Before going into the details, let me suggest two metrics (i) weight-to-height and (ii) percentage body fat, together forming a range target for an ideal body composition leading to optimal performance in triathlon. Also, I reminder, as an athlete one needs to fuel smartly and never starve.
LESS WEIGHT EQUALS MORE POWER
Think about this, if one cyclist produces an average 300Watts in a 40min Time Trial and that athlete weights 100kg, his output is of 3.0Watts/kg, but if the same athlete went down to a body weight of 85kg and produced the same average power on the exercise his power-to-weight ratio would increase to 3.53Watts/kg, a 17.6% improvement, and he would be faster since with the same effort he is carrying a lighter load (try to shave off 17.6% weight of your bike – we are talking some serious $$$$$). If you are curious about power-to-weight ratio, below there is a chart on how riders can be classified based on their Watts/kg profile.
Figure 1 – Power Profiling
Measure 1 – BODY WEIGHT – Joel Friel indicates that a competitive male triathlete has on average a weight-to-height ratio of 2.1 to 2.3 pounds and a women 1.8 to 2.0 (male 37.to 41.0 kg/m; female 32.1 to 35.7 kg/m).
For example, an athlete with 1.78 m of height should weight between 67 and 73 kg (simply multiply kg per meters —> 1.78 m * 37.5 kg = 66.75 kg; rounding to 67 kg). If your weight-to-height ratio is higher than the one indicated in the first paragraph, you are likely carrying more weight than recommended and are likely to benefit from being lighter.
After introducing the target body fat percentage concept, below, we will discuss how to close in on the ideal Racing Weight.
Measure 2 – % BODY FAT – Matt Fitzgerald indicates that body weight and percentage of body fat are the main indicators of an ideal racing weight. Below I provide some of the guidance he included in his book, ‘Racing Weight’. The chart below shows that a male athlete of 30 to 39 years of age should have at the most 12.7% body fat, an athlete of 40 to 49 should have at most 15.1%. This measure represents the percentile a person stands compared to other people at the same age, but that in general, an endurance athlete will be above the 80th percentil for that population.
Figure 2 – Body-fat Percent Population Profiles
So using the chart above as a reference for your % body fat target and Joel Friel`s ratio for body weight one can check if it is “fit for the job”. Below we go into a step-by-step way to arrive at the target weight:
A MORE ACCURATE BODY WEIGHT TARGET
In order to estimate the target body weight, you will need to establish a % body fat target than:
1 – weight yourself (71 kg and 16% fat, which equals 59.64 kg lean weight + 11.36 kg fat)
2 – set % body fat target (say 85th percentile for a 40 year old = 15.1%)
3 – based on current lean weight estimate weight when reaching the 15.1% target (59.64 kg/15.1% [59.64/(1+0.151)] which corresponds to 59.64 kg lean + 8.52 kg fat = 68.16 kg)
Therefore in this example the triathlete would need to loose some weight to go down from 71 kg to 68.16 kg.
You might already be wondering, do I need to loose weight? how am I going to do that? I need to introduce some very important concepts here, but specially: one should never starve to loose weight. As someone with a heavy training routine, eating a balanced and healthy diet is vital; nutrient dense carbs, protein and fats are on the menu. When controlling food intake an athlete should attempt never to err on eating less than necessary, this will make for worst training sessions and a lack of nutrients could lead to sickness, dizzyness, loss of conciousness or injury, or, at the least, prevent one from getting the best performance possible out a the session. “maximum weight loss and maximum performance cannot be equal priorities for an endurance athlete at any given time” – Matt Fitzgerald.
IS IT THAT EASY TO FIND THE IDEAL BODY WEIGHT?
This is a very consistent approach based on experiences of very serious and competent professionals. It is a valid start-point, but, as Matt Fitzgerald indicates, the ideal body weight is that where an athlete will perform at its best. Therefore once having reached this body weight and composition it would be necessary to do some testing and experimenting to fine tune it.
Below are some extracts from `Racing Weight`:
- eat carbs early in the day and protein late
- concentrating protein intake later in the day will maximize muscle regeneration in the evening and through the night.
- eating on the same schedule everyday is more important than eating more frequently throughout the day.
- include high volume, low intensity training in your schedule
- do strengh training
Matt Dixon, in his book The Well Built Triathlete, focus more on the habit than on the scale. He indicates that in order to loose weight and achieve the ideal body composition, the best thing to do is to front load calories in the day, but always consume enough calories to support training. His tip is to eat starchy carbs and sugars early and towards the end of the day eat more vegetables and high quality protein. The key is to create the habits of high quality fueling and smart training: “I am not a big fan of trying to hit race weight, the scales dont drive the decisions.” – he writes.
Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance (The Racing Weight Series) Paperback – December 1, 2012; by
The Triathlete’s Training Bible Paperback – January 1, 2009; by
The Well-Built Triathlete: Turning Potential into Performance Paperback – May 29, 2014; by
Using the above ratio, I am still a little ways from my target body weight. Which is ok since my next race is next September. But I have come a long way to improve body composition, as it is clear by the pictures below. So, what are some of the attitudes I have towards training and eating that helped me get here:
- understand the importance of eating nutrient dense, whole foods (no processed food, empty calories, foods with superfluous ingredients – artificial and natural processed sweeteners and stabilizers such as sugars, syrups, starches, and others)
- only start counting calories after you adjust to an ideal diet with fruits, vegetables, nuts, meat, and lots of water – nutrient dense calories
- make meat a very small percentage of your daily food intake
- eat before, during and after exercise (carbs and sugars before, add proteins after)
- eat a good breakfast and consistent lunch
- eat lean and early for dinner (a salad and or vegetables with some animal protein, at 5:00pm or 6:00pm)
- introduce long endurance training sessions (high volume, low intensity)
- high intensity sessions of training
- do strenght training, including weightlifiting
- do not penalize yourself if once in a while you want to eat a cookie, hamburger, or other food with much calories and low nutritional value, take the 80/20 approach. If 80% of the time you eat right, your taste buds and apetite will adjust, and with time you will want to eat right and ditch the crap.
For more sources of information and tips on body composition for endurance athletes, check out this video from HVTraining: