Where has all the subcutaneous fat gone?

Don't tell me it's the quinoa

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I was riding with a friend the other day and we had started going up a hill. I got out of the saddle. “Hey!” said the friend. “You have a little vein there poking up in the bottom of your calf!”

I got really excited because my legs have the muscularity and vascularity of Velveeta. “Just one?” I asked.

The friend paused as I pushed down extra hard. “No, there may be a second tiny one next to it. Or maybe it’s a hair.”

Which kind of sums up what biking legs used to look like. Do you remember, like thirty or so years ago, when pretty much all the local people who were any good all looked the same? They were:

  • Skinny
  • Had little muscles
  • Had definition but nothing crazy
  • Didn’t have veiny legs that looked like Tokyo road maps

Other things about most good bike racers back then:

  • Pretty small upper bodies
  • Pencil-type necks
  • Looked like they might break if you dropped them

Of course there were always exceptions; people who had really crazy-cut legs and maybe the occasional rider who was veiny as all get-out, pros of course and of course some sprinters, and some track racers, and chunky riders who were simply tough and good, but basically bike racers weren’t very muscular or even athletic looking. Greg LeMond’s early racing photos looked like he was auditioning for the Reduced Lunch Program.

What happened?

You go to a race now and lots of guys look like body builders, with razor-cut necks and forearms and biceps, and crazy-defined calves and thighs that look like they’re going to break out from under what appears to be translucent paper-thin skin, there’s so little fat underneath it. What’s weirder is that this phenomenon is most pronounced in masters races, the exact time of life when your body has less muscle mass and more fat, and where developing and keeping on big chunks of lean meat flies in the face of everything we know about biology.

I suppose the human body has evolved since 1984. Yeah, that’s it.

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Photo of blobby calf © 2017 by Jay Yoshizumi, used with permission.

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