Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald details a weight management system for endurance athletes. It's a system based on solid evidence and also the practices of elite athletes.
The book is organised into three main sections. The first few chapters are concerned with finding your ideal racing weight, the middle section details the six steps required to reach peak performance and the final section is focused on fine-tuning.
There's little doubt that the diligent reader will find the arguments persuasive and the system effective.
The introduction discusses the importance of runners achieving their ideal weight, and how that weight and the nutritional needs of runners differ from the non-running population.
The six practices that the author considers key to weight-management success – all of which are discussed in greater detail later in the book – are introduced and a brief argument is made for the importance of training correctly to achieve the best results.
Chapter One: Get Leaner, Go Faster
The first chapter of the book starts by looking at a few studies that show the importance of being light and lean in order to perform well. Some of the less-obvious benefits of being lean, such as better oxygen distribution and heat dissipation, are also mentioned.
Provided next is a description of the body types that are characteristic of successful athletes in various endurance sports, and an explanation of why those body types are fit for the job. Body types considered are those most-appropriate for cross-country skiing, cycling, rowing, swimming and of course running.
Chapter Two: How Much Should You Weigh?
As the title suggests, this chapter is all about finding your ideal racing weight.
The problem with applying generic formulas, such as BMI, is discussed, then the three steps required to discover one’s perfect racing weight are given. Supporting tables and guidelines are provided to assist in these steps and there’s also a “Racing Weight Cheat Sheet” that summarises the process.
Chapter Three: Dieting vs. Performance Weight Management
The chapter begins by explaining the difference between dieting and performance weight management and emphasises that large energy deficits can negatively impact training and performance.
The dangers of extreme and rapid weight loss and its impact on performance are outlined and the concerns are backed up with a look at a couple of case studies.
There are notes on the problems with the sustainability of diets and how performance weight management does not suffer from these same problems.
The chapter finishes with some notes on the problem with “Athletic Dieting”: fad diets specifically designed for athletes.
Chapter Four: Improving Your Diet Quality
The interesting observation is made that most people are aware to a large degree what constitutes a healthy diet (we all now that fruit and veg are better than crisps and chocolate) and a study detailing the long-term effect of diet quality on weight gain is outlined.
There's a discussion of how to measure diet quality and why popular measures, such as Glycaemic Index, are inadequate.
The “Diet Quality Score” is then introduced. This is a method invented by the author as a reliable means of measuring overall diet quality.
Arguments are given for the benefits of the Diet Quality Score over other systems, and the chapter continues with a section given over to discussing each of the food categories used in the system, before giving instructions of how to put the system into practice and presenting a couple of example food logs.
Chapter Five: Managing Your Appetite
The problems associated with calorie counting are discussed and the benefits of the alternative approach of managing one's appetite are detailed.
There's a section about why we overeat which looks at the physiological, psychological and sociological reasons for doing so and the chapter ends with a section on how to avoid it.
Chapter Six: Balancing Your Energy Sources
A strong argument is put forward for the importance of a diet rich in carbohydrate for runners, and the problems with high fat/low carb diets such as the Zone Diet and the Paleo Diet are listed.
Intake recommendations for carbohydrates according to training volume are given and there are notes on fat and protein requirements for athletes.
Chapter Seven: Monitoring Yourself
There's lots of advice here on how and when to track body weight and body fat percentage. The importance of keeping a food diary is explained and there are details on how to measure performance along with several performance tests for various sports.
Chapter Eight: Nutrient Timing
Nutrient timing is all about when to eat and what to eat at various times for the best results.
The chapter lists seven rules of nutrient timing, each of which is explained in detail and a mix of anecdotes and studies is used to back up each claim.
There's a useful table that shows how to structure a day's nutrition according to when workouts take place.
Chapter Nine: Training for Racing Weight
The argument is put forward that “the most effective training for improved endurance performance is also the most effective training for a lean body composition”.
The point is made that despite differences between various different endurance sports, all successful endurance athletes tend to train basically the same way. This involves high volume, with the majority of it done at a low intensity.
The final section of the chapter outlines the importance of strength training and includes some tips on how to go about eating for improved strength and power.
Chapter Ten: The Racing Weight Journey
The concept of the racing weight cycle is introduced. The author argues that since most athletes are used to partitioning their training year into several phases, it makes sense to take a similar approach with performance weight management.
There's a summary of how the six steps in the Racing Weight system are incorporated into training cycles and a section detailing how to manage the “off-season”.
Also in this chapter is the "Quick Start”. This is a set of instructions for those runners who are significantly above their ideal racing weight.
The chapter finishes with several guidelines for beginners where the four key steps in the process of learning to enjoy exercise are described in detail.
Chapter Eleven: Racing Weight Foods
Twenty six staple foods for endurance runners are organised by food category, with a brief description of why they are good choices. Then several tasty and nutritious recipes are included that make use of these foods.
Chapter Twelve: What the Pros Eat
A selection of one-day food journals is presented for 19 different athletes from a variety of disciplines, including Ryan Hall, Shannon Rowbury and Scott Jurek.
Chapter Thirteen: Racing Weight and You
The final chapter of the book considers different types of runners and contains comments on how the system can work for each category. Included in this chapter is advice on how to score vegetarian and vegan diets using the Diet Quality Score.
Appendix: Strength Exercises for Endurance Athletes
30 exercises are included that should be useful for endurance athletes. Each is accompanied by a summary of its benefits, a description of how to perform it, and a couple of illustrations.
About the Author
Matt Fitzgerald is a certified sports nutritionist and consultant for several companies. He has several other books to his name (see here) and regularly writes for sports publications such as Runner's World and Competitor.
He's been coaching since 2001 and has been an endurance athlete since he was 11 years old.
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