Friday, 1 April 2011

Guest Post from Denise Hampson - Losing Weight on the Bike

I asked former Team GB track sprinter Denise Hampson to offer some advice on a question that I know we all regularly ask ourself about losing weight.  In the first year of cycling, I lost about a stone in weight, but quickly bottomed out and have found it hard to sustain.  In the first part of a two part post, Denise offers some great advice.

Am I riding at too high an intensity to lose weight?

I've been asked this question a number of times by riders who would like to shed a few lbs. Usually I'm told it's for easier hill climbing and more efficient riding. Worthwhile aims, although just below the surface there's often a holiday, a wedding, a wardrobe of great clothes that can no longer be worn, an evening wine habit that needs managing or the simple fact that Lycra is unforgiving. For whatever reason you might wish to let go of a couple or more lb of body fat I have written down some thoughts that may help.

Let me explain where I'm coming from. I was a track sprinter. This is significant because not only were the track bankings the biggest 'hills' we had to get over we also traded in absolute power. As a sprinter it is better to carry a few extra lb and maintain your power. Ask any shot-putter! With sprinters the biggest mistake I could have made was to lose weight too quickly. Some of the most formidable opponents I ever faced were carrying excess weight but once they got to race speed it was like trying to get past a high speed train!

However, as a person who has lost some weight for sport and one who has had to manage weight post-sport, as a person who has developed a best practice community weight loss programme and written Department of Health guidance on weight management for children and families I have a lot of knowledge in this field and I'm happy to share it if it helps.

The first thing I want you to know is that weight loss is dead simple. It's a transaction between energy in and energy out. It is when we bring along our expectations, limiting self-beliefs, myths, emotions, habits, ideals and desires that weight loss gets complicated. Put your emotions away now and you'll be surprised how well you get on.

As human animals we are programmed to consume as much calorie-dense food as we can and preserve as much stored energy as we can. Our hunter-gatherer bodies haven't yet caught up with the 24/7 availability of cheap calories sitting in our cupboards.

We are incredibly efficient at holding on to energy and cycling is one of the most efficient activities we can do. Trying to waste energy through being active is the hardest route possible, so to lose weight I'd suggest addressing your diet every time. As a 60kg female I operate on approximately 100kcals per mile I run. To burn 1lb of body fat per week I'd have to run 5miles a day! Don't underestimate your body's ability to conserve energy.

We become more efficient the more we do an activity too. A seasoned cyclist will ride more efficiently than a novice. This is the reason I always recommend some cross training to 'keep the body guessing'. I call it 'body shock'. Our bodies naturally aim for balance, or equilibrium. I have met many cyclists who are incredibly fit and strong but they almost rest their bellies on their top tubes.

They have reached a state of equilibrium with strong legs and backside but with a weakness around the middle. Keeping the body in an ongoing state of shock will help with weight loss. On the flip-side body-shock can also contribute to burn-out so give yourself lots of rest too.

Think of calories like you think of money. Your body needs a certain amount to get by to maintain your body systems. Daily needs vary between 1500 and 3000 kcals depending on a range of factors. One thing is certain though, You can't work on negative calories so there will always be a limit on how fast you can lose weight. Programmes that encourage a steady weight loss of 1-2lb (0.5-1kg) per week are best because it's fast enough to keep you motivated and slow enough to keep you healthy. Aim for more rapid weight loss and you could be asking for trouble.

If you lose weight too quickly you might find your body starts converting your muscle tissue back into energy. It's called catabolism (sounds like cannibalism) and can undo all the hours you've spent slogging for fitness on your bike.

In answer to the original question, energy is energy as far as I'm concerned. Yes studies show we can utilise different energy systems in training but for the majority of people, this level of
detail is a distraction....

Second part of post, published tomorrow.

Denise co-authored the Deeprotox Sportspersons Eating Plan with Medical Nutritionist James Jones. Although not intended specifically for it, people of all ages and abilities who have used this approach have found it beneficial to losing some weight. To find out more or to purchase a copy, visit

Photo courtesy of CycleSportPhoto'

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