The Reverse Bear Effect with Matt Falconer

The Reverse Bear Effect with Matt Falconer

By Booster Apps

The Reverse Bear Effect with Matt Falconer

By the start of this year, I'd managed to pile on far too much weight. I probably shouldn't have waited until the 1st of January to tackle the problem that was getting somewhat out of control, but I felt it was as good a time as any to draw a line in the sand and commit to both losing weight and training for the Transcontinental Race.

  • Starting weight: 95 KG.

  • Goal weight: 78 KG

    • 82 KG for Italy Divide

    • 78 KG for the TCR

  • Target date for losing the weight: 2nd July 2018 (6th April for ID)

You may be thinking... Wait - the TCR doesn't start until the 29th July. Why 4 weeks before? We'll get to that later. It does make sense, trust me.

Cycling is a wonderful way to lose weight. Although I do need to get back on the wagon after Christmas every year, I've come a long way since I started cycling in 2012. I was 18.5 stone/117.4 KG at one time - you can read about my story here.

So, what have I changed in order to help lose weight?

Ramping up training

This will be covered in a bit more detail in another post, but essentially I need to be burning more calories than I'm putting in. Simple maths really, focusing on a regular calorie deficit. There is a bit more here around timing, fasted training and some 'delayed' meals, but I won't go into that detail here.

Removing bad things from my diet

First things first, I needed to remove some of the many bad things from my diet. This is key, as they are always things that lead to other bad foods and drinks. Some of these are only 'reduced' rather than removed completely.

  • Alcohol. Not just a dry January, but a blanket policy of no alcohol. There will be exceptions, on special occasions and the like, but even those will hopefully have a reduced intake. Alcohol helps me make bad choices, often leads to even more bad foods, and is a massive hindrance to performance on the bike. It's kind of a no-brainer for me, and it's something I've done every year for the past 3 or 4 years, and have been quite successful with it. I've not made it past April before falling off the wagon, so we shall see how we go this year.

  • Diet Coke. 'But it's diet' I hear you thinking. Perhaps. However, there are lots of things out there to suggest that although it contains no sugars that the body can use, the sugars that are in there can't be digested and trigger a similar reaction in the body. I've no science to back any of this up, but apparently when consumed with food that has sugars and fats, it triggers these to be stored much faster than if not. My office has fridges full of the stuff, as well as Sprite, Tango and full fat Coke. I now avoid all fizzy drinks. Especially fizzy water, but for other reasons!

  • Milk in coffee. This is in part to reduce the morning calories, but also to help me reduce coffee intake. I've started drinking more coffee though, so need a re-think!

  • A pastry with my morning coffee. Cutting out 300 calories in the morning is a big win.

  • Bread. I still eat pita bread at home, but avoid sandwiches and toast. A good way to cut out a lot of fast carbs in high calorie bursts.

  • Crisps*. I used to be bad with snacking with crisps, so a good way to cut out the saturated fats, salts and carbs. On big rides, I will allow myself some if making a quick stop as it allows for quick fuelling with fats, carbs and salts.

  • Chocolates and sweets. I've got quite the sweet tooth. This is a no-brainer, but again may have the odd snickers on bigger rides

  • Biscuits. If I was ever timed, I'm sure I'd hold several world records for the time taken to consume a packet of Custard Creams, Jaffa Cakes and many others.

  • Doughnuts*. Generally, avoiding these. I might allow myself one, but they rarely sold in singles. Point here is to avoid bags of 5 Jam doughnuts.

  • Cakes*. For obvious reasons, unless preceded by a bicycle ride.

  • Takeaway food deliveries (Pizza, Chinese, Curry). Super massive calorie hits, usually around 2,000 in one go of an evening is clearly not a good idea!

  • Granola, yogurt, honey and fruit breakfast every day. I love granola with fruit and yogurt, but the sugar even before honey is added is just too much in the morning. I allow sometimes post ride at the weekends.

  • Cheese. I love cheese. This one hurts, but is just a lovely tasty block of fat. I will bring this back in from time to time, but for now it's off the menu.

  • Burgers. Don't eat a lot of them, but they are big calorie hits so have made a point of excluding them, or choosing a healthier alternative where possible.

  • Ice cream. This also hurts. A lot! I'm saving this one for the summer.

(*I try, and will give in when on big rides or if I need a bit of a break. But, not so much that I massively fall off the wagon!)

As well as seeing from the above how I had managed to get up to 95 KG, you will also note that this is an incredibly large amount to remove from a diet in one go (not that I had all these things all the time, but certainly means all 'normal' choices need to be changed). Many people suggest that making big changes all in one go is a bad idea, and not a good way at succeeding with making positive changes to diet. I'm no dietitian, but I agree. To counter this, it is always best to replace bad things you take out from your diet, by adding in something good. I believe the recommendation is to do this in small steps, adjusting one thing at a time to ensure the change sticks. For some reason, whether it’s just sheer bloody mindedness, or down to the fact that when I see something to target and focus on, I will normally go all in every time.


