Let’s Get Real About Your Weight

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I generally try to be diplomatic when I talk about training and weight management, but perhaps it’s time to stop being polite and start getting real (sorry, I couldn’t resist the MTV reference…). We can talk about incremental increases in power at lactate threshold or optimizing pedal stroke, but if you really want to go faster, drop 10 pounds.


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To some that might sound like a harsh or insensitive statement, but take the emotion out of the equation and think about it objectively. Can you afford to lose 10 pounds? Yes. I’ve ridden with and talked to thousands of amateur cyclists and triathletes this year, and I’d say 90% had 10 pounds they could afford to lose (that includes me, by the way).

Some may even say I’m irresponsibly advocating an unrealistic body image. If you apply what I’m saying too broadly (kids, teenagers, performers, athletes in judged sports, etc.), then you’re right.  But I’m talking to adult (and mostly 35+ year old) cyclists, triathletes and runners. We’re all adults here and we need to be able to talk about this in stark terms. With rare exception, ten pounds off your frame won’t make you dangerously skinny.

Above all, this isn’t about body image. It’s about performance. When you are lighter you go faster (on any terrain, not just hills), and the vast majority of the adult endurance athletes I’ve encountered this year are too heavy and eat too much during training sessions and events. If you think you’re not one of them, you might be right. But you’re probably wrong.


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What I’ve come to realize is that we dance uncomfortably around the subject of weight loss in endurance sports. I think we’re afraid of pointing out that someone is too heavy because of all the messy topics mentioned above. So we go on talking about training, training, training. But let’s be clear: no matter how fit you get, carrying around an extra 10 pounds – or more – makes you slower. It makes you work harder for every mile you travel. It makes you fatigue sooner. It costs you more energy.

Case in point: Last weekend I rode 103 miles with a CTS Athlete who has been working with us since just about the beginning of the company. He’s 30 pounds lighter than when we first met, and I’m 20 pounds lighter. We’re both in our 50s. We finished 103 miles in 4:45 and talked casually the whole way. I was doing about 600 kilojoules of work per hour to maintain a speed above 21mph, and consuming about 120 calories per hour (some food and a bottle of Osmo Active Hydration). When I was heavier I was slower, I was hungrier, I overheated more, I ate more, and I cramped more. I also would have been shattered after 103 miles at that pace. Certainly, there was a training/fitness difference between now and then as well. I’m not saying that losing 10 pounds is the only reason we are faster, overheat less, cramp less, and eat less. But I am saying it’s one of the reasons, and a significant one at that.

Fall is also a great time of year to focus on weight loss because if this isn’t a focused race season for you then you can make changes to your caloric intake and nutritional composition with little to no risk to your training quality. Many athletes try to restrict calories and lose weight in the spring, but that creates a conflict between your nutritional needs for high-quality training and the caloric restriction necessary for weight loss. It’s better to focus on weight loss during the period of the year when your training goals are less specific.

So, what’s it going to take for you to drop 10 pounds? Well, since we’re being direct today:

  • You’re going to need to be okay with being hungry. You’re going to need to eat less during the day and during your workouts. Initially that means you’re going to feel hungry, because you’re used to eating more. People sometimes focus too much on the composition of meals when they are looking to lose weight (more protein, less starch, more leafy greens, fewer grains, etc.). When I look at dietary recalls for moderately- to highly-fit amateur athletes, for the most part you’re already eating a well-balanced diet with whole foods. You’re just eating too much of it. And then adding unnecessary junk (quart-sized, with whip, pumpkin spice latte, anyone?) on top of it.
  • You’re going to need to say no. Decide on a timeframe and start cutting items out of your diet. When I want to lose weight I cut out alcohol, dairy, meat, and dessert. I find that these changes help me refocus my eating decisions and reinforce good habits. I get away from mindlessly throwing cheese or butter on things. When I’m traveling, I find that meat is frequently accompanied by high-fat, high-calorie side dishes and sauces. Sticking with the vegetable and fish sections of the menu is often an easy way to find lower-calorie options. These don’t need to be permanent changes, but when you add them back into your meals you should do it sparingly and with consideration for your new, lower daily caloric intake.
  • You’re going to need to be patient. Since most of you can’t increase your training hours/mileage/yardage because of your busy lifestyle, you can’t just train the weight off. You have to reduce your caloric intake while slightly to moderately increasing caloric expenditure. It’s not a recipe for dramatically fast weight loss, but 1-2 pounds a week is absolutely attainable and sustainable. You’re talking 5-10 weeks of focusing on weight loss and establishing high-quality, lower-calorie eating habits (so you maintain the weight loss). No more giving up after 3 weeks.

