Wednesday, July 15, 2009

How not to be fat

A few weeks ago, when Elden, Kenny, and I were riding up the Sundance side of the Alpine Loop, we passed a guy who was making progress but struggling mightily to get it.

“You’re lucky,” he said as I went by.

“How’s that?”

“Because you weigh about 60 pounds less than I do.”

I said nothing more, but I was actually bugged by his comment. Because luck has nothing to do with it. I like cheeseburgers and chocolate donuts just as much as the next guy. Moreover, I don’t have bird bones or a high metabolism like Brad or Rick (which is not to say Brad and Rick don’t earn the results they get, because they’re as disciplined or more so than anyone I know). As if that weren’t enough, my wife makes desserts capable of putting most pastry chefs to shame.

So to suggest that my modest climbing ability or that my weight—which is still “over” according to BMI tables and positively portly compared to most Pro Tour riders—are a matter of luck completely misses the point. Because I used to be fat. Fat enough that pictures from ten years ago are painful to look at. Fat enough that at age 25, my doctor told me I needed to lose weight. So I did.

As a result, I have very little patience when people complain about being fat but do nothing about it. If you don’t want to be fat, it’s really quite simple: eat less.

Body composition is determined 80% by diet and 20% by exercise. Exercise is important, to be sure. But it doesn’t take much more than a donut or a cookie or two to offset the calories burned in an hour-long workout.

Furthermore, if you’re actually overweight rather than fit but-still-obsessed-with-losing-more-weight (like most cyclists), losing weight is really pretty easy, provided you have some discipline. In hindsight, I’m amazed at how easy it was to lose the first 30 pounds. If you want specifics on how to do it, here they are:

  • Exercise at least 30 minutes every day, 60 is better. I know I said diet is more important—it is. But exercise has a lot of ancillary benefits beyond weight loss, and it will add a measure of discipline to your fitness program—you won’t be as tempted to negate your hard work when temptation comes your way.
  • Cut sugar and flour out of your diet. Think real hard before putting sweets in your mouth. A Jonagold or Honeycrisp apple tastes better than 95% of all desserts anyway. Bread and pasta are calorie dense but don’t provide a lot of nutrition. You need carbohydrates for fuel, but try and get as much as you can from fruits and veggies. After that, focus on whole foods, such as oatmeal or sweet potatoes, that are rich in fiber and nutrients.
  • Front load your calories. Eat a nutritious breakfast so that you start the day with plenty of energy. Eat enough to top off your energy level at lunch, snack on fruit and/or nuts if you need a boost in the afternoon, then eat just enough for dinner to take the edge off your hunger. Go to bed hungry.
  • Leave grazing to the cattle. You’d be surprised how many calories you can consume by “just having a bite” of something or finishing off the animal crackers or other snack your kids left behind. If you’re starving and can’t stand it any longer, eat an apple or a banana and have a glass of water.
  • Give yourself a day off once in a while, but don’t go nuts. Weekends are good for this, especially if you do a long ride or other exercise on the same day to offset most of your indulgence. A pastry or a bowl of ice cream can be therapeutic at times, but limiting it to one day a week will keep you from losing control.
  • Drink carefully. Lots and lots and lots of water is good. You’ll have to pee all the time, but you’ll learn to live with it. I don’t know why drinking lots of water speeds weight loss, but it does. Unsweetened green tea, diet soda, or black coffee are OK if you get sick of water (I’m sure I’ll get reamed by someone in the comments about diet soda, but I maintain it’s better than HFCS, plus I just like it). Avoid juice, regular soda, lattes, and pretty much any beverage with calories in it. Even sports drink should be used sparingly and only for workouts over 90 minutes (sorry, Brad).

So there you have it. I know a lot of cyclists who have lost a lot of weight. We all did it more or less the same way. But please, don’t call it luck.


  1. Simple math. I dropped 10 lbs this winter, and I could not believe how much better I felt. Hoping to drop another ten this winter. I seem to consume way too many calories during the summer (I exercise a lot more) to effectively lose weight.

  2. I drink a 24 ounce latte, several sodas, too much candy, boxes of vanilla wafers at a time, so, you are calling me fat. I need to diet.

  3. Bob, you're absolutely right. I'm calling you fat. Gigantic. A blimp. Out of control. A vascular surgeon's retirement plan. Have I mentioned that I hate you?

    I wouldn't even know what to do with a box of vanilla wafers--it's never even occurred to me to waste what calories I allow myself on something so mediocre.

  4. Dang - I shouldn't have read this after lunch. Now I feel guilty due to the huge granola cookie plus 4 or 5 spoonfuls of creme brule I had for dessert. However, my main course was a salad (with dressing served on the side that was used sparingly) so maybe I broke even? :)

  5. With all the goofy fad diets that come and go, this is good, timeless advice.

    My metabolism has bailed me out for most of my life, but it's slowing down. I read this post with sober interest.

  6. I agree with virtually everything you've written here, and have used most of your suggestions to drop about 65 lbs.

    But I also think the comment by the fat guy you passed is indicative of a bigger problem that he has: BLAME. If it's not his weight, it will be his bike. If it's not his bike, it will be the trail condition. If it's not the trail condition, it will be the chip seal. If it's not the chip seal, it will be the wind.

    But I've heard most of these same excuses from some very good cyclists!

  7. 331 Miles, Bob, a.k.a. Stupid Bike, is thin, fit, fast, and rides an awesome bike provided by his sponsor. He makes no excuses. He just happens to be able to eat pretty much whatever he wants, even in his 40's. The comments were just some good-natured banter between friends. That and him rubbing his freakishly high metabolism in to the rest of us.

  8. Color me ignorant (and embarrassed). Looks like I stepped in it pretty good! Sorry for any offense, Bob. Enjoy your Nilla Wafers.

  9. That post should get picked up by Bicycling Magazine. Solid advice. I lost 100+ lbs that way.

  10. Great post - I appreciate the info.

    Like the biker you passed, I am overweight, by 50 to 60 lbs.

    I started riding up AF canyon 4 or 5 times a week in the mornings about 2 months ago. I'm sure I've seen you and the others pass me (I've gotten to seen the backs of a lot of Fat Cyclist, Omniture and Skull Candy jerseys!).

    Seeing you guys fly past me on the climb up is motivational. And one of these days I will actually be fast enough to accept the offer to "grab a wheel" and get a pull up.

    The next time you pass a fat guy riding a Gary Fisher mountain bike up AF canyon give me a shout out.

    I know a road bike would make it easier but come on - why spend money on saving 10 lbs on a bike when dropping 50 lbs on me is what will really make me faster.

  11. Good advice. I have watched Bob eat and he talks a good story. It seems like everything I have ever seen him eat is not "empty calories" Bob you need some bad habits. Other than cycling.

  12. Awesome post. I'm with you 100%. If you're a cyclist and you want to lose weight and get faster on the hill climbs, it's all about your eating habits. I'm amazed at how the pounds melt away if you stick to even a few of the rules you mentioned.

  13. apparently you have never had PMS!

    An apple WILL not cut it at that point! : )