Beating a dead horse: Advantages of weight loss vs ftp gains (in TRI)

Hey fellow trainerroadies,

I’ve got a conflict. I’m a new cyclist. Started cyclocommuting last year racked up 2k km in my first year, yay! lost about 20lbs so far, yay!

Now i’ve decided to add 2 more sports to cycling, you guessed it, i wanna do triathlon. Problem is i’m still miles away from my running weight as my injury proneness has gotten me to understand over the years that the heavier i am, the more likely i am to get injured so i’ve been focusing on swim and bike where i’m seeing constant gains and more importantly, no injuries (big yay, injuries suck)

At this point though, i’m not losing the weight at the rate i’d want it to, so i’m wondering if I would be better off
A) focusing more on a ‘hard’ diet to shed off the pounds before my first tri in June which would also translate in taking it easier on the training
B) focus more on training as hard as i can on bike & swim to get better FTP and swim times and hope the smaller weight loss and aerobic engine gains translate more directly to the run
C) try to do both and get half performance increase and half the weight loss…!? (less focus on one goal mean lesser results?)

Would the ‘hard weight loss’ be more beneficial, especially when i start going outside and can bike/run faster due to lower weight/fat %
Or would the hard training be good enough to make the body strong enough for the run pounding?

I’m aiming for 2 sprints and 1 oly distance this season so not huge levels of pounding on the joints compared to a 70.3…or dare i even say, a 140.6

What are you meaning by a “hard diet”? 500 cal deficit would equate to ~1lb/week which for most people would be enough to hold onto their gains (and even make some for a newbie).
Anything more aggressive than that could be having more of a negative effect on training.
Of course just my $0.02, I’m not an elite cyclist

1 Like

Hard diet would be “In 3 months trying to lose 20-25 lbs if possible.” So a bit more than 1lb/week.

I’m training for a 70.3 late August and hope to be at 170lbs (30m 5’11"). I started training in November at 204lbs and am down to 188 as of yesterday. The first few months I was just eating whatever I wanted because I figured 8-10 hrs of training a week would take care of the weight on it’s own. The weight loss was slow, obviously. I’ve only just started tracking my food the last two weeks and since then 6lbs have fallen off like nothing. I’d recommend trying out a 500cal deficit and seeing how you feel. If you’re feeling really tired and unmotivated add some calories back in.


Not the answer you are looking for maybe. I understand that you took up TR and the pounds are already dropping, that’s awesome!

I would suggest to drop the idea of goal weight for your race, in an analogy to the outcome-oriented goals like “make podium” or “be amongst the top 10”. This is hard to achieve because it depends on too many things.

Better to focus on the process: make all sessions (be consistent), fuel well for them, eat healthy, get good sleep. With a tri plan the pounds should be sorting out themselves over time. As you progress it’s actually pretty hard to eat as much as you burn.


I recently got back into biking 2 years ago with trainer road and have been getting back into tris in the past year. A goal I also had was weight loss. I used an app - lose it - similar to my fitness pal to track my calories and exercise.

Over 18 months to 2 years I went from 205 to 185. I found it effective to have periods where I was focused on trying to loose weight but not crazy. Just focused on a good diet and steady exercise. I found I could focus on losing 8-10 lbs over 2-3 months. Then I would take a break from weight loss and focus on eating healthy and trying to maintain my weight and build my ftp. I liked to reward myself with new bike parts like a new set of wheels when I lost 10 lbs. I’d invariably gain a little weight back between weight loss periods but much of this was likely muscle. After a few months i would focuson weight again and get done a little more.

It worked really well for me. Took 18 months to 2 years to gradually work it down but I think it’s more sustainable and fun than a rapid loss. As for translating to performance - most tris the bike is quite flat. So when the course is flat your ftp and aerodynamics matter more than weight. So you may get more performance benefit from boosting your ftp it just depends. For the run from what I’ve read 10 lbs of weight loss can roughly correlate to 20 sec per mile. Careful with rapidly increasing running and weight loss - that’s a set up for an injury / stress fracture.

I’ve really enjoyed the last couple years and have lost 20+ pounds and am in the best shape in a long time and am still really enjoying it. My advice - don’t be too crazy focus on gradual improvements and consider periods where you focus on either weight or ftp - it’s good to not constantly restrict the diet - more sustainable. Most of all have fun. If you’re having fun you’ll stick with it.


Also if you are worried about a running injury or prone to running consider an aquabike - tri variant with just swim and bike. I had a foot injury and just did those last year. Now I added running back in. Not much competition but a fun was to focus on the bike and run and still do races.


Thanks for sharing your story. The increments seem like a nice and safe way to go. I lost 20 lbs, and rewarded myself with a proper road bike (as i wasn’t going to invest in it if i didn’t stick with it)

Your path makes sense…seeing that i’m looking at losing 20-25lbs and then running 5k on the sprints and 10k on the oly, i don’t think it’ll too much of a problem, I’ve taught myself to go slow and gradual in my training my body doesn’t forgive when i go fast and furious.

