No one will argue that shedding body fat can boost your cycling performance – a single kilo of weight loss is estimated to buy six seconds in a 40-kilometre time trial, while Wiggins himself attributed part of his success in the 2009 Tour de France to a six-kilo weight loss, likening it to carrying half a dozen fewer bags of sugar up a mountain.
Put simply, losing weight can make you faster, and climbs easier. Problem is, dieting can be a minefield, so we’ve taken out the guesswork by identifying foods that will get you to your target weight faster.
GO NUTS FOR NUTS
Although avoided by dieters due to their high fat and calorie content, numerous studies have shown that regularly eating nuts won’t adversely affect body weight. In fact, it’s the opposite.
In a recent US study involving over 13,000 adults, those regularly consuming nuts were slimmer and had smaller waists than non-consumers, even when other dietary and activity factors were taken into account.
Researchers found nut consumers were on average, two kilograms lighter.
Scientists tracking Mediterranean diets in which nuts are a mainstay also show nut eaters have lower body weights, while in the PREDIMED study, a Mediterranean style diet supplemented with almonds was shown to reduce waist circumference and body fat.
And the benefits don’t stop at body weight – last year researchers found swapping a daily muffin for 50 grams of nuts resulted in better blood glucose and cholesterol levels in overweight adults.
The beneficial effects of nuts are attributed to high levels of soluble fibre and protein which control appetite and stave off hunger. Research also shows the fibre may act as a physical barrier to fat absorption, reducing the number of calories available to the body.
SAY YES TO DAIRY
If you’re guilty of scrapping dairy in an attempt to lose weight then it’s time for a rethink. Last year experts at the Harvard School of Public Health carried out a detailed study of dietary factors affecting weight gain or loss in over 120,000 adults. Not only did they conclude that the source of calories is as important as the number of calories, but of all foods evaluated, yoghurt was most strongly associated with weight loss.
According to researchers, the good bacteria found in yoghurt can influence gut hormones which may reduce hunger. But that’s not all – a growing body of evidence shows calcium-rich foods such as yoghurt play a key role in regulating fat storage and bodyweight, with high-calcium diets increasing fat oxidation, particularly in those who are calcium deficient.
In a 2004 study looking at the effect of calcium on weight loss, obese adults were randomised to a reduced-calorie diet containing 500mg of calcium per day (one serving of dairy) or 1,200mg of calcium per day (three servings of dairy).
Over 12 weeks, those following the high-dairy diet lost 70 per cent more body weight than those following the low-dairy diet (10.9kg versus 6.4kg).
One word of warning; flavoured yoghurts contain high levels of added sugars so check the label – more than 15g of sugar per 100g is high. Your best bet is to go natural – Greek strained yoghurt is richer in protein, making it naturally satisfying.
Like yoghurt, the calcium in milk makes it an effective weight loss aid, with studies showing an inverse relationship between milk intake and body weight.
However, the weight loss mechanisms of milk aren’t limited to calcium, as studies investigating calcium supplements often fail to detect changes in body weight, suggesting other components like whey protein or branch chain amino acids play a role.
More recently milk has been shown to be as effective as sport drinks for recovery and rehydration, with additional benefits on muscle synthesis and lean body mass. In a study by McMaster University in Canada, 20 female volunteers consumed either a pint of skimmed milk or an isocaloric energy drink after resistance workouts.
After 12 weeks those in the milk group reduced body fat by around 1.6 kilograms, whereas body fat in the energy drink consuming group remained unchanged.
COOK WITH COCONUT
Dubbed as the ‘fat that can make you thin’, coconut oil has been elevated from vilified fat to glorified weight loss aid, thanks to a better understanding of the way in which it is metabolised.
Coconut oil is unique in that it’s primarily composed of medium chain triglycerides (MCTs), which are rapidly absorbed from the stomach and delivered directly to the liver, where they are swiftly oxidised for energy, making them less likely to be stored as fat on the body.
Studies in animals and humans show that substituting long chain fatty acids (such as vegetable oils) for MCTs can increase calorie burn and fat oxidation, suggesting potential as a weight loss tool.
