- - Cycling Weight Loss: Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Race Weight & Maximizing Power to Weight Ratio

Cycling Weight Loss: Ultimate Guide to Finding Your Race Weight & Maximizing Power to Weight Ratio

article by EVOQ.Bike’s Landry Bobo

Power To Weight Ratio In Cycling

Power to weight ratio is a big buzzword these days. In the world of affordable power meters, Strava, and Zwift racing, this equation has gotten a lot of attention. Simply lose weight and/or improve your power and you get faster. It’s that simple, right? Unfortunately, it’s a lot more complicated than that. 

For starters, power to weight ratio for cycling is far from the only metric that will determine cycling success. Additionally, if you are trying to lose weight and you tip the scale too far, you risk causing a performance decline.

How do you calculate power to weight? Watts per kilo is simply your power in watts divided by your weight in kilograms.

How to Calculate Power to Weight Ratio

If you measure weight in pounds, simply divide your weight by 2.2 to find your weight in kilograms.

Why does this matter? Watts per kilo is basically a measure of how quickly you can ride your bike uphill. The more power you can produce for a given weight, the quicker you can climb. An easy way to envision this is if someone were to put a backpack full of bricks on your back while you try to ride up Alpe d’Huez… it would be a bit harder! 

There is a common misconception that Watts per kilo will make you a faster cyclist across all terrains. This is simply not true. On a flat road, your aerodynamics are a much more important factor than your weight. Powerful riders who can also maintain an aerodynamic position will go fastest on the flats. Think pocket rockets like Remco Evenepoel or big powerhouses like Filippo Ganna.

There is also a paradox when it comes to the Watts per kilo equation. Unless you are very new to cycling or have only recently returned to training, simultaneously improving your power while decreasing your weight can be a challenging endeavor. Even more intriguing, there are many riders who might want to lose weight, when in reality they don’t even need to worry about it!

Do You Even Need To Lose Weight?


There’s an old-school mindset that floated around for many years that lighter is always better. Pro tour riders would often flaunt that they’d only eat salads after 6 hour trainer rides or maintain a broccoli diet. I’m not sure whether they were playing mind games with their competition or they actually did this, but it’s certainly not a wise thing to do and definitely not a good way to lose weight!

Fortunately, in recent years we’ve made advancements in sports nutrition and every WorldTour team has a nutritionist on hand to help guide the riders. I’ve also heard many pro riders saying that improved nutrition has actually been a big part of the reason we’ve seen an increase in level in the WorldTour. I wonder how many pro cyclists back then didn’t fulfill their potential due to underfueling

Whether you are training for climbing, time trialing, or crits– it’s clear that the ideal physique for cycling is not to look like a skeleton but to be healthy, lean, muscular and powerful. Long story short, don’t become fixated on the scale or fall into the “eating is cheating” mindset. 

See Also: Pro Cyclist Power Output: Train Like a Tour de France Rider


Do you think you might benefit from losing weight for cycling performance? Well, first you need to determine if this is even something you need to do in the first place. 

There are a few factors to consider when determining if weight loss might help you:

  • What races are you trying to do? – Are you training for criteriums or punchy road races, flat time trials, or mega gran fondo races with tons of climbing? If your races are flatter and not weight dependent, you might be better off focusing on power. If your races contain lots of climbs (especially long and steep ones) then power to weight ratio is definitely more important. 
  • What Is Your Body Type? – Everyone has different body types and will weigh differently. You might be the same height as someone else, but have an optimal race weight that is 10 kilos heavier because you are naturally more muscular and have a larger frame. Don’t try to be someone else. If you are naturally a larger rider with more muscle, it simply might be that you are not suited to climbing events and you should target different races. This is why sprinters or big classics guys won’t be targeting the Tour de France GC anytime soon.
  • How Lean Are You? – Weight is not as important as body composition. We want cycling muscle. More cycling muscle = more power. We don’t want a large amount of excess body fat (but we still need some body fat). Look in the mirror, pinch around a little bit. What do you think would be a realistic and healthy amount of body fat to lose? 

