The hilly part of the season is on us, and like others, my weight is down. I haven't been this light since I had three months of what the village nurse called "the running tummy" in Africa; she also suggested that maybe I'd contracted HIV, since that was the pattern with the other men in the village who had lost the kind of weight I'd lost. Thankfully, I only had pneumonia, dysentary, and some kind of weird infection on my big toe from, I'm guessing, playing barefoot soccer in a cow pasture.
Last week my grandmother, who hadn't seen me in four years, told me I looked "thin as a whip." That's her way of saying, "get yourself checked for tapeworms, boy."
Take a look around you at your next race: cycling is a disease. Tim Rugg used to be eight feet tall and drink things other than his own piss. Here he is with Brown and bottled water, back before cycling took him:
I used to lift weights and prided myself on having a little meat on my bones. Not any more.
Sunday I tried to move a couch, confident I could muscle the thing into our apartment. Unfortunately, I couldn't, and I broke out into a fierce rage--a rage I assumed was about the absurdity of the exchange. That is, the new brown couch is nearly identical to the old brown couch, and I couldn't understand why I had been saddled with the suddenly hellish task of making the Sysiphean exchange. I was too weak to hoist the thing properly, and ended up breaking one of its pitiful wooden legs, and spent the afternoon gingerly throwing myself at it to get it through the door and shouting profanity. Then, there were the two hours spent fixing it, wondering: "why have a become a damned weakling?"
It wasn't about the couches. It was about my inability to toss shit about as a man should do. That night I was so angry I went to the gym and squatted it out (with a childishly small amount of weight), just to make myself feel better.
During the Tour, cyclists may lose over ten pounds--most of it lean body mass including muscle and bone. At the end of it, they look like famine victims.
Surprisingly, that weight loss is, on average, usually the result of only a daily 100-calorie deficit. In a study of energy intake and output from the 1988, researchers found that cyclists took in, on average, 6000 calories per day, while their average expenditure was nearly 6100 calories a day. They ingested 49% of their energy while riding. That's 94 grams of CHO per hour (think, 3/4 of a cup of pasta).
Take a look at Contador--his body is clearly thinnner than last year at this time. The effect of the Giro was not only to make him weary, but to simply eat away at his flesh, so much so that he could not return the lean mass to his ribs in time for the Giro.
Look at Contador's face at the start of the Giro:
Compare it with his face at the start of the Tour:
It seems he's much leaner. But for him this is probably not good; his weight loss could explain his current drop in form. His body has endured too much load and cannibalized too much lean mass. The extraordinary pop he had in the Giro is gone.
A truism I've heard on the powerlifting forums is that you "can't gain strength and lose weight at the same time." That's the problem with losing weight as a cyclist--you lose power, as Contador has done.
It is possible, however, to lose weight and maintain strength. In a 1990 study of high school wrestlers who lost weight over the course of a season, their arm strength did not decline significantly, even as they lost, on average, 4 pounds.
It's unclear how or why this happens: the study, for example, measured arm strength but not leg strength. Maybe wrestlers, as they lost weight, lost strength in their arms? Lance Armstrong used to come into the season 10-15 pounds over his ideal Tour weight. He'd cut the weight in May and June, maintaining the wattage he'd gained through training (and dope?).
Bodybuilders follow a similar pattern: build muscle/gain weight -> maintain muscle/lose weight.
The effect, for cyclist, may simply be to strip the parts of the body of cells not needed for propulsion--that is, everything but the legs and heart. The effect, in this case, is just of mere distribution of muscle. Or it could be an entire-body effect, in which case the weight loss is not localized.
In either case, the hilly season and the couch moving season should be two separate phases. No lifting till September.