After nearly a year of commuting by bicycle to and from work 2-3 days per week, I have recently started cycling to work every day, 5 days a week, rain or shine. My commute is about 11-15 miles each way (depending which route I take), including some steep hills (followed by stop signs, so I don't even get the benefit of coasting down-hill). I obtained a new road bike of decent quality along with reasonable quality clipless shoes, gloves, shorts, a jersey, and a heart rate monitor. I am not very physically fit (5'9" 200 lbs), but improving. Now 2 weeks into daily commuting plus occasional weekend riding, I am feeling very sore and fatigued and can barely sustain 80% of the effort I was achieving at the start.

What should I eat (and when should I eat it) to help me sustain this effort, yet also help me lose weight and improve my physical fitness? Is it important to ride at a relatively low effort level, keeping my heart rate in the base zone, or should I occasionally push it into aerobic endurance or even anaerobic zones? What heart rate(s) should I aim for? What cadence should I try to maintain?

Any advice from experienced commuters in a similar position would be greatly appreciated.

  • 8
    It will take your body more than the two weeks to start adjusting (this is a GOOD thing, you're getting in better shape). There are folks that will swear by various nutrition guidelines to assist, but IMO, just eat healthy and keep at it. Your body will get used to the abuse in a couple more weeks. If you feel especially sore/fatigued, take a rest day mid week. Soon you won't need one. Happy Riding.
    – Ken Hiatt
    Commented Apr 24, 2013 at 23:05
  • 4
    @KenHiatt is right. Food isn't your problem. It's the sudden increase in your overall weeklong exercise load. Most experts recommend an increase of 10-15% per week with no increase about every fourth week. You've basically doubled your weeklong load. It's not that it can't be done, it just leaves you feeling fatigued and discouraged and causes a lot of people to give up. Just keep slogging through and you'll be good in a couple/few weeks.
    – jimchristie
    Commented Apr 25, 2013 at 3:45
  • @jimirings Do you have a source for increasing only 10-15% per week with no increase every fourth week? That seems like an interesting guideline. Truth is I also had some previous weeks with 4 rides, but also some with 1 or even none if it was snowing, so 2-3 is sort of an average, not a range. Commented Apr 25, 2013 at 18:49
  • @TalFishman If you Google "10 percent rule" you'll find loads. A lot of it will be about running just because more people try running at some point in their lives than cycling, but it's more or less the same for any sport. It's also usually interpreted as 10% more time or distance, but it can also be the same time and distance with 10% more effort. This is hard to gauge though unless you have a device to measure the watts that you're putting out.
    – jimchristie
    Commented Apr 25, 2013 at 18:59
  • 1
    @TalFishman The 10% rule is more or less uniform to any endurance sport. Injury is part of it to be sure, but it's also about accumulated fatigue. Your body wants to rest while it rebuilds muscle. If you never give it the chance, you just get more and more tired with every passing day/week. It will eventually even out though. It just takes time.
    – jimchristie
    Commented Apr 26, 2013 at 13:11

3 Answers 3


Just keep at it. The human body is very adaptable and you'll soon get fitter.

Don't worry too much about food and nutrition at the moment, that only matters when you're cycling at a competitive level, you just need to make sure you've had breakfast before you ride in the morning. Regardless of cycling/weight loss you should try and eat a healthy balanced diet anyway.

Don't worry about heart rate and zones. At the moment you just need to get to the level where you can comfortably manage 5 days riding. This will come naturally. Its hard at the start (as you are experiencing) but it will get easier every week.

In a month or two you will be able to manage the ride no problems and only then should you think about pushing your performance. That's when the heart monitor is useful.

  • The best answer I think. To make a minor additional comment regarding pace - I too ride to and from work and on the way to work I ride as slowly as needed to avoid sweating, then on the way home I ride as hard as I can to maximize the workout. The thinking here is I'd rather not be tired and stinky at work, whereas when I get home I can take a shower and rest immediately.
    – Drew
    Commented May 13, 2013 at 6:12
  • Luckily there are changing and showers at my workplace.
    – Qwerky
    Commented May 13, 2013 at 10:42

I think you need more rest. It's easy to forget that you don't get fitter and stronger during exercise, but when your body recovers after exercise. I admire your motivation and the effort you're putting in, if you don't get enough rest in between exercise, it may actually take longer to get fit (and be more painful).

By rest I mean whatever ordinary daily activity that you're already accustomed to. Maybe a short walk to shops, daily chores whatever is normal for you. If you're especially worn out, then a bit of extra sleep can work wonders in my experience.

It will depend on the rest of your lifestyle, but aim to take at least one, but ideally 3, days off between cycling. YMMV, but I find this is how long it takes for the aches to subside after some unusual exercise.

If you absolutely must get fit super-fast, then at least switch to another form of exercise on "rest" days. Swimming for example should give your legs a rest.

  • Definitely agree. Having a GOOD sleep between rides is a must.
    – Jahaziel
    Commented Apr 26, 2013 at 17:09

My commute is also ~15 miles. Certainly don't worry about that heart monitor (not for commuting at least). Try not to eat any processed flours (including bread!). My breakfast is whole oats soaked in milk with nuts, berries, and whatever else you fancy.

For the ride home it's important to get that same carb boost before you ride home (I eat 300-400 calories worth about 20-30 minutes before I ride). I don't eat during these rides (no need, if you fuel up beforehand).

To lose weight you'll need to control what you eat during the day at work and after work once you get home. That's where I personally eat the most. It's easy to down plenty of unchecked calories. You're suppose to be hungry sometimes. Don't eat at the first pang of hunger.

  • 1
    The heart rate monitor helps me gauge how much effort I'm putting in, so I don't overdo it early in the week. Commented Apr 25, 2013 at 20:24

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