Jan 27, 2012

Weight-control without misery

I’ve previously written about dieting, and raceweight, and the various plans I read about and was following. However, many of my past attempts to shed pounds and get to my ideal race weight would be rollercoasters of excitement, results, fatigue, annoyance and weight re-gain.

To be more specific, after finding a weight managing technique that seemed practical and doable with a heavy training load (e.g., not the Paleo diet), I’d be excited to try it and often saw great results in the early stages. However, as the diet plan would progress, I would start feeling starved and hungry all the time. In addition, logging calories, while motivational on some level (when I was good), was just becoming another time sink in my day.

In December, with the season fast approaching, I needed to find a way to manage my weight that would be effective, practical and most importantly, doable! I was already eating healthy, so there wasn’t much restructuring I could do in terms of what I ate; however, I placed a great deal of focus on how I ate.

In an effort to not drive myself crazy, I designed a diet from much conventional advice and wisdom I’m sure you’ve heard before, and some counterintuitive methods you may not have considered (or considered and dismissed).

Meal timing

The primary emphasis was placed on when I would take my meals and what they were composed of. Breakfast had to be large; and by “large” I mean about 700 calories or so. This isn’t that difficult to do, a double serving of oatmeal with some raisins, frozen berries, brown sugar and almond milk almost does the trick. I sometimes top that off with a banana or another piece of fruit.

One wrinkle is that most of the time, I train in the mornings, and a 700-calorie breakfast is hardly enough to make up for the 1,000-2,000 calories I burn. This requires a contingency plan for that 10:30 feeling when my stomach begins to growl and lunch is another couple hours away. The answer? FRUIT! I find it spikes my sugar just enough to keep the hunger at bay, but not so much that I crash, or feel full before lunch. As a whole, I probably consume eight servings of fruit daily.

Lunch is the time to load up on carbohydrates. I probably take at least 60 percent of my carbs in at lunch. There is one simple reason for it: the earlier in the day I eat most of my carbs, the more time I’ll have to burn them through my usual daily activities.

For dinner, I limit myself to vegetables, a small serving of carbohydrates (usually in the form of bread with dinner) and a lean protein. Sometimes when I’m craving a snack after dinner, I’ll have some yogurt with granola and maybe throw some nuts in there. The fat and the high-density foods, like nuts, fill me up pretty well without packing on an insane amounts of calories.


Bring back the fat. I cut out most of the silly low-fat options from my diet. If I’m having yogurt, it’s going to be whole milk. If I’m having breakfast meats, let it be bacon. What most people refuse to understand is that fat is good for us. It protects the organs; cell membranes get their rigidity from saturated fats; the immune system is enhanced by a regular intake of saturated fats; the risk of heart disease is reduced due to a lower Lp in the blood; and most importantly, fats protect the liver from alcohol and other toxins. So if you like that Pliny after the ride, munch on some fries to go with it.

One of the most important and relevant benefits of fat as it pertains to weight management, however, is that it makes me feel fuller. Eating a low-fat cup of yogurt, while satisfying momentarily, leaves me wanting to reach for another in an hour. Eating whole milk yogurt keeps me full much longer. And don’t forget, for the most part calories are calories. Two low-fat yogurts have more calories than one whole milk alternative. 

I take the same approach with my evening meals. Having a piece of chicken breast and sautéed vegetables is great, but it keeps me fuller longer if I throw in some butter and parmesan cheese. The longer I stay full post dinner, the least likely I am to snack before bed, and eliminating unnecessary pre-bedtime calories goes a long way toward a healthy weight.

Controlled post-ride meals

I’m sure you’ve all experienced moments of extreme post-ride hunger, where you get off the bike and are ready to inhale anything and everything in sight. This happens primarily due to insufficient calorie intake during the ride, which causes a drop in glucose and triggers hunger. If I have a proper meal before I ride and fuel properly on the ride, I don’t finish my rides wishing I had two servings of Thanksgiving dinner in front of me.

Moderate hunger is normal and I even expect it, especially if I’ve just put 4,000 KJs in my legs. No way can I replenish those calories while on the bike, but I make sure to maintain a steady flow of calories and sugars into my body to avoid bonking and the that feeling of extreme post-ride hunger.

If I mess up and don’t take enough food in on the ride, or go much harder than I expected and happen to reach that feeling of extreme post-ride hunger, there’s a trick I use. I reach for a candy bar and eat about half of it. This does two thing: first, it begins to replenish glucose to my muscles, thus speeding up recovery; second, it spikes my glucose and takes the edge off the hunger. I can then have a normal meal and not try to eat everything in the kitchen.

Regardless of whether I’m in the extreme-hunger mode or just regularly hungry after a long ride, here’s another trick I use.  I imagine the meal I’m about to have and the amount, and take half or three-fourths. As we all know, at times of hunger, our eyes can eat way more than our stomachs should ever have to process. More often than not, by the time I’m done with the smaller portion, I’m full enough to stop eating. The other side of that coin is that if I pile on too much onto my plate, I make sure to stop when I feel full.

