The #1 mistake riders make when trying to lose fat.

Performing well on your mountain bike takes a lot of things. Cardio, strength, skills and mindset all merge to help us perform our best and have the most fun on the trail. However, I’ve lately realized that I have been neglecting a very important issue for a lot of riders.

And that is losing some fat to dial in your weight.

Let’s face it…being overweight and riding your mountain bike presents some challenges that are best overcome by simply losing some fat. Getting leaner can help your endurance (less weight to carry), your skills (less bulk to move around) and your mindset (you’ll feel more confident in your ability to move well).

In fact, for many of your reading this fat loss is one of the main health benefits you’re looking for from your mountain biking experience.

This leads a lot of you to seek fat loss/ weight loss advice and unfortunately a lot of that advice is misguided at best and an outright lie at worst. The fitness industry in general and the fat loss industry in particular are full of snake oil salesmen and pitch artists who promise the world but usually only deliver frustration.

I’m not sure why I haven’t talked more about fat loss on this blog but I think it is something I need to do more of. I’m not going to turn it into a full time subject – flat pedals and standing pedaling need their space as well – but I am going to start addressing some of the common mistakes people make when trying to lose fat while mountain biking.

And while there are a lot of them to get to I want to quickly address the main issue, and that is the idea of a “fat loss program” in the first place.

From what I’ve seen as a fitness pro with 15 years experience is that fat loss is a bull shit goal by itself…if it is the focus of your program you will most likely fail in the long run.

Oh, you might be able to overtrain and starve yourself to a lower weight in the short term but in the long run most people fail with that approach.

And this is because they miss the most important element of fat loss – their lifestyle.

Losing fat is more about fixing your lifestyle than trying to lose fat.

If you are overweight then something about your lifestyle lead to that result. And if you want to see lasting results your goal needs to be fixing that problem in your lifestyle with a sustainable solution, not “fat loss”.

If you don’t recognize the need to fix your lifestyle and instead focus on drastic changes that you can’t sustain then you’ll fail in the long run.

You have to find a workout, nutrition and lifestyle approach that fits your reality and you can sustain.

Now, once you’ve found that then you can use the “crash” diets and exercise programs to put an edge on things for little while but until you have a sustainable lifestyle underpinning it you’ll just end up in a vicious cycle of losing some fat only to see it come back again.

So, my first bit of advice is to stop worrying about “fat loss” and figure out how you can fix the lifestyle issues that led to being overweight in the first place.

If you do this you’ll wake up one day and realize you’re losing the weight without “trying” and now you can keep it off because you know exactly how to do it. And that is the ultimate goal for any fat loss program.

BTW, just to get some ideas on future posts on this subject what are some questions you have or things you’d like to see discussed? I get most of my ideas from you guys so just comment below to let me know what the main issues you may be facing when trying to lose and/ or maintain your optimal weight.

-James Wilson-

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  1. Tash says:

    Thanks for the post – damn fat loss I know I just have to cut out all the chocolate and after dinner snacking. However where I get stuck is the lean protein diet program fitting in with a high cardio/biking lifestyle not just a case of getting lean to look lean and good at the gym. I want to be fit, lean and functional on my bike. I know carbs fit in there somewhere but am trying to find out where and when, what types to stop the overtraining/under carb crash!

    Reply • July 1 at 11:44 am
  2. Joel says:

    What are some foods high in energy but low in fat building charcteristics that i can snack on during the day to bridge the time between meals? I have a very physical job, and ride 2-3 times during the work week, FYI.

    Reply • July 1 at 1:32 pm
  3. liers99 says:

    Spot on post. Unfortunately the american lifestyle sets you up for failure. When I started on the journey to getting healthier I was 240 and tired of being tired. I lost 20 lbs pretty quick just riding but I found out that there was much more too it. What I found the easiest to start with was to just simply eat less. I’m not talking about starvation diet either. I started out making the same meals I always ate and just leaving a bite or 2 on the plate. Then I started shrinking the portions. Once that is under control I started cleaning up the diet. Then once I got my diet cleaned up, I found I could eat almost as much as I wanted. If you eat the right food your body will tell you when to stop eating. Using this approach I lost 55lbs. in less than a year and have kept it off. My weight fluctuates a bit but I have never been over 190 since I changed my eating habits. At the beginning of the year I go on a crash diet for a month to shed the holiday weight and then I am right back to the normal. Its really not hard it just has to be something that you are committed to doing or you won’t see it through.

