When to reduce calories

Initially I figured there was an obvious answer to this question, but now I am not sure.

I need to lose weight.

The question is when do I cut calories?

Option 1. On a workout day

  • nope you got to fuel your workouts and replace glycogen too or your current or next workout will suck right?

Option 2. On a rest day

  • I figured that this was the obvious answer but the guys we’re talking on the podcast that dropping calories on an off day is slowing recovery and adding stress to the body while it’s trying to rebuild.

Option 3. Equally distributed

  • I guess this is the only other option, but not exactly based on any science I know.

Ultimately my goal is to improve body composition so I want to be smart about it.

Ps. I’m 48, 211 lbs. cycle 3500-5000 km per year

Stop seeing it as a day, if you have a 12 hour rule that would work.
Example: Training sessions on Monday, Wednesday, Friday and Saturday.
After the session on monday you start the clock with 12 hours of recovery food, that way you will have enough energy in the system to recover fast enough. After 12 hours you start limiting the calories, you can actually go pretty low if you dont have a huge energy output outside the workouts, the goal should be to hit somewhere around 1,5g/kg of protein, 1-2g/kg carbs and 1,5g/kg fat.
2 hours before your wednesday session you start eating a normal meal again. And then after the session you do the same.

So for example your mealplan looks like this:
Monday: 4 meals (1 before, 3 after) - 500kcal average
Tuesday: 4 meals - 250-400kcal average
Wednesday: 4 meals - 500 kcal average, or if you workout is late you will just do the 2 meals @ 250-400kcal, 1 meal @ 500kcal before the workout, 1-2 meals @ 500kcal after the workout.
Thursday: 4 meals - 250-400kcal average.

PS. The calories used here is just some random numbers, you will actually have to figure out what average you should hit each week to loose the desired weight.

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I wouldn’t over complicate things and just stick to a 500 calorie deficit every day.

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Good question, OP. Because the well meaning advice that is often given on the podcast (recently by Amber, but also in popular literature by Stacy Simms and others) along the lines of “never diet on the bike” could be read as “well, guess I’ll have to stay fat forever”. It’s clear that one has to reduce calories at some point in order to reduce body fat. And yes, this will interfere with training, especially harder sessions. Nutrition timing and overall diet quality can alleviate this, but only to a degree. Training at 100% requires not being in a deficit. Accepting this and following the strategy of degrading workouts to a lower zone on bad days if necessary helps mentally (Threshold->SweetSpot->Tempo->Endurance)

Regarding the distribution between days: I found it necessary to have at least one day per week of full recovery (for me as a mid volume athlete in the 60-70 CTL range this means at least one day of no biking or running at all). This would coincide with a lower calorie deficit or even none at all, in order to give the body time to reach a true state of rest and recovery with lowered hormonal stress.

Additionaly, shaving 3-500kcal off a 3500 kcal training day seems way more practical than going down to ~1800 on a rest day.

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I wouldn’t know how to survive on only 1500 kcal on rest days. Would make me miserable. As long as you eat enough before, during, and after the workout I’d say workout days a good for a deficit. Weight loss isn’t the time for cutting calories around the workout. This typical underfuling before and during but overeating after. Get the work done, fuel accordingly and keep a small deficit in the evening.

A few things to consider: Are you an elite athlete thats needs to cut a pound or two? Are you average Joe that wants to lose weight while gaining some cycling fitness?

Don’t over think it, it really is very easy. While you can’t maximise your cycling gains while also losing weight you can significantly improve whilst doing it. Track your calories, eat well and train and the weight and body composition will see themselves right. You can still train well on a calorie deficit; you CAN lose weight and increase FTP at the same time.

