About ten years ago I started riding my bike in order to lose the weight that I had gained from stress eating. The cause of the stress is another story for another day; I’ll just say that it was work related and leave it at that.
The bike had been sitting around the house not doing much because I couldn’t find the time or energy to ride–also work related. When I got back on it I soon found out that I could barely make it a mile before I was exhausted… And there weren’t even any hills!
Instead of getting frustrated, I worked at it like it was a problem that needed solving. I started reading articles in cycling magazines that helped me immensely. I learned techniques that soon had me climbing hills that previously I didn’t want to walk up. And over time I started going for longer and longer rides, which pleased me to no end. I never thought that I could go up and down hills for three or four hours at a clip.
But it’s not that easy; nothing ever is.
Yes, I was losing weight, but I was also gaining weight. It seemed like for every ounce of fat I lost, I gained a pound of muscle. It’s not a bad thing in the sense that the muscle I gained was in my legs which helped me go for longer rides, yet it was more mass that I had to drag up the hills.
I have always had big thighs, and I needed them to carry around my big gut. Now they were getting even bigger while my waist was getting smaller, which means that I could no longer wear straight leg jeans which, to be honest, I had no business wearing in the first place. And skinny jeans? Forget about it. There was never a time in my life when I could wear those.
A lot of experts will tell you that in order to lose weight you need to eat a lot of protein so you can build muscle which will burn fat, and yes, this does work. I have a friend who, back in the Nineties, went on one of those diets where you eat small meals every few hours. Basically, this makes you a bit OCD in the sense that you become obsessive about portion size and having to eat on schedule. And, in his case, it made him hyperagressive. I didn’t want to go that route because I have a bit of a temper, and I didn’t want to exacerbate matters.
The thing is the muscles in my legs are pretty much the only ones I have. I’m the kind of guy who could do curls all day and it wouldn’t make any noticeable difference. If you look at my arms under a microscope you may be able to see some definition, but that came about because of the weight loss. It’s like the skinny guy with six pack abs who has never done a crunch. If you have ever seen that guy at the gym or the beach who has the arms of Mr. Olympia and the legs of an Olympic marathon runner, well… I’m the complete opposite of that.
You always hear distance athletes talk about “carbo loading” the day before an event, because they need the fuel. The problem is that carbs are an anathema to losing weight, yet I need them to keep from bonking while on the road.
One of the biggest problems I have faced is in trying to learn how many carbs I need without eating too many which causes me to gain weight. Another problem is that this is a moving target that even riders in the Tour de France who have the benefit of sports scientists, nutritionists, and team chefs have a hard time hitting. Chris Horner of the BMC cycling team talked after Stage 8 of this year’s event about eating during the ride to replenish his energy stores, but since the weather was cool he barely broke a sweat and he actually gained weight!
I had a similar thing happen to me last Wednesday, except that I wasn’t eating during the ride–I never do. Sometimes, I will take along a packet of energy gel in case of emergency. After hearing Horner’s comments it makes me wonder: If the pros have a problem with weight, what chance do I have?
But I can’t afford to think that way.