What is the ideal body fat for cycling? Depending on your body type, somewhere between 8-15% body fat for cycling is a healthy and sustainable range to be. You can determine this with a scale that estimates your body fat or with skinfold calipers. These will just be estimates but they can get you in the ballpark. 

I would define myself as more of a climber and tried to hold 8% body fat. I felt like I was starving all the time, I wasn’t recovering and had low motivation. I’ve found 10% is much more sustainable and healthy for me. The extra couple pounds is more than offset by feeling strong on the bike and putting out more power.

See Also: How To Generate Power Cycling

The Dangers of Weight Loss For Cycling

So if you think you might benefit from weight loss for cycling, it’s important to read the warning label first. While weight loss for cycling can have great performance benefits, there are also plenty of pitfalls to be aware of.

  1. Decreased Performance: If you lose weight at the wrong time of year (particularly in season) you might severely compromise your performance and recovery. Intense training and racing during the season requires you to stay topped up on your energy stores. Showing up to a race or tough workout with a Calorie deficit can significantly decrease your performance. It’s important to lose weight at the right time of year (more on that later).
  2. Slowed Recovery: When in a Caloric deficit, you are more likely to have depleted glycogen stores and slower recovery from training. Your body will not have all the building blocks it needs to recover. This is why it’s best to lose weight during the base season or offseason when workouts are less taxing.
  3. Hormonal Imbalance: Weight loss can cause a decline in hormones like testosterone, which is an important anabolic hormone that helps you adapt from training and keeps you feeling young and vigorous. It will also cause an increase in catabolic hormones that can trigger muscle breakdown and stress responses.
  4. Weakened Immunities: Caloric deficit can also weaken your immune system and make you more prone to sickness. 
  5. Loss of Muscle Mass: If taken to the extreme, poor weight loss strategies can cause you to lose cycling muscle mass and thus decrease your power. Losing muscle groups for cycling and power completely defeats the purpose of weight loss. If your weight and power are both going down, you will basically have the same power to weight ratio as before but have less raw power for the flats and anaerobic power.

Many riders have tried to lose weight and end up being slower and a lot less happy, but if weight loss is done in the right way and at the right time, all of these things can be avoided. So let’s hop into it!

Cycling Plan For Weight Loss

Where to begin! What kind of food should you eat and how much? When should you eat it? What does this all look like in practice? Let’s start with the basics first.

Calories Burned Cycling

Ultimately, weight loss comes down to simple laws of thermodynamics. When you exercise, your body’s metabolism increases and you must expend more energy to move forward. The harder you ride, the more Calories you burn. Your body breaks down the food you eat, your stored body fat or muscle to use for energy. 

The most accurate estimate of your cycling Calories burned is through the use of a cycling power meter. Your power meter will track energy expenditure in kilojoules (kJs). Kilojoules are also a measure of energy and, in the case of cycling, can basically be used interchangeably with Calories (due to inefficiencies in the human body). 

How many Calories are burned cycling? This answer varies WIDELY depending on your fitness levels, body size, and how hard you were riding. A smaller and less fit rider might only burn 400-500 Calories per hour, while elite cyclists can burn upwards of 1,000 Calories per hour quite easily. During hard races, they can burn even more calories per hour– upwards of 1300 Calories.

In any case, cycling is a great way to lose weight and get lean. You can burn a lot of Calories, but you can also do large amounts of training since cycling is much easier on the joints than other sports like running. I don’t think there is a better sport out there for weight loss than cycling.

Calculating Your Energy Expenditure

To understand how much you should eat to lose weight, you must first figure out how much you are expending. Your total daily energy expenditure (TDEE) is the amount of energy you have expended throughout the day and combines your normal activity, exercise, basal metabolic rate, and even the energy it takes to digest your food. 

TDEE = Basal Metabolic Rate (BMR)+ Exercise + Activities of Daily Living + Thermic Effect of Food

Your basal metabolic rate is the amount of energy your body requires to stay alive. Your organs, muscles and brain all require energy to continue to function. This is the amount of energy you would require even if you were tied down to a bed all day and couldn’t move. 

