Bike touring and offseason weight gain + loss

Happy new year! About this time last year, I shared my struggle with offseason weight gain. For those of us with a distinct touring offseason[footnote]if you can tour year-round, the rest of us jealously gaze in your direction![/footnote] being off the bike means you have to keep an eye on what you eat and the other activity you maintain, or you’ll have more to haul up those hills in the spring.

Here’s the dirty secret about bike touring – it can be a lousy way to maintain weight loss. Sure, you’ll probably get in better shape during your ride, but a lot of people find they gain weight back shortly after their tours because they don’t adjust their eating habits off the bike. I know that was a problem for me two seasons ago.

My experience

larger guy on bike
How I felt in January 2014.

When I weighed myself in January 2014, I couldn’t believe the number that was staring up at me from the scale. Only 5 months before, I had biked a substantial part of the Pacific coast and was in pretty good shape. A two month book tour and a half winter later, I was the heaviest I’d ever weighed.[footnote]True story – I got the call that my grandmother had passed away, and I went through two thoughts. First, “tomorrow is the first day of my life when I won’t have my grandmother in my life.” Second, “holy sh*t, there is not a chance in hell I’m fitting in my suit for her funeral.”[/footnote] My post-tour eating habits got the best of me. I needed to drop a substantial amount of weight and I was motivated to do it in a smart, healthy way.

Step 0 – Admit it’s time

Before you do anything, it’s time to stare in the mirror (figuratively… let’s not be creepy here) and admit you let things go a bit. Until you’re ready to do that, the next steps are a lot harder.

Step 1 – Set your goal

I used an app called LoseIt to come up with a weight goal and a weight loss goal. Losing a couple pounds per week is probably the healthiest way to go, even if you want to go a little faster. It’s sustainable and leads to better habits.

Step 2 – Watch your intake

The app made this a lot easier, but be ready to be shocked at the caloric deficit you need to maintain compared to what you cram down during a tour. It’s pretty much the opposite vibe. For me, I need to watch calories and focus on eating whole foods rather than processed ones, especially those that are carbohydrate heavy. You may have a different experience, but generally speaking watching what you eat and avoiding the things that pack in the calories or otherwise are your kryptonite is the way to go.

Step 3 – Stay active, but watch for the calorie trap

Everyone’s body is different. For me, weight loss is almost all about what I eat. In fact, there’ a bit of a trap… when I exercise, I have a tendency to eat more calories than my exercise creates in deficit. In other words, exercising a lot makes it harder for me to lose weight. I know – total trap, right? That’s not the case for other people, but it was a surprising finding for me. Your mileage may vary!

Step 4 – maintain

So much lamer than real hills.
So much lamer than real hills.

From heaviest to lightest this year, I was down 50 pounds.[footnote]about 23 kg for you metric types[/footnote] That’s a lot of weight off, and it took a ton of work and discipline to achieve. It made a huge difference in how I felt on my rides. I know I’ll gain some back over the holidays,[footnote]spoiler alert – already have[/footnote] but there’s no way I’ll be in the same position over the late winter and spring as I was last year. That gives me more opportunity to hop on trainers and exercise bikes to stay in bike touring shape, which gives me a leg up on early season tours.

Do you struggle with offseason weight? If not, what do you do to maintain being in bike shape through your offseason? Share your thoughts with the community!