#12: Racing Weight
Updated: Aug 10, 2020
Welcome to the Coach's Blog powered by Dillman Coaching. This is where I get to share my knowledge and experience about specific training and racing topics. I write these blogs with my athletes in mind as the primary audience, but anybody can read them and benefit from the tips and advice I recommend.
In my last post I tackled the topic of "Whole-heartedness" with some of my personal beliefs. That post explained not only my motivation, but my identity as a Christian and how my purpose is not to race bikes fast, but to glorify God with all my life. In Colossians 3:23 God calls us to work, to work hard and to work hard for him.
In this post I want to touch on a big topic that has been on my mind for several years now: Nutrition. This is such a huge topic. I've had numerous athletes ask me about my stance on nutrition and honestly, I haven't felt knowledgeable enough on the topic to share that much advice. And I think part of my lack of confidence in this arena is due to the massive expanse of nutrition information that is out there. Nevertheless, I want to help my athletes in this area, so here it goes.
Disclaimer: I have recently read "Racing Weight" by Matt Fitzgerald and really agree with his stance on nutrition. He keeps things simple, while not avoiding the important aspects of weight management for endurance athletes. My goal is to write several blogs to discuss his 6-step process for racing weight so my athletes can easily access this information and implement it into their own personal training plans. I would highly recommend reading the book if you're really interested in the topic, or you can just read the blogs in which I'll be summarizing his ideas.
We are all familiar with this idea of a specific "race weight" and I'm not about to tell you how much you need to weigh to be at your individual "race weight." In fact, this number is actually really hard to specify exactly, as there isn't an exact equation to determine a persons "race weight." In his book Racing Weight, Matt Fitzgerald says, "If you weighed yourself on the day of a race in which you achieved a breakthrough performance, the scale would almost certainly display a different number than your current weight - probably a smaller one. This number represents your optimal performance weight - that is, the weight that is associated with your highest athletic performance."
Most people think they must first determine a specific weight they need to reach and once they've met that weight they will race at peak performance. However, race weight is more like a race with no finish line. Instead, you should train for peak performance and whatever weight you are on the day of that peak performance is your race weight. Finding your race weight is not based on some magic number, but instead it's based on performance.
It's All About Performance
MC SpandX says, "It's all about performance; that's the name of the game" and when it comes to managing your weight as an endurance athlete, he's right. As a side note, if you really want to know how to be a pro just watch his video below. As competitors our goal should be to compete better. That's why we train so hard every week. That's why we spend all this money on our crazy equipment. That's why we travel all over the world. And yet we often neglect something as simple and routine as what we put into our mouth each and every day.
Fitzgerald defines Performance Weight Management as "an ongoing effort to improve endurance performance by optimizing body composition for racing through nutritional, as well as other, means." He also defines Optimal Performance Weight as "the weight that is associated with your highest athletic performance level." And he even says that, "If you want to know the right way to manage your weight as an endurance athlete, your best bet is to study the common dietary and weight-management practices of the highest performers."
Are you starting to see the pattern here? "The purpose of weight management for the endurance athlete is better performance." Who said that? Yep, Matt Fitzgerald. It's all about performance; it's the name of the game. If you could just keep eating McBurgers and Donuts without sacrificing performance then why change? But unfortunately, that's not how bike racing and the human body work. A poor diet will certainly lead to poor performance. This concept applies to all endurance athletes, not just the donut-eaters.
Lean Mean Machine
When's the last time you saw a chunky guy win the Tour de France? Answer: Never. That's because our sport does not favor high body fat percentage. Fitzgerald even goes so far to say that, "Any excess body fat beyond the essential level required for basic health worsens endurance performance." There are several reasons why this is true:
Smaller athletes are able to consume more oxygen relative to their size.
Excess body fat impedes heat dissipation
As body fat levels go down, aerobic capacity goes up, because muscle has less competition from fat tissue for oxygen and fuel.
Fitzgerald in his introduction to "Racing Weight" says, "Leanness is as important to performance as any fitness factor at every level of endurance sports, right up to the very top." Did you know that a study revealed that body weight and body fat were better predictors for performance than weekly training hours? True story.
Potentially one of the biggest oppositions an athlete can face during the battle for leanness is his or her own genetics. Body fat is 64% genetics and 36% lifestyle. At first I thought, "no way!" But then almost every person I could think about proved this to be pretty true. For the most part, when it comes to body composition, we end up looking a lot like our parents. For some people this is good news, but for others this isn't such good news. But Fitzgerald reminds us that, "you CAN reduce your body-fat percentage (and thereby adjust your weight) to the level that is optimal for performance in your sport given your unchangeable genetic constraints." Growing up, my mom would often say, "If there's a will, there's a way." I think that applies here.
While total body weight is important, it also doesn't give us the full picture. Body composition is just as important as body weight. You could have a very low body weight, which you might think is good, but your body composition could prove otherwise. It is possible to be skinny and unhealthy. And it's also possible to be heavier and healthy. This is where body composition comes into play. Body composition is what makes up your total body weight and can be broken into two primary categories: body fat and lean mass (everything else).
Fitzgerald says, "Endurance sports tend to favor two related characteristics: low body weight and lean body composition (or low body fat)." In fact, the method explained in "Racing Weight" to estimate your race weight starts with your body fat percentage.
Estimating your racing weight:
Find your body fat percentage.
Estimate your optimal body fat percentage.
Calculate your optimal body weight target.
Example: You currently weight 150 pounds and your body fat percentage is 15. This means your lean mass is 85% of 150, which is 127.5 pounds. If your body fat goal is 8%, then your lean mass will be 92%. Take your current lean mass of 127.5 and divide it by .92 and this is your optimal body weight, which in this case is 138.6 pounds.
Confused yet? Hopefully you are remembering some of your high school math lessons.
So many people get caught up on this number. Watts/kg is basically how hard you can pedal given your weight. A big guy might put out big power while a small dude puts out smaller power and these 2 athletes could have the same exact watts/kg. Theoretically, your watts/kg should be a pretty good predictor for how you should do in a race. However, racing involves a lot of skill outside of just pushing on the pedals to be able to perform well. That's where this theory falls flat. A few months ago I even found myself crunching my watts/kg numbers. I remember thinking, "there's no way I can improve my threshold by x amount of watts, but if I can just lose 8 or 10 pounds that would bump me up into the y category." That's a dangerous way to think!
Fitzgerald says "weight loss is not the proper goal for cyclists; improved performance is the proper goal." Remember, it's all about performance, it's the name of the game. It's dangerous to get too focused on weight loss because when your body doesn't get enough calories your performance will tank. And not just today's performance, but tomorrows performance as well. Your body won't have enough calories for today's workout or for a proper recovery for tomorrows workout. Fitzgerald explains it by saying, "maximum weight loss and maximum performance cannot be equal priorities for an endurance athlete at any given time."
This post has focused on the "why" behind racing weight and has explained some of the theories behind performance weight management. Hopefully after reading this you are convinced that body composition is pretty important. Because in endurance sports, it is.
The main point is that you want to be as lean as possible without forfeiting fitness and power. How you do this is what the next several blogs will explain.
6 Steps of the Racing Weight System:
Improve your diet quality.
Manage your appetite.
Balance your energy sources.
Time your nutrition.