Does Losing A Little Weight Really Make You Faster? And Other Cycling Nutrition Questions

The benefits of dropping 3 kilograms might not be as clear as you think.

A.C. Shilton, Riley Missel |

1. If I lose 3 kilograms, how much faster will I get?

That depends on a number of variables, including terrain. “On the flats, simply losing three kilograms won’t have a huge impact, as you’re looking at a time savings of roughly 10 to 15 seconds [for an hour-long ride],” says cycling coach Menachem Brodie. “But for a hilly ride of the same length, we’re looking at a savings of anywhere from 90 seconds to 2 minutes, should your power numbers stay the same.” That’s assuming you didn’t lose any power in the process of slimming down. “A rider’s power output may suffer as a result of lost muscle mass,” says Stephen Weller, head coach and owner of Bell Lap Coaching.

“If power output drops along with lost weight, the rider will most likely ride at about the same speed as before.” To lose weight and still crush, take it slow. — A.C. Shilton

2. Can I ride hard on a low-carb diet?

It depends on what you’re training for. Fat adaptation – optimising your body to rely more on stored fat than stored carbs – may work for athletes training for all-day events that require a slow pace like century riders. But for people competing in shorter, high-intensity events, like a cyclocross race, low-carbohydrate diets reduce how much power you can put out, says Patrick Wilson, assistant professor of human movement sciences at Old Dominion University in Norfolk, Virginia. The vast majority of studies on this topic agree: If you want to go fast for a short period of time, carbs are the way to go. — A.C.S.

3. What do gels have that sweets don’t?

Sweets provide energy from simple carbohydrates – sugar. That gives you a burst of energy followed by a rapid crash – less than ideal for long rides. Gels are formulated with complex carbs like maltodextrin, which keep you fuelled for longer, says registered dietitian Roxanne Vogel. Ingredients like caffeine and muscle-building amino acids also give gels a leg up on sweets. – Riley Missel

4. What are electrolytes and why do I need them?

Electrolytes are minerals (namely sodium, potassium, magnesium, chloride, and calcium) that conduct the electrical impulses that help your muscles contract. We lose electrolytes when we sweat. If your levels are slightly low, you won’t see much of a performance decrease. But if they drop drastically, you risk hyponatremia, a rare but sometimes fatal condition where low levels of sodium in the blood cause the brain to swell. Supplement your intake if you’ll be riding for more than an hour on a hot day – electrolyte drinks are a good choice. – A.C.S.

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