Activities of daily living would be the energy it takes to do normal things such as go to the grocery store, make food, play with your kids, etc… Those with physical jobs can expend a lot of Calories just from work. 

What is the best way to estimate your activity level and BMR? I like to use this calculator. Enter your height, weight, age and estimated body fat to get an estimate of BMR, then select and approximate activity level.

***This does NOT include Calories from cycling… this is tracked separately through Kilojoules. Select your activity level when you are NOT riding. So a desk job cyclist would be the 1.16 or 1.2 multiplier.***

Now that you know how many Calories you burn just doing normal stuff, simply add the amount of energy you are burning from cycling to find your TDEE. Also, it takes your body around 200-400 Calories to simply digest your food (thermic effect of food), so add 200 to this number.

For example, this is what my TDEE would look like on a 4 hour training day: TDEE = 2,000 Cals (from the calculator) + 3,300 Cals (from my bike ride) + 300 (thermic effect) 

The grand total for a 4 hour training day for me would be… 5,600 Calories! That’s a lot of food. It’s not hard to see how it wouldn’t be too hard to lose a few pounds from cycling. For me, I’m trying to maintain my weight, so I need to get in 5,600 Calories to maintain. 

Calorie Tracking

This is the biggest pitfall for weight loss. You won’t have too hard a time figuring out your TDEE, but figuring out how much you are eating can be a challenge. 

Truly, the most surefire way is to weigh your food and track Calories. This might sound unappealing to you, but if you’re serious about losing weight, it might be necessary to do this.

However, this doesn’t mean you need to weigh your food forever. You can track Calories and weigh your food for a week to give you an idea of how much you should be eating, then either loosely estimate Calories or not worry about it altogether because you’ve honed in on how much you need to eat for each day.

Carbs, Protein, and Fat For Cycling Weight Loss

Your quantity of food matters, but equally important is your quality of food choices. Not all Calories are created equal. If you put the wrong foods in, you will also struggle to perform on the bike and recover from training.


Lots of people try to lose weight for cycling and think the first thing they should cut out is carbs. BIG, BIG, no-no. In fact, carbs are perhaps even more essential if you are in a Calorie deficit. You have a limited source of stored carbohydrates (glycogen) in your muscle and you must replace this by consuming carbohydrates. If you consume enough carbs while trying to lose weight, you will recover much better and be less likely to feel tired on the bike. 


Protein is also very important if you are losing weight because this will help to build and maintain muscle mass. When you run a Calorie deficit, you will increase your risk of losing muscle and higher protein intakes will help prevent this. Aim to consume 1 gram per pound of bodyweight of protein per day (or 2 grams per kilogram).


If you are trying to lose weight for cycling performance, the macronutrient that you should first scale down is fat. Some fat is important in the diet, but less so than protein and carbs if we are talking about cycling performance. 

I’m not at all saying to cut out fat entirely, but if you’re needing to eliminate 500 Calories from your diet, this should probably mostly come from fat. If you eat lots of junk food (fried food, fast food, chips, soda etc..), obviously this would be the first to go out the window. Consume healthy fats like nuts, seeds and avocados in moderation. Bear in mind these are very Calorie dense foods.

Nutrient Timing For Cycling 

There is yet another very important aspect to cycling nutrition and that is the timing of your nutrients. Yes, you can consume the right amounts of the right foods, but if you are not timing these nutrients at the right time, you will again struggle to perform. 

From a practical aspect, most of your fueling should be around the time you are burning the most energy (before, during, and right after cycling). Makes sense.

The reasons for this are because:

  1. If you don’t replace what you are burning during and after cycling, you will struggle to maintain glycogen stores. During and after cycling are the times of highest absorption and so nutrients should be centered around this time-frame to promote recovery.
  2. Not eating before or on your ride can cause a bonk during your ride (duration dependent).
  3. Not fueling around your cycling will always come back to bite you and lead to binge eating later in the day. Your body will always find a way to compensate.
  4. Consuming all your Calories at other times of day can cause spikes in insulin, which can lead to insulin insensitivity and actually make it harder to lose weight or, in extreme cases, increase risk of diabetes. 
  5. Centering your intake around your cycling means that your food is more likely to be used as fuel for training and recovery rather than deposited as fat.

