Race Weight: A How-To Guide

Are you trying to lose weight for an upcoming race? Confused about how much you should weigh? Are you exercising more and eating less but still gaining weight?

During our podcast interview with nutrition expert Dr. Sims, we learned all about achieving your optimal race weight. If you want to be the ideal weight on race day, read on.

Why Is Race Weight Important?

The winners of professional cycling races have one thing in common, lean muscular bodies. A lightweight, powerful body allows professional cyclists to travel at unbelievable speeds.

Amateur athletes often try to reduce their body weight as much as possible before a race. The general thought is, the lighter you are, the faster you go, but this can be far from the truth.

Finding your optimal race weight can be a tricky balance. Show up too heavy, and you're guaranteed to be slower. But, losing too much weight can also have an adverse effect.

What Should I Weigh?

Body composition—your ratio of fat to lean mass—is far more important than the number on the scale. Healthy athletic bodies are low in body fat and high in muscle mass.

If you want to improve your race times, getting your body composition into the ideal range will help. Here are optimal body fat composition ranges for athletic and fit individuals.

Gender Body Fat
Women 15-24%
Men 8-17%

It's important to mention that women and men should keep their body fat above 15% and 8% respectively. Allowing your body fat to drop below these values can have adverse health effects. As always, consult your physician if needed.

What Is The Best Way To Lose Weight?

According to Sims, the best way to lose weight is to fuel for your activity. If you are training and racing, focus on giving your body the food it needs to function and recover properly.

Sims says people should eat "growing food" not "treat food." High-quality, single-ingredient foods rich in proteins, carbohydrates, and nutrients are what athletes need.

As an athlete, it's important to remember that your diet should be different from the diet of a non-athlete. Non-athletes use far less energy and can eat fewer carbs and larger quantities of fruits and vegetables.

As an athlete, eating too many fruits and vegetables will fill you up with fiber. Too much fiber fills your stomach and prevents you from getting adequate energy. To perform and recover well, athletes need higher quantities of proteins and carbohydrates in their diet. Read our diet article.

Eating Enough Is Critical

If you are trying to lose weight for an upcoming race, you have to eat enough high-quality food. Without proper nutrition, your body cannot function properly and your performance will suffer.

Athletes trying to lose weight are often guilty of not eating enough calories and eating poor quality food. Low energy availability from not eating enough lowers your metabolic rate. Your performance stagnates, fatigue sets in and decreased immune function are other common side effects.

If calorie restriction goes on too long, your body will become catabolic. In a catabolic state, your calorie-restricted body starts to use its own lean mass for energy. Yes, your body will eat itself to survive.

Once catabolic, your body enters survival mode and releases cortisol—commonly referred to as the belly-fat chemical. Because you are not getting enough energy from your diet, cortisol causes your body to store fat in an attempt to preserve energy.

Catabolic athletes struggle to lose weight. Common knowledge says you need to exercise more and eat less to lose weight. But, in a catabolic state, more exercise and fewer calories will increase your cortisol levels. As a result, you gain more weight

Catabolic athletes must lower their cortisol levels before they can lose weight.

How do you lower cortisol? By eating more. I know, eating more to lose weight sounds counterintuitive, but if you are catabolic, your body can't function well enough to lose weight.

When you begin eating enough high-quality food, your cortisol levels drop. Additionally, your muscles recover, your endocrine system functions properly, and your gut microbiome becomes healthy.

With your body in a healthy state, you'll be lighter and perform better.

Have I Gone Too Far?

Sims said monitoring your power to weight ratio is the best way to determine if you've lost too much weight. Not sure how to calculate your power to weight ratio? Here's how.

First, you'll need to determine your functional threshold power. If you have a power meter on your bike, you can perform an FTP test. If you do not have a power meter, services like TrainerRoad and Zwift can estimate your FTP.

To calculate your power to weight ratio, divide your FTP by your body weight in kilograms. Here’s an example.

Your Bodyweight: 70 kg
Your FTP: 240 Watts

Power to Weight Ratio = 240/70 = 3.43 W/kg

In cycling, the higher your power to weight ratio, the better. As an example, world-class pro cyclists have FTP power to weight ratios of 6.0 and higher.

By looking at the equation, you'll see there are two ways to increase your power to weight ratio. You can either increase your power or lose weight.

Sims says, there's a point when you lose so much weight that you can no longer produce the same power your slightly heavier self could. When you reach this point, you know you've gone too far.

Long story short, feel free to lose weight but make sure your body stays healthy enough to maintain muscle mass and produce adequate power. The best way to do that is by properly fueling for your activity.

If you get all of this right, you'll be ready to set a new PR on race day.

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