More power or less weight? Which is better?



tonyzackery

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Dec 23, 2006
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Hey everyone.

This question has been causing quite a quandry in my mind. I've vacillated with this query for some time now (about a year) and have come to the conclusion that I MUST lose weight (about 5kgs down to 80kgs) in order to be competitive on the road here in British Columbia. Because I'm relatively new to the cycling scene (6/06 got my first road bike) I'm still in the mindset that I want to be pretty good at all the disciplines - road races, crits, time trials, track racing. I've had some decent results in all the disciplines this past season, but I want to really turn it up a notch or two for 2008 and get an upgrade to Cat. 3 on the road and be able to dictate the outcome of race rather than endure it.

I'm coming from a background of American football so I have fast twitch muscles in great abundance, couple that with the fact that I naturally have a low body fat percentage (~4% at 85kgs), I have really struggled in trying to lose weight since I've got to this point. I'm basically embarking on trying to lose muscle that took 20+ years to build (I'm 40 now and when I got on my road bike I was 96kgs). What's been working for me the past month is keeping track of EVERYTHING I eat and making a balance sheet of input versus expenditure. I'm seeing good, albeit slow, results.

So, for I what I want to achieve (good all-arounder in all disciplines) how do you guys feel - everything else being equal, is it more important for one to lose weight (but keep same or a little less power), or would it be more advantageous for a cyclist to try and improve his power (but at the same weight or a little more)? Both serve the purpose to improve the almighty power to weight ratio, but is one more effective than the other????

FYI, my FTP at present is in the low 340s and this is with very limited focused Level 4 work.
 

daveryanwyoming

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Oct 3, 2006
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tonyzackery said:
...So, for I what I want to achieve (good all-arounder in all disciplines) how do you guys feel - everything else being equal, is it more important for one to lose weight (but keep same or a little less power), or would it be more advantageous for a cyclist to try and improve his power (but at the same weight or a little more)?...FYI, my FTP at present is in the low 340s....
Do you think dropping 5 kg is a realistic goal or would it leave you anorexic? If you think 80 kg is a reasonable and healthy weight for you then definitely drop the excess, especially if your races have substantial climbing(seems likely in BC). Dropping 5 kg and holding your FTP at 340 watts brings you from 4 w/kg to 4.3 w/kg. Keeping your weight the same at 85 kg means you'd have to get your FTP up to 365 watts for the same net result. Ideally you'll keep working of FTP and do both. If you were purely working on time trials and flat events it might be a tossup, but it's sure been easier for me to drop weight than to add watts to my FTP. To a point that is, I got down to 70kg and even down to 69kg for a while this season and power stayed steady or even increased a bit but I leveled out there and think I would have had to do some serious dieting to get much lower. I doubt my FTP would have continued to climb if I'd gone into serious calorie restriction mode mid season.

Anyway, I'd definitely work on dropping a few kilos and I'd do most of it during your winter base work so you can eat a stable diet and refuel yourself during the season. Is 80 kg a good target for you, hard to say. Only you know whether that's reasonable or if you can go even further but I'd definitely try to drop weight if you can safely do so.

Good luck,
Dave
 

frenchyge

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Apr 3, 2005
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The 2 most obvious answers would be:
1) both together
and then
2) whichever one you feel you could change by the larger amount

Beyond those, increasing power will help in every racing discipline that you could engage in, whereas dropping weight only helps while riding uphill or trying to accelerate quickly. I'd give the edge to increasing power for that reason. There are lots of races where big guys are just as competitive.
 

acoggan

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Jul 4, 2003
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If you're really only 4% body fat then it is highly unlikely that you can lose any additional mass w/o seeing your absolute power actually decline. Your climbing may still benefit from an increase in power/mass, but other aspects of your performance may very well go backwards.
 

tonyzackery

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Dec 23, 2006
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Thanks for the replies thus far, gentlemen.

The reason I've targeted weight loss as my primary goal is due to the fact I have an abundance of upper body muscle (chest and back) that is of absolutely no benefit to me while cycling. I realize one can not necessarily target weight loss but I'm willing to sacrifice (in the short term) some leg mass to get the accompanying loss of mass in my upper body. I'm hypothesizing that I can regain the leg mass/power after I've lost the desired amount of upper body muscle. Am I on the right track??

The road races in the BC area definitely are of the hilly variety and while I can presently power up a hill with the smaller guys, it's the repeatability that is giving me a hard time.

Body fat percentage was measured with a computerized machine similar to an MRI machine. It provided a total body scan (lean mass, fat mass, bone mass, bone density, etc). Can't recall the name, but the test was comprehensive and almost as accurate as a dunk test.
 

Lionfish

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Mar 4, 2007
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As a 225lb powerlifter I will say Leg strength can obliterate a smaller rider in some areas. I can out sprint a 155lb friend on flats, downhills & shorter climbs.

