Question: I’m fairly fit and ride about 120 miles a week. Year before last, I lost 45 pounds on a high-protein diet. I ate carbohydrate at only one meal a day. This was the first time I had been able to lose weight consistently.
The problem is that I can’t sustain a long ride at a high performance level with this diet. I run out of gas between 50 and 70 miles. I also crave carbs and eventually the weight loss stops, then I begin to gain weight. What’s happening? — Edward M.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: The low-carb diet is an extremely contentious issue. Here are some things to think about:
High protein diets help you lose weight, but the weight is mostly water and muscle tissue. That’s why people who try these diets usually gain back the weight they lost and more. They’ve lost some of their muscle tissue and that’s what burns calories.
As you noticed, you need carbohydrate to ride long with intensity. Eating even sugary energy bars and drinks on long rides won’t cause you to gain weight.
In fact, it will help you lose fat since, as physiologists say, “Fat burns in a flame of glycogen.” Sufficient glycogen stores in your muscles come only from eating plenty of carbs.
The trick is to eat enough to fuel your rides without eating so much that you gain weight. It’s simple math: Eat more calories than you burn — no matter if they’re carbs, fat or protein — and you’ll gain weight.
Finally, it’s important to accept your own limitations. Some people settle naturally at low percentages of body fat while others have a much higher “setpoint.” They carry more fat at the same levels of exercise and caloric intake.
That’s why some people are defensive tackles and others are marathon runners or rail-thin climbers.