Thursday, December 23, 2010

Don't Wait when Trying to Focus on Weight (and Other Things)

The Assaults are about five months away, and that seems like a long time, especially in the bowels of winter.

But I have found that cycling preparation requires time, and the more time allowed, the better the results. This is especially true with issues related to weight.

First, many cyclists are focused on the weight of the bicycle. If you are planning any equipment changes, I recommend sooner rather than later, but I also suggest being reasonable about equipment weight.

Consider that most of us carry 2 or more water bottles on long rides such as the Assaults (the pros carry little to no water since they have support) as well as a saddle bag stuffed with heavy support equipment. Shaving grams on the bicycle is often more about having new stuff than offering any real gain for performance. So shave bicycle weight with some priorities in mind:

• Performance matters. A light frame is great, but if it doesn't fit you well or doesn't respond well (especially while climbing), a few grams lighter may not mean what you think. Look at wheelsets (moving weight is generally better to address first), again trying to balance weight with performance. I have found wheels that are the lightest often feel soft and have a tendency to fail (a broken wheel really doesn't help your time on a big ride) so I prefer reasonably light wheelsets that are durable and responsive. The drivetrain matters also—shifters and derailleurs that work well and last are as important as the lightest models (usually the next-to-the-top model is the best choice).

• Cost matters. When upgrading equipment for a performance benefit look at the cost. As with weight, this isn't as simple as it may seem.
• Make changes now, and not close to the event. All equipment (including clothing) should be in place well before the event—even new tires, chains, and cassettes.
• If you are going to make equipment changes, do them now, and check your bicycle fit now as well so you can make any needed adjustments months before the event, but especially saddles, shoes, and shorts/bibs.
Now, your weight. (I am no medical doctor so these recommendations are simply that—recommendations. No one should make changes to her/his weight or diet without medical advice.)
Monitoring and losing weight for an athlete, especially a cyclist, is much different than popular views of dieting.

First, weight loss for a cyclist should be about monitoring your body type—cyclists need to trim inefficient weight (love handles) but may see increased weight over the years due to more muscle mass (which cyclists prefer in the legs and not the upper torso). I ride with many fit cyclists who do not weigh less than me, but outclimb me. Their bodies are efficient.

Next, don't starve your body to lose weight. Cycling requires energy so we must monitor daily food intake as well as food during rides. This is a personal and complex process that requires each cyclist to manage these details for her/himself. No one can tell anyone else what is right because it varies by person. Study and experiment.

To lose or monitor weight, I have found that denial and "dieting" do not work. I find that monitoring and establishing some manageable guidelines do work. My simple message is create a plan for monitoring your eating and stick to it, but don't count on someone else's plan to work and don't make so many changes that you can't possible maintain your focus.

Give yourself months to decrease small amounts of weight per week or month, and you will likely benefit in your performance and your overall health.

Also, find some resources focusing on athletes, such as Cyclingnews, Velonews, or Runner's World. Here is a start:

Paul Thomas, EdD, Associate Professor
Furman University

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