I won’t dive too much into the actual specifics of on-bike fueling here because we have other blogs covering this topic. I will provide some sample meal plans later on in this article to give you an idea of what this looks like in practice.

See Also: What to Eat and Drink While Cycling

Carbohydrate Periodization

Another challenge for cyclists is the large fluctuations in energy expenditure throughout the week. For a “normal person” who might workout an hour per day, their energy expenditure will remain level the whole week. However, for a cyclist, you might ride one hour on Tuesday but go out for an epic six hour ride on Saturday. Your fueling should look totally different on these days.

Carb periodization means matching your food intake to your energy expenditure. The more you burn, the more you eat. Using the TDEE calculation from before should make this more simple to help you figure out how much you should consume. 

The main thing that will change during the week is your carb intake. You should keep protein and fat intake similar each day, but vary the carbs based on how much you are riding. This will help promote recovery and maintain your glycogen stores. A lot of this carb intake will come on the bike. For a 5 hour ride, I might consume 500-600 grams of carbs exclusively on the bike and then a lot of carbs after my ride for my recovery meal.

For a rest day, you might consume 2000-3000 Calories. If you’re going out for a mega endurance ride, you could be hitting 5,000+ Calories while still running a Calorie deficit. What a neat life, you can eat 5,000 Calories and still lose weight!

Cycling Fuel vs. Normal Food


During and immediately after cycling, you want to consume simple carbohydrates and limit fat intake. This is because we want rapidly absorbing sources of energy that are easy on the gut while the engine is running. Lots of fiber and fat will slow digestion. 

On the bike, simple sources of energy would be drink mixes, gels, energy bars, or my favorite: sugar water. Your post-ride recovery meal should contain simple carbohydrates to replenish glycogen stores quickly while you are in a state of rapid absorption. 

After a ride is the time to give into your carb cravings since most of this energy will go towards repair. Some simple carb options for after rides:

  • Savory: Rice, pasta, potatoes, noodles
  • Sweet: Pancakes, bagels, or cereal (I like Rice Krispies!)

Additionally, consume 15-30 grams of protein to facilitate muscle repair and also keep fat low after a ride.

See Also: Nutrition and Cycling Performance


During the rest of the day when you are not riding, you should eat normal, healthy foods. Avoid high glycemic carbs and simple sugars like what you were eating around your training. Instead, you want to focus on complex carbohydrates high in fiber, protein, and healthy fats. 

There are several purposes for this:

  • Complex carbs, protein, and healthy fats provide greater satiety and will prevent overeating or binge eating.
  • These foods will prevent large blood sugar spikes or crashes and help you have steady energy levels. By preventing large spikes in insulin, you will also enhance fat burning.
  • “Cycling Food,” while a great source of energy for your cycling, is not the most nutritious. During the rest of the day you want to load up on healthy foods to make sure you’re eating a balanced diet.

Examples of good food choices when you are not training:

Complex carbs: whole grain bread, quinoa, sweet potatoes, brown rice, whole grain pasta, beans, legumes, high fiber and low sugar cereals, oatmeal, fruits and vegetables.

Healthy fats: Nuts, seeds, avocados, grass fed butter

Lean proteins: fish, poultry, lean meats, tofu

Maintaining Energy Levels and Staying Full

You should NEVER feel like you are starving yourself. It’s ok to feel a little hungry, but if you feel like a ravenous beast all the time, something is likely off. This could be due to the wrong food choices that are not keeping you full or your Calorie balance might be off. 

There are certain foods that are more satisfying than others while staying low in Calories. You will have greater satiety and also have an easier time hitting your Calorie targets by consuming filling food.

