Losing muscle - maintaining power

A light bike doesn't replace good fitness.

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by Kermithimself

We've heard the stories before of great riders that has had a significant weightloss, but only a slight decrease in power. I have large calves and thighs, and there's no doubt that these add quite a bit to my overall weight.

Normally my weight isn't that big of an issue as there aren't that many climbs where I live, but if I'm thinking of maybe doing La Marmotte, it could be an idea to trim off some of that weight. But how do you go about losing muscle weight, but still maintaining some sort of power?

I'm more interested in the method of how you go about, and if it's even possible, than actually trying to do this. As I said, 99% of my rides are relatively flat, so it would almost be silly to lose weight for one race.
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by devinci

I dont think there is much to do with leg muscles, its part genetic. Sure you can loose a bit of your lower body muscle but you'd be better off loosing fat and/or increasing power.

In short, dont care about your lower body muscle size/weight, increase power, eat well, loose a bit of fat and you'll be faster...

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by kevinkalis

Not to hijack the thread, but I've been sitting on a related question for quite some time.

Can anyone explain to me why losing muscle mass would actually affect cycling power, it being an aerobic activity and all? I'm talking about power output in the FTP ranges, not the sprinter/neuromuscular ranges.

Do you suffer more when you train, or cannot train?

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by budgetweenie

In purely mathematical terms, if your muscle mass were zero, how much power do you think you would have?

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by shoopdawoop

I think that it is very hard and dangerous to do this properly; I attempted earlier in the season to cut some weight without losing power and it is doable but you just have to be really careful about your calorie in/out in comparison to the work that you are doing. I think trying to run around a 600-800 calorie deficit each day is doable while still training moderately hard; I found that you just have to be really diligent so that you don't over stress yourself. I dropped 5 kg's in around 2 months just by trying to keep really accurate tabs on my work done and intake; you just have to make sure that when you start to get worn out or do anything with real intensity (training>tempo zone) you keep yourself well fueled and rested.

I say it is dangerous because if you miscalculate or push too hard during recovery periods or stuff like that you just end up wearing yourself out really quickly; your body doesn't have anything to fall back on when you are running a caloric deficit. Or thats the way it felt, occasionally on endurance rides during this weight loss period I would push just a little too hard (getting into the high tempo/ low threshold power zone instead of the preferred high endurance/ moderate tempo zone) and the fatigue that came with it was much greater than when you're just trying to maintain weight or training normally. One other thing that I will say is that it can be really hard to live a normal life when your doing this type of training; I found myself wondering how many calories everything I ate had and I kind of stopped going to restaurants because they fall outside the realm of easy caloric tracking. You also have to account for things like your resting metabolic rate and things as simple as long walks or a long time on your feet doing yard work can really throw off the balance. Those activities are much harder to track kj wise than a bike ride. There is a really good section at the beginning of Allen Lim's cook book "The Feed Zone" that talks about all this if you want to explore what I was talking about more.

Sorry for geeking out there for a second but I love this kind of stuff! :smartass: Its a really fascinating side of cycling that I feel is not debated nearly as much as things like training composition and I think that proper diet and balance of work and intake can lead to huge gains. You might lose some snap but the endurance and threshold gains that it can give are amazing.

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by Tapeworm

Unfortunately seeing the likes of Wiggins creates an idea which for most is an utter unobtainable body composition.

@budgetweenie if muscle mass was zero then power would be zero.

There are many factors which will determine how much power is derived from muscles. Things like the mitochondrial density, transportation of oxygen, removal and processing of metabolites etc (look up things like the citric acid cycle aka krebs cycles) will determine how much power a given muscle can produce.

Paradoxically, some cyclists don't eat enough to lose weight. They skimp on calories (and consequently nutrients) which means recovery is compromised and they can't train as hard. And because they don't train as hard they don't lose as much weight, so they eat less...

When you're training properly its a case of struggling to get the calories in. Prolonged, consistent training and diet can bring about the loss of muscle without much or any lose in power. But for most of us its not an immediately obtainable goal. Also not overlooking genetics. Some just won't have those ultra-dense fibres. That's is not to say improvement cannot be made but the "pro" look may not be there.
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