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  1. #1
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    Optimum bf% for long-distance cyclists

    Apparently competitive road racers are skinny, but when I look at long-distance cyclists, they are generally a lot more obese..
    What would be the optimal bf% for a woman? I am dieting and start from 35% and aiming for 25%. Would 20% be a better though almost impossible goal? Or something in between.. I was weighing that much in 1997 but have no clue about BF% but as a result felt weak and hungry all the time... this was AFTER having successfully finished a very long distance ride, when I probably was around 28% BF but still too heavy to be a good climber.
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    cycle-powered nathank's Avatar
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    well, i don't really know, so i'm just kind of guessing here -- just saying what sounds right to me...

    it seems like the body only encounters a problem with REALLY low body fat in the sub 10% range... higher than this i think the body should have adequate stores to draw on - how much extra should be pretty irrelevant.

    now, when i say 10% or more, i'm meaning for men where most competitive riders are in the 5-15% range... since women naturally have substantially higher body fat and the "normal" fit range is more like 15-30% (i'm guessing) --- i don't know if this means that for women the lower range for available fat reserves for endurance are also raised, or if havig 20% for a woman is sufficient...

    i think i would lean more towards the number being absolute (roughly same for sexes) which would also jive with why women are usually compartively better at endurance sports than equally fit/strong men --- also women's body tend to be highly EFFICIENT compared to a man of comparable size/strength

    so i guess i'm saying that i would lean towards it making very little difference for you. even if you were to somehow get down to 15% i don't think there would be substantial endurance disadvantages from lack of stored fat --- concentrate on building strength and muscle and don't worry about the fat (or reduce the fat is OK too)
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    Every lane is a bike lane Chris L's Avatar
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    I'd be careful about trying to lose too much weight too fast here. A lot of fad diets promise miracle results in this aspect, but these often lead to other health problems much worse than being slightly overweight. I also don't believe there is an optimum % in this area because everyone is different. Some people will have a higher % naturally than others will.

    Basically, I think yuo should be a little careful in trying to set absolute goals in this area.
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    Senior Member juciluci's Avatar
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    well... a lot of the triatheletes.. doing 112 miles are about 14-17% bf at time of races.. i think its the running that takes it off..
    but if you look at the top women cyclists.. they have a certain amount of muscle too.. upper body strength will help long distance as well as sprinters, so if you have muscle, and strength train, chances are your body fat will not be higher than 20-21%... average training i mean

    if you lose too much too fast.. you will lose muscle also, fatigue and over training will do you more harm than good.. a good balance of protein, carbs and fats with 5-6 meals a day will get you on your way and you'll have energy for those long rides.
    i ususally do rides on the weekends of 100-300 k.. depending on my time. i am working up to longer rides now and then.my bf is 17%..

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    Originally posted by fietser_ivana
    Apparently competitive road racers are skinny, but when I look at long-distance cyclists, they are generally a lot more obese..
    OBESE....'extremely fat'. I do not think any fit cyclist,especially compettitive ones fall into that classification. I do see a lot of obese cyclists,but they are neither fit, good for speed or endurance or compettitive.

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    Forum Admin lotek's Avatar
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    Pokey,

    I think "what we have here is a failure to communicate"
    my thought is that being from the continent Fietser-Ivana's
    use of english is causing problem.
    Long distance cyclists? Obese? I don't think she means
    grossly overweight nor morbidly obese.
    I'm guessing she is speaking of the fact that distance
    cyclists carry a higher percentage of body fat than
    a competitive cyclist. I mean really, how many obese
    long distance cyclists have you ever seen? (long distance
    being the operative word here)
    Fietser_Ivana
    I'd say 20% may be too low based on your particular
    morphology. 25% is not a bad thing. Agree with other
    posters about too quick a weight loss, not a good thing.
    beware fad diets and products that seem too good
    to be true.
    Let us know how you do.

    Marty
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    Marty, you interpreted my words in the right way.
    But really I participated in Paris-Brest-Paris the most famous long-distance ride on earth, and quite a few of the participants lugged considerable amts of weights.. though most were very fit, although not as skinny as road racers.
    Hence the question.. road racing only involves distances of maximally 250 K and is done at very high speeds.
    An endurance cyclist rides a lot slower and can draw from his own body fats more than a faster rider.
    Actually, my high BF% probably saved me from not DNFing earlier as I survived 45 hrs/700 K with very very inadequate energy supply (sports drink based on sweetener)

