending on how fast you go up the hill!). But, if you’ve got some jiggle you need to lose, or you have to keep buying larger cycling clothes, or you’re constantly being dropped by your mates, or in races when you go uphill, it’s possible you need to lose weight.

How do I measure body fat %?
There’s a variety of way to ascertain your body fat %. These include, metal skin calipers (and to be honest if you’re being tested by someone and they’re not made by Harpenden, I’d avoid), bio electrical impedance analysis (you can purchase scale that measure these data), bod pod, underwater weighing (hydrostatic weighing), and DEXA scans (Dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry). The validity and accuracy of these measures all vary, with DEXA and hydrostatic weighing being the gold standard. But, let’s put that to one-side for a minute. There’s an easy and cheap way to ascertain similar. In the comfort of your own home (please don’t do this anywhere else or send me videos!). get naked, and jump up and down in front of a mirror. If it isn’t meant to wobble, then there’s a very high chance you need to lose weight. There I’ve said it.

Why start dieting today?
Sure, you can put it off to tomorrow. Or next week, or next year. Plenty of time to lose weight, but why now, before the Holidays? Simply, if you’re overweight then it’s highly likely you eat too much, or don’t exercise enough, or some combination of the two. This means that your routine is out of whack, you’ve let something slip, and most likely you have some bad eating habits. Most of us do. Even me!

Does the coach listen to his own advice?
A while back I found myself struggling. I was slipping off the back uphill, I seemed to have started wearing medium sized cycle clothing, my jeans went up a size, and when I looked long and hard at my diet there were some bad habits in there. The first thing I noted when I started keeping a food diary was that I was eating a huge lunch and dinner. A few years previously, I’d done some hard rides, and while I grovelled my way round them I’d found myself telling myself that if I kept the pressure on and made it home I could have my favourite lunch. This was great and I managed it. Fast forward to diet diary time, and I realised I was eating my favourite lunch after every ride. It was too many calories. When you keep a food diary you need to be honest with yourself. And, importantly, if I’m helping you to lose weight (which I do with dietary analysis tools, and suggestions as to how you can improve your diet) I need to know the truth as well.

Changing your habits
It takes approximately 21 days of doing something new to keep at it. By starting now, should you need to diet, you have about a month to start building new, and healthier routines. Even if you read this article a week before Christmas, act now. Start making a change to healthier foods, and reducing the foods that aren’t good for you, or should only be eaten in moderation.

I don’t want you to have an unhappy Christmas, thinking you can’t eat roast potatoes, mince pies or lots of chocolate. You can eat them. However, by establishing some better dietary routines now, you have a chance to lose some weight before Christmas (won’t I put it on straight after Christmas? You might well do, but if you hadn’t lost it, you’d weigh even more), and this should have a positive effect on how you view foods (and drinks) at Holiday time.

Maybe you’ll have an idea to not eat a whole box of Continental chocolates prior to Christmas lunch and this will save you from feeling horribly ill, and throwing up from a sugar rush (no, of course I’m not speaking from personal experience…).

What type of diet?
There are many different styles of food cuisine — these can be national foods, or ethnic, or based on some scientific or other doctrine. I’m not going to discuss these different styles of foods (today) as that would be a huge task, but one thing is common to virtually all diets. You should increase your fruit and vegetable intake, you should reduce or eliminate your processed food intake, alcohol should be moderated, and treats such as chocolates, and cakes should be severely limited (yes, don’t worry I get the irony of mentioning cakes to cyclists!).

There’s no need to make huge changes to your diet. This is generally unsustainable and after a short-period of time will likely cause a self-implosion (and then massive blow out meals). Make small, incremental changes to your diet. Maybe you eat lunch and it’s healthy, but afterwards you have a chocolate bar, and some biscuits. You could keep your lunch and sub out the chocolate and biscuit for either some fresh fruit, some dried fruit and nuts, or perhaps a rice cake spread with a thin layer of chocolate spread.

For dinner, maybe you have something such as pasta with vegetables and lean meat, but accompany it with multiple slices of garlic bread? The butter/garlic on these breads contains lots of calories and often the bread is poor quality. You could replace the bread in its entirety with some antipasti such as grilled veggies, olives, and a small amount of meat, or some cheese. Alternatively, a couple of slices of good quality sourdough bread that’s been lightly grilled will go beautifully with the meal, and be a lot less calories.

How have we helped others?
Over the years, we’ve helped countless riders either maintain their weight, or lose weight when required. We’ve helped athletes make better food choices, to help fuel their cycling in a more positive way, and so that they can maintain better health. Did you know that your food choices can have not just an impact on your long-term health (e.g. cardiovascular, diabetes, etc.) but also on how well you recover from training sessions, and on immune system function?

John, came to RST Sport wanting to take part part in the Etape du Tour. As is the issue most years, it’s very mountainous! John, was tall, and heavier than the average cyclist. He’d played rugby, in his teens and 20’s, and now in his 50’s he was carrying a little too much excess. With the help of some moderate changes to his diet, switching to some lower calorie meals, and substituting out some poor nutritional choices for better ones, and making suggestions to his snacking, John lost 10 kg (22 lbs) in 3 months, and at the same time, improved his sustainable power output — thus making his power to mass ratio go up significantly. Not only did John, complete his goal of riding the Etape, he also took up racing. And, not only did he race, but he started getting significant numbers of top ten places! (I also remember one day, John booked a ride with me, and not only had he become unrecognisable — in terms of his ability he didn’t half give me a kicking!).

How do we do diet coaching?
At RST Sport, we offer several ways to help with your diet. Starting at Silver Coaching Level, we’ll soon provide a list of recipes that will help you manage your weight, or eat for performance. If Coach Ric is your coach, he’ll provide some advice on what to eat and when, with some suggestions on periodising your food. At Gold and Podium Level, with Coach Ric, he’ll provide quarterly diet analysis based on a five-day food diary, provide sample meal plans, and suggestions for periodising your food. At Rainbow Coaching Level, Coach Ric will provide dietary analysis as required, along with the benefits from Gold and Podium Level. We’ll also work with you to provide custom recipes.

Coach Ric, uses an evidence based approach to nutrition coaching. He’ll work with you and the foods you like, while also using the latest techniques and dietary modifications to help you, your weight, and cycling performance.

If you need help with weight loss, and want to get started now, then please get in touch. Having athletes who are lean, healthy, and powerful is really important whether you’re riding the Tour de France, or wanting to smash your local sportive.

To read more on what I say about nutrition click here