Problem is on longer climbs (or rides for that matter), I burn out due to the extra upper body muscle that my heart & lungs has to try to feed therefore my heart rate skyrockets as he casually passes me. Smaller guys have better cardio which is what's needed in distance cycling.

Needless to say I won't be doing any double centurys anytime soon.:cool:
 

frenchyge

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Apr 3, 2005
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tonyzackery said:
...I have an abundance of upper body muscle (chest and back) that is of absolutely no benefit to me while cycling.
Heh, tell that to the "Core Strength" apologists. ;)
 

NM87710

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May 11, 2006
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frenchyge said:
dropping weight only helps while riding uphill or trying to accelerate quickly.
Just my '02 pesos here but isn't accelerating quickly and/or riding uphill at the crux of most races(TT excl) since that's when the split, break or sprint occurs that ultimately decides the final outcome? ;)
 

tonyzackery

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Dec 23, 2006
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Lionfish said:
As a 225lb powerlifter I will say Leg strength can obliterate a smaller rider in some areas. I can out sprint a 155lb friend on flats, downhills & shorter climbs.

Problem is on longer climbs (or rides for that matter), I burn out due to the extra upper body muscle that my heart & lungs has to try to feed therefore my heart rate skyrockets as he casually passes me. Smaller guys have better cardio which is what's needed in distance cycling.

Needless to say I won't be doing any double centurys anytime soon.:cool:
LOL, needless to say you won't be entering any road races that have even the slightest hill...;) I will however...
 

wiredued

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Aug 17, 2004
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IMHO an increase in power will help you in more ways than a decrease in weight can. The toughest hill I have to ride around here makes a decrease of 10 lbs roughly equal to an increase in power of 24 watts in FTP. But the 24 watts would also be more useful in a flat TT.
 

frenchyge

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Apr 3, 2005
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NM87710 said:
Just my '02 pesos here but isn't accelerating quickly and/or riding uphill at the crux of most races(TT excl) since that's when the split, break or sprint occurs that ultimately decides the final outcome? ;)
I wouldn't put quick accelerations into that category, no. In any case, my point was that while either an increase in power or a decrease in weight will help in the situations you mention, an increase in power will also help with flat TT's and crits.
 

rayhuang

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Jul 27, 2006
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Wouldnt it be wise to see what power to weigh ratio you desire or require and then calculate how much weigh loss it would take to achieve it then what increase in watts to also achieve it? Although the answer is obvious I 'll say it anyways, I am sure its a bit of both.

I too am very early in my development of ftp and I have easily lost 31 lbs. But since hitting my current weight, I am finding it very difficult to budge the last 5 lbs I want to lose (and I dont have much if any excess upper body mass. So I for one have to increase watts more than lose weight. 5 lbs lost and 36 more watts would make me near unbeatable in the State TT. Both will be very hard to achieve anytime soon.

Ray
 

tonyzackery

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Dec 23, 2006
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I appreciate the replies thus far although there doesn't appear to be a consensus. Because I'm relatively early in the development of FTP, it could be possible I could have both (having my cake and eating it...). Time will tell...

At present, with the weight loss that has already occurred I subjectively feel I indeed have lost some power, but I have not tested this.

I will also add that the road racing is going to be my primary focus next year (I take my sprinting ability in crits for granted as my muscle composition is predominantly type 2 muscle fibers and my neuromuscular power is very good - power profile slopes downward). Ergo, going well in the hilly road races is going to be of utmost importance. I believe the weight loss should be my primary focus...
 

dazman

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Feb 17, 2007
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If I had 4% body fat I would be well pleased so maybe not qualified to give advice, but.. As a stronger person, have you checked your power profile against cadence? I'm a bigger rider and I found the one thing that gave me the most improvement in the last season was moving away from the 90 rpm target to more like 60. My hr is much more controllable on the climbs when I let the muscles do the work rather than cadence. I don't worry about the flats anymore because we have a good advantage there!

Another thing I've noticed - If you'r really putting the miles in, unfortunately all the muscles you don't need fall off(upper body)! I say unfortunately becuase it's still nice to look good!

tonyzackery said:
I appreciate the replies thus far although there doesn't appear to be a consensus. Because I'm relatively early in the development of FTP, it could be possible I could have both (having my cake and eating it...). Time will tell...

At present, with the weight loss that has already occurred I subjectively feel I indeed have lost some power, but I have not tested this.

I will also add that the road racing is going to be my primary focus next year (I take my sprinting ability in crits for granted as my muscle composition is predominantly type 2 muscle fibers and my neuromuscular power is very good - power profile slopes downward). Ergo, going well in the hilly road races is going to be of utmost importance. I believe the weight loss should be my primary focus...
 

lanierb

New Member
Aug 12, 2004
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tonyzackery said:
Hey everyone.

