Body Dysmorphia

I am thrilled to announce that for the first time in my life, my chest measurement is smaller than my hip measurement, an accomplishment I’m not sure many men around the world would be proud to admit. A Cyclist has no use for an upper body, we’re not going about lifting things with our arms; we are the sort of people who do all our lifting with our legs. We just need enough to hold the handlebars and pull from time to time while chewing the bar tape; beyond that, upper bodies are little more than extra weight and I’ve got more of that than I need already.

When I boasted about this tremendous feat to a few work colleagues, none of them showed any appreciation for my accomplishment whatsoever. Mostly they looked at me askance, not unlike how my dog looks at me when I’m talking to her in complete sentences. I could sense them resisting the temptation to start rotating their heads until they fell over like she does. The most any of them could muster was joking about how I must look at the beach, at which point I returned the favor of not having a clue what they were on about. Honestly, I’m much more worried about looking good in my skinsuit than I am about looking good in my mankini.

The first thing one observes when meeting Pro Cyclists is how tiny they are; they look like normal folks on TV but when you see them in real life they look like birds with a gland problem. Alpine ski racers also look like normal people on TV, but when you see them in person you realize they are thrice the size of a normal person, plus two. Either of Bode Miller’s arms are bigger than my right gun, the bigger of the two.

Kate Moss said that nothing tastes as good as skinny feels. Apparently even Kate Moss couldn’t go her whole life without saying something sensible eventually. Being light on a bike is an amazing feeling, and we sacrifice all socially acceptable aesthetics in this pursuit. To be skinny is also to look good on a bike; hunching over a top tube chewing our handlebars isn’t a terribly flattering posture to begin with, one not made any more appealing with a gut protruding into the void.

I’ve never heard a Cyclist say they are happy with their weight, or that they feel they are skinny enough. No matter how skinny we are, we are still too fat. Most Cyclists greet each other with a little pinch on the arm to gauge one another’s weight – the first intimidation of the ride or the first bit of morale, depending on which side of the pinch you are. “Cyclists’ Sizing” is a phenomenon where a rider needs to wear their bibshorts a size bigger than their jersey. This is the maximum body image goal of the Cyclist, to have massive guns and a tiny torso.

I’m on the train, but I’m not there yet. To hasten the journey, I fancy the 5am Spanish Turbo Session in full leggings, long sleeve jersey, and casquette in order to kick start my metabolism in the morning. And then I skip breakfast and lunch. And dinner, if I can manage it. I prefer to cut calories out of my food diet than out of my drinking diet; success is all about setting attainable goals.

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127 Replies to “Body Dysmorphia”

  1. Frank, Frank, Frank.  This is a misguidance for probably most of your followers!  “Mature aged” riders who want to get faster should lift weights and become stronger. The short version is this will force the body to produce testosterone naturally (we lose it as we age) and enable you to crush others on the road. Friel’s newest book explains this beautifully.

  2. Great stuff Frank, laughed my ass off.

    As @fignons barber says though, I’m at the point in life where I need more musculature rather than less, and as my competitive days are well behind me, a bit of muscle isn’t going to make much difference to my riding, in fact it’ll probably help. If only I had enough strength to get the 5kg weights off the ground…

     

  3. Good for sharing that personal work scenario. Thank you for this motivating article that knows exactly how to get into a cycling mindset. Yesterday was day one of ciclismo prison, lock-down with no hope of normal food — and little of it.

  4. I’m struggling to curb my appetite over the winter and control my sugar addiction, but I can generally get away with medium jerseys but large shorts. But the whole sizing thing is screwed up anyway: I’m almost 6′ 1″ and weight in the 180s depending upon time of year. Pants aside, most stuff I wear is medium in size or a 40″ chest. If I’m that size and those are my sizes, Frank must be getting his gear in the teenage boys section.

  5. @fignons barber

    Frank, Frank, Frank. This is a misguidance for probably most of your followers! “Mature aged” riders who want to get faster should lift weights and become stronger. The short version is this will force the body to produce testosterone naturally (we lose it as we age) and enable you to crush others on the road. Friel’s newest book explains this beautifully.

    Fine advice but I don’t see what that’s got to do with anything, assuming you’re doing leg and core weightlifting and not bulking up the chest and shoulders!

