Metabolic efficiency training + off-season training plan

After a couple years of almost total focus on endurance riding, I’m taking stock of where I am and where I want to be. I’m realizing a couple of things:

  1. I am too heavy to enjoy the long rides I do. I reckon I need to lose about 20 lbs to get to where it’s fun again.
  2. My endurance training has me in a weight-gain cycle: I need the carbs because the rides are so tough for me, especially with long climbs and multiple days in a row, so I can’t lose weight while training for the long rides, and then I gain after the season is done because I’m so used to eating huge amounts, and then I need more carbs to fuel the rides…
  3. Early off-season is a good time to take a break and make my workouts serve my weight loss goals.

A riding buddy pointed out that it’s possible to train myself to need fewer carbs on rides and to lose weight while training. I have plenty of random advice to consider, e.g. do some fasted rides, do more low-intensity work without specific fueling, do strength training to improve body composition. I (kinda) tried that last fall and got quite strong at the gym, but didn’t lose any weight at all, I assume because I kept feeling compelled to fuel my workouts!

So here I am with the luxury of three-four months to spend just focusing on losing that weight, hopefully without losing much fitness. Given a MFP account, a gym membership and a Wahoo account:

  1. What training plan is best for me, and should I adapt it in any way?
  2. How should I combine strength work, HIIT workouts, and long, slow rides to best serve weight loss?
  3. How should I think about fueling? What’s really necessary if performance is not my goal so long as I don’t lose (much) fitness?

Oh - and I am a 53 y/o woman, for what that’s worth.

Thanks for sharing your experience and/or expertise!


Hey @DameCristy ,
To answer your questions in more detail, I highly suggest a chat with a coach to brainstorm and get some solid ideas for your particular training needs. That said here are some brief thoughts on your 3 questions:

  1. you could choose a plan that you haven’t done before to make the body adapt to some new stimuli. Examples: Block plans: MAP, AC/NM, Threshold, Event plans: Crit , TT, Mtb plans (instead of event do FF). But the real answer is - it depends (I know , very nebulous and vague)

  2. If on a structured plan, add strength to the plan and do your strength plan on those days. if putting together your own plan, do it on days where you have an NM, recovery ride or no ride scheduled. You can do it back to back or 3-4 hrs between workouts.

  3. For your fueling requirements and guiding you in your weight loss goals, you’d be best served with a nutrition coach who works with endurance athletes. Someone with an RD behind her/his name. All the coaches have RD’s they recommend (another reason for a chat). You want info aimed exclusively for you and not just a shotgun or cookie cutter approach with a mechanism for tracking your progress.

Another source of information is Dr Stacy Sims who really delves into training issues for women at various stages in their lives. I know this is not the “here’s what you have to do ignorer to meet your goals” list you want but it is a first step. Your thoughts?



Thanks so much, @Coach.Spencer.R ! I like the idea of choosing a plan that gives me a different stimulus. I took a quick look at a crit plan and it looked like fun. But perhaps a call with a coach will help me make an informed choice.

I have access to an RD through my gym, and she helped me a lot last spring with working out how to fuel my long rides well. I can consult with her again to change the focus of my eating plan.


Maybe if you have a bit extra dollars consider a CGM which will help tremendously with your glucose. There’s a number of companies out there like Levels or SuperSapiens, plus more that some here could suggest for you.

@BGeff , interesting! How do athletes use those?

@DameCristy great post.

Ditto (well apart from gender).

I know what the answer was for me 15 years ago. But it doesn’t seem to work anymore because I’m rubbish.
Rightly or wrongly, I got so in to keeping calories down and doing a lot of low intensity stuff outside riding my bike or running. And on days when I didn’t work hard I was net ‘low’ on calories for sure. Walking 6-10 miles a day, light jogging, so still eating but NEVER eating back calories.

Sadly I’m too addicted to food now and I got too in to fueling so I only go up now.
I personally believe that for my own weight I’d have to stick to eating low calories and still doing low intensity exercise a lot. And ignoring all messages about how bad that is for me.

Tough gig though. Don’t have the will, or whatever it is, to do it anymore. And that accounts for
About 3 stone and now the inability to just keep going for hours and hours and hours in the mountains anymore

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I wish I could explain it well, @DameCristy. Maybe this will help get you some initial information and you can go from there. They have some excellent podcasts with endurance athletes, among other athletes.

I have also found that using UCAN helps me quite a bit with the good/bad carb thing. And no…I am not a paid sponsor of any of these I mention.

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@Martin Have you considered a whole food plant based diet. Much of what you take in is fiber which helps with satiety. I am on one due to hereditary cholesterol - I find that when I stick to it I easily maintain my correct weight.

