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Why am I gaining weight while training?

Ask a Pro — Diane Stibbard

Coach, Personal Trainer, and Two-Time Canadian Duathlete of the Year

Diane Stibbard - two-time dualthlete of the yearQ: I am preparing for a 600km ride and I find that I’m so confused about my diet that I have been putting on weight instead of leaning up. I know that muscle weighs a lot. My problem is that I still can’t restrict myself from eating lots following a ride. Any hints for leaning up the body while staying healthy? Some say I’m overtraining and others say I’m overeating because I know that I’m burning the calories.

A: Nutrition for cycling is a confusing topic. There is a lot of information that is often not clear, or is conflicting. Most cyclists are not just interested in getting fit, riding faster and being more efficient, but also use cycling as a way of keeping lean and staying in shape. While muscle weighs more than body fat, the way to tell if you’re putting on fat verses muscle, is by the way your clothes fit you. If you see the scale moving up, but your clothes are becoming loose, then you are changing body fat to lean muscle mass. That’s good. The more lean muscle tissue you have, the more calories your body will burn at rest. Lean muscle mass burns calories, while body fat does not.

However, total body weight does affect how effectively you climb hills. The more you weigh (whether it’s muscle or fat weight) the harder it is for you to climb, as you are fighting gravity against mass (weight). So weight becomes a balancing act. In order to be strong you need a certain amount of mass, but the lighter you are, the easier it is to climb. In a future article I’ll discuss the significance of power to weight ratio when riding and climbing, but for today I’ll give you some tips and pointers on riding strong, while maintaining a lean and healthy body.


  1. Always go into your rides well fueled, with most of the calories coming from carbohydrates, a small amount from protein, with little to no fat. Starting the ride well fueled will prevent you from being overly hungry when you finish, which will help keep you from overeating.
  2. If your rides are longer than 60 minutes, you’ll need to take in some food while on the bike. Within the first 45-50 minutes, eat a small amount of food. Do the same every 45-50 minutes after that until the end of the ride. Eat energy bars, a banana or something that you can digest easily (100 – 120 calories minimum, up to 200 calories). This will continue to supply you with the energy you need to complete the ride, and it will prevent you from getting over hungry at the end of the ride.
  3. After finishing the ride it’s important to have a recovery drink, or some food within the first 15 minutes to top-up your glycogen stores (energy stored in the muscle). Again, this will prevent you from becoming over hungry, and overeating. The biggest mistake I see cyclists make is thinking that they shouldn’t eat after their ride if they want to lose weight.

Cycling burns calories. If  you don’t eat a small snack right away or have a recovery shake within an hour after your ride, you’ll become too hungry and overeat.

To prevent weight gain and to set yourself up for tomorrow’s ride, eat a small recovery snack after your rides. The following are examples of good post ride recovery nutrition:

  1. Shake – Commercially purchased powders that are mixed with water and stored in a sport bottle are a good and easy option.
  2. Shake – Made from 2 cups of water, 1 scoop of protein powder (of your choice) 1 cup of berries, or one piece of fruit, and 1 tsp of nut butter. Blend until smooth.
  3. Energy bar
  4. Yogurt, fruit, and half a bagel

The question of gaining weight and overtraining also comes up frequently, but they don’t necessarily go hand in hand. If you lack energy because you are over training (doing too much without adequate rest), then to offset the lack of energy you’ll reach for more food to compensate.

To determine if you are overeating because you are overtraining instead of being calorically deficient, keep track of your morning resting heart rate (RHR). Your morning resting heart rate is a gauge of your fitness level, as well as a fatigue monitor. If your morning resting heart rate (RHR) is consistently 5-10 beats higher than normal, this could indicate that you’re overtraining, or it could be a sign that you’re getting sick.

To establish your morning resting heart rate (RHR) upon waking, before you get out of bed, take your pulse for 10 seconds and multiply it by 6 (to give you beats per minute). Resting heart rates vary for many different reasons, so track it daily for two weeks to get a baseline level.

The other way to ensure you aren’t over training, is to periodize your training, allowing for recovery rides and recovery weeks. This structure will help you become fit and strong, without getting sick or fatigued.

Stay fueled, get lots of rest, and ride strong.
If you have a question you’d like Diane to answer please email it to [email protected] Diane Stibbard Ask a Pro

As a world-class duathlete, Diane Stibbard brings a rare combination of expertise, motivation and knowledge to her coaching. She knows that the driving force to reach any goal comes from a deep desire within. As a trainer, she has a unique ability to help individuals embrace this desire to achieve their athletic potential.

Diane provides training programs for recreational and competitive cyclists, duathletes and triathletes, including nutritional counseling and personal training.

You want personal training but don’t live near Diane? No problem. Diane does email and telephone consultations. To learn more, contact Diane at [email protected] or at LinkedIn.

Training for a two-day cycling event


Check out Diane’s new e-program, Training For a Two-Day Charity Event For the Time-Starved Cyclist.



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4 comments to Why am I gaining weight while training?

  • Kim

    I really enjoyed that article, As a new rider I rarely see riders eating during the ride, but I have gotten into that habit and my body really looks forward to that after about 1 hour of riding. Thanks for the tips

  • Trish

    This really clarifies a few things for me. Really appreciated your advice, earlier this summer, on climbing hills. More to come on power to weight ratio for riding and climbing? Looking forward to it. Thanks, Diane.

  • Lisa

    As far as overtraining goes, I always hear about ‘starvation mode’ -which would suggest that your body is not getting enough calories to recover and so is holding onto everything it can get. So even without overeating due to hunger, many sources suggest that the hunger itself might pose a problem. Does that see legitimate?

  • Kris

    I too have been training – for a 4-day, 400km ride – and have followed some of your previous advice on hydration, nutrition etc. Not only is it important to eat and drink during and after a ride, you will feel much less depleted after the ride if you do. Thanks for all the great tips! And I love this newsletter!

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