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  • Landry Bobo

The Dangers of Losing Weight

Updated: Oct 2


As a follow up to the last blog post, I wanted to write a few thoughts about weight-loss and cycling. In the past it's been viewed as only a good thing, however, I would argue that for many (well-trained athletes), it is a bad thing that should be avoided.


Many riders never reach their full potential because they are so worried about their weight that they are severely under-fueling their workouts, are unable to train/recover effectively, and are preventing their bodies from adapting to the training.


Yes, for many cyclists, weight-loss is a great way to improve performance and overall health, but I'm speaking to more experienced riders who are already at a good weight for cycling. Weight-loss is something you should avoid as it carries many risks with no reward.


With the "W/kg" equation, you must choose what you want to focus on. Which will help your performance more? Improving power or decreasing weight? For some, decreasing weight might lead to the biggest benefit. However, for many others, improving power is what will give them the most benefit.


How can we improve power? By training hard and getting the most out of our workouts. This requires a lot of energy expenditure. If you want to put out a lot in your training, you've got to put a lot of the right stuff in.


A rider will not be able to train very hard if they are always obsessed with weight and restricting Calories. Many cyclists still ascribe to the old-school mindset that “eating is cheating.” That mantra makes absolutely no sense! As cyclists who burn a TON of Calories, we should be eating more *healthy* food than anyone else!


This mindset creates the false perception that in order to get strong you should restrict yourself when training hard. I still see cyclists who will try to do group rides fasted or bring one banana on a 3-hour ride and wonder why they feel so tired at the end.


Think of your body like a house. Every time you ride, you are doing damage and breaking down the house. If you want to build the house back even taller, you must give it the building blocks. Chronic under-fueling means not only means you won't be able to train as hard, but that your body will not adapt the way that it should to the training.


A recent study looked at training volume and Calorie intake in cyclists. What they found was that the riders who were eating less than their body required were not as strong as the riders who were eating more, even though they were training the same.


Chronic under-fueling puts your body into "survival mode." Your body will think that a famine is imminent and it will do anything it can to conserve energy by:

  • Decreasing metabolism

  • Decreasing muscle mass-- muscle requires energy to maintain, so your body doesn't want to keep it around

  • Increasing fat stores-- your body wants to store energy to prepare for the "famine"

Yes, under-fueling means that you can actually lose muscle and gain fat. It also opens up a whole host of other problems such as low bone-mineral density, hormonal imbalances, compromised immunities and so on.


If your body is focused on just conserving energy to survive a famine, it's probably not going to want to ride bikes very fast!


Will it even help?

Since weight loss is such a risky endeavor, a rider should only try losing weight if it will truly help their performance. There are many riders who wrongly think that weight loss will help their performance. All the while they could be getting much stronger by eating more.


Everyone needs to have some fat on their body. This is also completely individual. Some riders are naturally skinnier (ectomorphs), while other riders are naturally more muscular (endomorphs).


One is NOT better than the other. Even professionals fall into this trap. Certain riders who are naturally endomorphs see an ultra-skinny rider and then think that trying to look like the skinny guy will help their performance. They usually end up have a terrible season.


Don’t compare yourself to anyone else. Listen to your body. The weight that you are healthy and perform your best at is the weight you should be.


Even if you feel that losing weight could help your performance, you must be very careful with this and only do it a select time of year. There are right ways to lose weight and wrong ways to lose weight. The wrong way will do more harm than good.


You must also think about the events that you are targeting. If you want to excel at races with a lot of climbing, then weight is obviously important. Even then, it’s tricky to find that balance between W/kg, because trying to get too skinny will not help you in climbing races and hurt you in any other type of race. The riders who target these climbing races will probably be naturally lighter anyways, so they have nothing to worry about!


Most amateur races, however, do not contain huge amounts of climbing. Criteriums and time trials tend to be flat, and even most road races do not contain inordinate amounts of climbing. There is no reason to try to look like a TDF climber who is hauling themselves up massive Cols for 3 straight weeks.


For these races, raw power is more important and a fixation on weight is not necessary. In order to maximize power, you should avoid weight loss and focus on fueling for optimal performance year-round.


Conclusion

Weight is neither a good nor bad thing, what matters most is performance. We must overcome this false "old-school" mindset. Find what works for you and respect your body. Tread carefully when dealing with weight loss. If you do think losing weight could be beneficial, do research before adopting any sort of diet or seek out a qualified professional.






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