I first worked on losing weight in 2012 when I weighed around 94kg. I was then facing telling signs that my body could not deal with the excess weight – a high resting heart rate, easily tired, out of breath, etc. Bringing down my weight by 12kg was a relatively quick process brought about by a general reduction in food intake and consistent exercise. I was still leaning towards the overweight range but at least the danger signs had passed. I then took up cycling in 2014 before proceeding to take the hobby more seriously in 2015.
In 2015, I tried to take the sport seriously enough to do “acceptably well” for an enthusiast cyclist. There was no real bar to measure myself but I was keeping pace with my cycling groups and completing century rides (~160km) without much difficulty. I pushed myself without a real training plan or a goal in mind and slowly saw my progression diminish. It was at this point that I assessed that my weight was hindering me from progressing.
Weight is an important factor in road cycling. The heavier you weigh, the more power you have to generate to move yourself forward. This effect is heightened if you are climbing up hills. I enjoy climbing hills during my rides and so the issue of weight was something I could not dismiss.
It was with cycling primarily in mind and with a long held desire to get my body weight down from the overweight range that I decided to lose weight again. This time, the goal would include reducing my body fat percentage, which was around 18-19%.
When I turned 29 in January 2016, I was reminded that an average human being’s physical fitness levels would begin dropping steadily after the age of 30. I had a short window to get myself fit and enjoy the benefits of being fit. This injected urgency into making the decision to get fit and maintain it once and for all.
And so I decided on my birthday that I would craft a training plan aimed at sustainably reducing weight and body fat while working towards becoming a stronger cyclist.
The operating principle did not change. I was going to modify my diet while being consistent in my exercise regime. However, this time, I was going to be a little bit more “scientific” about it. I needed to make sure that my body and mind could adapt to the changes in lifestyle and that the progress was gradual enough such that I could sustain it.
The target period was to get to 70kg with a body fat percentage of around 12% in six months. I should also be registering around a 20W increase in functional threshold power (cycling terminology) while losing weight. This is tricky as it was difficult to maintain power, let alone increase it, while losing a significant projected amount of weight.
What I did this time was to record what I ate using myfitnesspal. It is an app that estimates your calorie intake (among other components) and projects how many calories you should be taking in in order to reach your target. Of course, this is oversimplifying the process as there are many nutritional components to consider, and even the calorie component itself can be divided into many sub groups. But I was not going to let the details hinder me. I reckoned that I didn’t have to dive into the details given the scope of the task. A general guide would suffice. This would be sufficient for keeping my food intake in check.
The other side of the equation would be exercise. In 2015, I had often over exerted myself because I did not understand my limits or have any way of measuring what I had exerted as compared to my capacity. I decided to get a power meter to track my power output. This would be in addition to my heart rate monitor. With these tools, I could calculate my training stress so that I could dial back my training where necessary. I also put in place a mandatory rest week after every three weeks of training. My training efforts and form were planned and tracked in TrainingPeaks, it incorporated calorie data from myfitnesspal and gave me a good idea of where I stood.
I also got myself a fitness tracker in the form of the Garmin Forerunner 235. I used it to track all-day heart rate and my step count. What was most important was my resting heart rate. Any time I went 10bpm above the average, I would take precautions and lower my activity intensity the next day as an increased resting heart rate was my body’s way of telling me that it had done too much the day before.
I weighed myself using an electronic weighing scale (Fitbit Aria) which could estimate body fat via electric pulses. The weighing scale was connected to myfitnesspal which in turn transmitted my weight data to other platforms such as TrainingPeaks and Garmin Connect. Weighing was done every morning after washing up.
My weekly routine consisted of long distance low intensity rides (~50-200km) and runs (~10-16km). Calorie count was capped at 1600 kcals per day (not including exercise), which was rather aggressive. I was never a breakfast person, and I kept my breakfast to grains and nuts. My main meal was lunch. This was because I lunched with my colleagues and it was difficult for me to customise my lunch. My dinner intake was dependent on the level of exercise for the day and was balanced around breakfast and lunch intakes. (E.g. I would eat more during dinner if I was exercising hard that day/I only had a light lunch.)
First Three Months (6kg loss)
The first three months of my weight loss went better than planned. I lost around 6kg with my body fat percentage falling to around 14%. I experienced a slight increase in weight during my trip to Australia but it was more of a blip than a trend as I got back on track on my return to Singapore. I did not go hungry or feel lethargic. In fact, the weight loss was somewhat energising. I felt that I could do more without putting out as much effort. At this stage, most of my family members and friends could not tell that I was losing weight. The more observant ones could spot a slight decrease.
Next Three Months (another 6kg loss)
In the next three months, I started by increasing my long distance rides and reduced my long distance runs. This was largely due to a local cycling challenge to cover 2,000km within two months. I completed it within 1.5 months. My weight continued its steady decrease and I met my target of 70kg with a body fat percentage of around 12%. It was at this point that I completed my first full marathon (~42km) without much training. I could feel the difference from losing all that weight and my improved endurance as I felt fresh the very next day after the marathon. This is also the point where most of my family members and friends noticed the weight loss. They thought it was sudden. It probably looked sudden from the outside but it had been a steady decrease for six months. As I had met my initial goals and was feeling quite burnt out from the 2,000km challenge, I decided to switch strategy. This was also timed to coincide with my career posting.
Seventh and Eighth Month (a further 7kg loss)
I decided to push for 65kg and a 10% body fat percentage. This would better position me for cycling and would be a good-to-have but not necessarily important-to-reach target.
This time I focused on strength. Long distance rides and runs went out of the window. In place were short intense spinning sessions (~50-70mins) and short but high-paced runs (~5km). The aim was to push my threshold power and heart rate. I also began incorporating the use of weights in my weekly routines.
Over the two months of doing so, my weight loss went further than planned at 63kg. My body fat percentage hovered between 10.1-10.6%. More importantly I reached my FTP target with a noticeable 20% increase, moving me up 1.5 categories on the power-to-weight scale. I was also finishing runs at paces that were previously unattainable for me.
I decided to increase my weight to 65kg and adjusted my calorie goal accordingly. The calorie target to hold constant at 65kg would be about 2,000 kcals a day (assuming no exercise). Given the lesser amount of food intake, I now had to be more cautious about the quality of food I was eating. I started, to the surprise of my family members, to increase my vegetable intake.
Ninth Month (holding steady at 65kg)
On the ninth month, I was able to consistently maintain a weight of 64-65kg with a body fat percentage of 10-10.5%. My FTP showed a slight increase and I was feeling significantly stronger when cycling and running.
I am obviously happy about the results. I was once at a stage where I did not believe I could return to being lean. Note that this was about me returning to what I was before. 65kg at 179cm is not something foreign to me. These were my stats before I started my National Service (ironic), university and career. Much of these few months was about returning to what I naturally was and becoming stronger at my hobbies.
It was a useful exercise for me to prepare for my thirties, a stage many would consider as the middle segment of an average life span. I can now focus on maintaining my weight while building my strength.
Weight and training management has been an exercise in discipline. There were many days where I did not feel like working out. There were nights where I returned from work at 9pm knowing that I had to put in a gruelling 60 min spin session. But the constant progress and clear results pushed me on.
I wrote this post primarily because I have been asked by many about what I had done and what my journey was like. I hope this post answers your questions. To those who are embarking on similar journeys, I wish you the very best and may you find joy in the process as I did.