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All right, I’ll get off my soapbox now. I know you’ve worked extremely hard to make gains in fitness and performance this year, and I hear from athletes every day who have made huge transformations. I also know that setbacks happen, and that training is never a steadily upward trajectory. One of the things I tell my coaches, however, is that you’re doing an athlete a disservice when you sugarcoat reality and tell them only what they want to hear. We have to be the ones to tell you what your spouse, your coworkers, your training partners, and certainly your competitors won’t.

Chris Carmichael
CEO/Head Coach
Carmichael Training Systems

18 Responses to “Let’s Get Real About Your Weight”

  1. Gwen Ware on

    Well, you hit the nail on the head for me with this one! I am a regular person that works out hard and tries to eat right and this is what I needed to hear!! Thanks.

    Reply
  2. sean on

    I agree most of us have excess weight. When I started cycling seriously 3 months ago I was 245 pounds and struggled to do a consistent 20 miles. I am now 215 pounds and ride 50 miles (with an intense 15 mile period) without much easier than ever. The overall ride is much more comfortable with the same equipment.

    Reply
  3. ken LePoidevin on

    Made weight loss a challenge. My brothers and I always compete in races and training. We all could lose 15 so we created a weight loss challenge. first one to lose 15 and keep it off for a month wins. figure after a month of keeping it off the old habits should be gone or new ones stick. to help with the process we have the November run challenge. Most Kilometres (yes we are Canadian) in the month wins

    Reply
  4. Jason on

    Chris, great article! I have one question, what’s the best way to determine how much weight, if any, someone needs to loose? Should we be shooting for something around 2 lbs./inch? For example, I’m 38 years old, 5’10″ & 150 pounds or 2.14 lbs./inch.

    Thanks
    Jason

    Reply
  5. Scott on

    2 summers ago I installed my own paver patio and walkway. 11tons of product shoveled and moved by me.. In the mornings I would ride 35 miles then work hard digging and setting stone and block ’til about 3pm. I lost around 7lbs ( down to 165 at 6′). I couldn’t believe how effortless climbing was… I was doing hills around the finger lakes in Western NY., some rate at cat 2 with 18%. Bopple Hill Rd ends at 20%. Since then I could never get back down and climb as strong .. I reside at 172.. However, when the scale dips below 169, just 3 lbs. even, I notice a difference.. But I am finding it really difficult to get lower than that.. According to the CDC, 174lb at my hieght and frame build is on the threshold of being overweight. To think I am near that threshold.. Yikes I blame all the nonsense residual ingredients and snacks laying around in the cuboards..what one tosses into the shopping cart can really make a difference.. I love climbing.. loosing 10lbs is a lot cheaper than a carbon wheel set. But it’s way easier to buy high end wheels thinking that will make up the difference.

    Reply
  6. Marlin Meyer on

    Thanks for the info. EVERYONE can use this. I personally find the most difficult thing to do, is be inactive without eating. By that I mean, if I’m doing things I don’t think about food. I’m 5’11 and I weigh 165. I’m doing strength training and am wondering how this will effect my body weight?

    Reply
  7. Harvey on

    Excellent point! At what point do you lose power because now you are too light and have decreased muscle mass as well as fat. How do you determine the optimum weight you should be at?

    Reply
  8. Bill Arnerich on

    An important article, Chris. Thanks. Thankfully, I don’t have a weight problem; I’m 70 years old, 5’7″, and fluctuate between 138 and 142 lbs. My best racing weight seems to be about 140. I dropped 5 or 6 lbs pretty quickly last year by slicing one staple from my daily diet: bread (Well, about 80%, anyway). After a lifetime of serious bread eating, I thought this would be hard to do, but I surprised myself with my new-found “self discipline”. When I do eat bread products/wheat, I try hard to make sure that everything is whole wheat or at least whole grain (pasta, etc.). I’ve experimented using buckwheat and Trader Joe’s gluten-free oats for my occasional morning “mush”, and I’ve really upped my daily intake of fresh fruits and vegetables. These two simple changes have stabilized my weight. My racing times (road racing, biking, duathlons) are better today than they were five years ago–something that shouldn’t necessarily be happening to a guy my age. I feel better, lighter, stronger. I’m sleeping better. I believe for many middle-aged athletes, this dietary changes are worth a try.