I used MFP this year (free account) and found it a massive help.
Got off the sofa in February a little overweight and FTP ~2.8W/kg and by my goal event in August was at my target weight and ~4.1W/kg.

My approach was to take two distinct phases; Base + weight loss, build + weight maintenance.
My logic here was that to perform and recover well from the longer and/or more intense sessions closer to my goal event I wanted to have maximum fuelling.

During the base phase I started out only doing endurance rides and Systm strength training sessions and targeting a balance of -400kcal/day. Weight started to come off slowly, but a little less than expected. During this time I didn’t pay much specific attention to timing/size of meals as the riding was not that demanding. With the exception of the easiest rides i always fuelled during the ride.

As base building progressed I started to add a sprinkling of intensity. I guess this kick started my metabolism and at this point I lost another ~2kg quite quickly and got close to my goal weight a little sooner than expected. I adjusted my target in MFP to -250kcal/day.

I reached goal weight towards the end of May and transitioned to the ‘build’ portion of my season.
I set MFP to +70kcal/day ( At this stage I wanted the emphasis on performance and power gains and if I regained ~1kg before my event then I was willing to accept that).
Now came the more intense interval sessions and longer 4+hrs endurance rides, and here again I found a lot of value in MFP - it told me i needed to eat MORE - i routinely found myself adding baguettes or rice to my evening meal to meet my kcal/carb goals.

During this phase I also prioritised my food intake as much as possible towards refuelling after rides rather than pre-fuelling before. Typically I would have a recovery drink and large snack, then wait an hour before a main evening meal of 800-1200kcals.

During most of my season i tried to avoid ‘junk’ kcals. Chocolate etc were off the menu. However during times of highest training load (those 4000kcal days) i would find myself having something like a small bowl of ice cream most evenings just to get the kcal count up.

I don’t know how well my experience ties in with science or what a dietician would say, but I was delighted with the results and will use a similar approach in future.

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Hi @damecristy, i think there’s good news and bad news for you here. But for sure, the good news is better than the bad news is bad.

First, bad news. I dn’t think there’s any magic bullet. Yes, you can train yourself to be more metabolically efficient, but that doesn’t obviate the need to fuel your rides. In fact paradoxically, the stronger you get, the more “demanding” from a metabolic perspective the rides become. Because at base there’s a physics problem, the more work (in kilojoules) you can accomplish, the more calories your body needs to do it, so even as you get more efficient, you still need to fuel. Think for example of michael phelps and his purported 12,000 calorie days. He was training a ton, and even though the workouts were “easy” for him subjectively, in an absolute sense those workouts required an absolute metric f*&^ton of energy. So you’ll never train your way out of the need to fuel and hence never train your way out of the need to balance that fueling to make sure you fuel enough but not too much.

now the good news! The good news is that i suspect you already have the pieces you need, it’s just a matter of learning to fit them together. E.g. first, the training you are alreayd doing to make yourself fitter is improving your metabolic efficiency. Almost all training (except for sprints and pure anaerobic, and even then there’s caveats) does, so if you train the organism to be stronger, you’ll be getting more efficient.

Second good news, yes it is absolutely possible to lose weight while maintaining or even gaining fitness, as long as you pick a reasonable approach to both. i have found that what works best for me is to fully fuel each ride (i.e. don’t fast during training, it’s not worth it), and then (i) implement a reasonable calorie deficit in your off-bike meals and (ii) pay attention to macros (fat and protein) which latter piece makes the deficit feel more tolerable. as long as you’re patient and lose weight slow enough, it hsouldn’t impact overmuch your recovery and by extension, your training.

I think that’s effectively what @AndyP did.

And for sure it can’t hurt to talk to a nutritionist!

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Thanks for your reply, @devolikewhoa ! Follow-up question: I’m about four weeks into a weight loss plan that has me at a 400-500 kcal deficit per day while keeping protein high (plenty of fat, too). I am fueling my rides, but I’m finding that I have less energy and can’t handle intense efforts at all, either on the bike or in the gym. So far, it doesn’t seem like I’ll be able to maintain fitness, let alone gain. Would you say this is likely a temporary situation and I’ll get used to it? Or am I going to be doing just long and slow until I stop cutting calories? Or does my fatigue prove I’m not taking the weight loss slowly enough?

