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Hill Climb: Power to weight ratio is not just about weight

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Cycling uphill is all about the power to body mass ratio or watts per kg as they say it in the cycling jargon. This year our Head of Science Dr. Tim Podlogar is getting ready for the British Hill Climb Championship taking place in the Peak District’s Winnats pass on the 31st October and this is the continuation of the story behind the scenes of preparation.

Two victories for Tim

Firstly, a quick update on the progress. Last weekend of September Tim planned to do a Hill Climb race near the Winnats pass and actually preview this climb as well, however, he was stopped by lack of fuel in the UK.

“It was the first time that I decided to hire a car and attempt to drive on the correct (left) side of the road. Unfortunately, the luck was not on my side as a few days earlier the UK started facing a lack of fuel due to the lack of petrol delivery to the petrol stations. So I ended up driving halfway towards Sheffield when I figured that I don’t have enough fuel to get there nor can I refuel. So I had to go home and wait for another opportunity.”

Tim Podlogar
Start for the Hill Climb for a female competitor

So, he found the next one next week when there were two races scheduled in Wales near Swansea on Sunday the 3rd of October. These climbs were somehow longer than most British climbs. And well – Tim won on both of them by a relatively big margin. The first one was Bwlch Mountain from Treorchy and the second one the Rhigos Mountain from Treorchy as well.

Tim’s coach Simon Cirnski comments on the performance:

“We can be really happy with this racing weekend. Tim did two solid efforts. The first one was at 379 W for ~10min and the second one was even better. Tim pushed 386 W (6.12 W/kg) for 13:30 and with that improved his personal best in power for 11 watts. So we can be really happy how Tim is progressing towards his race at the end of the month. He has really put in the effort into training. This is just another example showing that despite being in a pretty good shape, a good approach to training can always add a cherry onto the top. “

A screenshot from the WKO software

Nutrition

So, nutrition. Tim’s body mass at the start of the project was around 64.5-65 kg after gaining a couple of kilograms after his injury in the end of August. Tim and HPC’s dietitian Blaž Grmek decided to try to shed the body mass by a few kg in order to improve the W/kg ratio.

Happy Tim

Tim’s diet was planned so that carbohydrate availability remained very high before and during high intensity interval training sessions. This way he was able to properly execute the training programme prepared by HPC’s coach Simon Cirnski. At the same time Tim cut down on fat intake so that the overall caloric intake was too high. Tim was therefore allowed to eat lots of Haribo, rice and everything else that he loves eating. On the other hand, after such sessions and prior to lower intensity sessions, the food intake was relatively low with a focus on protein (e.g., Skyr). Aim was simple. Lower intensity rides could be primarily fuelled by fat that is stored in our bodies. Tim was able to get down to 63 kg in a few weeks. Then, his body mass plateaued as his recovery started to suffer.

The problem of a calorie restriction and thus carbohydrate restriction before training sessions, low or high intensity ones is the muscle damage arising as a result of low carbohydrate availability. And because the training sessions only got more intense and the qualifications were coming up, body mass loss simply wasn’t possible anymore. Hence Tim and Blaž decided to maintain the body mass and rather focus on executing the training properly.

Blaž explains:

“We know that maintaining the body mass is not easy especially as energy needs depend on intensity and duration of training. We also know that Tim has a stressful job, so our goal was to adjust and set the optimal meals according to his daily schedule and make sure that he doesn’t spend too much time obsessing with food. Tim can easily ingest large amounts of carbohydrates if needed, so that was never an issue. So the goal was to adjust the protein intake that is the most important for inducing the feeling of satiety. In addition to this, sufficient protein intake helps with preservation of muscle mass. In combination with carbohydrate protein is also important for optimal recovery. So I recommended Tim to eat at least 2 grams of high quality protein per kg of body mass per day. As it is very difficult to self monitor the food intake I asked Tim to send me photos of the meals so that I kept track of what he ate and provide him feedback on food choices.

Once Tim finishes with qualifications in the middle of October there will still be 3 weeks left to shed some more body mass for the final race and based on the training performance it will be decided on how much body mass he can lose.

The other thing that we get asked a lot is – what supplements does Tim use and recommend.

Not many actually… Tim uses Beta Alanine to increase carnosine levels in the muscle tissue that should end up helping him with buffering excess H+ ions that would otherwise be causing acidosis. Also, higher levels of carnosine should help with improved contractility in a fatigued state.

Another supplement that should help with performance of high intensity intervals would have been sodium bicarbonate. Tim used it in the past but due to the very unpleasant taste hated it so much that he cannot stand it anymore.

“I used it a few years ago when getting ready for Granfondo Stelvio Santini that I ultimately finished third. But the taste is so awful that I just cannot even imagine having it. On the top of this I commonly had gastrointestinal issues when I took it and I retained loads of water due to the sodium component of the supplement. And as I try to be as light as possible I do not think I am doing much here. Hence I am not taking it.”

That’s it for now… We will definitely keep you up-to-date!

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