Growing up not following cycling as we both came from different sports, the only time we really saw the sport was watching the Tour De France and Olympic Games. I think this is possibly the case for a lot of people and so when the average person thinks of a cyclist, they probably think of someone like Chris Froome when he won the tour (see pictured) or Bradley Wiggins winning the Olympic Time Trial at London 2012.
As you may spot in both images, the athletes are very lean. There can be a tendency to want to copy these role models, but care has to be taken when comparing yourself to other athletes, which is what we will discuss in this blog.
Power to weight
Within cycling, there is a lot of talk of watts per kilogram and the higher the number, the quicker you will go uphill. For example, elite female cyclists sit around 5.6w/kg for their functional threshold power, and the average female cyclist is around 1.8w/kg (Coggan, 2017). There are two ways to improve this number:
- Increase the power you can put out
- Reduce your weight
Without professional guidance, it is hard to know what your ‘best weight’ for performance is. However, what is clear is that everyone’s ‘best weight’ is different and there is no one perfect number. Despite this, BT Sport conducted a poll of 110 female athletes highlighting that “80% felt pressure to conform to a certain body type, and 67% felt that their appearance was more valued by the public and the media than their athletic performance” (Arthurs-Brennan, 2014).
Everyone has their own genetic body-fat set point that it’s natural to sit between. For male endurance sport athletes, this is between 6-13% and for female endurance athletes it’s between 14-20% and it is also recommended that to stay healthy you should never go below 10-13% for a woman and 2-5% for a man (Donlevy, 2018). For example, we could be as healthy at 20% body-fat as someone who is at 15%. Since “there is evidence for the idea that there is biological (active) control of body weight at a given set point” (Müller, 2010), pushing your weight below this control point can lead to health issues and decline in performance.
There is also a danger with weighing yourself too often and thinking it is a bad day when you suddenly are one kg heavier than the day before. For most women, “weight can fluctuate 2-3 kilos every month, mostly due to water retention” (Ahart, 2014), so it’s best not to weigh yourself daily and limit it to once every few weeks.
A lot of people take to cycling as a way to lose weight and this is a great thing to do as you are taking charge of your health and doing so through a fun activity. The temptation can also be to diet while increasing exercise and cut all unhealthy foods that you are partial to. However, this is mostly to lead to you feeling low on energy and craving these foods and quitting the training and the healthier eating regime. World XC champion Kate Courtney, when discussing her relationship with her weight and diet, said “paying attention to what was in my food didn’t mean I felt the need to deprive myself of everything delicious. Instead, it allowed me to make informed decisions.” (Courtney, 2018). Finding the right balanced diet for you is key; don’t restrict yourself from eating things you enjoy- a happy athlete is a fast athlete!
Cycling is for everyone
There is definitely a misconception within the sport that you have to wear lycra and be super slim to be considered ‘a cyclist’. However, really all you need is a bike, a helmet and to get your legs turning the pedals!
We both started out with not much kit and not really knowing what we were doing but the more you ride, the more adapted your body becomes to the sport. The main message is that your body will become as adapted as it is naturally capable of being under the training load you put on it. Pushing this further with a very restrictive diet can lead to declining motivation for riding and also health problems, neither of which should have to be as a result of cycling because at the end of the day, it is just supposed to be fun!
Liv Factory Athlete, Linda Indegrand who won bronze at the olympics in MTB after a period of restricting calories and being underweight said “After having struggled with my body image, I’m now proud of my figure and my weight.” (Indegrand, 2021)
There is no one perfect figure for a cyclist and we hope whatever shape your body is, you simply enjoy riding your bike as much as we do.
Ahart, C (2013) Cyclerexic: body image in cycling
Available at: https://totalwomenscycling.com/lifestyle/cyclerexic-body-image-in-cycling (Accessed: 23/03/2022)
Arthurs-Brennan, M (2014) Body image issues, a worrying problem in women’s cycling?
Available at: https://totalwomenscycling.com/lifestyle/body-image-issues-a-worrying-problem-in-womens-cycling (Accessed 23/03/2022)
Coggan, A (2017) Creating Your Power Profile
Available at: https://www.trainingpeaks.com/blog/power-profiling/ (Accessed 23/03/2022)
Courtney, K (2018) WEIGHING IN: NUTRITION, BODY IMAGE, AND FINDING BALANCE AS A FEMALE ATHLETE
Available at: https://cyclingtips.com/2018/04/weighing-in-nutrition-body-image-and-finding-balance-as-a-female-athlete/ (Accessed 23/03/2022)
Donlevy, M (2018) How thin is too thin for a cyclist?
Available at: https://www.cyclist.co.uk/in-depth/716/how-thin-is-too-thin-for-a-cyclist (Available 23-03-2022)
Indegrand, L (2021) BODY IMAGE AS A FEMALE ATHLETE
Available at: https://www.liv-cycling.com/global/campaigns/body-image-as-a-female-athlete/26496 (Accessed 23/03/2022)
Müller, M. J., Bosy-Westphal, A., & Heymsfield, S. B. (2010). Is there evidence for a set point that regulates human body weight?. F1000 medicine reports, 2, 59. https://doi.org/10.3410/M2-59