I know i can just get up and run 5k or 10k and not suffer from it, even when i was 15-20lbs heavier… but i’m just trying to balance it all with the additional training.

So i guess i’ll focus more on the FTP gains and just clean up my diet a little more. Usually once i eat more whole foods, i automatically watch my calories more and quality foods tend to fill me more, so less mindless munching.

EDIT) i’ve also considered the aquabikes but …nahhhhhh i wanna do the full thing! i love to challenge myself and i feel like aquabike, while challenging (since i’m a $hitty swimmer so far) won’t be the level of challenge i’ll be looking for

Academically, the answer is to eat healthily, fuelling your sessions, overdosing on protein for adaptation. That way you should lose excess bodyfat as this was being maintained by you poor diet, and still benefit properly from your training because you’re not in any deficit.

In reality, I confess I’ve not succeeded in any approach so far.


I guess i have my pre-race goals/requirements i want to meet and then race goals which i see as separate.

170ish lbs

Race goals
Swim: 2:00 / 100m or less
Bike: 20k under 45 minutes
Run: 5k under 30m

Easy targets to reach but i know that if i have the requirements, the goals will be very easily attainable.

This is what I did and went from 94kg to 70kg while increasing my FTP every year. But from what I can tell, I’m not really what you’d call normal.


I’d highly recommend focusing on your fitness. Let weight fall where it will and I’m sure you’ll do great.

If you can consistently put in more training your body will change as you get fitter. So many people derail training trying to lose a few pounds not readlizing they’re undermining long term gains.


This. Weight loss will probably make a bigger difference to the running leg than the cycling leg. And as you increase speed with a higher FTP, some of the FTP gains will be lost to increased aero drag. But a higher FTP will allow you to hold the same speed for a lower intensity factor, allowing you to keep more in reserve for the run leg.

1 Like

Encouraging to hear it works for you though :+1:

1 Like

Definitely doable for a beginner I just wouldn’t expect the gains you were hoping for. I guess you just need to weigh up the pros and cons and decide where your priorities lie.

1 Like

Absolute goals aren’t something I recommend, but I’m inferring that you’re significantly overweight at the moment for your height. I was 10kg heavier than I am today when I decided to sort myself out, and another 10kg would make my doctor happier. I usually finish about middle of the field for my age group now, and people would call me out as “hey, there’s a normal guy racing”. I’ve seen a lot of guys carrying far too much weight into a half or full distance triathlon - I really think those people are just damaging themselves (heart, knees and calves specifically) and should wait until they’re fit for purpose…but maybe some people think that about me too.

Looking back over the past five or so years the one thing I haven’t figured out is a healthy diet. By comparison, training is a no brainier - especially with a TR plan. So take the training easy, especially running (think jog/walk), and do whatever it takes to get a healthy diet going. A crash diet now is useless in six months time.

If I were in your position now, I would;

  1. Increase vegetables, chicken and fish
  2. Low Volume Sprint Distance Base
  3. Swim lessons
  4. Jog with a high cadence breathing in and out through my nose

Performance is a great, it’s fun, but being healthy is far more rewarding.

1 Like

My thought is there are times to prioritize weight loss and times to prioritize training. To that end, you might consider an aggressive weight loss plan if you have time to focus exclusively on weight loss. The standard line is 500kcal deficit is aggressive. This nutrition consultant thinks maybe you can go with a much bigger deficit. Here are some links to his line of thinking. That is a 3 part series. He also mentions this podcast episode with some back and forth with another nutritionist. Episode 128. The main point is that depending on your mental state, it may make more sense to aggressively lose weight. Some people will gladly accept a long time frame with gradual weight loss, others need the immediate losses to be able to mentally stay with the plan. So, figure out your schedule, your goals, your timeframe, your mental state then decide what will work for you.

Someone else here posted links to Sigma nutrition and I really like what they had to say. It can get geeky at times, but there is a lot of great info available for free.


Thanks! That’s why I’ve set my goal to do a half in 2 years, gives me enough time to lose the weight and to get used to TR training plans. I love TR training plans, they’re flexible, and for the 2 other disciplines you can “juxtapose” a more specific training plan for your level.

I’ve already started your 1, trying to cut out bread… I love bread… Waaaaaaaay too much.
2, I’ve actually started specialty phase (my A race is the Olympic one so I’m doing full sprint training plan and then Oly training plan)

3, they’ve been a godsend so far although I gotta budget for them! Ain’t cheap but so worth it
4, always have trouble nose breathing lol, especially trying to get the 170-180 cadence during runs… Just haven’t gotten used to that rythym yet.

1 Like

Thanks I’ll check those out. Seeing that my A race is in September maybe I can try sticking to this 500cal deficit until then and hope for the best by then.

I like to workout ‘hard’ so I’m loving these vo2max intervals and long sweet spot workouts without destroying my body, but I’m aware that if I go for bigger deficits I’ll have to really lay back on the training plan.

Mentally I guess I want the workout more than the fat loss result. I kinda see it as a by product. I guess the reason why I worry, or think more about fat loss is possible injury from the extra weight.