    This was 3 years ago.. PBP 2003 is going to happen mid-August, 10 mo. from now.. Now is the time to lose weight and do weight training at the same time to get a good base.. so my question was quite simple: where should I aim for.. from all the stories I read, it seems that nearly everyone can go down to low levels of BF% if they work hard enough. 25% is seen as healthy for a woman, but 18% as extremely fit.. is that also true for randonneurs?
    Obese = anyone (for females) with body fat above 30 or 32%. Slightly obese would be a bit lower..
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    Pat
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    Originally posted by fietser_ivana
    Apparently competitive road racers are skinny, but when I look at long-distance cyclists, they are generally a lot more obese..
    What would be the optimal bf% for a woman? I am dieting and start from 35% and aiming for 25%. Would 20% be a better though almost impossible goal? Or something in between.. I was weighing that much in 1997 but have no clue about BF% but as a result felt weak and hungry all the time... this was AFTER having successfully finished a very long distance ride, when I probably was around 28% BF but still too heavy to be a good climber.
    Well Freddie Hoffman rides more per year than anyone else about 50,000 miles per year. He frequently does 200+ miles per day. And in a Bicycling Magazine Article on him, I noticed he looked definitely plump.

    But the guys who win RAAM (Race Across America) are pretty lean and look a lot like triatheletes.

    I think when you are talking about high mileage cyclists you are talking about people who are not competitive atheletes but just really really dedicated recreational riders (like Freddie Hoffman).

    About the lowest percent body fat attainable by men is 4% - you get this in wrestlers (amatuers not WWF) and body builders. For men any figure of 10% or lower is low. For women anything below 20% is pretty low. A friend of mine was at 8% (female) which is lower than I thought was really possible. Women frequently go ammenarhynic (sp?) with low body fat (below 20%). Oddly enough, weight and body fat are not really related. I knew a woman (a guard on a basket ball team) who was 17% and 5'6" and 165 lbs - lots of muscle obviously.

    The thing is that getting to low body fat is tricky. People who lose weight by dieting frequently lose as much muscle weight as they lose fat. To keep from losing muscle, you need to exercise. To exercise, you have to eat more. But if you want to lose fat, you can not eat too much. If you are working out, you have to eat. And eating and exercising and getting lean all at the same time is a little tricky. Body builders are often obsessed with their diets and exercise regiemes but they are an extreme case.

    Cycling is pretty much carbo powered. If I am doing big miles (50+ per day), I make sure I get at least 2500 cal of complex carbs and often more - I always want to have my glycogen stores topped off for max power. I try to keep the fat intake fairly low and figure I get enough protein just incidentally. Last year, I lost 10 lbs in two weeks of riding in the Rockie Mountains (about 70 miles per day and 4,000' of climbing) and I did this by merely refraining from eating everything in sight.

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    Most endurance athletes like to have a small bodyfat reserve to draw on during an endurance event but carrying more than you are likely to utilize will only hinder performance .Therefore I would suggest the optimal would be perhaps 2-3% above the lowest healthy level otherwise.If for example the lowest healthy level for females is around 15% then the optimal levels for endurance might be 17-18% or so.I agree with juciluci and Pat on the importance of muscle and not dieting or cutting calories too rapidly or drastically.

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    OK, thanks. I will try to aim for 20% then which is considered to be perfectly healthy and won't lead to amennorhoe (sp? lack of menstruation). I've discovered that I'm fairly muscular so this would translate into 62 kg when I wouldn't lose any muscle mass.

    I've started a targeted ketogenic diet which is utilized by bodybuilders who are cutting/dieting to lose fat but want to maintain muscle mass and still train lots.
    So far, out of 5 kg lost, only 1 kg was muscle mass. A controlled diet is a lot better than a poor diet like I had this summer, when I lost 2 kg of muscle mass and 2 kg of fat as well. At least, if my bf-meter is correct. I filled in my wrist, ankle and waist measurements in a body fat calculator based on body measurements.. it suggested 45% rather than the current 35%. (large waist, very frail joints e.g. ankle/wrist)
    A good friend of mine has 17% BF according to the meter, but I don't really believe it as she has no menstruation problems.. but she could be lucky.

    Wish me luck! I'm a lucky bastard I guess. will be leaving for a 2 week cycling trip next week! First time for my brother.. for me just the first longish trip with my new road bike..
    vehicular cyclist : commuter - tourist - randonneur

  11. #11
    Wood Licker Maelstrom's Avatar
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    Menstration problems don't occur until women are VERY lean. 17 to 20% is still healthy. This is where you can look at extremely lean athletes for guidance with this problem. Sprinters sit at a bf% of 10-15%. Female bodybuilders sit in a range of (7-12) bringing them below the essential level and closer to male level bf%. Both experience menstral problems to varrying degrees. You could still experience problems from 15 to 20 but really over 15% and you should be ok.

    ok...just read a quick article. I didn't realize women could suffer from ammenorhea when going below 20% (I figured the number was lower due to previous experiences). It must be pretty rare in that range because I have dated and/or trained several girls below the 20% mark (avid athletes always look for performance goals) and they never had problems. They sat around 18% on average.