Stick to a 2-500 calorie deficit everyday, follow the training plan. Chose good food. You’ll be fine.*

*HV plans not included :smile:

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Hey there - just want to add my two cents and respond to @Bergfruehling’s reference of “don’t diet on the bike.” It’s true that out of context that statement can sound like a cop-out, but the point is that you don’t want to create your calorie deficit while you’re on the bike. (Doing so can seem like a good idea - it’s easy because you’re distracted and not near the fridge.) You want to fuel pre/during/post-workout, then use other meals in your day to create a deficit. As an example, during base training, I would eat a carbohydrate (CHO) rich breakfast (800-1000 kcal) then ride 4-5 hours, eating 200-300kcal per hour (more if possible) of CHO, then have a recovery drink with CHO and protein (200kcal). During the ride I might burn 4-5000kcal. For the rest of the day (lunch and dinner), my meals would focus on nutrient-density (lots of veggies, grains), fats, and protein, but I would create a 300-500kcal deficit for the day by keeping those meals a little smaller and focused on nutrition rather than calorie density.

You can use the same principles for shorter rides, because your intake pre/during will be proportional to the intensity and duration (i.e. caloric deficit) of the ride. The recovery shake will ensure you replenish muscle glycogen for the following day’s training session. Then you can create a reasonable deficit with whatever else you eat that day, making sure you get good nutritional value from those meals (you’re not eating veggies to fuel your training, so you need to get those in your other meals).

Creating a 300-500kcal deficit on a daily basis won’t significantly compromise your training if you:
a) fuel your workouts well,
b) get easily-absorbed CHO into your system within 30min post-training (e.g. with recovery drink), and
c) get the nutrition you need in your other meals (protein, vitamins/minerals/micronutrients from plenty of good produce, and quality fats like EVOO/Omega-3s).

The beauty of “don’t diet on the bike” is that it reminds you to avoid the trap of creating calorie deficit on the bike just because it’s easy to do with the fridge out of reach; moreover, the big bonus is that fueling the workout and having a recovery drink will dramatically decrease your appetite for the rest of the day. You won’t get that zonked starving feeling a few hours after your workout, so it will be that much easier to create a calorie deficit.

The consistency you create though training well, fueling well, and recovering well will supercharge the training adaptations that will lead to better fitness and a body composition suited to the training you’re doing. Be patient with the numbers on the scale, because a shift in body composition (i.e. adding muscle and losing fat) doesn’t always translate directly to decreasing numbers on the scale. And remember that weighing yourself daily will often reflect more of your hydration status than changes in body comp. Weighing weekly in consistent conditions is probably better, and a pound every couple of weeks is good progress. Keep in mind that this creates a positive feedback loop - where more muscle mass and more activity will increase the kcal you burn during normal daily activities, so your early progress may feel slow, but it will pick up steam if you continue to be kind with your body and give it what it needs to adapt well.

On another note, having a little protein before bed can help - keeps you from feeling too hungry when you sleep, and it can help you sleep through the night. Getting plenty of good sleep is a major key to enabling body composition-related adaptations. A small handful of almonds or cashews, or a serving of non-fat plain yogurt can do that for you.

Best of luck!

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I’ll add that a lot of the talk cutting calories and dieting on the bike would apply to the already quite lean athlete, one whom might just push the w/kg envelope, the point in which one would optimize the weight/power ratio. These types could possibly lose more than they gain by getting the fueling wrong.

On the other hand, the average schmo who is >23 on the BMI index can experiment with how much fuel is required for BMR/workouts with less regard to performance drop. The bigger risk to someone who has more pounds to lose is relapsing to old habits (snacking, overeating, unhealthy choices) than being underfueled to the point where it affects performance.

