Fuel Efficiency & Fat Burn

For those that don’t know, as of August 1st, 2014, I weighed 93 kilos. It was the day I chose to return to cycling, and instill a lifestyle that would correct my years of convenience and indulgence.

My early months on the bike were simply aimed at frequency, getting out on the bike at least three times a week. It was a tough life change for someone that was spending every two out of  four weeks travelling for work.

Then in October, I was introduced to Journey Fitness in Singapore, and the concept of Fuel Efficiency training. The latter is  mainly for burning off the excess kilograms. Coupled with a Lactate Threshold test, I would get an insight into my body and how to tailor rides for maximum impact. The result was a recommendation of 90% plus riding in Zone ½, which is SLOW. Heart rate controlled, based on threshold calculations. For me, it means sticking between 135 and 144 bpm. When you are as unfit as I was, this meant slow long rides. Often alone.

After twelve patient weeks on this training, I learnt to appreciate slow rides, especially its methods and sensitivities. I learnt to focus on heart rate, time and cadence, forgetting or removing speed & distance from my Garmin. My focus was time in Zones. So after every ride, I’d review the data to look at where I had gone outside the zone, and take notes on how to correct it. At the end of twelve weeks, I was able to do some rides with 80% plus in targeted zones.

What I learnt?

1. Discipline: Every ride followed a strict protocol. The focus was ‘Time in Zone’ and ‘Efficiency’. Removing Speed & Distance from your computer helps shift your focus to Heart Rate, Cadence & Time. Restraint, hold back the urge to breakaway, chase or climb. It’s hard, but it’s worth it.

2. Nutrition:  Wake, Double Espresso, No Food, and then out on the bike. Take water only, no energy gels, nor energy drinks. If you’re riding over three hours, only take natural foods, bananas, low fat bars. Electrolyte drinks are okay, but avoid energy drinks. Eat within and hour of finishing, and remember the golden rule; eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince and dinner like a supermodel. While Carbs avoidance isn’t normally a part of the Fuel Efficiency program, I added Tim Ferris’ golden rules from 4 Hour Body:

a) Don’t Eat White Stuff. That means no rice, pasta, bread, potatoes, etc. I know this is hard in Asia. But it also gives you a chance to try out new foods.

b) Don’t Drink Calories: Simply, all I drank was Espresso, Water & Red Wine. Everything else was out.

c) Don’t Eat Fruits: Fructose, which is present in all fruits, is the root source of most people’s sugar addiction. Removing fruit from your diet, eliminates the sugar cravings. Although I kept bananas.

d) Give yourself a day off each week: Eat whatever you want, and as much of it as you want. Chocolate Cake, Beer, Chicken, Rice, whatever you’re craving for. The cheat day has two benefits; first it gives you a reward for your discipline, and second it boosts metabolic rates and actually assists burning fats.

3. Efficiency: In the absence of a challenge like speed, climbs or Strava Segments, you’ll need a replacement for focus and motivation. I thought of motivation in efficiency. This comes through cadence drills, stroke efficiency and segment efficiency. Take an active interest in how you can ride a segment more efficient, focusing on gear selection, cadence, stroke and heart rate.

On December 28th, 2014, I weighed in at 80 kilograms. A 13-kilogram loss in just 12 weeks. Impressive. I thought I was done, so I returned to a faster training, pushing zones 4, 5 & 6. Reconnecting with the thrill of a fast pack, breakaways and tough climbs. My FTP, which started at 190w had now climbed up to 242w, and I was regularly training with Joyriders Second Train.

I still knew I was carrying a few extra kilograms, and the results of my intense training had started to plateau. So on April 27, 2015, I went back to Journey Fitness to redo my test. The great news was my Lactate Threshold was up over 40%, but my Fuel Efficiency was lagging. My energy systems were still not up to par. My outlook, back to Fuel Efficiency training. Dam, back to slow rides.

My Fuel Efficiency graph
My Fuel Efficiency graph

In three weeks that I’ve been back into it, I have a new appreciation for efficiency. While weight loss is still a goal, ride efficiency takes center stage, as I work with my coach (Training Peaks) to plan out weeks that will boost my fuel and stroke efficiency. For 90% plus of my training hours I ride on the small chain ring (39T), with a cadence of 95-110. My focus is on getting more from less. Even on the 39T, I’m starting to set PR’s on Strava Segments. I set this PR on my 39T, Blue Moons of Shangri La.

I still have Sprint and Power sessions in my program, but these are mainly indoors either at Athlete Lab or using TrainerRoad at home. My current program will take me out to the end of June, but I’ve already hit a new weight personal best, weighing in this morning at 74.1 kilos.

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