Cyclingnews Fitness Q&A - June 8, 2011

Making sure your shoes are the right size and cleats are positioned corrected can make a big difference to your performance.

Making sure your shoes are the right size and cleats are positioned corrected can make a big difference to your performance. (Image credit: Steve Hogg)

Topics: Resting HR, Creatine, Choosing the right cadence, Training and racing when ill, Racing prep, Correct bike fit.

Got a question for the fitness panel? Send it to Emails may be edited for length or clarity, but we try to publish both questions and answers in their entirety.

To find advice that relates to you more easily:

Resting Heart-rate and riding performance

Using Creatine as a supplement

Choosing the right cadence for criterium racing

Training and racing when ill

How much training is needed before taking on a regular racing schedule?

Bike fitting, how to know if you’re not set up correctly

Resting Heart-rate and riding performance


The question I have is how important is a low resting heart rate to ones cycling performance? I have had a resting heart rate that averages in the low to mid 50's with the lowest i have had at 48 bpm. I have seen little to no correlation between performance and resting heart rate other than an elevated heart rate as increased training volume and decreased performance. No training I seem to do will lower it. Am I limited to how far I can go in cycling with a relatively high resting heart rate? It puzzles me because I can be faster than many people with lower resting heart rates and higher max heart rate. I assume that means I can't pump as much blood per minute as fellow competitors. What training do you suggest for attempting to increase heart volume? Is it even important?



Scott Saifer says:

Resting heart rate is important, but resting heart rate compared to other riders is not.

As you recover better and improve aerobic fitness, your resting heart rate will decrease. Thus lower resting heart rate is better, so long as you are comparing to your own resting heart rate on other days. There is no strong connection between resting heart rate and competitive ability though, once you are down in the healthy athlete range (Say, below 54 bpm, just to pick a random number). I don't expect to find anyone with a resting heart rate in the high 60s winning races (write me if you know one) but there's no reason to expect a rider with a resting heart rate of 44 to routinely beat one with a resting heart rate of 48 or 50 either.

Using Creatine as a supplement

Is there any merit to supplementing with Creatine? I am aware of the hydration issues associated with Creatine – but are there any other issues that I should be aware of?



Pamela Hinton says:

Creatine is a nitrogen-containing compound that is made in the liver and kidneys from the amino acids arginine and glycine. We make about 1-2 g of creatine per day and consume another 1-2 g per day in meat and fish. Skeletal muscle contains most of the body’s creatine, but there is an upper limit to the amount of creatine that the muscle will retain. Any excess creatine consumed in the diet or from supplements is excreted by the kidneys. For this reason, individuals who consume adequate amounts of creatine in their diet are less likely to derive any benefit from taking additional creatine than vegetarians whose diets are lacking creatine.

In individuals who respond to supplementation, the amount of creatine in skeletal muscle typically increases 15-20% and body weight increases 1-3 kg during the first 5-7 days of supplementation.

Creatine is not anabolic; it does not stimulate muscle protein synthesis or muscle growth. The rapid weight gain associated with creatine supplementation is due to water retention in the muscle cells. When the muscle cells take in more creatine, they also have to retain more water to maintain the correct intracellular fluid pressure. The extra water not only decreases the power to weight ratio (by increasing weight and not power), but it may impair muscle function and cause muscle stiffness and cramping. Because body water will shift from the blood to the muscle cells, sweating and thermoregulation may be impaired. Athletes who supplement with creatine must be especially careful not to become dehydrated—they should consume copious fluids and refrain from strenuous exercise, especially in the heat.

Creatine is used by skeletal muscle to make phosphocreatine. During maximal, anaerobic efforts, the phosphocreatine allows the muscle to generate a large amount of ATP very rapidly. However, there is only enough phosphocreatine to last 10-20 seconds. The idea behind “creatine loading” is that by increasing the amount of creatine in the muscle, there will be more phosphocreatine on hand to generate ATP.

If there is more ATP available for use during maximal, anaerobic efforts, then the muscle will have more energy and performance will improve. Creatine supplementation has been shown to improve performance in repeated cycling sprints and maximal weight lifting efforts. In other words, creatine does not increase maximal power or strength, but allows an individual to achieve their max during repetitive tests separated by short rest intervals. Creatine does not increase endurance performance because ATP is derived from aerobic metabolism of glucose and fat and not from phosphocreatine.

The only way to increase muscle mass is to perform resistance training. In theory, creatine supplementation may allow you to train harder, i.e., do more repetitions at max before fatiguing. However, any gains in strength may be offset by the water retention in the muscle, which impairs optimal muscle cell function.

Choosing the right cadence for criterium racing


I am a 29 year old, Cat. 2 who has been racing for about 6 years. When I first began racing I was often called a pedal "masher" because I would sometimes turn a large gear, especially while climbing. Although I didn't keep any statistics over this period of time, I would imagine my average cadence was in the middle 80's. Recently people have commented that during criteriums I keep a cadence much higher than the other riders. After doing some research on the files in my Garmin I found in intense, flat crits my cadence is often above 95 rpm.