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That’s very true. I want to add, however, that while the danger of underfueling for an already-lean athlete would include adverse effects on performance, there are also dangers to cutting too many calories too quickly for any “average schmo.” Our bodies are literally built to adapt, which is great. It means that with gentle, consistent changes, our bodies can adapt to just about anything. However, drastic changes cause different responses, which are more like emergency responses rather than long-term adaptations. An immediate emergent response to a drastic reduction in calories will work against the ultimate goal of a stable, more optimized body composition. In the same way you would probably end up with an injury by going from couch-potato to 80 mile rides everyday, you can cause biochemical “injury” to your endocrine system with dramatic, sudden changes in food intake. Getting overzealous and, for example, going for an 800-1000kcal deficit thinking you have more room for error than a lean athlete could still get you into trouble, not to mention that it would be a more difficult change to sustain with consistency from a simple will-power and emotion standpoint. I agree with the spirit of what you’re saying, but want to reinforce the importance of small, consistent changes over time. It’s far more feasible when it comes to building new habits (which is part of the goal), and it is far healthier and more sustainable for the physiology in the long term. And that remains true even when taking performance metrics out of the equation and simply looking at it from a health perspective.

If you think of this in terms of establishing new habits, I’d go so far as to suggest changing one thing every two weeks. For example: start by not missing a single workout for two weeks, but don’t worry about changing anything else. Next, start fueling pre/during/post workout with plenty of CHO, in whatever way (gels, gummies, drink mix) seems most feasible, for two weeks. You might be surprised how much of a difference you see just doing that. Next, aim for 5-6 servings of vegetables in your other meals for two weeks. Each habit you add, you keep up with the others, but you just have to focus on changing one thing at a time. This might sound extreme, but it’s something I’ve tried personally, and it can work. At least, it’s something to consider. And when it comes it health, I think the more important goal is to find ways to tweak our daily habits toward better health (which will lead to better fitness and performance etc), and to see it as a process of establishing new habits rather than aiming for a specific goalpost (number on the scale). The goal can of course serve as a motivator, but the daily behaviors will be easier to manage as habits than as a constant deluge of new/stressful decisions.

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This is solid advice! Well done!

I’d agree with the simple mentality of the 500 calories deficit approach.

also if you are genuinely committed to losing weight correctly and actually changing body composition… do it over the right time period.

Here’s my 2 cents (as our American friends say) - if you can train full time, I’ve no doubt it would be possible to not only lose body fat but also gain muscle, increase endurance as well as power etc etc.

However, which of us has the kind of life!? For me - I have decided to do everything different from how I have approached things in the past. I always wanted to achieve all of the above at the same time but would end up falling off a cliff, injuried or just fed up. Weight back on and back to the start. This time (starting May 2018) I decided I would take a long term approach - (like 2-3 years long term). Since May 2018 I started managing my diet and doing some more exercise. Starting at 220lbs, by Mid Sept I was down to about 205lbs. No serious training - more social riding outside and just eating less overall calories. I was and still do eat chocolate etc but I just eat like at least 1000 less calories per day (remember I was gaining weight at that point). I don’t count them, I just know myself the difference. Your appetite will shrink over time, just be willing to commit to the changes. Importantly for me - eat normal food, don’t do any diet that is overly focused on one thing or another. I typically have wheatabix and raisins for breakfast or a smoothie if I train before work. Smoothie is half frozen banana, half cup frozen blueberries, half cup almond milk, half cup water, squeeze honey, table spoon of sunflower seeds and same of something like cashew nuts and pumpkin seeds, 1/3 or 1/4 cups speedicook oats and a big tea spoon of cashew butter. if I don’t have the smoothie at breakfast I will have for lunch. After lunch - cup of tea and some chocolate. Just a small amount. I used to eat chocolate by the kg - so this has taken some will power and prob always will, but I’ve now got long term goals.

In work at 11am I go get a cup of tea in the canteen and watch everyone eat their fried food. Sometimes I want some and other times I’m just thankful I don’t do that so often. Sometimes I will have something - in part to ensure I don’t go from having no control over my eating, to still having an issue, but of a different kind.