    Congrats on the diet choice and good luck with all of your goals. Take heart in the fact that a lot of people here are always working and plugging away with weight issues as well. We are all working hard to lean up. Just a question about the diet. Are you going to have a period where you will refill your body with carbs. For pure endurance reasons that diet isn't totally suited for anaerobic performance. It will be good to use to loose the fat but
    your body will need carbs in order to ride long period. (at least this is what all of the endurance people here say. I live and die on a ketogenic whih I have used for period since the early 90's and it works fine for my style cycling but I am not sure how it would do for extreme distances). Either way best of luck with all of your goals (protein shakes)

    And in case anyone is interested

    http://www.afpafitness.com/articles/ammenor.htm

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    Originally posted by Maelstrom
    Just a question about the diet. Are you going to have a period where you will refill your body with carbs. For pure endurance reasons that diet isn't totally suited for anaerobic performance. It will be good to use to loose the fat but your body will need carbs in order to ride long period. (at least this is what all of the endurance people here say. I live and die on a ketogenic whih I have used for period since the early 90's and it works fine for my style cycling but I am not sure how it would do for extreme distances).
    That's most interesting.. how do you mean 'die'? Am not familiar with that expression.

    I was on a straight ketogenic diet for 2 weeks, which is the same to the induction period of Atkins. Started it while still cleaning up = eating my perishable carb foods. After a week I was in ketosis and the brain fog disappeared.. it was there when I was in Zolder to watch the races.. esp. apparent when reading a map
    had to recheck every 3 minutes !
    Then 2 weeks later I began exercising according to the Body-for-Life schedule : 3x /week cardio and 3x/week weight training. However, I felt like 'death warmed over 'as someone said to me, my spinning speed really suffered.. not just when I'd done a leg WO the day before or the same day but for sheer lack of carbs.
    I had switched over to the CKD = cyclical ketogenic diet which requires carboloading in the weekend (for me Sat afternoon-Sun afternoon). However, that diet has you work out around the diet and is geared towards bodybuilders it also requires a nasty depletion work out just before carb loading. .
    On the suggestion of someone else I switched to TKD this week.. it allows for about 30-40 grams of carbs right before/after WO. I feel that a spinning lesson is intense enough to require a mini-carb load and did the same.. the effect was dramatic! I was able to do a very intense WO that way! Now I will still carb up in the weekend (in order to raise leptin levels, see http://www.theministryoffitness.com/.../article18.htm but just for a total of approx. 1000 kcal carbs (with a slightly raised total of kcal of 2500 kcal), not the 3000 kcal I was required to eat with CKD with 2000 kcal worth of carbs.. on other days I eat 1800-2000 kcal/day.
    I thought it would be great to eat all those forbidden foods again, but I was feeling horribly bloated (a carb hangover) and craved carbs like crazy on the ensuing days.. that is the biggest surprise of all.. I always thought I'd been so weak, but in reality I was/am insulin resistant so the reaction was just very physical.. it still happens though 1 day after a combined WT & spinning day..

    Did you understand my food-babble?? It's extremely interesting to talk to bb-ers who are obsessed about diets (cutting and bulking). Also quite liberating to be talking about my weight as if it is a purely analytical subject, rather than taking it personally as I'd done in the past.. I'm NOT a failure!

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    Last edited by fietser_ivana; 11-01-02 at 12:16 PM.
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  13. #13
    Wood Licker Maelstrom's Avatar
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    No problem...the term I used

    'live and die' is actually just a phrase meaning it is my preference. It just adds flavour to the statement

    I understand your diet talk, I spent a lot of years researching a diet that works for me. Carbs are evil to my body and I can finally say that I am healthy with the diet (very similar to the one you speak of). I also spent several years watching and following the bodybuilding scene so the diet and its affects are very familiar to me.

    I know the feeling. Years of not eating carbs doesn't allow for much in my diet. If you body can handle extreme cardio on very little carbs (in comparisson to average person) than by all means it works. Not everyone is the same and the typcial standard diet does wonders for increasing my bf% and dropping my energy level which is why I switched. I don't think there can or should be a standard diet and everyone should learn to asses themselves as individuals.

    but in reality I was/am insulin resistant so the reaction was just very physical.. it still happens though 1 day after a combined WT & spinning day..
    Congrats, that is a huge step in learning what you need to eat. I have a similar problem with my body as well.

    My weight fluxuates throughout the year. I spend my winters in and around 250 to 260 (in order to bulk and through on muscle without concern of fat) then in the spring I change my supplements and increase cardio and switch to a different weight routine in order to assist leaning out. I usually end up around 230 which is pretty lean for me. Since I don't worry about bb anymore I am not concerned with breaking the 15% bf marker anymore. Just with pure performance in the mountain. My biggest concern with biking is maintaining and building on my muscle to improve performance. I never want to sacrifice my muscle for the sake of cycling. My size means too much to me

    Well cheers to you and best of luck, sounds like you have everything under control and havea great outlook on your boyd and performance.

