Women Bike: cycling for weight loss

As women, there are a lot of topics relating to cycling comfort which are either not frequently talked about or just too embarrassing to ask a male salesperson at the local bike shop. Topics like: “I’m hurting down there” or “Do you have any tips about riding while menstruating?” or “Why can’t I find cycling clothes that fit?” You get the idea: personal, women-specific and potentially awkward to explain. We’ll do our best in addressing these topics here.

January is here. A new year, a blank slate and a new set of resolutions to (try to) stick to. I’m sure many of us have set a resolution around health and weight loss – the most common new year’s resolutions for women and men alike.

While I personally believe that cycling should be primarily about joy, you can certainly use cycling to lose weight and gain fitness. Here are a few brief tips on how bicycling can help you meet your 2015 weight loss goals.

First things first

- Write down your goals.

Be realistic on how many pounds or body fat you’d like to lose and how much bike time you’ll be able to fit in your schedule. Also, by cycling regularly, your body will gradually replace fat with muscle, which is more firm but also heavier than fat. Thus, setting a body fat percentage goal may be more effective than a flat weight loss or pant-size goal.

- Now how are you going to achieve this goal?

Write down where bike time is going to fit into your schedule, and who you’re going to ride with. Do you want to ride alone, with a (Cascade) group or do you already have a riding buddy? These are personal decisions but riding with a group or a buddy is not only a lot of fun, most people find it easier to stick to a training schedule that way.

- When are you going to ride?

Perhaps the easiest way to incorporate bicycling in your daily routine is to start bike commuting. This is a great option if you live within a reasonable distance from your work or school. Explore routes on the weekend, so you’ll know how long it will take you to get where you need to go, and what the safest options are.

If bike commuting simply isn’t (feasible) for you, identify if you’ll need to wake earlier to fit in a ride before work, make time in the evening or have time on the weekends to ride. Pencil it in and try to plan around your riding. (Cascade has free group rides every day of the week at various times. Check them out at cascade.org/calendar.)

Can’t motivate yourself to go out in the winter weather? Consider indoor cycling. Many gyms offer spin classes, which give you a solid workout for 45 minutes to an hour. Or invest in a bike trainer. With a bike trainer you can ride in the comfort of your own home while watching instructional videos, professional bike races for inspiration or reruns of your favorite TV show.

Now that you have a plan, stick to it.

This is the hard part. One way to keep yourself motivated is to set intermediary goals. Where do you want to be in three months? How about six, eight, ten? Mark it on your calendar and measure your progress. And then, celebrate the successes – no matter how small!

Another way to get motivated is to sign up for a riding event. By signing up and paying an entry fee, you (and your wallet) are holding yourself accountable for progress. Pick an event that you’ve never done before or that was difficult before, and see how you’ve progressed by riding regularly. Again, celebrate the success along the way.

Tell your friends or family. Going public with your goal(s) can help you stay on track. Common friendly questions from those around you, like “how’s your training going?”, “how’s the riding?”, “did you get out on your bike this weekend?” can serve as a great motivational tool.

Cycling and diet

For best results, pair your new cycling habit with healthy eating habits. Riding more will certainly increase your appetite but don’t negate the work you just did by stuffing yourself with empty calories. Eat nutrition-rich foods and add a little more lean protein into your diet. Protein keeps your hunger at bay, kickstarts your metabolism and helps your muscles recover.

I don’t believe in denying yourself all treats. So yes, enjoy the occasional beer, chocolate or pie. Just eat your green first, and cookie later.

Diet off the bike, not on it.

Be sure to eat and hydrate while riding. You will not get any fitter by starving yourself while exercising, nor will you enjoy yourself when you bonk 20 miles into your ride. Take a swig from your water bottle at least every 20 minutes and eat something every 20 miles. Once you’re home, be sure to eat a protein-filled snack or meal 20 to 30 minutes after your workout. My personal favorites are nonfat Greek yogurt and chocolate milk.

Comfort and joy

Again, for me, the joy of cycling comes above all. If you don’t enjoy it, don’t do it! Don’t like commuting or urban riding? Get away from the city and try riding in the country or mountain biking.

Also, invest in comfort. A good saddle, a bike fit and comfortable clothes can improve your riding experience tremendously while also preventing injuries.

Slow and steady

If you stick to healthy eating habits and increase the time you spend in the saddle, you’ll likely see results quite quickly. Don’t be alarmed, however, when your weight loss slows or even plateaus. This is very common. Over time, your body will adjust to this norm and while your weight may stay the same, you will still see a change in your body as fat is being replaced with muscle. You will lean out in some areas while firming and toning other parts of your body.

Good luck!

Thanks for the positive feedback to this column. I’m happy to help! Please continue to email me your questions at amrook@cascade.org and I’ll answer them anonymously.

Read previous columns, here!