By changing my breakfast and lunch to this - my calories are way down! Dinner is then before training (for me) - just have normal dinners - nothing special but swap out potatoes for a mix of veg, or if having pie - have salad or sweet potato instead of chips. Just make sure it’s maybe 300 calories less than what you’d normally chuck in you. pasta and sauce - skip the garlic bread. Burgers? have one. some folk are thinking why would you ever have two full burgers… others are thinking yeah I know what he means…

After training in evening - cup of tea and more chocolate. I love chocolate so I still eat it often, just in very small amounts now compared to past days.

Start Oct started a base plan - through to end Nov. Dec - outdoor riding and rowing (got a concept 2 which I love). losing more weight. January, added some treadmill running. Intentionally taking it easy - Z2 mostly, as I know I need to get miles in my legs so I don’t create potential for injury. Now sitting at just under 185lbs. So 35lbs lost… Cycling ability coming on very well. FTP 234 to 254.Watt/kg just over 3.

However, the body fat is only stage one. target weight about 178lbs. then I will start increasing the power elements to my rowing and the speed of running. will promote some muscle adaption/gain. then while that ongoing, some weight training for adding some muscle mass. I’m intending to focus on strength and conditioning rather than size. so heavy weights, low reps, good form, focus on core.

I know I’ve ended up with a massive post here but the point is about having a long term plan and being willing to be patient. the extra fat around my belly is still really annoying but i’m starting to learn to trust the process.

haven’t read the whole thread yet and I’m sure there will be loads of good posts but hope this helps.

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yep - as per my other post. Definietly possible. now if I had not been in calorie deficit, could I have trained even harder and increased FTP further? Maybe but the 35lbs lost has made a huge difference to my watts/kg, and since I’m not training for sprints, but rather general road riding, this counts!

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The frustration of seeing those daily changes (up/down/up/down) can affect a person’s frame of mind as well. I’ve always had better results by checking the scale weekly rather than daily.

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+1 to this.

This was my strategy this year during base (with minor tweaks, since I’d usually burn about 3k kj) and it worked well and I lost a good amount of weight/fat without compromising any muscle tissue.

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Thanks for taking the time to respond Amber…you’ve given me lots to “digest” :rofl:

I tried responding yesterday on my phone and lost my train of thought a bit.
@ambermalika I apologize for taking your quote “don’t diet on the bike” out of the context it obviously had in the podcast episode. You put a lot of thought into this, and you provided lots and lots of additional, incredible guidance on the AACC episodes and in the forum.

The single biggest improvement in my performance came from doing exactly that. I wanted to give my point of view on this topic, from someone who had a lot more to lose than a couple of pounds. OP didn’t give his height, but it seemed to me that it’s also not just about the “final 5 pounds” for him.
And that’s where I struggle with the advice given to athletes. For most people (on this forum at least, who should be in pretty good shape already) “don’t diet on the bike” is important. So thanks again for taking the time to explain this in such great detail.
Now that I am also at the point where I can fuel for performance and try to lose weight for better cycling performance (instead of the other way around) I can take away lots of actionable advice from every post. :slight_smile:



(this chart is in kgs. Most of the time after autumn of 2016 I was not tracking anymore)

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I’m 5’11, 222 lbs, 48 years old, 215 FTP, cycling 3500-5000 km a year.

After creating a small deficit during base, would you eat at or above maintenance during the other phases of the season? Or is it more complex than that.
I’ve been following a very small deficit during base which definitely helped with body recomp. Just thinking about the strategy for build and specialty. I would think that eating at maintenance (generally) would be the way to go during those phases? Or would you approach it per day/week and look at the workload.

well done on the weight loss - very inspirational and kudos to you!

There is definitely room to lose weight and gain power simultaneously. I set a 500 calorie deficit, but probably end up being 750 under on workout days. I’ve seen an 17 watt increase during the period of 2 months and lost 11 lbs. I don’t feel hungry because I’ve focused on low density, high quality foods. I do try to prepare for my workouts. I don’t go into them hungry or fasted. In my opinion, the key to dieting is being able to fill your belly and feel full, but without a lot of calories.