    Reply • July 1 at 4:38 pm
  4. Paul says:

    Best bit of advice I ever read, “Stop eating like a child” truth is as adults we know what’s good and what’s bad, if that isn’t working, 200 swings before your morning shower will help

    Reply • July 1 at 5:33 pm
  5. I am 5’11, 150 pounds, body fat 6.5%

    I did not try to achieve that body fat. I just eat a 100% organic whole food plant based diet. Lots of greens, superfoods, veggies, beans, sprouts, fruits. My protein comes from Algaes (like Spirulina and Chlorella), Rice Protein, Sprouted/ steamed Lentils and Mung, Sprouted wild rice, and Oatmeal. Plenty of natural oils and fats from hemp, chia, flax, coconut, seeds, avocados, fresh seed milks, olive oil.

    Body deserves the best fuel possible.

    Reply • July 1 at 7:00 pm
    • Adam Looze says:

      I am 5’7 135 pounds. Have never been over 140. Fortunately my favorite foods are fruits, vegis, and chicken. My least favorite is anything greasy. My favorite drink is water. My least favorite is soda.

      I am saying this because I made myself have these favorites. Eating chicken and greens every day got me in the habit, and it is not that difficult. I wake up every day with a healthy shake and sometimes cereal. No lunch. Then a 10-20 mile mountain bike ride. Then dinner (chicken and something.).

      It is not that difficult. And if you are overweight, and have trouble eating less, make the strive to eat very minimal for a week. It sounds bad but your stomach will get used to less food, and you will get full quicker. Also eating very healthy, will fill you up quicker.

      Reply • July 6 at 12:50 pm
      • Vincent says:

        I’m 5’7″ 214lbs looking for recommended diet I can follow to loose about 55 lbs

        Reply • August 21 at 7:10 pm
        • bikejames bikejames says:

          dMy colleague Abel James has a great website at http://fatburningman.com/ and his Wild Diet book is the best diet book I’ve read in a long time and is highly recommended.

          Reply • August 22 at 3:00 pm
  6. Clive Dale says:

    I agree – our weight and health is a reflection of the life we lead.
    Change the lifestyle and the weight goes up or down according to the change we made. Diet MUST be a lifestyle and not an event.

    Reply • July 2 at 4:51 am
  7. Wacek says:

    Really happy to see that post James! I’d love to read more on the subject. I went into weight dropping quite shy, as I am “ok” by most standards, and I was scared of loosing strength, and as you wrote some time before in other post: it’s about strength to weight ratio. I’d love to see some strategies how to drop weight and keep strength!

    Changing lifestyle is definitely what makes ANY goal achievable and lasting. I guess the point is that it is not about the goal. It is about the state. Goal is something you just reach, accomplish. You can start eating like a pig since the next day and it still won’t change the fact that accomplished something, your action was a success. We often have no plan after reaching the goal to maintain the state we wanted to achieve – What we need is a sustainable state. I tried to be more organized, more motivated – watched tons of Tony Robbins and Co. I lasted 1 month… and it’s not any fault of the guy with big teeth…

    Reply • July 3 at 7:58 am
  8. Mike says:

    This is probably a dumb question, and one I’ve been putting off asking for a couple of weeks because of that. But how do you make those lifestyle changes? I agree with the concept behind what you say but I rarely get more than two sessions into any exercise regime – even your excellent plans – before I slump back into old habits. Sometime i joke that I’m a couch potato trapped in a reasonably fit body, sometimes that doesn’t seem so funny!

    Reply • July 15 at 4:47 am
    • bikejames bikejames says:

      The biggest mistake that people make is trying to make too many big changes at once. John Berardi has a great system he uses for his nutrition clients – he has them tell him on a 10 point scale how confident they are they can implement that single habit he is asking them to do. He is looking for something they are very confident they can do, even if it is just taking a multi-vitamin every morning. He has them focus on that single habit for a week and then he layers in another habit, making sure it ranks high on their 10 point confidence scale.

      The point is that the first few weeks almost feel like they aren’t doing anything because the changes are so small but eventually after a few weeks they have several good habits in place and they’ve built momentum. Once that happens it gets easier and easier to add new habits in. Start with one small and simple thing, conquer that and then move to the next thing.

      Hope this helps…

      Reply • July 15 at 7:54 am
  9. Scott says:

    I am wondering how effective my xc riding is in general. I’ll average about 150 bpm for a couple hours at a time on the singletrack but with gels and Gatorade drinks every so often I’m not sure if I am on target to drop significant weight. Seems to just balance itself out really.

    Reply • July 26 at 9:20 pm
  10. john lou says:

    thank you;)

    Reply • April 21 at 5:40 am

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