Dropping weight is a tricky task. Doing so as an athlete, while training and remaining healthy, is an even more difficult prospect. We check in with several cyclists and sports nutrition experts to see how they’ve found the balance.
Body composition is your highest priority
The number you see on most scales doesn’t tell you what type of tissue you’re carrying — your body composition. Nor can it tell you the type you’re losing if you’re shedding weight (fat or muscle, for example). If it’s all muscle, that’s not a good thing. “Ultimately you want to drop the weight that is non-functional tissue,” nutritionist and author Philip Goglia says. “And that’s body fat.” Targeting a body fat percentage will help you attain an optimal weight with the right composition. A skinfold test is one of the best measures: Six to 10 percent for men and 14 to 20 percent for women (depending on the exact method) tends to achieve the best race weight. Below that you will lose power and performance and degrade your ability to recover.
Power and fatigue
If you’re unusually sore when you ride and performance is dropping, your problem may be caloric. Retired pro racer Phil Gaimon points out that too many cyclists look at the lowest weight they’ve ever hit as an adult and think that’s their ideal race weight. Instead, he recommends logging your weight over the span of years so you’re able to determine your weight when you were performing at your best.
Lose weigtht slowly
“Don’t crash diet,” warns two-time national road champion Matthew Busche. “You might lose weight quickly, but then your body rebounds and you can’t train as well.” Rapid weight loss generally coincides with the loss of muscle tissue and power or, worse, over-training. Target one to two pounds per week, at a maximum.
Shed weight in the base season
Too many cyclists try to lose weight during the season when performance, recovery, and reducing inflammation are critical and require proper nutrition. “The base season, when people don’t care how fast they go, is the time to go to ‘food jail’ and lose your weight,” Goglia says. You might even consider completing your base season a few pounds below race weight so you have room to fully support the nutritional demands of your season.
Avoid empty calories
“Your endurance and strength capacity and your ability to recover are all built in the kitchen,” Goglia says. “Don’t be afraid of calories. Reduction of inflammation and tissue repair are super-important and that requires caloric balance.” To rebuild and recover, our bodies need more than carbohydrates. It needs healthy proteins, anti-inflammatory fats, and a variety of micronutrients. Many recreational riders are surprised that top pros forgo empty carbs like pasta for something like salmon and fresh vegetables.
Protein for recovery and adaptations
Protein is essential for tissue repair and proper DNA expression. Eat lots of quality protein for recovery and training adaptations. There are many good sources, but Goglia prefers chicken, fish, steak, turkey, and eggs.
Avoide inflammatory foods
The bulk of our immune system lives along our digestive tract. Consequently, food can have a detrimental impact if it’s promoting things like leaky gut and inflammatory responses. Those conditions hurt energy levels and recovery. Goglia notes there are some basic inflammatory foods: “no yeast, no mold, no dairy, no gluten, no refined sugars.” He recommends replacing bread with single-ingredient carbohydrates such as rice and yams.
Changing the foods we eat is hard. But Gaimon reminds us it takes 90 days to form or break a habit. It’s like training — stick to the plan and it will work. As an example, he drinks a recovery shake that consists of kale, almond butter, and beet and apple juice. “It’s like a big cup of green-red sludge, and I hated it and had to force it down,” says Gaimon. “Now with an hour to go on my ride I’m craving that stupid kale shake.”
Cheat a little
Gaimon will periodically splurge and get a pizza. We all need our cheat days. Just keep them spread out. According to Goglia, it takes 48 hours for your body to adjust. He recommends one day per week.