I will mention I used to put more hours on the bike early in my racing "career", and in the past year my weeks consist of 6-8 hours of moderate to high intensity training. I had heard Lance Armstrong changed his cadence after recovering from cancer because he lacked the strength to push a heavier gear. Do you think a lack of strength also could have influenced my increase in cadence or is there something I have overlooked? Would there be an advantage to lowering my cadence?

Thanks for your time,


Scott Saifer says:

The short answer is - no! Don't lower your cadence! 95 is better than lower cadences for crits. My theory is that Lance claimed he had to spin "because he was weak" because he didn't want other riders to imitate him and get the advantage of spinning. Provided that you have trained yourself to spin smoothy, riding at 95 rpm or even 100-105 will generally mean more gradual fatigue compared to lower cadences. Higher cadence also means you can accelerate more quickly to keep gaps tight or jump on a wheel. Keep it up so long as it is working for you competitively. You can make more power at a lower cadence, but at the cost of increased fatigue, so shift up if you must, but only if you must.

Here's another way to think about your situation: You are training 6-8 hours per week and racing with guys who train 15-20 hours per week or even more. Whatever you are doing is good, if you are even vaguely competitive.

Training and racing when ill


I read a recent article about the late Xavier Tondo on this site and, apart from seeming like a thoroughly nice chap, one of his comments reminded me of an issue that I am always unclear about. He mentioned that he rode the Giro with a fever before being obliged to withdraw. Other pros have also discussed competing with sickness. Fabian Cancellara said he won the World TT champs with a 40degree fever and Pantani famously attacked the Tour de France peloton in the mountains, forcing a chase, before withdrawing once caught from the bronchitis he had been suffering with for a week. These anecdotes are far from isolated particularly when considering the grand tours.

I have always received advice that you never train with a sore throat, let alone a fever. I don't even go to work if I have a fever! One hears stories about elite athletes who train with similar symptoms and consequently suffer cardiac arrest. What should one do; is training under these circumstances acceptable especially given the contrasting demands of a mountainous Tour stage with a fever and a 2hr training ride at moderate intensity with a sore throat so not to lose fitness?

Now, I can predict that your response will be on the conservative side since this is an internationally viewable forum and the consequences of one person training on a sore throat and then suffering a heart attack, related or not to the symptoms, and linking it to the present issue could be litigation, and I respect this. But maybe you could present the response from a variety of hypothetical view points and so cover yourselves?

Many thanks,

Chris Ratcliffe

Hawkes Bay, New Zealand

Scott Saifer says:

This is an easy one. Thanks for being concerned for our legal safety and all. I'm not concerned so much about people who train or race sick having heart attacks. Yes, that may happen, but it's rare enough not to be my main concern when thinking about racing sick. My concern would be that hard exercise when you are already sick will extend the sick time since cortisol which is released after hard exercise shuts down certain parts of the immune system. Riding hard with a fever means staying sick longer and possibly falling into a more serious illness.

For the serious bike racer, illness is a bummer because it interferes with training and racing. The rest of us don't like feeling sick but the bottom line deciding factor for a serious racer is how riding or not riding is going to affect performance in target events. After a big tour, the Olympics or Worlds, riders are going to take it easy for a while anyway. It doesn't matter change much if they stick in the race while sick. They are going to take time to recover from illness for from hard riding. Once the rider is sick, they are going to take some time off whether they try to finish the race or not. That means "staying sick longer" doesn't really change anything. On the other hand, if the rider is sick in the middle of the one big event they've been preparing for since last year, or maybe for their whole lives, pulling out while they can still pedal is a big deal.

So, bottom line: If you are sick, don't train or race unless the event is the target event of your season. If it is the big event of the year, race it long enough to convince yourself you're not going to be happy with the competitive result, and then, if that's the case, pull out. You wouldn't want to risk your long term health for the Ferretville Criterium, but for Worlds or a Grand Tour?

How much training is needed before taking on a regular racing schedule?


I want to start racing my road bike; however how many miles/hours will I need to put in a week to achieve this. At the moment I'm doing about 2-4 hours which i know is not enough.



Scott Saifer says:

Hi Rich,

The answer to your question depends a bit on your age how and how your local races are categorized. If you are in an age group where you'll be thrown in right away with the elite of your generation, you'll need to train a bit more. If they have a novice category for you, or for an age group not too much younger, you can train less. In general, most riders will find a fitness threshold somewhere between 8 and 12 hours per week, where if they train less than that, they feel okay on the bike and are faster than non-riders but slower than the racers, and if they train more they can keep up with the racers. You don't need to do just one 8-12 hour week and then you'll be ready to race. Rather you need to hit those numbers for a few months consecutively. Of course, the guys who win the bigger races in the higher categories are mostly training more than this as well.

What you do in those hours is important as well as how many hours you do. While you are building up, mostly doing rides at a very steady, very sustainable pace will work well. Riding every other day or more often works much better than doing longer rides separated by more rest days, though one longer ride per week seems to bring a lot of benefit, so aim to get one ride of 3-4 hours consistently once you have built up the volume. When you've been over eight hours per week for a month or two, it will be time to add intervals of harder effort.

