Bodywork

Q:

Does Shaving Before a Race Slow You Down?

In cycling, we're not supposed to shave our legs the night before a race because it "Eats up energy." At this stage race I did as a junior none of the Euros would shave their legs because of this. Is it true?

    Photo: meunierd/Shutterstock

A:At first, we were going to reply, “Are you fo real?” and leave it at that. But we rung up Ted King, the 30-year old American who races for the Cannondale Pro Cycling Team, and was famously cut from last year’s Le Tour de France after missing the team time trial cutoff by seven seconds.

King is currently gearing up for revenge in 2014, but he took four minutes out of a mid-ride coffee break to address your weird question. Turns out you can blame the Belgians for the misinformation.

“A lot of cycling lore comes from Belgium. We call it Bel-logic. It doesn’t make any sense,” King says. “You hear everything.” (A few gems Bicycling’s Bill Gifford heard: melted cheese has twice the calories of cold cheese, and showering before a time trial will fill your legs with water.)

King has heard this particular tale that shaving eats up energy. The theory, he says, is when you shave, you cut off the outer layer of your body, so your body has to muster up energy to rebuild it.

Fun idea, but it’s wrong. Unless you’re shaving with a machete, chances are you’re simply removing a layer of dead skin cells with each blade stroke. The body does not need to summon extra energy to replace something it was already going to toss.

“Shaving is more for damage control,” King says. It’s easier to stick a bandage to skin than a tangled web of curly leg hair. But if you’re that concerned about it, skip the night-before-race shave. Human hair grows about one third of one millimeter per day. Should you crash out 48-hours post-shave (and we very, truly hope you don’t), you’ll still be a prime surface for Band-Aid glue. 

Lesson learned: Stop taking the Belgians so seriously. Unless they’re talking about beer.

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