I just read an article about race weight, a topic that makes me cringe me when I hear athletes discussing it. While the article did touch upon the idea that a longer term strategy works best, it missed many of the most important aspects in the idea of attaining a ‘racing weight’.
Yes, most athletes do want help to change their body composition and to maximize their power on race day. However, continuing to use the term race weight does more harm than good, because the principles behind it are usually misunderstood or just ignored.
Many athletes think of race weight and really just focus on the number on the scale and not consider what is really going in their body and how their physiology comes into play. When focusing solely on the numbers (weight and/or calories) unhealthy habits begin to develop, like uneducated calorie restrictions which can interfere with appropriate nutrient timing. In the weeks leading up to the race, the athlete may see the scale going down, but typically the athlete will lose muscle mass instead of fat, which does leave them lighter but also weaker, slower, and susceptible to illness. Have you ever gotten sick right before a race? And more importantly, this athlete will have started to develop a pattern in their physiology which can contribute to future long term health issues.
When focusing on your goals for race day, you should be thinking: strong, fit, and healthy. This can include a goal weight, but you should be more interested in how strong you are and what your body composition is like – are you able to keep and tone muscle or are you a little softer than you should be? Are you able to reach your pace and power goals or are you feeling fatigued regularly?
The best way to achieve your body composition goals for race day is to start as early as possible, giving yourself a minimum of 6 months. Yes, this includes starting in the off-season and base phases. The ability to change your body composition to more muscle and less fat means that your body is functioning in an efficient way. Being efficient goes beyond just the ability to burn fat, it means faster recovery, and more substantial gains from each workout. These changes occur through a combination of daily eating, proper nutrient timing, and training enough in your optimal fat burning zones. Subtle changes in each of these areas will get you results without feeling like you are starving yourself and training too much. The sooner you can train your body to do this, the better your entire season will be and you won’t be tempted to cut some corners come race day.
What should you do if you have a race coming up soon and were thinking about dropping a few pounds? Understand that any weight you will lose, will most likely be muscle, so it won’t benefit you anyway. Be confident that your training has made you strong enough to cross the finish line with a smile and fist pump.