Some of the most filling foods out there are:

  • Almost any type of vegetable and fruit. You really can’t go wrong with a big salad and sweet potato for dinner. Roasting a whole pan of vegetables in the oven is also a delicacy.
  • Beans and legumes. These foods are very high in fiber and protein and will help keep you full. They are also extremely nutritious.
  • Oatmeal. Honestly one of my favorite foods. So satisfying, so delicious. Do not buy instant oatmeal high in sugar. Instead, use plain oats and sweeten the deal with fruit and a low-glycemic sweetener. My go-to is oatmeal topped with a banana, coconut sugar, and powdered peanut butter

Additionally, you should eat often throughout the day. For some, this may seem counterintuitive for weight loss. But consuming at regular intervals will help prevent blood sugar spikes and also reduce the likelihood of binge eating. If you’ve ever come home from work or a ride absolutely famished, you know how hard it is to stop eating!

Your meals and snacks should also contain protein if possible. This will help aid in absorption and muscle repair. Your body can only absorb around 20 grams of protein at any given time, so by spacing your protein intake throughout the day your body will be able to absorb this more easily. Try to consume moderately portioned meals and snacks every 2-4 hours throughout the day

Sample Meal Plan

To put together all the pieces, I will provide a sample day of eating for a training day. On your rest days when you are not riding, just consume the “normal foods” that we discussed previously and periodize your carbs to meet energy demands.


Let’s say you like to train in the evenings after work, here is what this might look like. Again, we are going to center our simple carbs around the ride. 

At the beginning of the day let’s first calculate your TDEE to figure out how many Calories you need. Let’s say your Basal Metabolic Rate and Activity Level that you calculated equate to 2,000 Calories and you’re going to ride for 90 minutes in the evening. You know you typically burn 1,000 Calories on a 90 minute ride. 

TDEE = 2,000 (BMR + Activity Level) + 1,000 (Training) + 300 (Thermic Effect) = 3,400 Calories

Okay, so we know we want to consume around 500 Calories less than 3,400 for weight loss, so let’s shoot for approximately 2,900 Calories. 

  • 7:00 AM Breakfast – Bowl of oatmeal with your favorite toppings (500 Cal)
  • 10:00 AM Morning Snack – Rxbar –these are literally the best (200 Cal)
  • 12:30 PM Lunch – Turkey sandwich on whole grain bread, apple, carrots, hummus (600 Cal)
  • 4:00 PM Pre-Ride Snack – Banana with peanut butter, rice crackers (300 Calories)
  • 5:30 PM Ride Fuel – High carb drink mix (400 Calories) 
  • 7:30 PM Dinner – White rice, tofu, stir fry vegetables, teriyaki sauce, Reese’s Peanut butter cup– gotta live a little! (800 Calories)
  • 9:30 PM Pre-Bed snack Plain greek yogurt and strawberries (150 Calories)… it’s a great idea to consume a high protein snack before bed. This will help to promote muscle repair at night and also keep you from feeling famished when you wake up. 

If you’ve done the math, that’s 2950 Calories for the day! Exactly where we want to be. If you train in the mornings, simply reverse this scheme. Consume simple carbohydrates around your ride in the morning and healthy “Normal Food” the rest of the day. 

Race Weight

Weight loss doesn’t happen overnight, but through developing the right habits, over time your body will naturally find its optimal weight for cycling. Your race weight should be a weight that you feel lean and powerful at. 

Again, don’t worry about how much someone else weighs or what they look like, focus on what’s best for you. When you feel like you’ve reached the right weight, simply switch to maintenance Calories and consume the amount of Calories you burn each day while following the same general nutrition principles outlined in this article. 

We hope you found this article helpful and insightful. If you enjoyed this content, please share with a friend who might also be interested. If you have additional questions, feel free to contact the author at and I will be happy to help. 

We also have loads of additional content on our blog and YouTube channel so be sure to check those out. If you are looking to take your cycling training to the next level, check out our training programs here. All of our coaches have over a decade of experience and we are excited to share our experiences with you!


About Landry Bobo

Landry has raced on the road since his junior days and currently races in the elite categories. One of the things Landry loves most about cycling is the sense of satisfaction gained from working hard and getting stronger. This passion is what drove him to pursue an education in the field of exercise physiology, he holds a Master’s Degree in Exercise Science from Appalachian State University

He is excited to share his experience with athletes of all ability levels and is passionate about helping you crush your goals!

Landry@EVOQ.BIKE // Strava


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