Balancing fueling for rides and weight loss

I would like to try to get serious about losing the weight that I have put on in the last year. I am about 10 pounds heavier than I was last fall, and about 15 pounds more than I would consider ideal for me. For me, I believe the weight gain was a result of greatly reducing my physical activity over the last 9 months due to injury. I have arthritis and meniscus tears in both knees, and had stem cell injections in March. I also had rotator cuff impingement starting last July. Prior to this, I was exercising 5-6 days a week, with at least 2 days of heavy strength training and 3-4 days of cycling and/or running. With the injuries I completely cut out strength training and have been cycling 3-4 days a week.

So my question is how do I make sure I am eating enough to fuel my rides, while still trying to shed some pounds? There are so many things out there about food that it’s hard to know who to believe. You hear that you should do workouts on an empty stomach in order to burn fat. Or do intermittent fasting, or low carb, keto…

I do know that I need to be better about the type of foods that I eat and grab more fresh food for my snacks and meals. But is there anything I should be thinking about in terms of the timing of foods in order to make sure I have enough energy to ride? Most of my rides are the plan workouts, with an occasional longer ride. I may be doing a metric next weekend.

I used to know what worked for me, and now it’s all different as I get older!


@NUGirl so many great questions. I struggle with food as well. I have 5 pounds that I’d love to leave but don’t. Being over 50 myself I struggle to keep my weight consistent. Riding helps. What I have done is cut food out of my diet. I have seen it has helped me. And while I still continue with poor sleep and fatigue and muscle soreness, I did see improvement. I have no magic words and am not a nutritionist. I continue to work with this as well. It’s a journey I wish was a bit shorter. I am going for a sleep consult and will be asking for specific blood tests at my annual physical.
I hope you can find the path and support you need.

Hi Jenna,

While the approach to good nutrition and weight loss is simpler than most people are led to believe, it is very individual. What works for one person does not necessarily work for another. I can provide only general guidelines.

To give you an idea, calories in labels can be inaccurate by as much as 25%. On top of that, each person’s metabolism is different, so the way my body digests, absorbs, and uses a banana for example, might not be the same yours does. As such, even though weight loss is a function of energy in vs. energy out, counting calories or following a restrictive diet (low carb, fasting, keto etc.) isn’t the approach I would recommend.

The best approach is what works for you, with your schedule, preferences, and something that fits into your lifestyle.

Most importantly, changes need to happen slowly, a small step at a time so that they become habits and are long-lasting and sustainable for the rest of your life. There are ways to “jump start” weight loss then maintain it, but complete/radical/significant changes done quickly rarely last.

Lastly, most people will reach their weight loss/energy balance goals even before getting into ratios of macros (carbs/fats/[proteins) and when to eat them (periodization). That becomes the fine-tuning for athletes who are looking for an edge in competition.

I can make general recommendations about foods surrounding/to support workouts, but in reality your approach needs to be holistic and take into account all your daily meals and snacks, so a 1:1 consultation would be best.

@NUGirl what time of the day do you usually workout?

Usually late morning for my indoor rides - around 11. I typically have a good breakfast and then let it settle for a bit. Then I get ready to ride and get interrupted by my kids and then don’t get on the bike for another hour. By then if I am hungry again I grab a snack like a PB&J bar or a fig bar.

Got it - I remember it now from our call! So in that case, here are some options to structure your morning leading up to the workout:

  • Breakfast of 20g of protein (e.g., whey, eggs) and on hard workout days, 60g of slow-release carbs (e.g., oatmeal, whole grain bread, fruits, dried fruits). Avoid fast-release carbs such as juice and white bread).

  • If you are going to snack within 1h of your workout, I would recommend something lighter and faster-absorbing than a PB&J. Eating a PB&J one hour before your workout your body won’t have time to process it and use it for that workout. So I’d recommend something like a banana with some nut butter or a little maple syrup, or 2 rice cakes with some guacamole, butter or a slice of turkey breast, a handful of dry fruit, or even a small bowl (1 cup) of low-sugar cereal with skim milk or unsweetened almond milk. Your carbs for the snack should be about 20-30g. I would avoid fig bars - and bars in general - as they usually have a lot of unnecessary and not so great ingredients (such as oils and high fructose syrup). Some bars are better than others, but you have to read the label. Lara Bars are a good option, as are MacroBars.

  • Because our workouts are usually one hour long, you won’t need anything other than electolytes or some Skratch during the workout.

  • Right after the workout have your next meal, which in this case would be lunch, with 20g of protein, 40-50g of starchy carbs (e.g., rice, potatoes, quinoa, beans), and 2 cups of vegetables.

Hope this provides some ideas.

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Excellent tips! Thank you so much. I was definitely wondering about ride vs non-ride days. I just got a big box of cycling nutrition things to try. I usually use Nuun in my bottles but I’m going to try Skratch. I’m excited to try the maple syrup packets. Not so excited about the gels - they look like they are all preservatives. I’m trying to work on tracking my food, too, just to be more aware of how much I am eating. The next step is to get a new family that likes to eat healthier.