Even if you are not actively trying to lose weight, I think there is a lot of valuable information here for all endurance athletes and would truly recommend this book to anyone with a passion for training and/or nutrition.
“If you’re like most endurance athletes, you’re concerned about your weight. You know that every extra pound you carry costs time, wastes energy, stresses your joints and affects your performance.
Racing Weight is the first book to explain how endurance athletes … should lose weight. Using sound scientific principles gleaned from the latest sports research, Matt Fitzgerald lays out five easy steps to get lean for races and events. His guidelines will help you hit your target numbers for weight, body composition, and performance while maintaining your strength and conditioning.”
The author suggests that the best way to determine your “optimum performance weight” is to maintain a long-term chart plotting body weight and body composition against performance “during a period of progressive training, with a carefully controlled diet in pursuit of peak performance.” Weight and body fat measurements should be taken every 4 weeks with a performance test (10K time trial at 95% effort) completed on the same day. Given the number of dietary and/or training factors which could also affect the performance tests, it could easily take two-three full cycles of recording in order to determine a true “optimum performance weight – and of course this assumes that you are actively pursuing this goal throughout this time period.
Overwhelmed yet??? So was I!
Fortunately, he does offer a somewhat generalized means of coming up with a number to work with – a goal that you can reasonably expect to achieve within 1-2 training cycles, or 12-24 weeks, which is based primarily on a target body fat percentage.
1. Determine your initial body fat percentage measurement. (our scale at home has this feature – perhaps not 100% accurate, but close enough)
2. Review the “Body Fat Percent Population Profile” table provided to find the percentile that most closely represents your result.
3. There are suggested targets for BF% goals offered within the table based on the amount of room for improvement. For example, a woman who falls in the 1st to 35th percentile is recommended to target a 25% improvement whereas a woman who falls in the 75th to 80th percentile is recommended to target a 10% improvement.
4. Calculate your current lean body mass (current body weight x current lean body mass percentage [100%-BF%])
5. Calculate your optimal body weight (lean body mass / optimal lean body mass percentage).
The above may seem complicated, but it was quite simple to calculate one step at a time.
Five Steps to Your Racing Weight
Now that we have a goal to work with, it’s time to come up with an action plan. This section is broken down into 5 steps as outlined below.
Before getting into the 5 steps, the book emphasizes the importance of tracking calories in vs. calories out. Personally, I would have included this as step 1. I believe it is crucial in understanding how the body works in general, and it is equally important to ensure you are eating enough (especially in training) as it is to ensure you are not eating too much. There can be a fine line and tracking calories in/out along with weight/BF% is probably the best way to figure that out.
Counting calories consumed and calories burned is probably quite basic for most of us, but this chapter goes into detail, which I think is crucial as a foundation for what comes next.
On to the steps…
This section emphasizes the importance of selecting ”high quality foods” (fruits, vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, low-fat dairy and essential fats) over “low quality foods” (such as refined grains, fried foods, high fat protein), suggesting various substitutions.
It also introduces the Diet Quality Scale, which is used to rank all foods consumed throughout the day and and assigns an overall score, with a higher number representing a healthier diet. What I found most interesting and valuable about the scale is that the value for various food categories changes throughout the day based on how many servings from that category you have consumed. i.e. the first, second and third servings of fruit consumed are worth 2 points each, the fourth is worth 1 and any additional servings do not count any points. On the contrary, the first and seconds servings of grains subtract 1 point from your total, but any additional servings subtract 2 points each.
The key is: “intrinsic wholesomeness of foods as well as … balance and moderation that also contribute to overall diet quality.” Too much of a good thing can still be too much.
This section addresses the importance of balancing macro-nutrients – carbohydrates, fat, protein. It discusses the purpose(s) of each in depth, and also offers a guideline as far as how our diet should be broken down. Big picture: 40-80% carb, 20-40% fat, 10-25% protein. The ranges are broad, and the author suggest first looking at your carbohydrate intake to determine what will work best for your training. The Recommended Daily Carbohydrate Intake for Athletes Table suggests 5-6 grams of carbohydrate per kilogram of body weight for someone who trains less than 4 hours per week, or up to 12 grams per kilogram for 25+ training hours.
Once you have determined a target number of carbohydrate grams, you can use that total to calculate how many of your daily calories it will consume. 1 gram of carbohydrate = 4 calories. (Multiply your daily number of carbohydrate grams by 4 to determine target carbohydrate calories, then divide this number by your total daily calories to determine the percentage. From there, you can adjust your fat and protein consumption as needed. (1 gram of protein = 4 calories, 1 gram of fat = 9 calories).
There is also a table provided including warning signs that may indicate if your body is low on any particular macro-nutrient. For example, frequent illness or burn-out/lack of motivation may indicate inadequate carbohydrates, while slow healing from injury may indicate a lack of protein. Both poor training performance and slow recovery were listed for each macro-nutrient, which is one of many reasons that it is so important to maintain a balanced diet while training.
“The first two steps [above] are all about consuming the right nutrients to reach your racing weight. The third step is about taking in the right nutrients at the best possible times to get this desired result.”
This section is all about energy partitioning, which is essentially what your body does with calories consumed. The three primary options are:
- fat storage in adipose tissue (which essentially means body fat)
- carbohydrate, fat and protein storage in muscle cells for power
- carbohydrate, fat and (to a lesser extent) protein for immediate energy
Ideally, we want to shift our energy partitioning away from fat storage and toward muscle storage and immediate energy use. The book breaks down the best way to do this by means of the following five rules of nutrient timing: (i) eat early; (ii) eat often, (iii) eat before exercise, (iv) eat during exercise; (v) eat after exercise.
The chapter includes a proposed Nutrient Timing Schedule which breaks down suggested meal and snack times for those who workout in the morning, noon, evening or twice a day.
Not to be confused with controlling our appetite. We are encouraged to shrink our appetites (or satisfy it with fewer calories) as opposed to simply eating less than our appetite demands. To do so:
- practice nutrient timing (eat early, eat frequently, eat slowly)
- eat mindfully (monitor and avoid emotional/spontaneous/habitual eating)
- eat high-satiety foods (fiber, protein and long-chain fatty acids offer more satiety per calorie, thus fewer calories will be required to satisfy out appetite)
- eat low density foods (water and fiber add volume to foods without adding calories - thus taking up more room in your stomach and releasing satiety hormones)
- eat less (by cutting back on calories significantly [40%] for a week or so, you can increase your brain’s sensitivity to the “leptin” [appetite regulating] hormone, then increase to a more reasonable number) *this is only recommended if you are much heavier than your racing weight and believe that your appetite has been inflated by long-term over-eating
- befriend your appetite again (remember that appetite is not the enemy – learn to understand and embrace it, managing it using the above strategies)
This section addresses the ongoing debate between Higher Exercise Volume at Moderate Intensity VS Less Volume at High Intensity – not from a training perspective , but from a calorie-burn/weight-loss perspective.
The chapter cites several research studies, VO-2 max stats, the scientific explanation behind chemicals released during exercise, EPOC (excess post-exercise oxygen consumption) and more to summarize that: “both types of exercise are effective for fat-burning, and a program that combines the two is likely to be more effective than one based on either type alone.”
It also discusses the benefits of strength-training for this purpose, specifically the increased muscle metabolism and increased in EPOC – both resulting in higher calorie-burn.
What the Pros Eat
Meal plans from the likes of Ryan Hall, Simon Whitfield, Chrissie Wellington and many others, along with a collection of recipes from Pip Taylor.