You rode 170 miles in 2 days at an average speed around 15 mph. You ate and drank just enough. You were excited about the opportunity to do consecutive long rides because you want to lose 10 pounds and certainly 170 miles would incinerate plenty of body fat.
You weighed in at 205 pounds before the first ride. Then the morning after the second ride, you stepped on the scale expecting to have burned off 5 pounds of ugly fat. Oops! The scale says 208. You put on your glasses but the number is still there — yes, you gained 3 pounds instead of losing. What went wrong?
Gaining weight during a long ride or after several long rides isn’t unusual. It’s typically caused by fluid retention. Ultramarathon riders have been known to gain 15-20 pounds of fluid during their events.
Long-distance cyclist Lulu Weschler has written about this phenomenon in the past in RBR Newsletter, explaining that fluid retention involves a hormone called arginine vasopressin (AVP). “This hormone,” Lulu reports, “is the sole human antidiuretic hormone. It is normally and appropriately released when we need to conserve water because we’re becoming dehydrated.
“AVP can, however, be released ‘inappropriately’ for reasons including stress, pain, hypoxia, and nausea. AVP signals the kidneys to retain water while letting go of sodium. This doesn’t mean something is wrong with the kidneys. It’s not ‘kidney failure’ as is commonly thought. The kidneys are simply responding correctly to an incorrect signal.”
How can you get the kidneys to begin expelling water again? There’s no certain solution, but Lulu has this opinion: “If you get in trouble with fluid retention, a high salt/low water concoction — say, one bouillon cube per one ounce water — may do the trick to get urination started. But we do not know for sure.”
Weight gain can also be caused by successful efforts at recovery. When you store muscle glycogen, you also store considerable amounts of water. So depleting yourself with long rides and then eating and drinking enough to recover fully can lead to transient weight gain.
Food for Thought
Be patient. Yes, long rides burn lots of calories, about 500-600 per hour for many cyclists. But successful weight loss is a long-term project. You didn’t gain that extra fat in a couple of days, so don’t try to (or expect to) lose it in a ride or 2.
Weigh yourself less frequently and do it in the same conditions, perhaps first thing in the morning. Eat moderately, ride consistently, and look for gradual weight loss over a period of weeks and months.
Coach Fred Matheny is an RBR co-founder who has four decades of road cycling and coaching experience. He has written 14 eBooks and eArticles on cycling training, available in RBR’s eBookstore at Coach Fred Matheny, including the classic Complete Book of Road Bike Training, which includes 4 eBooks comprising 250 pages of timeless, detailed advice and training plans. The Complete Book is one of the many perks of an RBR Premium Membership. Click to read Fred's full bio.