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How To Achieve Your Cycling Racing Weight (Without Starving Yourself)

How to achieve your cycling racing weight

Banal truism alert! Pretty much everyone wants to lose a bit of weight.

Magazines and newspapers of all persuasions are obsessed by the topic. Millions of pounds are spent, lost and gained in the name of shedding weight.

If you’ve subscribed to my blog in the last couple of months, you may remember getting an email asking about your cycling struggles.

After lack of time, and maybe fear of hills, the subject of weight is frequently mentioned. My sense from your comments, though, is that you have a healthier attitude to weight-loss than other sectors of society. Rather than fixating on body image, you feel that losing a few pounds would simply help your performance, both on and off the bike.

And you’d be right.

So let’s do that. Me and you. Starting now.

PS. Read to the bottom if you’re bothered eager to find out my body fat percentage and whether it’s falling…. (now there’s an offer).

Lean On Me

As you may already be aware (given I’ve mentioned it in the last 3 or 4 posts), our challenge (yes, our challenge) in July is to ‘get lean for performance’.

My guide in this exercise is Matt Fitzgerald, through his book, Racing Weight: How To Get Lean For Peak Performance, which I devoured recently (and ironically).

I’m going to be sharing what I’ve learnt from Matt’s book, as well as my own experiences (and results) from trying to follow its teachings.

It should hopefully go without saying that whilst I will cover the themes contained within the book, in order to get the full picture, you should really pick up a copy for yourself (buy it at Amazon UK or Amazon US).

Rethinking How We Think About Weight

Weight is a key factor that holds back performance, even for novice and intermediate cyclists. It’s most keenly felt when climbing (obviously – you’re having to cart more stuff up the hill than you need) but also has a bearing when riding over flatter terrain.

Being a larger athlete increases wind resistance due to a bigger frontal area. The insulating effect of fat (and the lower surface area:volume ratio) makes it more difficult for the body to keep cool and run at maximum efficiency.

Generally speaking, most people will improve their performance from losing weight.

Despite the presence of ‘weight’ in the title of Fitzgerald’s book, he suggests we should be less interested in weight (within reason) and more interested in body composition. There is no point in lowering weight if the weight lost was formerly muscle, reducing your power output. Your performance will improve if you can lose body fat whilst retaining muscle, thereby reducing the percentage of your body weight made up by fat.

Don’t Try To Lose Weight (Sort Of)

Counterintuitively, the guiding principle behind the Racing Weight system is not simply to reduce your fat percentage and/or weight. Instead, we are to focus on improving our athletic performance. If we do so, through effective training, sensible changes to our diet and careful monitoring, we will achieve our weight/body composition objectives as a secondary (and much-appreciated) benefit.

For me, this idea feels quite liberating. There is something very defensive about losing weight. It’s almost like a game you can only lose.

But like many sportive cyclists, improving my performance is central to my enjoyment of cycling and training. By aligning the diet/nutrition piece to one of my fundamental motivations for cycling, I feel I am much more likely to be successful in ‘getting lean for performance’.

Everything Comes Down To Performance

I admit it. I’m a big kid at heart. Whilst I don’t (yet) trundle around in full Team Sky kit, I harbour the secret fantasy that I am, in fact, an elite rider.

The Racing Weight mindset is how most successful endurance athletes tackle diet and nutrition. They fuel for success. They train for success. Their bodies adapt to both components and, for the most part, they get lean.

The ultimate arbiter of any measure you take to improve your diet is whether your performance on the bike improves. It doesn’t matter whether your optimal body fat percentage is 10% or 20% – is your body fitter for doing the job you want it to do?

Again, this is a liberating idea. There is no need to align yourself with a particular dietary tribe: the zero-carb Atkin-ites, the spear-wielding Paleo practitioners. All you care about is making a series of small improvements to your diet, little by little, slowly compounding. As long as your sporting performance continues to improve, you can be reasonably confident that you’re doing something right.

Wait, I Need Some Help Here!

Don’t panic, Matt doesn’t leave you to run through a series of personal scientific experiments to determine whether you run better on a 100% cabbage diet (rocket thrust!) or raw antelope meat plan (eat what you catch).

The book contains plenty of guiding principles to start from, based on the practices of successful endurance athletes. If the ultimate measuring stick is, ‘what leads to the greatest improvement in performance’, why not start with the methods of those that have attained the very highest levels of performance and work from there?