In a 2008 study looking at the effect of MCTs on body weight, overweight men and women consumed either 24g of olive oil or MCT oil as part of a weight loss programme. After 16 weeks, those in the MCT group had lost more weight and body fat than the olive oil group.
In a similar trial investigating the effects of coconut oil, overweight women following a low-calorie diet included either 30ml of soybean or coconut oil daily. After 12 weeks those in the coconut oil group had lost more abdominal fat and had higher levels of ‘good cholesterol’ than the soybean group.
Interestingly, short-term studies supplementing diets with coconut oil have failed to show negative effects on cholesterol. Furthermore, in a recent analysis of coconut oil consumption and cholesterol profiles in 1,800 Filipino women, coconut oil was positively associated with HDL cholesterol.
GO TO WORK ON AN EGG
No longer viewed as a cholesterol-ridden treat, eggs are back on the menu, and for good reason. Rich in B12, vitamin D and immune enhancing selenium, a breakfast containing eggs can help boost weight loss.
In a 2008 study from Louisiana State University, 152 overweight but otherwise healthy volunteers were assigned to a reduced-calorie diet with either a breakfast of two eggs or bagels for eight weeks. Although both diets were matched for calories, those in the egg group lost more 65 per cent more body weight than those in the bagel group.
More recently, researchers from the University of Surrey investigated the effects of an egg breakfast versus cornflakes or croissant and orange juice on satiety levels and calorie intake at the next meal. Those eating the egg breakfast reported the highest levels of satiety, and less hunger throughout the morning.
They also went on to consume fewer calories at their next meal than those in the cereal or croissant groups. It’s thought this is thanks to the high quality protein found in eggs.
Thanks to the popularity of low-carbohydrate diets, protein foods have become anti-obesity heroes. Although the mechanism isn’t entirely understood, it’s accepted that under most conditions, protein is more satiating than carbohydrate or fat, which means a modest increase in protein could facilitate weight loss simply by reducing hunger.
Protein is also known to be more thermogenic than carbohydrate or fat – it requires more energy for digestion and absorption. But is this sufficient to boost weight loss? Studies suggest day-to-day differences are small, but over sustained periods it can make a difference.
However, this doesn’t mean falling head-first into an Atkins-style meat feast. A modest increase in protein intake is sufficient to boost weight loss. In a study funded by the National Institutes of Health, upping protein from 15 to 30 per cent of energy resulted in a five kilo weight loss over 12 weeks, even when levels of carbohydrate were kept constant.
F = FIBRE
Described as the part of plant foods we don’t fully digest, fibre is best known for its role in digestive health, but more recently it has attracted interest as a weight loss aid.
Not only do foods high in fibre add bulk without additional calories, they slow the rate at which food leaves the stomach, helping to increase satiety, keeping you fuller for longer. Fibre-rich foods also reduce the rate of glucose absorption, regulating energy levels and maintaining carbohydrate availability over longer periods, helping prevent early fatigue during rides.
In a 2001 review of dietary fibre and weight regulation, an increase of 14g of fibre per day reduced calorie intake by over 10 per cent in obese adults, resulting in a 2.5kg weight loss over 12 weeks.
Switching refined grains (such as white bread, cornflakes and white pasta) for wholegrains has also been shown to boost weight loss and lower body fat, especially around the abdominal area.
UP YOUR OMEGA 3
Although essential to health, omega 3 fatty acids can’t be made by the body and so must come exclusively from the diet. Shown to protect against inflammation, dementia, high blood pressure and heart disease, research indicates they may also help regulate body composition.
In a 2010 study, scientists at Gettysburg College in Pennsylvania supplemented diets of healthy, active adults with either safflower oil or fish oil. After six weeks, those taking the fish oil benefited from a significant increase in lean body mass and reduction in fat mass.
Although not fully understood, it’s thought omega 3 fats increase protein synthesis and thus muscle mass. Some scientists also believe they help to regulate appetite. Including omega 3 rich foods in a recovery meal will maximise benefit, as they’ve also been shown to relieve delayed onset muscle soreness.
This article was first published in the Autumn 2012 issue of Cycling Fitness. Read Cycling Weekly magazine on the day of release where ever you are in the world International digital edition, UK digital edition. And if you like us, rate us!