Team Sky doctor Roger Palfreeman has put forward the idea that 'functional dehydration' could be used in order to increase a rider’s power to weight ratio, according to Spanish newspaper El Pais. Palfreeman added that using the technique Chris Froome would be able to cut 47 seconds off his climb up Alpe d'Huez.
Palfreeman made his comments last week at a conference in Doha, Qatar, on heat and cycling. Dehydration has a detrimental effect on the body's ability to perform, but the theory of functional dehydration says that if the percentage of weight lost is more than the percentage of power, then the power to weight ratio of the rider will increase.
Weight has become an obsessional part of preparing for a race, particularly for those targeting the general classification. As the weights of bikes have decreased, so too has the weight of the riders. According to the El Pais article, between 2007 – Froome's debut season as a professional – and 2012 when he finished second behind Bradley Wiggins at the Tour de France, Froome dropped from 75 to 67 kilos. It says that despite the weight loss, Froome was able to maintain the same relative performance as Miguel Indurain, who was some 14 kilos heavier when he won his penultimate Tour de France in 1994.
"And losing two kilos in a few hours one day in the mountains of the Tour, Froome is capable of ascending Alpe d'Huez 47 seconds quicker than his previous best, which is no little thing considering that in 2015, for example, he won the Tour by only 72 seconds," said Palfreeman. "You can lose those two kilos through controlled dehydration, functional, drinking less than certain logic would call for."
Freeman says that at 67 kilos, Froome would be capable of 6.25 watts per kilo – the number given when Froome's physiological data was released late last year. However, if he were to shift two more kilos, that could move up to 6.45 W/kg.
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Functional dehydration is not a new idea and in the book Food, Nutrition and Sports Performance Ii: The IOC Consensus Conference on Sports Nutrition (2004) by Ron J. Maughan, Louise Burke and Edward F. Coyle, briefly discusses the idea but says that it is a risky strategy. "Given the robust negative effect of dehydration-induced hyperthermia [overheating - ed], this theoretical increase in performance potential (power per kilogramme) can only be realized if the individual can tolerate hyperthermia when dehydrated," the book says. "Bearing in mind that the combination of dehydration and hyperthermia act synergistically to impair cardiovascular function, such 'functional' dehydration is a gamble."
Palfreeman believes that with adequate preparation, it is possible to combat the effects that the heat would have. He recommended that the riders remain ignorant of their state of dehydration, to avoid negative thoughts, and that menthol mouthwash be used to fool thirst and ‘generate a feeling of cold.’ Training for heat perception would also be required, and he added that medication such as paracetamol would help in altering the perception of heat. Palfreeman also states that Wellbutrin. also known as bupropion, would have an affect. However, the anti-depressant has caused some concern from the world Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and is currently on their monitored list.
El Pais cites some anonymous medical staff of other professional teams, who don't give much credence to the idea and believe it is part of the 'marketing' of Team Sky.