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Episode #53 – Weight Management and Racing Lean

Episode #53 – Weight Management and Racing Lean

In many ways be lighter on the bike is the ultimate upgrade you make to improve your performance. Looking at it as part of your training is only practical if you have something to aim for and a way to get there. This episode shows you how.

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Weight is an issue all cyclists come across, from the very fit to the little soft round the edges, but it is especially important for endurance athletes like cyclists. And most cyclists understand this – especially if they know of riders like Michael Rasmussen or Andy Schleck. Even Froome-Dod looks a little praying mantis like.

Author and coach – Matt Fitzgerald tackled this issue on his book ‘Racing Weight’. With a straight down the line opinion on nutrition and diet. No fads, trends or mixed messages in Matt’s writing. He favours behaviour regulation over counting calories, so it’s definitely not the common approach to nutrition, and certainly not weight management.

During the interview I asked these questions:

How do we get to a target weight?

  1. Find Body fat percentage

    1. DEXA scan

    2. body-fat scales

  2. Estimate your optimal body-fat percentage

  3. Calculate your optimal body-weight target

So the two elements that are taken into consideration are overall body weight and body fat, and all the rest will take care of itself?

What about adding muscle?

Once you have your ideal race weight figured out you have 6 Steps outlined in the book to get you there. I have picked different parts to talk about that stuck out to me. Starting with step 1 – improving your diet quality.

  1. Improving your diet quality

High quality foods seem to be making a comeback recently. I’m not suggesting that you are following these trends, but the terms eating clean, real foods or whole foods seem to align with your basic nutritional advice – what’s your definition of high quality food?

Why does food quality matter?

You quantify this through your ‘diet quality scores’. What is it?

  1. Measuring diet quality – Diet Quality Score

  2. Keeping a food journal – Another part of your process in keeping a food journal, what’s the benefit to the cyclist?

  3. Adding high quality foods

One recommendation that keeps popping up is shifting to higher quality carbohydrates.

I’m interested in the distinction you make between Whole grains vs Refined grains? What’s the difference, and why is it important?

How about gluten free foods. Is there a performance gain to be made by eating gluten free foods?

  1. Managing your appetite

Your process doesn’t include counting calories. Which makes life a lot easier, this is a conscious choice, and you explain your decision in detail, without counting calories what is the best indicator of overeating?

You bring up an interesting study on overeating, sighting intent as the most powerful determinant of how much we eat. This really puts a lot of pressure on the person to be aware of their meal prep and eating habits. As you say, learning the difference belly hunger and head hunger is vital here. What is the best way to tackle this?

This approach is more about teaching people about their bodies and habits rather than teaching them how to plan meals. It’s a process of trial and error though. When you made the transition to this style of eating, how long did it take you to adjust?

Something that I want to add that relates to your idea of cleaning out the kitchen – is this quote. “If a food is in your house, you will eventually eat it.” Which is not to say clean out your cupboards, but just be aware of the reality once the low quality food gets into your home. Willpower may not be enough.

  1. Balancing your energy sources

Macronutrients are essential building blocks for endurance athlete performance. You clearly state carbohydrates as being the most important for endurance athletes.

I’ve asked everyone this question that I’ve had on the show recently, and I am also interested in your take – Why the recent hate on carbohydrates?

A recently received a recommendation to adjust carbohydrates based on training or activity load. More along the lines of determining the specific carbohydrate needs for various activities and working out the carbohydrate intake from there.

You state the importance of always being ‘topped up’ with carbohydrates to be fuelled and ready for hard training sessions, but can this be offset with a low carb intake on rest days or time off the bike completely? What’s the best way to approach this?

Where do protein and fats fit into balancing energy sources?

  1. Monitoring youself

It’s actually something that I believe every serious athlete should be doing anyway, but tying it to weight management is such a great way to explore diet and performance. It’s something I talk about all the time, the experiment of one or PhD of me, which is treating data collection as close to science experiment parameters as possible.

Such is the case with the 3 variables you are recommending people track are:

Weight – Scales

Body-fat percentage – Dexa Scan

Performance

What are the best practices for monitoring weight and body-fat to be consistent?

A 20 min test is the test you recommend for cyclists, which could be record your FTP or speed/distance- why did you choose this?

  1. Nutrient Timing

It’s definitely something that most serious cyclists would do instinctively, but fine tuning it, and having a framework to start experimenting is the value add of this section.

What’s the number one consideration in nutrient timing around training?

  1. Training for Racing Weight

Join me next week where I wrap up our month of nutrition and take all the best bit and turn them into an actionable plan.

 

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Photo Credit: Matt Fitzgerald

 

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  • Stu

    Interesting topic—and Matt had several good points (so much that I did listen to the Podcast twice). I have not read his book, but will likely try and pick it up. I found his formula for Racing Weight on the Running Competitor website and might question the chart of “ideal range” of body fat percentage. Granted his point on specific achievable values make sense (given the individual’s history and ease of losing weight). I, myself am a high-mileage cyclist and tend to be in the 10-12% range and can maintain this fairly easy. However, I eat mostly vegan and struggle with eating habits that sometimes cause bonking and/or dehydration; as a result, some of his points on carb intake during high activity levels hit close to home (affecting performance over danger to health). In any case, I think you are right eating behavior and every athlete should be in-tune with their diet for optimum performance.

    • Hi Stu,

      I think matching carbs directly to the type of workout your doing is really important. Not only so you don’t bonk, but so your performance isn’t compromised at all. This is as much about being in tune with your body as understanding the fuelling requirements of specific types of workouts.

      I was going to look at nutrition from a vege/vegan aspect but decided against it, not on ethical grounds but I could only find one vegan PRO, and that’s the bench mark I was using. I find the adaption of the vege/vegan diet to series cycling interesting though. Do you bonk because of limited access to ‘easy’ carbs?

      • Stu

        I wouldn’t say I bonk per say as much as I limit my performance on occasions. However, this is not due to eating requirements of a mostly vegan diet—it is a downfall of laziness or impractically I face in planning proper nutrition before and during. As you mentioned, “matching carbs directly to the type of workout [you’re] doing is really important […] so your performance isn’t compromised…” This is the key. Irrelevant to bonking or facing a performance crash, you are impeding your ultimate potential by limiting the nutrients your body needs to get through the ride. Perhaps that is the mishap I sometimes face—the desire to stay lean and not eating enough vs. eating more and able to push myself even harder on a ride. Overall, high endurance athletes need to worry less about diet for desire to be lean and more about eating for ideal performance. A lesson I should remind myself of frequently. As for my mostly vegan diet, it provides more than enough variety to fuel cycling and I believe even an advantage over those who do not (that goes back to the ease of maintaining a lean body type).

        • I’ve had the challenge of balancing being lean and fuelling for performance as well. When I was in this headspace I would convince myself not to eat a lot before, during or after rides. It’s no good though. If I’m going to compromise with fuelling I’ll do it everywhere else but before, during and after the workout. I don’t compromise as much as I used to though 🙂