  6. I’ve always been on the skinny side but find myself struggling to keep middle-aged spread at bay these days. I’m 46 years old, five eleven and change and weigh 73.5kg. I’d love to be the right side of 70kgs but my VMH seems to be on a personal mission to prevent me from achieving that goal. Although she knows my goal she doesn’t understand it… “Why would you want to be skinnier when you are not a pro cyclist?” It seems I have more work to do….. am I on my own with this predicament?

  7. I’m 5’11 and I’m tipping the scales at 144lbs just now. Hugely depressing, last year I was mid 130s…

  8. @kah

     

    As I’m reading this, I just swung open the frig door. Yep, all the daily requirements for good cycling: beer, V8,pasta, broccoli, kale, beets, milk (for oatmeal only), and beer.

  9. It’s a shame that we’re not a little like camels. You know, drink a lotta water and it lasts for a week or whatev… I’d love nothing more than to eat a big steak dinner and it last me for a week. It just doesn’t work that way regret.

    Anyways, when it comes to being skinny I prefer to exercise my calories off than to control the intake.

    And, I wanna be able to do pull ups too. And push ups. I think that that kinda thing utlimately protects, holds ya together, when misfortune of going down happens. Now, if I was being paid for winning bike races? Then it’d be different I suppose.

    Dang those cats are skinny.

  10. Last night I was on the trainer riding for the first time in 2 weeks due to commitments, only wearing bibs because I forgot the fan, and the wife comes down into the basement and asks “what’s this?” as she points at a fold of skin in the midsection.

    Conversely, I was happy to see that Wiggo tweet where he took snaps of his scale, and showed a gain of 12 kilos. He has gone from 71kg to 83kg. Last year when the doc forced me off the bike to heal a broken toe, I went from 74kg to 82kg.

    The way i see it, it’s more aero to fill that void above your guns when you’re in a TT tuck.

  11. @frank

    “Being light on a bike is an amazing feeling, and we sacrifice all socially acceptable aesthetics in this pursuit.”

    Once in a long while it all comes together, you are 3 std dev below “normal” on the weight bell curve, and the rides feel like you are floating! It is an amazing feeling!

    Then you feel like those guys look!

     

  12. @Neil

    I’m 5’11 and I’m tipping the scales at 144lbs just now. Hugely depressing, last year I was mid 130s…

    Great. Thanks for that. Less than 2 inches shorter but about 50 lbs lighter. I mean this in the nicest way possible: Bastard.

  13. @wiscot

    @Neil

    I’m 5’11 and I’m tipping the scales at 144lbs just now. Hugely depressing, last year I was mid 130s…

    Great. Thanks for that. Less than 2 inches shorter but about 50 lbs lighter. I mean this in the nicest way possible: Bastard.

    Ditch the Irn Bru and deep fried Mars bars and anything is possible ;-)

    Besides, for all the use it is in the long run, I’m still distinctly average. If skinniness and jealousy of other people’s talent made you go faster on a bike I’d be Robert Millar by now…

  14. @frank

    @fignons barber

    Frank, Frank, Frank. This is a misguidance for probably most of your followers! “Mature aged” riders who want to get faster should lift weights and become stronger. The short version is this will force the body to produce testosterone naturally (we lose it as we age) and enable you to crush others on the road. Friel’s newest book explains this beautifully.

    Fine advice but I don’t see what that’s got to do with anything, assuming you’re doing leg and core weightlifting and not bulking up the chest and shoulders!

    I see what you’re saying, but I think most of us would aspire to be a Johan Museeuw or Franco Ballerini (sorry, I’m watching 2000 paris-roubaix on youtube), rather than a Michael Rasmussen or Francesco Casagrande. Plus, by building more muscles, you’re recruiting more natural testosterone. Look at the guys who win your local Masters 40+ and 50+ races: I bet they aren’t stick figures. Plus, from a biomechanics view, all muscles attached to the trunk of the body stabilize the core.

  15. @frank

    I had to do weights for rehab. Squats, dead lifts, leg presses, all aimed at leg muscles and glutes.  But just taking other users’ big weights off the bar and putting my tiny ones on was enough to give me an upper body workout.

  16. Great little quote on the topic a couple years back by none other than Mario Cipollini:

     

    ….When you used to look at Hinault, you saw a good-looking bloke. Indurain, fuck, he was handsome. Strong men. Merckx, bloody hell, he was like an actor… Now, look at Schleck, look at Contador. They’re extraordinary athletes, but come on. They’re small, skinny, light, like a pair of show ponies.”