Don’t answer that (it’s rhetorical).

Anyhoo, I’ll cover some of the improvements you might like to make (and some of the ones I’ve already started to implement) in future posts. For now though I want to cover one final revelation in the book that surprised and encouraged me. Are you ready for this?

Choice Of ‘Diet’ Has Very Little Correlation With Likelihood Of Dietary Success

There is little evidence to suggest that any one dietary system (Atkins, Paleo, Gurnard) is more effective than the others in leading to long-term weight loss success.

“Research has shown that self-monitoring practices and the behavioural modifications that surround them are the strongest predictors of successful long-term weight loss…”

In other words, the two most effective steps that you might take to promote long-term weight loss success (i.e. losing it and then not putting it back on) are:

1. Maintaining a food diary
2. Weighing yourself and measuring your body composition regularly (and doing the same for your performance on the bike)

Interesting, no?

The former works by heightening the awareness of what you’re eating. You’re more conscious and therefore more likely to make the odd ‘good choice’ that results in an improvement to your diet. You can’t lie to yourself (and others) about what you’ve been eating (unless you deliberately decide not to note down that cheeky donut with your mid-morning coffee).

The latter helps you avoid ‘dietary creep’ – the relaxation of standards that you don’t notice for a couple of weeks, when suddenly your belt feels tighter and you realise you’ve put on half a stone.

Self-measurement: A New Concept For Cyclists (Not)

Fervent non-Strava-novites can choose to disagree, but I hypothesise that most road cyclists like to measure at least some information about their riding: distance, time, height ascended, cadence, cows avoided.

We’re practised at recording stuff, so let’s use and extend the habit to our diet and see what happens.

1. MapMyPlate (I don’t know…)

To that end, I’ve been keeping a food diary. It’s a simple Google Docs… er… doc, that I keep on my phone. So far I’ve just been storing the data.

Racing Weight has a points system for scoring the value of each food item consumed. The aim is to make small improvements to your diet such that your daily score creeps upwards. My next job is to go through the diary, totting up the points, in order to spot the opportunities to ‘level up’ my diet.

Don’t worry, unlike for my 30 Days of Cycling Challenge, I’m not going to force you to read my food diary each day and give me ‘Kudos’ for a particularly well-chosen bowl of steamed spinach.

2. LardTracker (hmm…)

Secondly, I bought the family myself a Fitbit Aria, which is a Wi-Fi connected ‘smart scale’ (it measures body fat percentage as well as weight). I thought the Wi-Fi element was perhaps a bit of a gimmick, but in fact turns out to be tremendously useful.

Having set up the scales, and registered with an account on the Fitbit website, all I have to do is stand on the scales for a couple of seconds, and the data gets sent automatically to the ‘cloud’ for Fitbit to laugh at analyse and turn into pretty graphs.

Apparently the body composition figures on these sorts of scales can be inaccurate in absolute terms, so we’re more interested in the trend over time.

Here is a screen shot of my body composition chart for the past 10 days or so. Unhelpfully, there aren’t any labels and the scale is a little large. Whatever.

body composition chart week 1

I think (think…) the green line is sloping down to the right (please…)

The headline result so far is that I started this month’s challenge at 69kg, with a body fat percentage of 18.2%, and as of this morning (8th July), I’m at 68.5kg, and a body fat percentage of 17.7%. That equates to the loss of around 500g of fat (the scale reckons my ‘lean mass’ has remained constant).

Which, now that I write it, is actually quite encouraging.

That’s All Folks

We’ll leave it there for this week’s sermon.

In upcoming posts I’ll look in more detail at the six key steps within the Racing Weight System, and how I’m attempting to implement them,

In the meantime, I’m keen to know how you’re getting on in your own ‘Get Lean For July/The Holidays/Good’ challenge. Or have you already used the Racing Weight System to good effect? Let me know in the comments below.

I don’t want to threaten you, but if you don’t leave a comment, I may have to post the obligatory weight loss ‘Before’ photo of my lily-white naked self…. Don’t make me do this. Think of the children. Leave a comment below.

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{ 19 comments… add one }
  • I’m fixated on body image….;-) Best way to shave off a beer belly ever invented, low impact and you get to actually enjoy doing the exercise. Saving on gymn fees offsets the cost of the bike (I tell her)

  • Mike says:

    No, no, not the picture…anything but the picture…I will lose weight soon, I will, honest guv!

