Nutrition: The Pursuit of Leanness

Most of us could do with losing a few pounds. Travel to even an amateur mountain event, and you realise that yes, sadly, it is the super-lean Italian, Spanish and Columbian climbers that dominate the top spots. Their vein-strewn legs glistening in the sun, as they fly past you on the climbs.

Even if you're not racing up mountains though, shifting a bit of excess weight will likely make you faster in almost all areas of riding. Power to weight ratios remain the overarching performance indicator in cycling.

Before you start starving yourself though, there is a serious caveat to consider; it is not actually weight loss you're trying to achieve, it's fat loss. Welcome to 'The Pursuit of Leanness'.

Weight Loss versus Fat Loss

Fat is a vital component of our body composition; it is an insulator, it is a protector and it is a fuel source. However, fat is also added weight, and unlike muscle weight, it is weight that makes little significant contribution to performance. Lose too much fat and your body will start to struggle to perform vital tasks, such as immune support; carry too much fat, and you'll feel it whenever the road or trail turns skyward. There is a balance to be achieved…

Most sports scientists reckon that the optimal amount of body fat for an enthusiast cyclist, is between 5-15% for males and 12-20% for females. Less than this, and your body will struggle to perform normally. More than this, and you're carrying excess baggage.

The best way to monitor your body fat percentage, is either with skin-fold callipers or a body-composition scale, such as those from Tanita. Keep a record, and you'll be able to track improvements and avoid problems.

Getting Lean – Diet is King

Before I start talking about supplements and sports nutrition to help in the mission to get lean, the primary thing you should consider is your day-to-day diet.

Diet is king. No matter how many low-sugar drinks or green tea supplements you take; what you eat the rest of the time, will have the over-ruling influence on your body.

If you're thinking of stripping fat, then you should focus on stripping saturated fat and refined sugar from your diet, as the primary objective. No more fizzy drinks. No more crisps. No more deep fried food…

I've recently started making key changes to my diet, and incorporating a lot of influence from Hannah Grant’s ‘Grand Tour Cookbook’. The focus is on fresh produce, simple recipes and ensuring that your diet contains all the elements that your body needs, whilst leaving out those that it doesn't. If you need some inspiration on how to improve your diet for cycling, then this book is a great place to start (click here for the book review).

Lean Recovery

Cutting back on unneeded calories is what fat-loss primarily demands; however, in doing so you need to make sure that you're not negatively affecting your recovery regime. If you're training hard and trying to lose weight, then it is vital that you still get enough protein in your diet (as well as vitamins, minerals and other food groups). Protein and amino acids are the building blocks of recovery, and if you're not taking them on board, your performance will suffer.

I've converted to using MaxiNutrition's ProMax Lean powder in my recovery shakes. I put a serving of the powder, a few tablespoons of Drinking Oats and a banana in a Nutribullet; top it up with water, and blitz it together. It provides a recovery shake that has a complete nutritional profile: containing protein, low-GI carbohydrates and a bit of instant energy from the banana. The MaxiNutrition Lean mixture also contains caffeine, which some research has suggested helps to kick-start recovery. It also includes Guarana extract and CLA, both of which can help to boost the metabolism, and help your body start the process of using energy from fat, to fuel the protein synthesis process.

In addition to this post-exercise shake, I also use MaxiNutrition's ProMax Lean bars; primarily as a snacking option between meals. Again, these contain caffeine, so you probably don't need a large coffee with them! They also contain 23 grams of protein, as well as B vitamin supplements (also in the shakes), which help to encourage a healthy metabolism.

A combination of these two low-sugar recovery products, is a good way to ensure you're getting the right amount of high-quality protein in your diet; helping to fuel proper recovery.


If you're really taking the battle for leanness to the next level, then there are also supplements available to aid the process. One such supplement, is MaxiNutrition Thermobol.

Thermobol contains similar ingredients to the rest of the MaxiNutrition Lean Definition range, so you don't necessarily need to take it if you are also using Lean Definition shakes and/or bars. It contains caffeine, green tea extract, B vitamins and chromium; all of which may help to boost metabolic rates and fat burning. Supplements like this may be useful on non-training days, when you're not using other sources of these minerals/stimulants.

Discipline. Perseverance. Diet (again!).

To sum up, power-to-weight remains one of the most important measures of cycling performance. One of the key components of this, is your body's muscle percentage and fat percentage. Leanness is key.

Targeting fat, to get you down into the optimal bracket for performance, will certainly help your riding. Diet should be your primary focus, and eating healthily is fundamental to sporting performance. In addition, switching out sugary recovery drinks for diet Lean Definition versions, can also be a useful and effective change; the MaxiNutrition range is one of the best I've found.

Adjust your diet to cut out "bad" foods, whilst ensuring you keep up your high-quality protein and your fresh fruit and veg intake, and you'll soon see your lean definition improve!

View the MaxiNutrition Lean Definition range at (Link)


  1. I've never understood the correlation between cyclists and cake. We spend fortunes on kit to make our bikes lighter and then fill up on calories that serve little nutritional purpose. And not to mention those who may be more insulin resistant.

    Take a look at Dr Tim Noakes' work and it certainly opens up your eyes regarding becoming fat adapted. According to Noakes a rider could go for around 6 hours without the need to refuel once they have re-conditioned their body to being an efficient fat burner. Elite athletes may have their own nutritional requirements but for the rest of us looking at cycling for health and losing weight low carb looks like an increasingly viable, if counterintuitive way to go.

    Keep up the good work


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