  17. Here’s cheers (and a clink of glasses) Frank. I reached a similar goal over 12 months ago but having enough kit I’ve just been wearing too big (medium) jerseys with my just right (medium) bib and brace. Today however, yes, today – good timing with the article – I wore my first size small jersey! Hurrah!!

    So, here’s to us in Small Jersey and Medium Knicks.

  18. @the Engine

    Play water polo in your spare time – that’ll sort your core. As a bonus you can have a fight to burn testosterone.

    I chased the kids around on this for an hour on Tuesday (two days ago) and my abs are still reminding me about it at time. Still can foam roll properly! Awesome for core and balance not to mention a heap of fun. I’ve told them we can now go every weekend and I will be calling it cross training for now on.

     

  19. @wilburrox

    And, I wanna be able to do pull ups too. And push ups. I think that that kinda thing utlimately protects, holds ya together, when misfortune of going down happens. Now, if I was being paid for winning bike races? Then it’d be different I suppose.Dang those cats are skinny.

    Push-ups are essential for a cyclist! The triceps do not enlarge by doing them but they do gain the strength and stamina to hold a low fast position in the drop for hours at a time. The core also get’s a hit while you are at it. I do mine with a weighted back-pack and my arms are not dissimilar to Froomy’s.

    I’ve dropped from 95kg to 65kg (187cm tall). Most people tell me I need to ear more but only those that have no idea how much I eat! Depending on the next days training I eat between 8000kj and 13300kj. When people suggest I must like riding to train as I do I tell them, nope – just like eating.

  20. @fignons barber

    Frank, Frank, Frank. This is a misguidance for probably most of your followers! “Mature aged” riders who want to get faster should lift weights and become stronger. The short version is this will force the body to produce testosterone naturally (we lose it as we age) and enable you to crush others on the road. Friel’s newest book explains this beautifully.

    Maybe. The research I have read doesn’t show a marked improvement in endurance events (outside track) after weight lifting. I do do gym work, but it’s just about all body weight based and doesn’t lead to bulking.

    There is a personal trainer & gym owner in town. This guy is freaking huge. One of his butt cheeks is being catalogued as a new planet by the way. Anyway, he comes on bunch rides and I love it because it’s the only time I can best him. Scrawny, skinny me can ride is 2% body fat, 250kg body into the ground no problems. Best thing is his company moto, emblazoned on his jersey is “how bad do you want it” so when I ride him off my wheel I turn back smiling and ask “so how bad DO you want it?”

  21. Boonen looks likes quite different in the title photo compared to this ” get outa my fkn way, im about to unleash ” photo.

  22. @Barracuda

    Boonen looks likes quite different in the title photo compared to this ” get outa my fkn way, im about to unleash ” photo.

    This is a good example of how being on the bike adds kilo’s to your appearance. My wife took a photo of me finishing a race and while I was walking my bike back to the car after changing into street clothes. Though taken within twenty minutes of one another, in the former I looked muscular and in the latter I looked like I was on my way to my first meal after just stopping a hunger strike.

  23. Coincidentally, this theme was going through the head on last night’s ride after another office based encounter. Some non V related internet browsing picked up an article that listed my industry 7th in the top 10 in Aus for overweight & obese workers with a frightening 65% landing in those two categories.

    I shared said article on the book of faces along with the kind of smug, sarcastic comment that someone of 183cm & 78kg can safely make. One of the responses received (unsurprisingly from one of the 65%) was that it “easy for you to laugh at your size”, which actually hit a sore point.

    There’s nothing easy about spending up to 10hrs a week on the bike, and finding the time to do so while striking a “balance” with a 40hr work week & raising 3 kids under 3, but if it were easy, where would the achievement be?

    The fact that it requires some effort & sacrifice is the exact reason that a lazy, path of least resistance, waste of space such as the questioner cannot maintain any form of dietary control for longer than the time between morning tea & lunch…

  24. During my summer training I reached a point where I was not recovering adequately.  I felt like I was doing everything correctly, but was struggling to complete my daily sessions.  I contacted a sports nutritionist and was told to log my daily food intake and training regimen.  I emailed her the log and saw her at the beginning of the next week.  She did a body fat analysis at her office and then we talked about scheduling blood testing.  I had the blood testing completed, which checked everything you could imagine.  It was very comprehensive and expensive (enzymes, hormones, thyroid, liver and kidney, IGF, insulin, basic and advanced nutrients, etc).  I was hoping that they would find something was out of balance.