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Hey @damecristy I ended up working with a nutritionist as had very similar issues. A LOT of what you mention rings very true for me…from 9 months ago. I’m now almost 8kg down since then and FTP is a good 40 watts up.
My nutritionist asked me if I wanted to fuel workouts to get stronger/fitter. OR lose weight. I said both. She sighed and said yes, it is possible, but that I would have to walk a VERY tight line to get success on both, and I have. It means SLOW weight loss as you’re still fueling workouts. Youbcan lose weight faster but have to dial back the training to do so sustainably.

Things I am doing are:

  • No training fasted, ever. Otherwise cortisol goes thru the roof and the weight piles on.
  • only a 200cal deficit. She actually nearly doubled what I was eating at the beginning which was bizarre and it resulted in almost immediate weight loss. My cortisol levels were through the roof as I was eating nearly nothing before which meant the weight had piled on.
  • focus on macros. I target protein. 40% protein, 30% each for fat and carbs. I actually target 2g of protein per kg of target body weight (at most 5kg below current body weightand then gradually shift it downwards). It’s quite high but keeps my blood sugar stable so I don’t eat all the snacks.
  • I have some personal stuff like reacting badly to dairy and wheat so I’ve cut those out.

I eat a lot of eggs. A lot of chicken. Some red meat. Some fish. And a HUGE amount of veg. Mostly the green leafy and fruit kind. I have very limited carbs in the form of rice, potatoes, sweet potatoe unless I have a huge ride the next day. My sweet tooth has died and I no longer crave chocolate.

Oh and I also got a ton of bloods done. Turns out my Iron, VitD and Profesterone levels were stupidly low, so am various supplements for those.

The other benefit I’ve had is I’ve stopped getting ill every month. Before, I was literally battling all manner of colds, flu, eye infections, uti, thrush, stomach bugs, you name it, every couple of weeks. Immune system is much better now. No more brain fog either.

My sense from my nutritionist is this stuff is REALLY personal and individual. So I wouldn’t necessarily follow what I’m doing. I would chat to a top notch nutritionist. Best money I’ve ever spent on myself. I just feel so much…better.


Wow, @DameLisa , thanks for sharing your story. I’m glad you’re feeling so much better.

The nutritionist I’m working with had the same reaction last spring, “you can have performance or you can have weight loss, pick one.” I chose performance and had a great summer of riding! But I remained way too heavy, so now I’ve gone back to her with the weight loss goal. She is experienced with endurance athletes, so she should understand my situation pretty well. But her advice to me during weight loss has been to do very little HIIT and no long rides, which means, first, I will be losing all that I worked this summer to gain, and second, I’ll be cutting out everything I like to do! Based on your story, I think I will talk to her about taking it more slowly. It would be great if I could just copy and paste your experience; if I were 8 kg lighter 9 months from now, I’d be exactly where I want to be! But I am learning how very individual this is.


agreed, i was going to say, i’m not expert in this but it sounds like the 400 to 500 cal deficit the nutritionist had you on was just too much, if it’s having an impact on recovery.

I don’t think i agree you have to pick one or the other. I drop a bit of weight every single season during base training after spending the winter overindulging and pushing it in the weight room. i drop the weight pretty slowly and during that time, i also get fitter. would my power numbers be better if i didn’t also drop weight, sure, but i’m still getting fitter and once the weight is dropped, the power goes up.

I guess the other factor is male vs female. Females seem to really churn the cortisol easily compared to men.
You can do both the weight loss and fitness gains together but I have to be pretty strict with what and when I eat.


Yeah that definitely could be true.

Yeah. Losing weight and gaining fitness simultaneously is difficult. Though certainly doable, it’s more complicated and takes more dedication and work. If there is significant weight to be lost, I think it’s easier to concentrate on that first while maintaining moderate physical activity, and once the weight goal is approached, then gradually increase training load.

I find that works best for me is to add ~1/2 the calories of an expected workout/ride the evening before, rather than only fuel that morning and during the activity, or make up the calories after an activity. I do have to eat those workout calories one way or the other or I get too hungry.

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Good point! I was panicking about losing so much fitness, but I started this thread thinking I had the luxury of off-season focus on weight loss, and maybe I need to choose my goal and stick with it.

One always needs an off seaspn from fitness training aye

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A couple of thoughts

  1. Depending on your size and daily needs 4-500kcal deficit could simply be too much. You could consider reducing to -250kcal
  2. If you are keeping both protein and fat levels fairly high whilst at the same time on a restricted calorie intake there’s a good chance your glycogen stores are extremely low. I aimed for a 60/20/20 (carb/fat/protein) split during both my base/weight loss phase and my build/maintenance phase.
  3. I simply wouldnt expect to perform to the best of my ability on intense efforts whilst on a restricted intake → hence why I split into two phases