This is my first my post here. I would like to give a little background on my cycling history for some context.
I have only recently taken up cycling, buying my first proper road bike in August last year. I have fallen completely in love with road cycling and, until recently, feel like it has completely changed my life for the better. With Covid putting most events on hold, I haven’t been involved in any races (hope to in the future, if/when they resume) but I am involved in quite an active community of cyclists that I ride with on the weekends. It can be a bit of a macho culture and there is a lot of segment chasing and KOM setting involved in our rides. I would be lying if I said that I don’t get a dopamine rush every time I hit a PB or achieve a top 10 on a hill climb.
And that’s sort of where things have taken a sinister turn. Being a newbie, I’ve seen improvements in my FTP and overall fitness quite quickly. At 5’8 I was about 73kg (160lbs) when I first picked up my bike. After a couple of months, I was down to 67kg (147lbs). This was just mostly through cleaning up my diet and cycling a lot more. But as I got lighter, and those climbs - which at first were agonising - got easier, I almost became addicted to the progress. ‘If I get lighter, I’ll be even faster! I’ll get a new PB! I’ll take that time on Strava!’. I then doubled down. I got on TrainerRoad and began calorie counting to shed even more weight while driving my FTP up through structured training. It has worked very well. Just 6 months after picking up my bike, I now weigh 63kg (138lb) and my FTP is about 225W. I continue to smash times on the climbs and and set new PBs every ride. But I am miserable. I have developed a toxic relationship with food that I can’t sustain. I have plateaued at just under 63kg and can’t seem to reliably get down much further. I starve myself regularly to try and get the weight down (“I’ll get even faster on that climb!”) but the scale doesn’t budge and I am perpetually afraid of getting fat if I stray from my strict diet. More recently, I have started to fall into a restrict-binge-purge cycle… the most recent of which involved me consuming 8500 calories (yes, I tracked it all) and then fasting for 36 hours during which time I went out on a 3 hour group ride and did not eat before, during or after because I felt so guilty from what I had done the day before. I ate for the first time today at lunch and went overboard again, so now I am skipping dinner and don’t plan on eating again until I feel I have paid for my lack of self control.
I get so frustrated. I know so many people at my height that are far lighter than me. Even a quick cursory glance at How to calculate your ideal race weight shows that, for someone at my height, I should easily be able to shed another 5kg. I feel like I can’t lose any more and am so jealous of guys at my height who weigh 125lbs and complain about not being able to gain weight. In the meantime I have completely bottomed out. I have lost my libido, avoid social gatherings that involve eating and lack the energy to do my job properly. I don’t want to give up cycling as I love it… but I have allowed it to morph into something so ugly as I can’t cope with the fact that my naturally-set weight means I will never be competitive.
I suppose I am just looking for advice or support. Can any of you relate to this? Have you managed to overcome it? What has helped you? I feel like the emphasis on watts/kilo likely make this a much more common issue in the world of cycling.
@Kryotic - I have a very similar weight trajectory as you. At 138, I’m miserable and power suffers; at 140-141, it is a whole different world of mental stability and cycling ability.
I won’t bore you with a pile of details except to say this very simple thing:
You didn’t start to go faster up the hills because you were losing weight. You went faster up the hills because you were getting stronger. Now that you’re actively trying to cut calories, it’s like drilling a hole in the bottom of a gas tank on a Ferrari*. You’ll go faster for a short while, but you’re going to run out of fuel pretty damn quickly.
You can continue to safely manage your weight and learn to have a more balanced relationship with food (and yes, remain ‘light’ by any rationale standard), without composing power and being miserable. Or, you can target some unrealistic weight goal and watch your power drop (or plateau) and your friends will beat you up climbs and on the flats. Been there, done that.
I’ve been exactly where you are. Feel free to DM me if you prefer.
as somebody with direct experience in this world, I don’t recommend it. Many Ferrari fuel tanks are brilliantly located above red hot exhaust manifolds.
I’m so sorry to hear that your new love of cycling has lead to an issue with weight. I’m sure your not alone!
I can only agree with what others have said above - I believe that your performance, happiness and even potentially w/kg gains will come from increasing the Watts side of the Watts/Kilogram equation.
This will come from putting in the training and fueling your workouts - i think this is where you will find the easiest gains to be honest - especially if the training you have been doing do far has been in a starved/depressed/demotivated state.
This isn’t meant to belittle your issue at all - just my opinion based on what you have said.
Just to throw in some maths:
You are currently 225/63 = 3.6 w/kg and misserable.
If you take 67kg as a sustainable happy weight for you then you only need to get that ftp up to 240w to be as good up climbs as you are now (same w/kg) but be happier and faster on the flats too.
I think you will find adding the extra 15w to your ftp pretty straightforward with adequate fueling.
Also, an added bonus is that the higher your ftp the more calories you burn so the easier it is to keep your wait regulated.
Thank you for sharing this. Despite getting better on the climbs, I have noticed a drop in my ‘punching power’ been dropped a lot more flats recently. I don’t know if I’ll ever have a ‘balanced’ relationship with food. I enjoy it and derive too much emotional comfort from it. I tend to either overeat or heavily restrict to avoid aforementioned overeating. I can definitely be in a better place than I am now, though.
Thank you for sharing your thoughts on this. I am fuelling but I find the meals I eat in and around the cycling to be too small and restricted and that’s what leads to me eventually saying “f*ck it” and going nuts once I finally break. Then I proceed to eat everything that I wouldn’t normally touch because ‘I don’t know when I’ll next give myself the chance’. Dangerous territory…
The general feeling I get from this thread is that my focus would be better shifted to increasing my power rather than dropping weight, which I must admit sounds a lot more fun.
