Monday, October 24, 2011

Finding Your Ideal Racing Weight

In August of 2006, I weighed 206 pounds. I was lifting pretty heavy back then and was doing very little cardio (doing triathlon's was not even on my radar). I didn't eat very good and although I thought that losing a few pounds would do me some good, I could have never imagined myself weighing 38 pounds less (168) as I did five years later on the morning of Ironman Louisville. I felt "healthy" back then, but I felt like a lean, mean, fighting machine this past summer while training for IM.

In the 8 weeks since IM, I've managed to gain 17 pounds. It's pretty easy to do when you aren't working out very much and you eat pretty much whatever you feel like. My weight has actually stabilized around 185 now and I have no doubt that once I get back into training for next season, the extra weight will come right off.

So the question now becomes, what is my ideal weight? While I felt really fast racing at 168, I also felt that I lost a lot of muscle getting down to this weight and I lacked the power on the bike that I had two seasons ago when I was weighing in around 180. I searched the internet and referenced some triathlon and running websites to find a formula that could tell me what my optimal race weight is.

The "ideal weight" calculator most used by non-athlete's in the BMI (Body Mass Index). This calculator works ok, but it does not factor in body fat/muscle composition. Having 5 pounds of lean muscle is obviously healthier than carrying around 5 pounds of fat. At  my current weight of 185, I have a BMI of 26.5...which puts me in the "Overweight" category. Even at my IM race weight of 168, I'm at the top end of the "normal" category. So obviously, this calculator is useless to athletes.

So what other calculators are out there? There's the waist to hip ratio calculator (WHR). You simply measure the circumference of your waist and the largest point on your hips and divide the two numbers. I'm going to be in a friend's wedding, so I was actually just measured for a tux last week. My waist measurement is a 32 and my hips are a 41. This gives me a ratio of 0.78 (32/41). Anything below 0.95 puts you at low risk for health problems related to obesity. Nice info to have, but it still doesn't tell me what my ideal weight is.

Another option is to compare my weight to other 33 year old males that are my height (5'10"). I found a website that let's you plug in your age, height and sex and then tells you what the average weight is for others in this demographic. Mine came out to be 173 pounds. This seems pretty reasonable to me, but the "average" person is not an athlete trying to compete at a high level.

If you have been following this blog for over a year, you know that I followed a training plan outlined by Joe Friel for my 2010 triathlon season. I remembered seeing a blog entry from Joe some time ago that discussed finding your ideal race weight. A quick Google search led me right to it. In this blog post, he discussed how much extra force is required to ride a bike up a hill or run when you are carrying extra weight. I can tell you that the runs that I've done since IM have not been as easy as those I did this summer. Imagine going out for a run carrying a 15 pound dumbbell! Joe goes on to give a calculation to find what your ideal racing weight might be, that perfect combination of weight and power. To find this weight, start by taking your weight in pounds and divide it by your height in inches. For me, this currently looks like 185/70 = 2.64. The typical, high-performance, male triathlete is in the 2.1 to 2.3 pounds per inch range. Females are in the 1.9 to 2.1 pounds per inch range. 

In order to excel with a weight that puts you above the ranges listed, you would need to have a higher than normal power output. So what would my weight need to be for me to race in the range Joe describes? Amazingly it is 147 to 161 pounds! I honestly cannot imagine myself getting down to this weight, and frankly, I'm not an elite-level triathlete, so I don't have to! 

So what am I going to do with all of this knowledge? I'm going to try and find the optimal combination of power and speed. I'm going to hit the weights this off-season and put on some muscle for added power. Then, come January, I'll start to get lean and lose any excess body fat that I have. I imagine that this will put me in the mid 170's...where I was most of 2011. Check out my weight chart below from the past 10 months. 

It's obvious that there isn't an ideal weight calculator that works for everyone. Depending on what your ultimate goal is, you can train and race in a wide weight range and still be successful. As for me, I'm enjoying my off-season weight and don't plan on giving up my second helpings at dinner or my bedtime snack anytime soon...especially with Thanksgiving and Christmas right around the corner!


  1. Man, thanks for all that great info. I've wondered this a lot and know that BMI is a bunch of bull. All the other methods you mentioned look pretty cool, and I'll have to figure them out. I chart my weight too. :) Enjoy the second helpings!

  2. What a nice blog, thanks for the practical info!


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