This question has been causing quite a quandry in my mind. I've vacillated with this query for some time now (about a year) and have come to the conclusion that I MUST lose weight (about 5kgs down to 80kgs) in order to be competitive on the road here in British Columbia. Because I'm relatively new to the cycling scene (6/06 got my first road bike) I'm still in the mindset that I want to be pretty good at all the disciplines - road races, crits, time trials, track racing. I've had some decent results in all the disciplines this past season, but I want to really turn it up a notch or two for 2008 and get an upgrade to Cat. 3 on the road and be able to dictate the outcome of race rather than endure it.

I'm coming from a background of American football so I have fast twitch muscles in great abundance, couple that with the fact that I naturally have a low body fat percentage (~4% at 85kgs), I have really struggled in trying to lose weight since I've got to this point. I'm basically embarking on trying to lose muscle that took 20+ years to build (I'm 40 now and when I got on my road bike I was 96kgs). What's been working for me the past month is keeping track of EVERYTHING I eat and making a balance sheet of input versus expenditure. I'm seeing good, albeit slow, results.

So, for I what I want to achieve (good all-arounder in all disciplines) how do you guys feel - everything else being equal, is it more important for one to lose weight (but keep same or a little less power), or would it be more advantageous for a cyclist to try and improve his power (but at the same weight or a little more)? Both serve the purpose to improve the almighty power to weight ratio, but is one more effective than the other????

FYI, my FTP at present is in the low 340s and this is with very limited focused Level 4 work.
I know a bit about this question myself. I am a former football player, used to weigh about 210lbs, all muscle. I am now down to 173lbs (I'm 6'0"). I am convinced that I've actually gone too far this year. Last year at this time I was 180, my FTP was higher, w/kg was about the same. My flat speed and sprints were better. This is with similar training time. This year I intentionally kept my weight lower to see how it would work out. I'm not quite ready to call it a failure, but I'm close. It's nice to be light. It sucks to be weaker. So I guess my answer is that you should probably try to lose some weight, but be wary of going too far.

Bottom line: right now you are 4 watts/kg. If you find losing 1 kg causes you to lose more than 4 watts, don't do it. Without knowing your height, I'm guessing that you could probably still take off at least 7-8 lbs and still improve w/kg. After that it depends on some things. BTW w/kg is only the most important thing for long hills. Otherwise, kg matters a bit less, so your optimal weight will also depend on how hilly it is in your area.
 

NM87710

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May 11, 2006
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tonyzackery said:
I appreciate the replies thus far although there doesn't appear to be a consensus. Because I'm relatively early in the development of FTP, it could be possible I could have both (having my cake and eating it...). Time will tell...

At present, with the weight loss that has already occurred I subjectively feel I indeed have lost some power, but I have not tested this.

I will also add that the road racing is going to be my primary focus next year (I take my sprinting ability in crits for granted as my muscle composition is predominantly type 2 muscle fibers and my neuromuscular power is very good - power profile slopes downward). Ergo, going well in the hilly road races is going to be of utmost importance. I believe the weight loss should be my primary focus...
FWIW(n=1), As a road/stage racer I played with weight reduction this past season and here's my stats:

45yo, 5'10" primarily racing P12 events going from 66kg in '06 to 60kg in '07. Obviously the change is not solely due to weight loss but the training programs were similar each year.
w/kg '06 - '07
5sec 15.4 - 16.5
1min 8.3 - 8.7
5min 5.2 - 5.7
20min 4.7 - 5.0
FTP 4.3 - 4.5

My number are nothing special but it was worthwhile to give up absolute watts in favour of higher w/kg. The 5min increase gave me the ability to bridge, attack or hang-on when it really, really counted and I used this to my advantage. Plus, I've been doing this cycling thing for many years(decades) and know not to expect much FTP change - it's just not in the genes. ;)

Good luck!
 

Bailsibub

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Jun 7, 2007
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I think the direction you take depends on your goals. You gave a pretty wide range of disciplines in which you want to excel, especially considering you want to be competitive at road races in hilly British Columbia and also in crits. I’m not saying it isn’t impossible. There have been several pros who were all-arounders, but they are exceptions.



There is generally a degree of give and take to all of this.



You might remember Marty Nothstein. He was a world champion sprinter. At his peak, he was around 100kg if I remember correctly. Sponsorship for track racing fell so he took to road racing. I think he got down to like 80kg. Of course, his sprints were nowhere nearly as strong. The changes he made to his body just to keep up in road races took something out of his sprints. Granted, he did manage to win some big races, usually crit style, but he certainly didn’t dominate the sprints like you would think.



Most of us have our best events. I would find the one and tailor my training and diet to excel even more at it. I know you want to be an all arounder. That’s hard.