    But seriously, I have started exercising more and being more aware of what I cram down the throat – the food diary idea sounds good. Will have to start one…dare I say…sometime?

    Look forward to the next post (but seriously, no photos, huh?)

  • Glenn says:

    Really good article! I started keeping a food diary early last year and along with cycling at least 5x a week. This helped me lose over 3 stone and get my body fat % down to 19%. Focusing on body fat % I believe is a healthier way of measuring success rather than actual body weight loss.

    • Andrew Montgomery says:

      Thanks Glenn. Glad you enjoyed it. Congratulations on the weight (fat) loss and the fitness gain. That’s a great effort. Next stop 10% body fat… 🙂

  • Rob Lacy says:

    Please no pictures. As food food diairy I use myfitnesspal app, free to download and set up and use. However it is marvellous it covers everything. (A friend said it wouldn’t have his protien stuff on it as it was produced independently but scan with the bar code and presto found it) it remembers you regular breakfasts and foods, and it can be linked straight through to map my ride ( sorry strava ). I have been using it for 5 months now.
    Anyway worth a look ?
    Rob

  • John C says:

    As a 92kg guy with 28% body fat, I’m equally fixated on body image and cycling/running performance. I’ve always found life too busy to keep a food diary – I measure body mass and fat %, and if it hasn’t improved I don’t need a diary to tell me why! As you mention, it’s always seemed like a battle i can’t win; an exercise in self-flagellation. Maybe I’ll give it a crack for July and see what happens…

  • Michael Curtis says:

    I have used MyFitnessPal for over 600 straight days. I lost 20kg in a year and it was thanks to MFP.

    Runkeeper and Strava sync with it to give you that extra incentive calories you have earnt.

    Despite the weight loss I still way in each Sunday and use MFP to make sure I don’t start on that slippery slope back to 88kg!

    Great article.

    • John C says:

      Downloaded MFP this morning and started tracking. Hoping it makes a difference!

    • Martin T says:

      A very good way to avoid the birthday round of cakes in the office, barcode read (in MFP) the packaging and then you just won’t bother…

  • Kristian says:

    I’ve always been a slim kid and never needed to lose weight. But I will start gaining weight from now on and wont stop unless you post a picture!!!!
    😀

    !!!This post need more pictures!!!

  • […] are most likely to result in you losing weight (I’m not going to tell you them here – go back and read my last post!). (adsbygoogle = window.adsbygoogle || […]

  • Caryl Anne says:

    Great article! I couldn’t agree more that keeping a food or exercise diary will help you achieve any goal you set for yourself. In my opinion, seeing your goal in front of your face everyday should help anyone stay motivated and challenged. Thanks for sharing!

  • […] far in this series, we’ve talked about the two key (eating-related) habits of successful fat losers and the 6 Key Steps To Enlightenment (er, weight loss). We’ve enjoyed the inspirational […]

  • Great post! I’ve been one of the Atkin-ites, a spear-wielding Paleo practitioner, and more during my weight loss “career.” I don’t really identify specifically with any one group, though I learn from each one. I learned about low carb from Atkins, to not be afraid of fat from Paleo, and more recently, how to cycle on and off carbs from another expert. The point for me is small gains, taking the best (or what works for me) from each community. You have really embodied that principle here, Andrew. Thanks. And thanks for not posting the pics. You have saved the eyeballs of countless individuals.

  • […] four-part series on how to lose weight get lean for performance (the first of the four parts being available here) the importance of weighing yourself regularly if you’re looking to reduce those winter fat […]

  • […] fat loss results in the coming days. In the meantime, the previous posts in the series can be found here (How To Achieve Your Racing Weight Without Starving Yourself) and here (Cycling For Weight […]

  • Kevin says:

    I have a reasonable diet (thanks to my wife and being T2 diabetic) Over the latter part of the summer I decided to reduce the portion sizes I ate along with more regular outings on the bike (including a few sportives – off-road versions). I have only dropped 3.5kg but my body fat has reduced quite a bit, my beer belly has reduced (but not totally gone yet) and my blood/sugar levels have improved (to my GPs approval!). My average speed on rides has improved and I can certainly feel an improvement in the rides I do.