Things I've added or increased:

  • Porridge for breakfast. With fruit, a good low calorie slow burner setting me up for the day.

  • Home cooked meals. Mainly to have a good alternative to takeaways. I pre-cook and freeze lots of chilli con carne and spag bol, defrosting as required.

  • Fresh(ly frozen) veg. As part of some new meals, I've been having more fresh veg. Keeping it fresh by freezing it means there's always some ready to go.

  • Eggs. I've got an interesting scramble/omelette dish - fried onions, garlic, chilli, mushrooms and 3 eggs. Chuck in a pita.

  • Chicken. Roasting some chicken breasts and eating through the week with various meals. Sometimes in with the eggs, stir fries, or straight up in a pita.

  • Avocado. Goes with everything.

  • Sweet potato, specifically. As with the chicken, roasted and eaten through the week.

  • Stir fry. Making use of the veg, chicken and eggs, creating something tasty at the weekend

  • Water. I've replaced all the soft drinks with water. I've always drank a lot, but even more so now, especially with meals.

  • Black coffee. I've started drinking more, and trying to cut back. Will replace some coffee with decaffeinated to reduce the dependency.

  • Snacking nuts and raisins. A great way to get through to lunch, or fill a gap in the afternoon.

  • Fruit. Also, a good filler to snack through the day, but great with breakfast and porridge.

  • Pitta. Replacing bread.

  • Fish fingers. For filling the pita with! My only partially regular source of fish in my diet. Should probably add more, but struggle with keeping fresh ingredients in the fridge and reluctant to freeze. Will likely dabble with smoked mackerel.

  • Protein supplements. I've often dabbled in these, but have struggled to find ones that work for me. My stomach doesn't always like protein drinks, but I've started using Raw Sport supplements, which are tastier than most and much more suited to my stomach.

  • Other supplements. I've been religious about a berocca basically every morning. When I've been doing some of the more intense workouts, I've also been taking Science in Sport immune booster. It includes various vitamins, but also iron to help boost your immune system post exercise.

Tracking my diet and weight

I'm using a few different things to track my diet and weight. Daily, I track all my meals with MyFitnessPal, as well as keeping a log of my weight in there. It's an important ritual of logging meals, snacks and drinks and monitoring what calories are coming in, with Strava linked also showing the calories being burnt.

I've linked this app to my Training Peaks account as well, and is a great place to keep a detailed track of several additional metrics, such as sleep, overall feeling, and fitness, freshness and fatigue.

I've recently picked up a Fitbit, which does a great job of tracking both my sleep and resting heart rate. This is primarily to monitor any increases and potential signs of illness or extreme stress and fatigue.

Keeping motivated

Motivation to keep to this diet is tough for me at times, so it is important to identify ways that can keep motivation high. It's also important to give yourself a break if necessary, as long as they are only small blips along the road to the target.

Using the tracking apps is a great way to keep motivated, as is simply keeping a diary of what you are eating, consuming and keeping an eye on the calories going in and out. I love all the data and some of the insights that they provide. I'm sometimes seeing patterns that may or may not be there, but allow me to adjust things accordingly.

I am fortunate to have what you might call a 'sponsor'. I guess with a lot of the things I've given up, this process has similarities to fighting addiction, and in many ways, is exactly what it is - sugar, fats, alcohol; all trigger an endorphin release reaction and can cause a type of addiction. My sponsor, however, is just a friend who is trying to do the same thing as me. As a bit of joint motivation, we are currently racing to 80 KG. I started 5kg behind, but tend to be able to burn more, and the gap is down to around 2 KG with me around 84, and my friend Rob around 82. It's a bit of fun, and helps keeping things moving in the right direction.

Race build-up

I aim to hit my target weight 4 weeks before the event. This allows me to take some mental pressure off, removing one more thing from the mind to worry about. This month is about easing back on the volume, looking to taper and shake off as much fatigue before the start of the race. Dieting when you are not riding as much is not easy, so I'm happy to not have to worry about my weight in this final build up. This is not to say I leap off the wagon and start binging - much of my diet would still be in place, but it with the reduced calories burning I can forget about worrying and watching weight at this time. In fairness, you will more than likely need a few extra KG for the first few days of the race in the form of reserve energy. In both TCR No. 4 and 5, I believe I lost about 10 KG during each race.

In summary

Like I said, I'm no nutritionist or dietician; however, I've taken a common-sense approach to all this. Eat healthier things, track how much, avoid overeating, keep it interesting and varied, stay motivated, stay focused.

My approach is what seems to work for me, for now. I'm sure there could be some things that may work for others, as much is straightforward, but is also massively down to personal preference.

If there's anything you would like to know more of, ask a question down below. It would be great to get some discussion on this topic!