Making smart choices

This one will be easier for you if you know the things you like and can categorize them into healthy(ier) and unhealthy categories. I know this about myself and also know that sometimes I’ll have cravings, or will want a snack. Instead of denying myself, and thus leaving myself hungry and annoyed, I go for the healthier of my favorite foods. This often involves grabbing a bowl of granola and yogurt over a bag of Kettle potato chips. Or grab a banana if I just feel my stomach is empty and hunger is about to strike.

All of the above seem very common sense to me: I eat regular portions, of regular food and don’t really deny myself too many things I like. Once in a while, I’ll indulge in something like In N Out, or that bag of Kettle potato chips, but as long as my week-to-week nutrition intake is in accordance with my plan, those indulgences make absolutely no difference.

On this plan, over the last month I was finally able to get rid of those extra few pounds and am now happily residing below that pesky 170-pound mark. I don’t feel hungry, or starved, or deprived of any foods and I feel like I can continue eating like this for as long as I want.

One thing that I will also mention, and I have no idea whether it played a role at all in my weight loss, but in December, I gave up drinking dairy milk. I still consume a lot of dairy, but just not milk. I found that almond milk was a great replacement and don’t really miss its dairy equivalent.


  1. You've got an iron will, Vitaly. No way I could put away half a candy bar after hitting a wall on a big ride. well done.

  2. I agree largely with you. It sounds like you have a very workable approach to your food.

    I think there are two things to consider, sugar is really bad and it should be cut out largely especially as a liquid i.e. fruit juice, coke, lemonade.

    2ndly Carbohydrates make sense while you are exercising really hard and you need to load, but you can get your energy from carbs in vegetables, from fat and from protein.

    Carbs are not good energy in my experience.

    Really liked your article.

    interesting take on carbs and fat and protein by Gary Taubes on the Walnut Creek talk.


    1. "Sugar is really bad for you" - FALSE, FALSE, FALSE. While sugar should not be consumed in great quantities, but when your muscles are depleted of glycogen after a hard workout, some refined sugar, in whatever form, is the best thing for you to get the fuel back to your muscles to stop the tear down and begin recovery.

      Cabrs are great energy. And I do exercise really hard. In fact, my whole approach to dieting is a result of being on the bike 5-6 days a week. If I wasn't riding and training as much as I do, I would never ever eat like that. This isn't for "normal people." I'm also focused more on attaining my ideal weight, as opposed to just losing weight for its sake.

      With all due respect, I don't think Gary Taubes has enough credentials to be lecturing on dieting. I turn to sport scientists for that, like Matt Fitzgerald (Racing Weight), and Alen Lim.

  3. Vitaly, I love your post and I think you've really nailed nutrition on the head. I have been following a similar regiment myself in that I don't eat grains in the PM either. I also definitely agree with your comment on sugar, as it is definitely needed for performance and recovery. And directed towards scheduleflow, I don't know if you ride but the idea of eating vegetables on a six hour ride does not sound too appealing. I also highly disagree with saying carbs are not good energy, on a ride over two hours you're going to burn anywhere from 1,000-2,000 calories and be putting your muscles to the test, the last thing you'd want to do is make your body work harder to pull energy from proteins and fats. They definitely are needed, but during training is not the time.
    Back to Vitaly, I agree that Allen Lim is quite knowledgeable and I would highly reccomend taking a look at Feedzone Cookbook if you already haven't. Anyways, the main reason I'm writing you is to find out what you eat on the bike and immediately after for recovery.


    1. What I eat on the bike depends on what type of ride it is. In a race, I usually stick with mix in my bottles and GU. It's quick, no need to fiddle with wrappers or chew. I'm also lucky that my body can handle pretty much anything on a ride, so I can choose from a variety of foods. On long training rides, I prefer to stick to real food as much as possible, but will always have mix in my bottles. At least to start with. I do own the Feedzone cookbook and I have tried Lim's rice cakes no rides - they are very good! On longer rides I usually try to consume 200-300 calories per hour.

      As far as recovery, I like to drink a protein shake immediately after and have a meal with some carbs within an hour or so of being done. If it's been a really hard training session, I might even eat a piece of candy just to get the sugar to the muscles quicker, but that's rare.

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  5. I found your blog searching for help with Golden Cheetah, but now find myself reading through the rest of the material. This post is particulary resonate as a returning cyclist i am finding my self training hard and trying to loose weight as well as train hard which can be tricky balancing act; on one hand I don't want to take too much in to maintain a calorie deficit; on the other hand I need to take plenty in to fuel my riding! For me the best recovery food after a long ride is a ham and cheese sandwich and a recovery shake! Once that is down my neck I can relax a little, shower and start looking at my power data. My word how things have changed in the last 20 years!