Diet Advice Fundamentals

Diet Advice Fundamentals

Our team forum had a discussion pop the other day on diet & weight loss to improve W/kg. Of course, it got out of hand quickly with suggestions tending toward more extreme, flashy tactics such as;

Don’t eat on rides shorter than two hours

Protein powder as meal replacement

Go to bed hungry

I cringe a bit when diet advice is tossed around between athletes of varying caliber and experience levels. A veteran semi-pro racer might talk about what they did to get under 10% body fat for a single weekend A race, but the club rider weekend-warrior father of four, or the university-aged female rookie might take that as gospel and try to implement some drastic changes that will inevitably be counterproductive for their health, weight and overall fitness.

There are basic, healthy strategies¬†to implement before considering anything resembling a strict diet. Here’s what I offered as starting steps to eating healthy, losing those easy¬†first kilos and introducing your body to better eating habits. The order was as it came to me, but essentially begins with the simplest steps to implement and progresses toward more¬†advanced, dedicated strategies.

  1. “Perfect is the enemy of good” and perfect-but-unsustainable is worse than good-enough-and-achievable. Trying to implement any extreme dietary change all at once (Jan 1st, I’m looking at you!) is a recipe for failure. Making small changes and sticking to them consistently will be more effective over the long term.

  2. Start by making dietary inclusions rather than exclusions; ie. add an extra serving of veggies to every meal. Eat that first, then just eat normally to satiate hunger. Far easier to add to a diet than to restrict.

  3. More water – on and off the bike. You want a magic diet pill? This is as close as you’re gonna get.

  4. Protein. Eat more of it. Hungry before bed? Boil an egg.

  5. “Will Power” doesn’t exist, as such. It’s a finite resource. Think of resisting a craving is an exercise in infinite decision making – you’re deciding¬†not to eat something, until you do.. then all those infinite¬†decisions¬†not¬†to eat that thing are rendered irrelevant.¬†Remove the decision point entirely; remove the opportunity to cheat and don’t keep snacks you want to avoid in the house or at work, etc. and relatedly:

  6. Set a SMART goal – Be Specific in what you want to achieve;¬†Have your rationale and motivations clear.¬†Make it¬†Measurable and Attainable;¬†You don’t need to stand on the scale every morning, but have a way to track your progress over time. Be¬†Realistic;¬†Your¬†target can move but have¬†a clear understanding¬†of how your decisions¬†today will affect¬†your ability to achieve your goal. Make it¬†Timely; You can’t sustain race weight all summer. Determine an¬†A Race or other event that you would like to peak for.

  7. Plan ahead – Load up your fridge, living room, office desk, bedside drawer – wherever you normally get cravings – with snackable veggies. Go to town on them when cravings hit. Cook healthy meals ahead of time. Make them quick and idiot-proof; make healthy food more convenient than non-healthy food.

  8. Don’t sacrifice training for diet: Find you can’t hit your target numbers on your morning fasting ride? Don’t hesitate to break out¬†that emergency banana. We all still¬†have easy watts to gain from training that will boost our absolute output and W/kg. At 80kg and FTP of 250 W, what’s better: +10 W or -1 kg? You do the math. More importantly, what’s easier to achieve?

  9. Track your intake. Now we’re getting serious. For a few days or a week at first.¬†Start by looking at¬†nutrition value of your staple meals & snacks and¬†overestimate¬†intake. You can’t change something if you don’t know where you’re starting. Eventually try to include everything – the spoonful of yogurt, the 3 bites of leftover casserole, the cream in your coffee.. they add up.

  10. Schedule a cheat day. Controversial, but I couldn’t last without it. Every week or two weeks as necessary. Plan ahead of time how long you can last without going off diet, and¬†underestimate it!¬†No limits on Cheat Day, go to town… Do it after the Saturday team hammerfest when you’re already in a deep caloric deficit. But this only works if you actually adhere to your healthy diet the other 6 days of the week!

Just like anything, you need to train your body to¬†adapt to change. Exercise¬†is changing the output, diet is changing the input. Both are equally as important.¬†So¬†you’ve covered all the low-hanging fruit for healthful eating? Fine.. go for your intermittent juice fast gluten-free keto caloric restricted hunger strike multivitamin low carb low fat¬†level 5 vegan diet¬†and tell me how long you last¬†ūüôā

I, as a human¬†person, have also struggled with lowering my weight, controlling cravings and lusting after big numbers above the W/kg fraction line and little¬†numbers below. I would say I’m fairly¬†happy with¬†having found a healthful diet starting with the principles here, that¬†I can adhere to and¬†progress from. I know that I can experiment with implementing more strict, more flashy, more extreme dietary strategies¬†and¬†that if¬†I temporarily fail I have something¬†good-enough-and-sustainable to fall back to.

2016-01-22 18.36.24
Bunch of veggies, lentils, quinoa & chicken thrown in¬†the cast iron pan – the¬†idiot-proof “good-enough” meal that comprises 60% of my diet

You might not reach a BMI of 18 and sub-10% body fat with only the strategies above, but you can certainly lose those first 3 kilos and set a lower baseline for your sustainable body composition. It just takes time, practice and consistency.