Let’s Get Real About Your Weight


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.

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.

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.

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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.
  • Slow down and focus on eating. Part of the reason so many athletes eat too much is that we eat too quickly. We grab lunch on the way from one meeting to another or eat at our desks. We’re also distracted while we eat. It’s a time to check social media, or catch up on the news. When you scarf down a meal quickly and mindlessly you are more apt to consume a lot of calories in such a short time that your brain doesn’t register being full (likely overfull) until you’re already way past finished. Slow down, focus on the meal you’re eating, taste the food and enjoy it. You’ll most likely find yourself satisfied before you finish the food on your plate, which makes it easier to reduce portion size.
  • 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.

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

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Comments 31

  1. I was a Marine Corps recruiter, and one of the things I used to do with my poolees was have them put a 10# weight vest on and do pullups, or pushups, or go for a jog. And then have them take the weight vest off and do the same activity over again. When they realize just how much easier it was for them to do the same work sans vest (and this was a good quality vest, one that fits well and has the weight up high on the chest) they realized the value of cutting weight for physical performance. 10 pounds might not seem like much, but that’s 5,10 and maybe even 15% less mass that you’re dragging up the hills on climbs and sprints. We cyclists spend thousands of dollars on carbon fiber this and magnesium that in order to reduce the weight of our bikes, when the cheapest benefit we can make to reduce our ‘wet’ weight – is to ourselves. Kudos for the honesty in this article. It’s refreshing.

  2. Excellent article!!! I appreciated the different experiences and opinions from readers. I consider this topic to be very broad and very unique from rider to rider. I have personally seen my climbing improve when I lose 3-5 pounds. On the other hand, I feel weak chasing a breakaway on the flats. If I don’t lose those 3-5 pounds, I will be find chasing it. So I think the question here is where’s the balance. Thank you

  3. My BMI calls for me to be 150 pounds to be in range at 5’8″. My weight High School was 170. I have no idea how I could get from my current weight of 230 ( which is to high) down to 150 pounds to be in the correct BMI range. A few years ago I was down to 200 from a high of 250 but I couldn’t see myself down an additional 50 pounds. I’m heavy right now, somewhat burned out from a heavy spring and summer of riding for Leadville, which I unfortunately timed out at 74 miles. During all of my training I couldn’t lose weight and stayed around 223-225. I quickly put 5 pounds back on in a month after Leadville.

  4. I applaud your sentiment but don’t think you were straight enough. You didn’t mention BMI. Several folks above have and the simple message to all endurance athletes is BMI doesn’t lie. If the calculation says you are overweight then you are. If you stay in the “normal” zone you can do so without compromising overall fitness or performance.

    In fact most pro cyclists, even the skinniest climbers are in the “normal” range. It is not that they are malnourished it is just that society’s interpretation of what is “normal” has changed since the definition was first established, so the new norm is fat., Rather than accept this many are in denial and point to outliier athletes in sports where sheer muscle mass counts as evidence that you can be “overweight” in BMI terms with single figure fat%.

    For us cyclists it’s different. It really is as simple as the fact that your BMI should be under 25 and the closer it is to 20 the better. Track that as assiduously as you monitor FTP and miles ridden and you will become better. It would also help if all references to power were stated as the meaningful W/kg rather than the comparatively meaningless pure W.

    1. The BMI trick! Why would the article mention BMI? BMI is BS for athletes. For the general population OK. You take a 6 footer who weighs 230 their BMI is 31.2. Clearly obese by BMI standards. But this 6 footer has 5% body fat and is a body builder or a football player. The US Army uses (or it did when I was in) BMI. This was unfair to some very fit individuals who were declared overweight and it impacted their careers.

      1. When I was in the Marine Corps, they made allowances for this. If you were over your weight limit, you had the option to get your body fat measured. If it was under a certain percentage (16%, 18%? It’s been a few years…) they would waive the requirement for you.

  5. i think the blanket statement that everyone can loose 10 pounds is a bit irresponsible and can lead to an obsessiveness in endurance athletes that is not healthy in other ways – as endurance athletes we are a bit obsessive anyway…there is a balance between happy, healthy, and athlete…my two cents.

  6. The key here is knowing that it’s going to be a bit uncomfortable. But also, keeping track of your caloric intake and measuring portions better, I realized that I don’t need as much food as I used to think I did to be satiated.

  7. Hello,

    I read every single article you send me by e-mail and love it. I read about this subject here twice already, but I am a “naturally skinny” guy with 182cm tall and 69kg… I find myself stronger (mtb skills) and faster (mtb and road) weighting about 70-71kg, but climbing better around 68kg… is there a way to set my race weight instead of doing theses kind of perceptions?

    Thanks in advance!

  8. CTS Coach Tracey Drews had this exact conversation with me at Climbing Camp in Brevard last month. Now she has me giving her my weight every Friday. Just the push (smack in the head) I needed.

    Thanks Tracey and Chris

  9. 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.

    1. Larry, Great advice for creating a mindset to get over the toughest one (for me) of the four points in this article. I have no trouble embracing the burn and various other discomforts, so I just need to see the hungry feeling the same way. Thanks.

  10. 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)?

  11. 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

  12. 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!

  13. 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.

  14. 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.

    1. 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!!)

      1. Dale I want to ask you a few questions. I’m 65, 5’9″ and no where near 150 lbs. You must have the metabolism of a hummingbird, because I know I have the metabolism of a polar bear in hibernation… year round.

      2. weights must be the key! i am 58 and 154lbs. i don’t think that it all that heavy, but i also don’t think dropping 10 – 15 lbs would be the worst thing to do….in fact i guess it would make me fitter and faster. i have just retired so now i think i will really work at loosing that weight, doing more weights so i can be a faster ironman triathlete!

  15. 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?

  16. 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?

  17. 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.

  18. 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.


  19. 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

  20. Pingback: Weekend Reading: 3 Ways You Can Be More Like 24Hr Champ Cameron Chambers - CTS

  21. 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.

  22. Absolutely well said, and no offense taken at all. I have made it a goal to lose 10 to 15 pounds in the next 90 days.

  23. 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.

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