    Reply
    • Dale McVay on

      I’m a female 63 year old..
      5’8 124-127lbs…I find its body fat % that makes the difference…. Gotta keep after the weights to stay fast …. 126lbs of muscle is WAY faster than 124 of flab .
      (Love the 70 yr old who is “middle-aged!!)

      Reply
  9. Devon on

    Everyone needs to hear this. And we need to stop coddling people about silly issues like “body image”. Fat is fat.
    My weight is not where it needs to be and I found this to be a helpful and motivating article. Thanks.

    Reply
  10. David J Phillips on

    Already on it! I’m training for the Tour Divide (summer ’15), and decided that “making weight” was priority #1. I was already a healthy BMI, but knew I could drop 10-15 lbs and still be in the healthy BMI range. I started “Operation Meltdown” in September, and have already hit my goal. Now, I can transition to serious mileage training without “creating a conflict between nutritional needs for high-quality training and the caloric restriction necessary for weight loss.” Well said, by the way. I can’t recommend this strategy enough – burn fat in the off season, then train for specific rides/races once you’ve reached your weight goal. And what a difference it makes!

    Reply
  11. KC Kahn the Kitchen Chopper on

    Hi Chris, I’ve been a CTS athlete for about 8 years, (maybe longer). Before that I followed your books Performance Program and Eat Right. I love my current coach Dave McIntosh. I’m a personal trainer in SoCal. I know what you mean about the truth and the hard facts of weight loss. I’m going to do a bit of self promotion. 15 years ago I created an eating concept called The Chopped. Without getting to wordy I’ll explain. It’s all about healthful Chopped ingredients pulled together with unique dressings. “Balanced Meal in a Bowl”. Don’t get nervous but I advocate PED’s…Palate Enhancing Delights! Small quantities of goodies we all want to eat nestled in with veggies, proteins, and grains. The Chopped is not just about “salady” dishes. I have scrambles, soups, and Baked (casseroles). I’m 58 yrs old, 56.5 and 116.0 lbs. I originally lost 8 lbs. and have kept it off. The combo of cycling, weight training and eating The Chopped at least once a day has kept me strong and healthy. (The Hubby, too) He’s a very strong cyclist in his own right. We’ve ridden 60,000 miles together all over the world since he got me on the roadbike in 2001. In fact, recently, I’ve had my best 6 months of training ( we had to up my zones because of my 20 minute Blow it Out watts) since I started CTS. OK, shameless self promotion. I’d love for you to take a look at my website and let me know if CTS would like to take the healthful Choppertunity and “get on board” with The Chopped Life Diet! http://www.theKitchenChopper.com

    Reply
  12. Philbert Desenex on

    Last January, at my annual physical, I was 168.2 cm tall, weighed 63.5 kg, had a waist of 79.8, a BMI of 22.4 and body fat percentage of 16.5. The medicos suggested my ideal body weight should be 62.2kg

    I don’t have current values for all these measurements, but I figure my height is unchanged, my current weight is slightly under 64 kg, my waist is 83 and I calculate my current BMI to be 22.6

    Do you think I should lose 10 pounds (4.55kg)?

    Reply
  13. Larry Parker on

    The biggest thing is to learn to be okay with being hungry. I used to nibble all day, thinking I would work it all off, and digestion would keep my metabolism cranked up. Now I embrace hunger just like I do tehe “burn” when pedaling up hills, or that nice fatigued feeling after a long ride. Bask in it, knowing you are doing something good, and that when you do eat, you will really savor it! I just turned 60 (40 and half, in my terms!) but I have dropped about 7 pounds since September, even though I am coaching HS kids and not riding as much as I would like. The season is over now, and I am anxious to see what I can do as I add the miles back in.

    Reply

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