Shedding kilos isn’t the only - or necessarily the best - way to improve your power.
Getting faster on a bike is a game of numbers: Riders who can produce the highest wattage per kilo outperform their peers. But in the quest to improve that power to weight ratio, too many riders get fixated on the second half of the equation to the point of nearly neglecting the first half.
Well, here are six reasons you may actually benefit from a bit more, rather than less, beef, to produce more power.
When It's Better for Your Body
Your “magic” weight isn’t. Confession: This is one I have learned the hard way more than once. Like many cyclists, I had this “magic number” in my head of what my race weight should be.
But when I started weighing myself regularly and tracking performance, a funny thing happened - I realised I consistently raced better, felt stronger, and had more chainless days at a weight that was about 1.5kg heavier than that magic number. (Heck, five days into a stage race, when I was more than 3kg heavier than that magic number, I had one of my best days ever on a bike.)
Stored carbohydrates and fluids are critical fuel for hard efforts. You’ll blow through them on a long, hard day. You also need glycogen for recovery. If you live in fear of weight fluctuation and restrict calories to maintain your lowest weight at all costs, you may be missing out on being your best.
You’re one sneeze away from sick. There’s a fine line between skinny and sickly. Unless you're naturally very lean, forcing your body fat into rock bottom territory can be a serious blow to your immune system. Body fat ranges for optimal health are 18 to 30 per cent for women (who naturally have more fat) and 10 to 25 per cent for men.
“You may find yourself below those ranges in the heart of race season, but when you push too far, too long into the lower ranges, the compromises to your immune system are great,” says Hunter Allen, founder of the Peaks Coaching Group and co-author of Training & Racing with a Power Meter.
You’re miserable. Your body needs carbohydrates - one of the first things many weight loss seekers cut - to produce serotonin, a feel-good chemical that elevates your mood and helps suppress hunger.
Your brain also needs fat to function. Keeping yourself in constant deprivation mode raises the stress hormone cortisol (which, ironically, encourages fat storage). If you’re chronically cranky, it’s time to put some whole grains and healthy fats back in your diet. Even if it means adding a few hundred grams, you’ll likely more than compensate for the marginal gain in the form of maximum happiness watts.