Top tips to cut fat and maintain muscle

Optimal body composition is something that many cyclists seek. However, before we dive into some tips to help you achieve this, first and foremost this is NOT about weight loss. Weight loss is a broader subject as you can achieve rapid weight loss by not eating carbs and losing the associated water weight, but performance will then be impaired. Additionally, fat loss to an extreme reduces performance dramatically as well as being detrimental to health and wellbeing. This is why this article will focus on an overview of optimal body composition, promoting reduction in excess fat mass and maintenance of both muscle mass and bone mineral density. We also offer this service in more detail via in-depth dietary analysis, with a detailed follow-up report, as well as a nutrition coaching package to complement our other cycle coaching packages. So, onto the tips!

Regular exercise and varying intensities

The first part of this might seem obvious, but getting into a routine and following a structure of exercise will help with maintaining long term exercise habits. Doing more exercise has many beneficial effects on body composition. Firstly, exercise itself obviously burns energy, and body fat. Low intensity exercise burns a greater percentage of fats, while high intensity exercise uses more energy in a shorter amount of time and the excessive post oxygen consumption (EPOC) means that the body burns more fat for a longer period after exercise has been completed. Additionally, training can help increase the rate at which you can burn fat – and also the total amount of energy you are able to expend – during exercise. By promoting aerobic exercise adaptations, we become better at utilising fats as a fuel and also using it at higher intensities. Following a varied training plan/routine that balances intensities and durations alongside work and family life is a great way to help achieve optimal body composition. 

Sprint work can increase EPOC after a session

Timing of food intake

This is one of the smallest changes that can have the biggest impacts on body composition. The timing of what we eat plays a big part in how our body uses that food. For example, sugar has been vilified in the media and health market recently, but if you’re doing endurance or high intensity exercise, then sugars (simple easy to use carbohydrates) are vital to ensure performance and also recovery. So if you’re doing a training session, consuming sugar during that session is going to be a benefit. Fuelling properly in this way will also help you not to give in to cravings after exercise, thus reducing your total daily calorie intake. When we consume sugar during or immediately after exercise, it doesn’t end up as stored fat and goes primarily into the muscles and the liver, to ensure that we have a good supply of glycogen (energy) to use for our next training session. However, if we wait a few hours after exercise to consume sugars, less of it is directed to muscle glycogen and more of it is directed to fat stores. This is why timing of nutrition is so important for optimal body composition and something that we help educate our coached athletes in.

Cake and sugars can have their place, ideally in and around exercise

Limiting processed foods

This is a slightly complicated one as, during and straight after training, processed foods such as energy gels and recovery shakes are useful for performance benefits, recovery, and optimal body composition. However, in our regular day to day diet, it is beneficial to reduce the amount of processed foods we consume. Although heavily refined sugars, deep fried foods and anything with trans fats are the main culprits when it comes to processed foods, nuts, fruits, and vegetables can still be over-processed. Even if given the option between a smoothie/fruit juice and whole fruits, it is better to have the whole fruits. This is because when we break down the fruit into a smoothie or juice, we lose some of the fibre and the need for our bodies to put in as much energy into digesting it. The process of digestion uses a lot of energy, and fibre is good for keeping us feeling fuller for longer and also promoting good gut health. So, when possible, try and limit intake of processed foods as this will be beneficial for optimal body composition. One small caveat is for those with digestive issues, where more easily digestible foods help with individual gut health. Additionally, a rider in a Grand Tour won’t want to waste energy digesting, so fruit juice is a great way of getting essential vitamins, sugars, and fluids. This is why there is not really such a thing as ‘bad’ foods, just bad timing.

You can still eat foods you enjoy, but small changes to them can increase their functionality and benefits towards achieving optimal body composition

Strength training

This is another multifaceted way of improving optimal body composition. Firstly, increasing muscle mass has the benefit of improving performance and power output on the bike. This in turn means that we are able to use more energy on the bike by working at higher power outputs. We also use energy during the strength training sessions themselves. Maintaining and increasing muscle mass is another part of the equation for achieving optimal body composition. Another benefit of strength training is that muscle mass actually requires more energy to maintain so, if you increase your muscle mass, your daily metabolic rate will increase and promote greater levels of fat burning when at rest. Therefore, in addition to all the associated health benefits of Strength Training, it is also a very useful part of the journey towards us achieving our ideal body composition.

When doing resistance training, additional protein intake can help improve muscle growth

I hope this article has given you some useful tips to help you towards your ideal body composition and associated fat loss or muscle gain. There are a lot of non-sustainable fad ‘diets’ around which claim to be fast-track ways to lose weight. However, by following a suitable exercise routine, fuelling adequately with the right foods at the right time, and incorporating strength training, you can not only promote fat loss, but also muscle gain. This results both in improved performance and also optimal body composition.

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