Leisure and top amateur cyclists often look at the pro’s on what to do for training, what is the best material, and what is good nutrition. Regarding body weight, the pro’s often gain some during the off-season. So a ‘logical’ conclusion by many leisure and amateur cyclist is that if the pro’s do it, it must be good. Well, that actually really depends on the case. Often leisure and top amateur cyclists forget that pro’s are extremely lean during the season. Keeping that low weight during winter would be almost impossible. On top of that, it would also be disadvantageous for them as winter should be the time for them to recover and build up more power for next season. The extra weight they gain is easily lost as pro’s cyclist train around 20-30 hours per week on the bike. This is not the case for most leisure and top amateur cyclist, often their fat percentage is a lot higher and also their hours on the bike are less. Therefore, it makes sense for many leisure and amateur cyclist, and not for the already lean pro cyclists, to lose weight in the off-season. However, this doesn’t mean that every leisure and amateur cyclists should lose weight during the off-season. We talked with sports nutrition expert Cas Fuchs to find out why (some) cyclists should lose weight in the off-season, and how this best can be achieved. On top of that, I am being guided by Cas to lose weight and get to my optimal crit weight.
I am meeting Cas at Bandito Espresso, a coffee bar at the Maastricht University Health campus. Cas is 10 minutes late and immediately apologises “I am doing a study wherein we examine what a total bed rest of 2 weeks does with muscles, and when we have a participant we need to be there ourselves too, so I now also sleep at the university.” His eyes tell me that that the university isn’t the most comfortable place to sleep. I know Cas from a study I participated in and ever since we stayed in touch. When one sees Cas at first sight you wouldn’t say that he is a scientist part of a very select group of upcoming sports nutritionist. Basically, Cas always worked with supervisors that belong to the absolute top in the field of sports nutrition, both at the University of Bath as Maastricht University where he is currently doing his PhD.
Text: Brian Megens & Cas Fuchs
Header Image: Tornanti.cc
Photography: Brian Megens
Why and which cyclists should lose weight in the off-season?
For those athletes that are aiming for optimal performance on the bike and are competitive it might be advantageous to look at their body composition and see if it can be improved. So in other words, those cyclists carrying a bit too much fat around their belly (or other places), might consider losing this as this can give them a disadvantage during certain competitive events. By improving your body composition (i.e., less fat with maintenance or maybe even increase in muscle), you can increase your power to weight ratio (as your power will be generated by the muscle). So generally, it can be beneficial for all cyclists to lose some weight if they carry already too much and this is especially paramount for the climbers (as they also have to carry the weight uphill during the races).
How can a responsible (steady and slow) weight loss be achieved?
Losing weight is theoretically quite simple. You should eat less kcal than you will use during the day. If you do this strictly, you will eventually end up with weighing less. However, often with weight loss you will lose both fat and muscle. Of course, losing muscle is not something you want, because that’s where your power (output) comes from. So the next question would be ‘how can you make sure to lose less muscle, whilst still losing your excessive fat?’
Again, in theory it is quite simple. Eat less kcal than you burn during the day, and on top of that make sure that you eat enough protein. Hereby we assume of course that you also exercise a lot and intense (as most athletes do).
Now of course the final questions are how to do this, where to find good protein and how much you need to take in.
If you have sufficient time to cut weight (such as during off-season), it would probably be smart to have a moderate energy deficit (~-500 kcal) with a high protein intake of around ~2.4 g/kg/day (note: this is a guideline; this can be different per athlete). When applying this to a 70 kg person, who eats 5-6 meals a day, this will provide him/her with ~30 grams of protein per meal. This can easily be obtained from high quality protein sources such as eggs, yoghurt, milk, meat, fish, chicken etc.
It is important to note however, that having a higher protein intake whilst in energy deficit can go at the expense of other macronutrients (i.e., Carbohydrate and Fat). So if you have only a small energy budget, you could get away with decreasing your protein intake towards a minimal of ~1.6 g/kg/d. In addition, you should keep good track of your general diet as for some exercise sessions you might want to have high carbohydrate availability (e.g., goal = optimal performance) so you might not want to cut too much on your carbs, whereas for other training sessions this might be of lower relevance (e.g., goal = increase fat oxidation) and here you probably would like to cut down on carbs. So a good balanced diet will provide you with the essentials to lose weight, maintain muscle mass (as much as possible) and still optimally perform when necessary.
In order to optimally reduce fat whilst preserving as much muscle as possible, it would be advised to implement resistance training into your program. To some, this might sound as a strange advise for endurance athletes, but in fact applying resistance exercise could be beneficial (even!) for cyclists. The why and how of this will be discussed more in depth later.
Brian works together with Cas to get him on his ideal crit weight. Brian is already over 6 weeks in his new nutrition programme. A post written on his experiences in the weight loss proces so far will come out in the next days!