Bike fitting, how to know if you’re not set up correctly


I am wondering if I really need a bike fitting. Some background: I currently ride about 7,000 miles annually and can hold my own with a group but I am not a racer. I have ridden as far as 130 miles and experienced no pain during or after the ride other than some very slight pain below both kneecaps. Shorter rides reveal no pain whatsoever, no matter how tough they are. they only fit I received was a super basic setup from my LBS when I purchased the bike.

That said, I want to get everything I can from the bike and I wonder if I am leaving anything on the table power-wise. I'm not afraid of the cost of a fit but I am concerned that I will possibly do more harm than good by tweaking my current setup.

Your thoughts?


Steve Hogg says:

G'day Doug,
It all comes down to how well you choose your bike fitter. Here's what I advise.

1. Only use those who offer an unqualified money back if not happy guarantee. That sorts the wheat from the chaff very quickly as well as giving you some certainty that your money is well spent.

2. You are buying expertise, not tooling, so shy away from those who's major advertising thrust is the brand of tooling they use. If someone is advertising "We use Brand X tooling" but not advertising their expertise with at least equal emphasis, then you are probably not going to get the result you are looking for.

3. Ask around or google around and see what the reputation is amongst people who have used anyone you're contemplating.

If you get stuck, let me know where you are and I'll try and point you in the right direction.

The Cyclingnews Form & Fitness panel

Scott Saifer ( is head coach, CEO of Wenzel and has been coaching cyclists professionally for 18 years. He combines a master's degree in Exercise Physiology with experience in 20 years of touring and racing and over 300 road, track and MTB races to deliver training plans and advice that are both rigorously scientific and compatible with the real world of bike racing.

Scott has helped clients to turn pro as well as to win medals at US Masters National and World Championship events. He has worked with hundreds of beginning riders and racers and particularly enjoys working with the special or challenging rider. Scott is co-author of Bike Racing 101 with Kendra Wenzel and his monthly column appears in ROAD Magazine.

Steve Hogg has owned and operated Pedal Pushers since 1986, a cycle shop specialising in rider positioning and custom bicycles. In that time he has positioned riders from all cycling disciplines and of all levels of ability with every concievable cycling problem. Clients range from recreational riders and riders with disabilities to World and National champions. He can be reached at:

Kelby Bethards, MD received a Bachelor of Science in Electrical Engineering from Iowa State University (1994) before obtaining an M.D. from the University of Iowa College of Medicine in 2000. Has been a racing cyclist 'on and off' for 20 years, and when time allows, he races Cat 3 and 35+.

He is a team physician for two local Ft Collins, CO, teams, and currently works Family Practice in multiple settings: rural, urgent care, inpatient and the like.

Pam Hinton has a bachelor's degree in Molecular Biology and a doctoral degree in Nutritional Sciences, both from the University of Wisconsin-Madison.

She did postdoctoral training at Cornell University and is now an associate professor of Nutrition and Exercise Physiology at the University of Missouri-Columbia where she studies the effects of energy balance on bone health. She has published on the effects of cycling and multi-day stage racing on bone density and turnover.

Pam was an All-American in track while at the UW. She started cycling competitively in 2003 and is a three-time Missouri State Road Champion.

James Hibbard progressed from the junior to the professional ranks as a rider and has over 15 years of competitive cycling experience. He is a former Collegiate All-American track cyclist, trained as a resident athlete at the United States Olympic Training Center, earned international medals as part of the U.S. National Team, and was a member of the powerhouse Shaklee and HealthNet Professional road cycling teams.

He has earned 13 National Track Championship medals, as well as numerous junior, U-23 and elite California State championships on both the road and track. Since retiring from full-time racing in 2005, James has focused on his development as a coach.

David Fleckenstein, MPT, OCS ( is a physical therapist practicing in Eagle, ID and the president of Physiotherapy, PA, an outpatient orthopedic clinic focusing in orthopedics, spine, and sportsmedicine care.

His clients have included World and US champions, Olympic athletes and numerous professional athletes. He received his Masters degree in Physical Therapy from Emory University and is currently completing his doctorate at Regis University.

He is a board certified orthopedic specialist focusing in manual medicine and specific retraining of spine and joint stabilisation musculature. He is a former Cat I road racer and Expert mountain biker.

Carrie Cheadle, MA ( is a Sports Psychology consultant who has dedicated her career to helping athletes of all ages and abilities perform to their potential. Carrie specialises in working with cyclists, in disciplines ranging from track racing to mountain biking. She holds a bachelors degree in Psychology from Sonoma State University as well as a masters degree in Sport Psychology from John F. Kennedy University.

Dave Palese ( is a USA Cycling licensed coach and masters' class road racer with 16 years' race experience. He coaches racers and riders of all abilities from his home in southern Maine, USA, where he lives with his wife Sheryl, daughter Molly, and two cats, Miranda and Mu-Mu.

Dario Fredrick ( is an exercise physiologist and head coach for Whole Athlete™. He is a former category 1 & semi-pro MTB racer. Dario holds a masters degree in exercise science and a bachelors in sport psychology.

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