The “Racing Weight” Myth

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by Chris Hague

After a great open water swim and run workout this past weekend, my training and I were kicking back in our compression gear and chomping down on some well deserved grub.

After we had dived in, one of my friends, who is a good experienced athlete, just sat sipping his Gatorade and nibbling on a protein bar. When pressured on why he was not eating, he proudly commented on how he had lost twenty-five pounds and had only ten more pounds to go to reach his perfect racing weight.

“I only have two weeks before my A race to get there, so I really need to start cutting calories to get there. I really want a PR for this race.”

He then went on to talk about his training and how he just has not been “fresh,” so he cut more calories in hopes that a lighter weight would make him less sluggish.

“I just feel tired and irritable most of the time though,” he says. “Today, during the workout, I just died on the last 500 of the swim and barely got through the run after. Oh well, maybe when I get to my racing weight things will be better.”

I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but I do not think he will get better after losing ten more pounds. In fact, I think I think his fatigue, irritability, and performance will only get worse. His focus on achieving an ideal “racing weight” is only weighing him down on his way to achieving a PR.

Media sources, diet companies, and unfortunately even some coaches- bombard us daily with the notion that a specific, calculated weight will get us to a personal best, and this is true to a point. A lighter athlete requires less energy to push himself or herself forward especially when climbing hills and on the run.

Looking at the spectrum of athlete’s weights, there is a negative correlation between weight and performance; in most cases, obese athletes are not going to be as fast as lighter ones. As an overweight athlete loses weight though, chances are he/she will get faster. However, correlation does not mean causality.

The athlete is getting fitter and faster because he is getting in better shape through training rather than through losing weight. Losing weight and getting to a racing weight therefore is a byproduct of better training rather than the cause of getting faster. Thus it should not be the focus but a result.

By making losing weight the emphasis, an athlete undermines his/her performance. Creating a large calorie deficit will leave a person weak, fatigued, powerless, unmotivated, and, over time, injured. In such a state, an athlete cannot train properly and to his/her full potential, which is the real path to setting a PR.

There are some athletes who want to loose weight and do not care about their times or setting records., which is fine. However, even in this case, they are more likely to lose weight if they are happy, healthy, and enjoying training, all of which a large calorie deficit and stressing over food can undermine.

The scale does not measure performance. To get to peak performance, an athlete needs to eat well, train hard (and wisely), recover right, and have fun (if you are not having fun you are going to lose motivation quickly and end up back on the couch). If you focus on these factors, your weight will set itself to its proper weight—no scale or calculations needed.

2 thoughts on “The “Racing Weight” Myth

  • Christa says:

    Thanks for this article. I am wondering about muscle weight. I am 44 years old, 5′-8″ and about 145. Over the past two summers, I have done sprint distance triathlons but would like to step it up a notch to an Olympic distance. I a s good swimmer and biker. It is the run that makes me feel like a lead weight. I don’t “love” running. From all the biking I do, I have muscular thighs over the past 5 years! I can’t seem to lose weight – I have not fluctuated more than a few pounds in probably 10 years. Do you think it would be easier for me to lose weight for the 10K run of the Olympic distance triathlon? or should I just roll with it and increase my running and see if any wight comes off?

    • admin says:

      Hi Christa!
      Coach Chris wrote this article but I wanted to respond to your comment.
      First of all, awesome that you are doing triathlons!
      Here’s something that is shocking to many people but true: exercise plays very little role in weight loss. If you are looking to lose weight, training harder or more won’t typically work. It’s kind of like digging a hole in the ground to put a ladder in- you will burn calories but in the process make yourself even more hungry and it’s easy to over-consume!

      Instead, it’s about the type of calories. Carbohydrates will raise insulin levels and lead to storing extra fat, so it’s important to limit carbs and make smart choices when it comes to the type of carbs you eat (i.e. a sweet potato will do you a lot more good than a slice of wheat bread). If you’re interested, I’ve done a couple of interviews with triathletes who have followed a low carb or paleo diet:

      Good luck and let us know how it goes!

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