I am 28. I’m about to start the build phase (mid-volume) and I know that I will not be able to lose weight once it starts… I am frustrated because I set 60kg as the golden number to reach and have fallen short. That said, I am just a ‘hobby cyclist’ like you mentioned… I probably need to re-evaluate my priorities.
Absolutely - Hopefully you want to be a life-long cyclist, able to continue cycling and competing for many years to come. There are similarities between looking for increases in power and reductions in weight. from some starting points you can see some quick gains, but as time goes on it becomes more difficult to make those big leaps. At some point, you need to be “content” and focus on the excitement of cycling challenges and not just pursuing some metrics.
I would say meet with a Nutritionalist. I was having a problem for quite a few months where I was eating a lot of high-quality food lotta vegetables lean meats and protein and whole grains but with work demands I was still tired during the day and would have a crash sometime afternoon. This went on for a while and I started to get crabby at work and irritable and just not myself and was was finally pulled into the bosses office who said hey man people have noticed somethings different what’s going on. I already had a scheduled appointment with a Sports nutritional list in my area a week away and had two weeks off between Christmas and New Year’s. Even though I was doing everything right and eating healthy foods I wasn’t eating enough food. Once I started eating more grains And extra protein with yogurt and cottage cheese and added some hard-boiled eggs, that was a huge game changer and instant improvement
As others have said, you definitely need to seek professionals help as this is no way to live man!
I’d like to give you some perspective on weight and what is ‘normal’ for your height. I’m also 5 8’ and I’ve also looked at what pro tour guys can weigh at our height and it’s a very wide range. It can go anywhere from a super small GC rider at peak condition around 128 pounds to more of an all rounder at 148 pounds. Keep in mind these are pro athletes at the top of their sport!
When I raced cat 1, I would normally be 145 pounds. My lowest weight has been 142 or so. The difference is my FTP is 310-330 depending on my condition. It’s way more effective and way better to live working on your power!
I could definitely be leaner, but to what end? Im about 150 right now and just focus on eating well and riding as much as my life allows. Being miserable about food to lose weight really is not the way to go. Enjoy life and don’t focus on weight - it’s a zero sum game.
I say this as someone of similar size to you that spends most of my outside riding in the mountains. W/kgs is mostly a load of BS. You need to get to the bottom of the mountain before you can climb it. You then need to get home after you’ve climbed it. Lighter definitely doesn’t mean faster. Build strength, power and become a robust athlete. Train hard and enjoy eating.
This has struck a chord with me - as a person with a dangerously obsessive personality, it’s far too easy to get sucked down that wormhole.
I experimented a lot when I was a pro adventure racer (under the supervision of my coach) and found that I can get down to 67kg (I’m 5’11" and built like a carrot) but my power suffered dramatically. In order to be the quickest I can be my “ideal” weight is 69.5kg. That, however, has some real issues - I get sick easily, I don’t feel well and just generally, it is not a healthy weight for me.
I allowed my weight to get all the way up to 81kg with some time off the bike and am now aiming for 74.5kg. In my mind I know that W/kg is important - but the W part is WAY more important than the kg part. I know that I could be lighter and faster, but at the expense of my health, and that’s not good. 74.5 is a good balance of weight, health and speed.
From what you’ve said, you’ve got an unhealthy relationship with food, and I would recommend you definitely get some counselling. I have had counselling for several months (thankfully paid by the school I work at) and it has done wonders for my self-esteem and giving me a more grounded relationship with reality.
Procyclingstats.com is great to put things into perspective. Figure out what type of rider you are and compare yourself to guys with a similar build… and give yourself some generous margin on top (since you are not a pro).
Comparing myself to classics riders like Kristoff, Degenkolb and Senechal tells me I am totally fine having a decent sprint and some muscles.
DO NOT compare yourself to the likes of Froome since you will not be riding 3 week tours in the alpes!
My hope here is that you’ll find at least one useful tidbit somewhere here in the below.
I discussed this a bit on a recent podcast. Podcast host is not an endurance athlete, and the episode was mostly geared towards “how to lose weight / fat” but I spent a good chunk of the time trying to encourage folks to consider that maybe they’ve lost enough already and that the tradeoffs of losing further weight FAR outweigh any benefits, if there truly are any. Once you’re there you’re better off just focusing on fueling maximally for your training quality.
My advice you to you personally, definitely consider working with a counselor who is very well versed in disordered eating. There is a FANTASTIC thread on that in TR that I considered linking to the day that you posted this but didn’t want to come off accusational. I think it would be a beneficial read at least as a bunch of “FYI.”
Here is the thread beginning:
Here is my contribution in that thread:
I have been amazed and humbled at what I have been able to learn from my own personal experiences with professional psychological counseling. I always considered myself very introspective, reflective, and calculated and thusly disregarded the idea that I might find much benefit from working with a counselor.
I have a referral link for you to save money on a CBT-based online practice. It is the one that I personally benefited from and have recommended to my family and closest friends. Full disclosure: I gain $100 cash in my PayPal account for every person who joins through this link… which I quickly spend on my counseling with Sofia, who I would recommend broadly. (I have no financial incentive for recommending her. She’s just amazing.
I’m not sure whether CBT is the most evidenced based for disordered eating specifically, especially if the restrictive thoughts, feelings, etc, stem from any history of trauma. DBT may serve trauma-based disordered eating better… but also not sure there. An RD specializing in endurance sports and disordered eating may also be a useful resource, but I suspect that most would refer out to a counselor first.
Just wanted to say thank you to everyone for their responses. After reading all your advice here, I’ve reached out to a counselor and also began looking into other hobbies to diversify my interests and avoid solely focusing on training and nutrition 24/7.
It has also really helped in shifting my focus towards building power and that in itself sounds like a lot more fun than cutting weight. I am about to start General Build Mid Volume so I suppose it’s good timing…