Eating Right: Don’t call it Diet (Absolute Beginners)

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Among the excellent reasons to start cycling are health and weight loss. Because cyclists require targeted fuel before, during, and after rides, nutrition is integral to successful cycling. Without proper nutrition, cyclist can feel exhausted during or after rides. I’ve written on eating in preparation for long rides before, but today I want to discuss the greater goal of how to use your quotidian diet to support your goal of riding the AIDS/LifeCycle (or similar rides).

If you have a nutrition-based illness or need some serious weight loss, it is important to start out with a check up from your physician. Only he or she can tell you whether a simple diet-and-exercise regime will help. But for most people, health and weight loss involve getting enough nutrients from the right number of calories. The right number of calories is some percentage less than the number of calories burned during the day. When you have a calorie deficit in this way, you are going to lose weight.

The topic of weight loss is huge and the subject of scientific study and pseudoscientific charlatanism. As Forbes magazine points out, weight loss can be done in a reliable and scientific way, avoiding expensive and possibly dangerous fads and fantasies. For instance:

Image credit.
  1. Diet trumps exercise in weight loss.
  2. Exercise supports this weight loss.
  3. Exercise is going to be your constant companion in life.
  4. There is no magical combination of foods which will achieve weight loss.
  5. For purposes of weight loss, a calorie is a calorie.
  6. Its all about the brain.
And its no. 6 on this list why we must replace the word Diet. Colloquially, “diet” implies a short-term solution to a temporary problem. Whereas, a more-successful strategy is implementing a permanent, achievable, and stable weight loss goal. But how do you set such a goal? The easiest way is to simply start making informed choices in your day-to-day eating habits.
I started my exercise regime with the excellent and free advice given by Scooby on his website Scooby’s Workshop. He advocates a number of techniques to loose fat and retain muscle from the easy (exercising and making informed dietary choices) to the difficult (measuring your body fat and weighing your potions for each meal. (Review his “Losing Weight and Building 6-Pack Abs” page for details.) But all he advocates is:
  1. Exercise a bit more;
  2. Eat a bit less;
  3. Drink lots of water;
  4. Sleep.
As a cyclist, you’re presumably working on (1), and learning the importance of water for (3). Sleep is a topic on which I’ve blogged before, but if you’re not getting 7 to 9 hours a night, you may want to figure out why or consult your doctor to achieve (4). (Read his page, too, for advice about each point.) On eating less, Scooby advises:

The second part of losing fat is eating less, and remember this does not mean hunger and deprivation! Most people fail to achieve their weight loss goals not because they eat too much but because they don’t eat enough! The starve themselves then end up binging! If you are hungry then you are doing something very wrong. If you have cravings for your favorite food, then you are human – I address how to handle cravings at the end of this section. If you dont understand my nutrition section then consider buying the book Bodybuilding Revealed which has the best coverage of bodybuilding nutrition I have seen.

The #1 easiest way to lose fat is to eat your calories rather then drinking them, this simple tip can help you lose 5lbs fat a month or more without any additional changes to your nutrition. There are many nutritional methods of weight loss and all of them will work, at least in the short term. Where they differ is in how healthy they are and if the results are long term and lasting or not

Apart from his advise, I have the following comments to help you make wise choices:
  1. Portion control. Prepare your meal to include everything you want to eat. Then eat it and no more.
  2. Plan on eating 5 or 6 meals per day. Its easier to choose a wise portion at one meal when you know you will be eating again in a couple hours
  3. Avoid:
    1. Sugary drinks. This includes fruit juices where most of the calories are from sugar. Eat an orange, don’t drink orange juice.
    2. Fats. Not because fat is magically bad, but because fat has a LOT of calories compared to other sources. (Do this by choosing lean meat, avoid cheese, avoid fried foods, use small amounts of spray-on oil instead of pouring out the olive oil.)
    3. Empty carbohydrates. While there’s nothing wrong with white bread, choose it less often than whole grains to maximize the nutritional impact of your meal.
    4. Alcohol. Alcohol is calorie dense with no nutritional value.
  4. Choose:
    1. Whole fresh fruit, vegetables with no sauce, and whole grains. These will help you feel full by providing bulk, while providing lots of nutrition for the number of calories consumed.
    2. Lean meat. Egg whites, fat-free chicken breasts, canned “white” tuna, tilapia fillets, and similar foods give you a lot of protein for a minimum of calories.
    3. Fat-free dairy. If you can eat dairy, there are lots of amazing choices which you can use to make your meals more enticing, but which add protein and nutrients instead of fat. (Fat-free greek yogurt makes an excellent creamy sauce for various foods both sweet and savory.)
    4. Good fats. Since fat is so calorie rich, you want to choose fats which go along with real nutrition. Salmon and other fatty fishes, for instance, are good choices.
  5. Cheat, but know what you’re doing. If its your birthday, you will want to eat that cake. Do it, but try to keep it to one slice. Eat pizza, but rarely. Eat french fries at lunch on your ride, but pair them with a chicken breast and not a bacon double cheese burger. Try to save your cheats for special occasions (like Thanksgiving!), so you can indulge and feel good about it.
  6. Have healthy treats all around the house and at work. If you have a package of fat-free brown rice crackers, an apple, or some oatmeal at your desk, you’re much less likely to scarf the last piece of cake in the lunchroom.
Finally, make small changes at first. Switch from full-fat milk to 1% or skim milk. Start taking lunch with you to work. Eat kale in your salads. Make your tuna salad with greek yogurt, not mayo. Integrate these choices into your routine so they don’t feel painful. When you’re ready, integrate a new change toward a more healthy diet.
I’ll write a second post on advanced healthy eating, but you can get lots of great advice off Scooby’s Workshop in the meanwhile.
When your friends ask what diet you’re on, you can say: “Oh, I’m not on a diet. I’m making informed choices about nutrition which will last my lifetime.”

All that and ride! Don’t forget to ride your bike!

Love,
Your Bear

Over the next couple months, I’m going to write a few articles with the lead-in title “Absolute Beginners,” explaining some of the basic principles of cycling. Most of the information is stuff I’ve learned from other cyclists, bike shop mechanics, classes I’ve taken, and Google searches. Please help me out and comment with corrections, additions, or supplements which will help my readers learn about how to operate their bikes!

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