  • Kevin Armstrong July 9, 2014, 6:04 am

    I’m fixated on body image….;-) Best way to shave off a beer belly ever invented, low impact and you get to actually enjoy doing the exercise. Saving on gymn fees offsets the cost of the bike (I tell her)

    • Andrew Montgomery July 9, 2014, 3:33 pm

      Couldn’t agree more 🙂

  • Mike July 9, 2014, 8:12 am

    No, no, not the picture…anything but the picture…I will lose weight soon, I will, honest guv!

    But seriously, I have started exercising more and being more aware of what I cram down the throat – the food diary idea sounds good. Will have to start one…dare I say…sometime?

    Look forward to the next post (but seriously, no photos, huh?)

    • Andrew Montgomery July 9, 2014, 3:34 pm

      ..I’ll think about it…

  • Glenn July 9, 2014, 9:12 am

    Really good article! I started keeping a food diary early last year and along with cycling at least 5x a week. This helped me lose over 3 stone and get my body fat % down to 19%. Focusing on body fat % I believe is a healthier way of measuring success rather than actual body weight loss.

    • Andrew Montgomery July 9, 2014, 3:35 pm

      Thanks Glenn. Glad you enjoyed it. Congratulations on the weight (fat) loss and the fitness gain. That’s a great effort. Next stop 10% body fat… 🙂

  • Rob Lacy July 9, 2014, 5:35 pm

    Please no pictures. As food food diairy I use myfitnesspal app, free to download and set up and use. However it is marvellous it covers everything. (A friend said it wouldn’t have his protien stuff on it as it was produced independently but scan with the bar code and presto found it) it remembers you regular breakfasts and foods, and it can be linked straight through to map my ride ( sorry strava ). I have been using it for 5 months now.
    Anyway worth a look ?
    Rob

  • John C July 9, 2014, 6:59 pm

    As a 92kg guy with 28% body fat, I’m equally fixated on body image and cycling/running performance. I’ve always found life too busy to keep a food diary – I measure body mass and fat %, and if it hasn’t improved I don’t need a diary to tell me why! As you mention, it’s always seemed like a battle i can’t win; an exercise in self-flagellation. Maybe I’ll give it a crack for July and see what happens…

  • Michael Curtis July 10, 2014, 6:22 pm

    I have used MyFitnessPal for over 600 straight days. I lost 20kg in a year and it was thanks to MFP.

    Runkeeper and Strava sync with it to give you that extra incentive calories you have earnt.

    Despite the weight loss I still way in each Sunday and use MFP to make sure I don’t start on that slippery slope back to 88kg!

    Great article.

    • John C July 10, 2014, 6:45 pm

      Downloaded MFP this morning and started tracking. Hoping it makes a difference!

    • Martin T July 17, 2014, 5:31 am

      A very good way to avoid the birthday round of cakes in the office, barcode read (in MFP) the packaging and then you just won’t bother…

  • Kristian July 11, 2014, 10:32 am

    I’ve always been a slim kid and never needed to lose weight. But I will start gaining weight from now on and wont stop unless you post a picture!!!!
    😀

    !!!This post need more pictures!!!

  • Caryl Anne July 15, 2014, 6:44 pm

    Great article! I couldn’t agree more that keeping a food or exercise diary will help you achieve any goal you set for yourself. In my opinion, seeing your goal in front of your face everyday should help anyone stay motivated and challenged. Thanks for sharing!

  • Brian Stephens August 18, 2014, 9:33 pm

    Great post! I’ve been one of the Atkin-ites, a spear-wielding Paleo practitioner, and more during my weight loss “career.” I don’t really identify specifically with any one group, though I learn from each one. I learned about low carb from Atkins, to not be afraid of fat from Paleo, and more recently, how to cycle on and off carbs from another expert. The point for me is small gains, taking the best (or what works for me) from each community. You have really embodied that principle here, Andrew. Thanks. And thanks for not posting the pics. You have saved the eyeballs of countless individuals.

  • Kevin October 31, 2016, 8:49 am

    I have a reasonable diet (thanks to my wife and being T2 diabetic) Over the latter part of the summer I decided to reduce the portion sizes I ate along with more regular outings on the bike (including a few sportives – off-road versions). I have only dropped 3.5kg but my body fat has reduced quite a bit, my beer belly has reduced (but not totally gone yet) and my blood/sugar levels have improved (to my GPs approval!). My average speed on rides has improved and I can certainly feel an improvement in the rides I do.

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