From April to November, you can get away with hoovering a postride smorgasbord. During the wintry months, though, it's a different story. Between dwindling daylight, chilly temps, and holiday obligations, those extra calories become harder to jettison. Not only does more weight put a damper on your performance (five extra pounds will make you 30 seconds slower on a 5k climb), it also leads to physiological changes that can affect your cycling long-term.
A series of studies published in the International Journal of Obesity reported that when you put on pounds, even as few as 11, you change the composition of your fat cells, slow your metabolism, and have a harder time losing weight. Worse, repeatedly gaining and losing pounds year after year can make you more susceptible to packing on weight in the future. Over time those pounds add up, says Leslie Bonci, MPH, RD, of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Try these changes to sidestep the larding effects of winter without feeling deprived.
Pick Power Carbs
Limited sunlight can lower levels of serotonin, the feel-good hormone, and make you crave comfort foods, such as starchy carbs. Beans provide those carbs, as well as satiating protein and filling fiber (a cup has 12 grams). And findings from the National Nutrition and Health Examination Survey show that people who eat beans weigh seven pounds less on average than those who snub them.
Order Surf, Not Turf
Fatty fish, like salmon and sardines, is rich in two essential waist whittlers: omega-3 fatty acids and vitamin D (the sunshine vitamin, which we get less of during short winter days). Both help control insulin levels and improve your ability to burn fat. One study reported that exercisers who took fish-oil supplements lost more fat and gained more muscle than those who went fish-oil free.
Downsize Your Dishes
Serve your biggest meal of the day on a 10-inch plate rather than a 12-inch one and you'll reduce your calorie intake by 22 percent, or about 350 calories' worth of spaghetti and meatballs. Why? When we see a full plate, no matter its size, we expect to be satisfied, says Bonci.
Watch for Invisible Calories
A study in Social Science and Medicine concluded that parents gain more weight than adults who don't have children. Every time you help your kid get the clean-plate award, you add to your bottom line—25 french fries equal 250 extra calories.
Swap Bubbly Beverages
A 150-calorie soda a day this winter can add nearly four pounds. But diet soda is not the solution. A 10-year study of 474 people found that those who drank at least two diet sodas a day increased their waist size by five times that of non-diet soda drinkers. If you want the fizz without the flab, drink calorie-and sugar-free seltzer.
Keep Your Kit in Rotation
When the cold wind is whipping, it's tempting to slip into sweats. But beware: Get too comfortable and you'll forget what's under the hoodie. Scientists at Cornell University found that prison inmates gained an average of 20 to 25 pounds six months into incarceration in part because of their baggy orange jumpsuits. The researchers recommend keeping the clothes you associate with being fit in plain view year-round. Make this tip more effective: Don't just look at your kit, ride in it.Search for a cycling event.