    A few days later the results were back.  At 43 years old I had the health of a athlete 20 years younger.  Great news but… so, back with the nutritionist, I was surprised when she told me that my body was starving.  3500-4000 calories per day was not enough to allow my body to fully recover.  My body was not going to allow itself to burn those calories to fuel my recover, it was in survival mode.  I eat a very clean diet and 4000 calories of clean food is a hell of a lot of food.  How was I going to eat 5000-6000 calories as was recommended?  She said, “it is like a job and sometimes hard work”.  When she gave me my body fat score of 3% she said that this low level was not adequate enough for my training stress and actually unhealthy.  My new diet plan, that she designed, would help me bump it to 5% and it would include much more healthy lipids (avocados, nuts, seeds, coconut and olive oil) and much more protein per day.

    When I went to see her, my weight was a steady 62 kilos.  I was not trying to lose any weight, never had a problem with being too fat to climb.  My problem was, I was too thin.  Fast forward 4 weeks and my weight was now 64 kilos and I was much stronger and recovering better. My grocery bill is now outrageous, but I feel great.

    My advice, there is such a thing as too thin so find a sports specific nutritionist.  She helped me tremendously and she is now my new VMH.

    Message me is you need some nutrition advice.

  25. This is the beauty of hardcore touring/bikepacking. If you ride long enough, day after day, you can scour the aisles of the Quik-E-Mart for the highest-calorie snacks and stop at every roadside barbecue joint and still lose weight. Sometimes alarmingly.

  26. @frank

    @fignons barber

    The point is even those guys were way skinnier than you’d think. Look at Boonen. One of the biggest guys easily, and he’s still tiny by any normal measure.

    They look big on bikes it is in part because they like to ride really small bikes.

  27. @KBrooks

    Man you hit the nail on the head. I’m constantly laughing inwardly at work lunches etc at my coworkers who are all “Oh, I can’t it’s not on my diet/plan/New Year’s Resolution to give up sweets/carbs/fat/processed/coffee/milk/gluten….” meanwhile I’m just nodding and shoveling it in b/c I’ve got an 80k route after work I have to prep for. If they would only get off their ass then they wouldn’t have to torment themselves so. Still, To me food is just a means to an end, that being to lay down massive V, of course.

    @frank

    I like to think my chest is larger than my waist because of my humongous lung capacity and my outsized pumper. Although I always need trousers a couple inches too big in the waist to fit over the legs. As a result, I don’t tuck my shirts in much – it would just accentuate the bunched fabric under the belt and make people think I don’t know how to buy clothes.  Looks super ridiculous when I have to wear a suit to work.  The tailor lady says “not to be rude, but you have a big butt.”  Made my day.

  28. @frank

    @fignons barber

    The point is even those guys were way skinnier than you’d think. Look at Boonen. One of the biggest guys easily, and he’s still tiny by any normal measure.

    Remember when we met Damian Gaudin last Spring? He looks like a monster on the bike, but standing next to him he was quite lean, not much taller than me (183cm) and not much going on up top in terms of arms and chest.

  29. @Chipomarc

    Lance used to say ” get use to going to bed hungry “.

    Ooh, careful now…Lance was also full of pithy one liners like “I’ve never failed a drug test” and “you’ll hear from my lawyer…”

  30. @Puffy

     

    I’ve dropped from 95kg to 65kg (187cm tall). Most people tell me I need to ear more but only those that have no idea how much I eat! Depending on the next days training I eat between 8000kj and 13300kj. When people suggest I must like riding to train as I do I tell them, nope – just like eating.

    Good lord – I went from 95kg down to 82 (currently a smidge higher), I’m 188cm and can’t imagine losing 17kg.

    All that due to more cycling?

  31. Some years ago I was told by my Chiropractor when I commented on me getting a bit podgy from too much jam rolly polly in the canteen he replied that “it’s not what you eat but when you eat it”.  His message was basically no carbs in the evening.

    So when I needed to lose weight after a mystery illness followed by enforced layoff through injury I followed that method and cut out “white carbs” in the evenings (potato, rice, pasta, bread) and also cut out snacking.  Riding 3 – 4 times a week clocking average 170 – 200 Km total it was quite easy to shed weight.

    Turns out there is solid science behind this as shown in a TV programme last night.  Our bodies naturally increase fat and sugar levels in our blood in the evenings to feed our body overnight.  So if you eat later in the evenings your blood levels effectively double up and so with excess sugars and fat your body has little option but to lay down the excess on your ribs.

