Heading out for a fasted rides can be an excellent way of losing weight as well as training the body to use fat stores as fuel. But how do they work, what type of sessions should you do and are there any potential dangers of riding fasted?
Ric Stern, performance director and senior coach at RST Sport (www.cyclecoach.com), emphasises that the preparation for fasted rides are just as important as the session itself.
“Fasted rides work from not eating overnight, where you just consume water, or black coffee or tea (no sugar, no milk) and then go training.”
“There are a variety of different types of training you can do in this fasted state, depending on how fit you are, whether you’ve done such rides before, and how you may respond to riding in a fasted state. For example some people will do short endurance rides of 90 minutes, while others could do significantly longer endurance rides.”
It has been suggested that some professional riders stretch out the duration of their fasted rides over multiple hours, Stern recalls how it was reported that Bradley Wiggins would do fasted rides lasting up to seven hours in duration.
However structuring a session over this duration isn’t realistic for an amateur rider. Either for performance reasons or enjoyment, it may well be the reason Wiggins decided that one Tour victory and the required dedication that comes with it in terms of weight management was enough.
For mere mortals fasted rides can still have a great deal of variety to them, it is just a case of teaching the body to work in a fasted state and not pushing it too hard over the edge.
“To begin with, I’d suggest a short, steady endurance ride of between 60 and 90-mins and see how you cope with that duration first," says Stern.
"Then after you’ve repeated that once a week for a few weeks, you could then try extending the ride or adding some aerobic intervals (such as one 15-minute TT effort, perhaps followed by some shorter, harder efforts).”
The potential dangers of fasted rides are in the name itself; you are riding fasted!
That’s not to say you should be scared off by them, but with your carbohydrate stores being low to begin with, constant monitoring is required to ensure that you avoid bonking.
“Once the intervals are completed, or after an hour or so of a longer ride you could start eating on the ride. You should always have some plain fluid with you, such as water or an electrolyte drink which have no carbohydrates in it.”
It is perhaps assumed that fasted rides work best in the early part of the season or only for a select type of cyclists. This is in part due to its affect on weight loss, however this isn’t always the case despite varying research results.
“They can be done all year round. It’s thought that doing the interval based sessions in the race season, may help increase race fitness. However, it is worth bearing in mind that the efficacy of such training (fasted riding) isn’t definitively proven.
"They’re worth trying if you race, or if you have a specific goal of weight loss. They could be useful for anyone who is interested in increasing their performance.”
The satisfaction of returning from a ride is always a nice feeling, after a fasted session this is multiplied as you can consume the necessary nutrition to replenish your stores.
It is crucial that you do not over indulge and ruin the hard work that you've put yourself through in the preceding hours.
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Paul Knott is a fitness and features writer, who has also presented Cycling Weekly videos as well as contributing to the print magazine as well as online articles. In 2020 he published his first book, The Official Tour de France Road Cycling Training Guide (Welbeck), a guide designed to help readers improve their cycling performance via cherrypicking from the strategies adopted by the pros.
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