Fat Rides – Improve Endurance Time-Efficiently

With the exception of few cycling disciplines, endurance is the key factor for success in cycling. In order to build and improve endurance you need sufficient amounts of time to train. Building a decent endurance base does not require vast amounts of time. However, for many weekend warriors it is hard to free up enough additional time to reach the next level.

Before we explore one particular way how you can improve your endurance more time-efficiently, let’s look at endurance from a different perspective: the energy perspective. Your body can store about 2000 kcal worth of carbohydrates. Depending on exercise intensity, that will last about 2.5h. Ok, but how many kcal can you store as fat? Let’s say you are 170 lb at about 10% body fat. With your 17lb of fat, one pound holding roughly 3500 kcal, you have about 60,000 kcal. This would last you, conservatively speaking, around 15 marathons without eating. Of course, this completely disregards other factors, but you get the point.

Before we can translate this information into real-life actions, here is some more information you should know:

  • Your body’s energy production shifts from fat to carbohydrates as exercise intensity increases. The harder you go, the more you have to rely on your limited carb reserves.
  • Many cyclists have an underdeveloped ability to utilize fat, even at low intensities and end up wasting their precious carbs.

With the information above, you can do the math: If you can improve your fat metabolism and tap into your fat stores more effectively, you will increase your endurance dramatically. You will be able to spare your limited carbs for when it matters. So what else can we do, other than train for increasing durations at increasing frequencies in low to medium intensities? It’s simple. Do fat rides.

Fat rides are endurance rides between 1h - 4h, performed without prior eating and no eating during. Here are some key rules:

  • Do 1-3 fat rides per week during a base phase, but not back-to-back.
  • Do fat rides preferably in the morning after you get up. So, this would be good on weekends.
  • You can have coffee or tea before, but without sugar or milk. Drink water on the bike.
  • Always bring emergency food. If you get dizzy or sluggish, stop immediately and eat.
  • Start with 1h without food prior and during. If your ride is longer, eat and continue.
  • Once your body becomes more efficient at utilizing fat, you can expand the time of your fat rides, but never to more than 4h.
  • At first stay in a low-intensity zone. As you improve you may increase intensity. However, a fat ride should never be done at intensities any higher than intensive endurance. (If you need help with training zones, check out this post). Increase duration before increasing intensity.
  • Never combine a fat ride with high-intensity training, such as threshold training or even anaerobic work.
  • Keep your cadence at least at 90rpm.
  • Eat a carb-based meal immediately after you get back home from your fat ride

Fat rides are not primarily meant to shed weight. They aim to improve your endurance by making your fat metabolism more efficient, allowing you to spare your precious carbohydrates for those race-winning, highly intense efforts.

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