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    Senior Member RacerX's Avatar
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    15% fat is low for women. Of course athletes carry that range or lower but there are several drawbacks to low body fat.

    1. It is very difficult and a strict diet is needed
    2. When I'm peaking, I am at about 7% fat. At that point, it is easy to get sick.
    3. My avg. fat level is about 15%- that is with regular exercise and a not-strict diet. I would think a healthy woman would be around 20-25% fat (so I've heard, not scientific fact)

    It's rather difficult to maintain low fat and there is no real benefit unless you are racing or feel the need to look ripped. Otherwise, I would recommend a "sensible" fat level that is on the low end of "normal". This would keep you from getting sick all the time and keep your body metabolism healthy.

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    Yup.. I said that I'll be very happy with 25% (it's 35% now) and will be flabbergasted with 20%. Somewhere between 20 and 25% seems like the best for long-distance randonneurs who are not competitive racers.. so I don't need to obsess over my food too much..

    Just have fun and ride lots and lots.. (and eat lots too, but watching carbs more closely than I have done in the past)

    Ivana, currently at 35% and 75 kg.. trying to go down to 62 kg and 20%.
    vehicular cyclist : commuter - tourist - randonneur

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    On this topic, I have a question about the electro-magnetic body-fat meters.

    How accurate are they? Are there differences (in accuracy) between the bathroom scale type and the hand-held ones (where you put your thumbs on two little electrodes)?

    My financée and I were thinking about getting one, but we're skeptical that they really work.

    Any advice?

    By the way, I would offer one word of caution about focusing too much on body fat. A friend of ours (a woman) is fit and slender, but, because she happens to have large breasts, she has a bf% of about 35%. No one in her right mind would suggest that she needs to lose weight.

    Cheers,
    Jamie
    Last edited by jmlee; 11-02-02 at 12:01 PM.

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    I have the Omron meter.. of course it's not absolutely accurate, but it signals trends.
    Measuring bf% with a caliper is not accurate either and requires someone else to do it (most of the time).. and weighing under water is not really feasible unless you're part of a group under investigation (in my university they have one, but got a no as an answer back)

    Thanks. .unfortunately my bf is predominantly on an unhealthy place: my waist and also hips. My breasts become fairly small quite easily once I lose weight
    they go from C to B.
    Strangely enough there is relatively little fat on my legs and I'm quite content about that!
    vehicular cyclist : commuter - tourist - randonneur

  18. #18
    Wood Licker Maelstrom's Avatar
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    Originally posted by jmlee
    By the way, I would offer one word of caution about focusing too much on body fat. A friend of ours (a woman) is fit and slender, but, because she happens to have large breasts, she has a bf% of about 35%. No one in her right mind would suggest that she needs to lose weight.

    Cheers,
    Jamie
    I don't own a bodyfat measurement device like that but it is still a measurement. As long as you weight yourself at the exact time and withut food or water the measurement will be far more accurate than otherwise. Besides you are measuring against yourself. That should be able to give you a progressive measurement that will be accurate to itself.

    As for the bf% thing, how are they measuring her? When using calipers the breast area is purposefully removed from the measurement so as not to skew results. Just curious because if they (whoever is measuring) are using the breast area than they should find a better way to measure women.

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    Ivana!

    Another factor not mentioned in the calculations so far, is your racial extraction.
    This can vary quite significantly from, lets say 12% for a Afro-American, to 18% for an Asian,

    Being from the Netherlands i presume you are of a caucassion race, this would be somewhere in the middle.....say 15%

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    Originally posted by willic
    Ivana!

    Another factor not mentioned in the calculations so far, is your racial extraction.
    This can vary quite significantly from, lets say 12% for a Afro-American, to 18% for an Asian,

    Being from the Netherlands i presume you are of a caucassion race, this would be somewhere in the middle.....say 15%
    In the middle of what???
    I mean, are you talking about charts for caliper measurements? I'm trying to get a friend, who's using my bf-meter, to buy a caliper, so that we can use both methods.. she's at 17% bf and strives to become more muscled without adding extra fat.. she's even doing a 2 week bulk & 2 week cut cycle (eat 140% of daily requirements for 2 weeks, vs 90% in the next 2 weeks in order to remove the excess fat but keep the muscles). I'm just fine with the muscles I have.. hey my lean body mass (51 kg when I started,49 now) is heavier than the weight she started at (49 kg total).
    vehicular cyclist : commuter - tourist - randonneur

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