Question: I’m 6-foot-5, 180 pounds, 10% body fat, 46 years old. Is it a rational objective to lose weight to become a better climber? I love to eat, so it’s hard to avoid the goodies — especially if depriving myself won’t help me improve. — Doug S.
Coach Fred Matheny Replies: Weight loss when you already have a low body fat percentage can be tricky. It’s tempting to think you’ll climb better if you diet to improve your power-to-weight ratio. But often, the advantage of less weight is negated by less power.
It happened to me. I gained 50 pounds to play college football. When I graduated and started riding, my weight went back down to 165 and about 10% body fat. Like you, I could eat anything I wanted and I was riding strongly. But I figured that lighter would be better, so I started dieting and cut out most sweets and fat. I got down to 152, won my category of Colorado’s Mt. Evans Hillclimb — and felt lousy the rest of the season. It took months to start riding strongly again.
Now, 25 years later, I eat just about anything that doesn’t bite me first. My weight has settled in the low 160s, and the last time I got my body fat checked it was 8%. But when I drop below 160, I lose strength and energy.
Some pro riders cut calories drastically in the early season in order to get down to 5% body fat. Most struggle to maintain such an unnaturally low level. Then in winter, they’ll gain as much as 15 pounds as their bodies react to their forced “fasts” in the summer. Such yo-yoing is bad for health and takes a toll on energy and motivation.
For you, I recommend going easy on sweets and fat by substituting more vegetables, fruit and whole grains. But don’t restrict calories. You need fuel to train. See what happens with your weight.
Sometimes just cutting out some of the sugar and fat can result in lower body fat levels even though you still feel full. The reason is that fruit and vegetables have more volume. You can eat a ton of apples, oranges, carrots, broccoli and beans and still not exceed the calories in just a few muffins or cookies.