Can a cyclist be fat and fit?

We have all seen them. The 40-something men wearing Assos or Castelli gear and riding a £5k bike. Many of them look more like telly tubbies than cyclists but to each their own. A friend and I saw one of these in Cornwall at the weekend and it sparked quite a debate. Namely, can you be a bit fat and still be fit as a cyclist?

I will be honest, most of the debate was less than complimentary but we both agreed that everyone should ride a bike regardless of age, size, sex or fitness.

According to the NHS, it is possible to be healthy and fat as long as you are something called ‘metabolically healthy’. Read about it here. Basically it says you can be of a larger size and as long as your internals are healthy you are at no more risk of some debilitating conditions as anyone else. But that doesn’t equate fitness.

Cast your mind back to the 2012 Olympics if you will. Remember all those toxic tweets against Rebecca Adlington? They were bad enough that she binned Twitter altogether. Comments about her size, body shape and composition did not make for a good read. She is an Olympian, double gold medallist and one of the most successful swimmers Britain has ever produced. Considering the nearest to the Olympics most of those ignorant trolls making the comments got is Olympic-sized pizzas, it was a bit rich.

However, the question remains.

Define fat

How fat is fat? A beer belly? Full on obesity? A bit of extra padding? The NHS BMI scale is useless as it only measures age, height and weight. Other measures that include waist size are more accurate but still only a guide.

The one thing that many measures that concentrates on weight seem to miss is that muscle is heavier than fat. So if you’re training hard and making muscle gains, you’re likely to be fitter, faster, have better VO2 max and good endurance but you might also be heavier.

The one thing we do agree on when it comes to weight is that more weight is less speed. We spend hundreds, even thousands of pounds on making our bikes lighter. We upgrade everything we can to shave a few grams off our bikes because we know lighter is better. The same goes for us as cyclists. The lighter we are, the faster we can go and the lighter we are, the less mass we have to propel up a hill.

One thing cycle salesmen neglect to mention is that many wheels, especially carbon ones, have upper weight limits…

So fit and fat?

We all need a certain amount of fat for the body to remain healthy. It not only provides a store of calories for long rides, it also cushions organs, keeps them separate and performs a range of functions necessary for health. So not all fat is bad and we need some in order to stay healthy.

So being fat is more than about weight. The fit and fat question has to take into account how much actual fat you’re carrying rather than how much you weigh. It also needs to consider where the fat is.

Of more of a consequence to your health and cycling efficiency is how much you exercise. That study above that measured people as metabolically healthy? Those people exercised. The ones in the study not regarded as metabolically healthy did not.

Another aspect of fitness is your cardiorespiratory efficiency. This contributes to how strong you are as an athlete and how much endurance you have. Fatter people can have excellent cardiorespiratory health, which is hugely beneficial in cycling.

So back to the question. Can you be fat and fit?

Does it matter? Does it really matter what size you are? What does matter is how much you exercise, how healthy your diet is and how much you ride your bike.

Let’s not pretend that it’s good to be a couch potato or think the walk from the car to the counter in KFC is exercise. We don’t need to see ‘real size’ models on TV, we don’t need the whole ‘fat and proud’ messages everywhere because it isn’t a good look. However, to say someone must be unfit because they are carrying a few extra pounds? That isn’t necessarily true.

So good on you Mr MAMIL riding your Dogma through Cornwall at the weekend. At least you’re out doing some exercise. That’s more than all to many people in this country can say!


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