    The problem we have in modern life is that it is often difficult to eat well at midday and we tend to eat easy food in the evening (pizza/pasta – white carbs) then sit in front of the TV and go to bed.

    Ideally whatever you eat when you get home in the evening you should do as soon as possible.  Great evening meal for me is smoked salmon steak (or other oily fish) on a bed of salad in the summer or stir fried veg in the winter.  In general now I try to avoid white carbs in the evenings altogether.

     

  32. @wilburrox

    @frank

    @fignons barber

    The point is even those guys were way skinnier than you’d think. Look at Boonen. One of the biggest guys easily, and he’s still tiny by any normal measure.

    They look big on bikes it is in part because they like to ride really small bikes.

    Although Boonen is also apparently 6’4″. Terpstra is no shorty either.  They ride smaller frames than most of us would if we were the same height because they handle better and weigh less.

    @Frank -you’re right in general but…..Peter Sagan?

  33. I’m now on a bit of a weight loss kick again – I did it last year to go from upwards of 95kg down to my current 86kg (for 183cms, pretty bulky). I deliberately maintained that weight through the start of my training year and didn’t pile it on over winter/christmas, but now racing season is looming I’d like to think I could get down to about 84kgs, and that I’d notice the difference if I did.

    Shouldn’t be too hard – reduce portion sizes of everything, cut out high calorie snacks (I’m going for bananas or a tin of tuna instead) and try not to snack in the evening, while keeping my exercise/riding level the same.

    I’m pretty bulky around my upper body but I don’t see that changing, and I’m stacking up the weights I’m doing for lower body. I bought a pair of jeans yesterday and they were just slightly loose everywhere except around the middle of the thigh, where they were tight. Proud.

  34. @Velodeluded

    I’ve always been on the skinny side but find myself struggling to keep middle-aged spread at bay these days. I’m 46 years old, five eleven and change and weigh 73.5kg. I’d love to be the right side of 70kgs but my VMH seems to be on a personal mission to prevent me from achieving that goal. Although she knows my goal she doesn’t understand it… “Why would you want to be skinnier when you are not a pro cyclist?” It seems I have more work to do….. am I on my own with this predicament?

    Late to the party – but for the record: no, you’re not on your own. My VMH loves to bake and is ridiculously good at it, so the house – particularly around Christmas – is often afloat with the yummiest pies, cakes, cookies and whatnot. To make matters worse, she is equally good at conjuring up home-made filled chocolates. *Bloat alert; bloat alert…*

    57 yrs old, just under 6 foot 4 (I think? 1.92 m.) and weighing in at 87 kg at the moment. Grrff… Hoping to get that number below 85 for starters, once the roads clear. 82-83 should be doable towards the end of the season (usually late October/early November, here in Scandinavia.) Bring on the early spring!.

  35. @KBrooks

    This is the beauty of hardcore touring/bikepacking. If you ride long enough, day after day, you can scour the aisles of the Quik-E-Mart for the highest-calorie snacks and stop at every roadside barbecue joint and still lose weight. Sometimes alarmingly.

    F***ing spot on, Bevan! In the summer of 2014, I cycled across the eastern USA: anything between 90 and 160 km. per day – 6 days a week, for 4 weeks. The trip was fully catered and the chow was tasty and substantial, to say the least. I munched my way through ridiculous amounts of food – and came home 6 kg lighter than when I left and looking trim. That didn’t last more than a few weeks, though…

  36. Well… I could tell the story about how I burst out of my jeans at the beginning of this year and how that had nothing to do with feasting and all with cycling too much. But who would believe me…

     

    No man ever told me out of the blue his weight-history (all details included) except my dad and a gazillion known and unknown cyclists. For the record, nobody is happy with it…

  37. @ErikdR

    @KBrooks

    This is the beauty of hardcore touring/bikepacking. If you ride long enough, day after day, you can scour the aisles of the Quik-E-Mart for the highest-calorie snacks and stop at every roadside barbecue joint and still lose weight. Sometimes alarmingly.

    F***ing spot on, Bevan! In the summer of 2014, I cycled across the eastern USA: anything between 90 and 160 km. per day – 6 days a week, for 4 weeks. The trip was fully catered and the chow was tasty and substantial, to say the least. I munched my way through ridiculous amounts of food – and came home 6 kg lighter than when I left and looking trim. That didn’t last more than a few weeks, though…

    A few years back a two girl band called The Ditty Bops played Milwaukee. They were riding their bikes between gigs while someone else drove the van. It was a national tour. Those girls were ripped!

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