Question: Last winter I adopted a low-carbohydrate diet and lost 20 pounds. I’m continuing the diet but wonder if lack of carbs is the cause of my struggles on the bike. While I’ve improved my average speed on solo rides, I can’t keep up with my friends on Sunday morning. I’m fine when the pace is steady, but if they sprint I’m off the back. How do I maintain low body weight and still get the necessary fuel? — Tom D.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: The research is pretty clear on a low-carb diet. It might help you lose weight quickly, but it doesn’t provide enough carbohydrate to keep your muscle glycogen level sufficiently high for performance riding. It doesn’t help to lose 20 pounds if you end up slower rather than faster!
The reason your average speed has improved but you can’t stay with the group is simple.
When you don’t have carbs to burn, your body primarily runs on fat. It can simmer along steadily, but it can’t go fast because high intensity requires lots of glycogen.
When your buddies pick up the pace, you don’t have “afterburners” that allow you to jump quickly and stay with them.
I suggest increasing the percentage of carbs in your diet. Add whole grains, fruits and veggies. Reduce fat and protein slightly so you aren’t taking in more total calories and gain weight.
I bet you’ll feel better and perform better, too.