Even if you don’t like to admit it, if you compete in cross country races, you undoubtedly give a lot of thought to your weight rather often. When spec’ing up their next cross-country racing machine, I’m fairly sure that every xc racer has fantasised about some extremely light race wheels or considered running a 3 lb. fork instead of a 4 lb. fork at some point in their racing career.
If you’ve ever found yourself thinking anything similar, repeat after me: “I am a weight weenie.” Okay, at this point we may proceed.
Although riders put a lot of time, effort, and sometimes even money into figuring out how to shed 100 grammes from our bikes, we don’t typically consider the possibility that shedding a few pounds from our bodies may make a greater impact. And if you take a step back and give it some thought, it may even occur to you that it would be more effective (that is, require less work) to reduce your body weight rather than the weight of your bike.
However, losing that weight might have negative consequences, as you will need the fuel that comes from food in order to do strenuous activity and recover from it. Along with this, consuming less of the “good things” is not always a simple task. A colleague of mine named Mags cites a comment made by a European professional athlete who said, “How much he eats determines how much he exercises.” Therefore, you can’t go too long without eating, particularly not while you’re putting in a lot of effort at the gym. But even just a small amount spread out over the period of a few months may have a significant impact. The problem is that it might be challenging to take those first baby steps at times.
For illustration purposes, let’s assume that an xc hardtail weighs less than 24 pounds and that an xc dual suspension weighs less than 25 pounds. And the average weight of a man cross-country racer is about 150 pounds, however this number may vary quite a bit depending on the racer’s physique. Even if you weigh 120 pounds, which is considered to be on the lighter end of the range, your body weight is still approximately five times more than the weight of your rig.
That indicates that shedding one pound from your bicycle represents a much larger percentage of the total bicycle weight (and is going to set you back an arm and a leg); on the other hand, losing one pound of your body weight represents a much smaller percentage of your total body weight and doesn’t set you back a single penny.
If you want to put it in words that a weight weenie can comprehend, shedding 4 pounds of body weight is similar, in terms of percentages, to eliminating 314 grammes off your 25-pound bike. Have you ever calculated how much it would cost to reduce the weight of your bike by 300 grammes?
I have to be honest and say that I am probably not the ideal person to be talking about eating well since my blog is basically a homage site to Reese’s, I have never seen the muscles in my stomach, and I don’t look like the normal greyhound looking XC or roadie racers. Despite this, I managed to shed a few pounds over the course of the previous year and reached a weight that was the lowest it’s been in the prior decade. I have no doubt that this had a huge impact on my riding, and my goal for the next offseason is to acquire weight by lifting weights and consuming junk food so that I may achieve this accomplishment once again.
If you still aren’t persuaded, there are websites like Analytic Cycling that let you play around with different situations that will help you see why it makes more sense to focus on losing weight in the centre of your body rather than losing weight in specific portions of your body.
There are some good books out there on sports nutrition but, personally, I don’t have the energy to focus seriously on diet after family, work, regular training, blogging, and my obsessive / compulsive focus on cycling. There just isn’t a whole lot of energy left to read books and create an entire plan.
If you’re like me, the following articles give a more condensed, although harsh, strategy that may make it easier to focus on dropping a bit of weight:
- Slim Fast for Racers, part 1 and part 2
- Also, I just saw an easy reading article in Runner’s World on losing weight.
My personal weight loss plan
I lost those pounds last year by doing a few simple things that were realistic and didn’t force me to make a huge change to my lifestyle. This was a good thing, because it was just too much of a stretch to overhaul my diet completely to be more in line with the what is recommended in the readings above. Even so, a bunch of small steps can create positive results over time. I must also credit my wife who has a nutrition background and keeps me eating well on a general level.
Here are a few tips for keeping your diet ‘honest’:
- Out of sight, out of mind. If there’s junk food in the house, I will eat it until it is gone – there is no will power in this house. Actually, it becomes my singular focus to gorge on the snack food until it is gone. The solution: Don’t buy junk in the first place. Normally, I open our pantry 10 times a day looking for something to snack on. Usually, it is empty of anything ‘good’ – even the baby sitter complains to the neighbors about our lack of quality snack food. Occasionally, I’ll grumble and complain to my wife about having nothing to eat. The choice then becomes either go to the grocery store myself to get something or not snack. I hate going to the grocery store as much as I hate standing in line at the post office or waiting in the doctor’s office. Hence more often than not I’ll suck it up and not snack.
- Lay off the sauce. There seems to be a mystical connection between beer and mountain biking. Most seem to favor the dark, heavy beers. My personal favorites are cold and free however. Last year I just cut back on the beer and stuck with (gasp!) light beer. I understand that this step maybe just too much for some to deal with.
- Cut out the soda. Cutting back on the empty calories in soda helped a lot. Sometimes I just had to have some carbonation with lunch and would get a diet soda, even though there is that whole blood/brain barrier thing with the artificial sweetners. Lately I’ve been going with unsweetened tea or plain old water at lunch.
- Excercise in the morning. In the morning, I drink one cup of coffee and then jump onto the trainer or head out on the bike. I’ll take food with me but won’t eat a lot before going out. Sometimes, by accident, I end up bonking, but usually not by design. Even though bonk training is something that you hear a lot of pros doing to cut weight quickly, bonking bad probably does more harm than good over the long run. When I’m not riding that day, or riding in the afternoon, I’ll have a good breakfast.
- After a trainer ride or a hard ride, I’ll immediately down some recovery drink. This satiates me enough to not totally gorge like I used to after epic rides. I’ll follow that up with a good meal (but not a huge one).
- Stick to regular size Reese’s and not the king size. There is no way I could totally remove desserts from my diet. Rewarding myself for a hard ride with some candy once in awhile is not going to kill me. If I was a pro it might be different but I’m not a pro and I LIKE my Reese’s.
- Here comes that funny feeling. Around 7pm or 8pm at night I get that empty, growling stomach. I go to the pantry and there is nothing to eat, so I go to bed with the hungry feeling. It takes some getting used to but once asleep the empty stomach is a non-issue. It should go without saying that this goes out the window if a race is coming up.
- My ace in the hole. I mentioned before that my wife keeps me eating well on a general level. If it weren’t for her, doing this would be one of those major lifestyle overhauls that I mentioned in the beginning of this article. Some of the things she does for me are:
- she helps me avoid partially hydrogenated oils and transfats. Even the kids look at food labels for those “partials”.
- we cook with very little oil.
- we eat vegetables with every meal.
- she often uses soy in place of meat. Products such as Morningstar Farms are pretty good, although sometimes I really jones for ground beef instead of soy crumbles.
- she limits refined flours. Wheat bread only, wheat/blend pastas.
- she reminds me to eat fruits and vegetables.
It is extremely difficult for most people to make drastic changes to their lifestyles and diets. For racers, restricting your diet too much in an effort to control weight can take a whole lot of fun out of our racing and lives. Nonetheless, small changes over the course of several months can help you cut several pounds, a move that can make your time on the bike more rewarding.
And please don’t think that I don’t have the dollar menu at Wendy’s memorized or am not a recognizable face at the doughnut shop because I often visit these establishments, even though I always say no to the superize option.