Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Racing Weight: Review + Bloggy-Book-Share!

How to Get Lean for Peak Performance
by Matt Fitzgerald

I recently finished this book (after giving it to hubs for his Birthday... no ulterior motive here). Warning: I may have gotten carried away with this review. I really took a lot away from this book and wanted to share as much as possible with you, without completely regurgitating every point.

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."

Sign me up for that! If you've been following me for any length of time, you'll know that I have had quite the journey with my own weight (upwards of 200 pounds just five years ago). In recent years, I have noticed a significant improvement in performance with weight loss, not to mention how much better I feel. I know I still have plenty of some room to improve in this area, and it's something that is important to me, which is why this book initially caught my eye. I should clarify that I do not have any delusions of reaching my true "optimal performance weight", however I hoped this book could offer some guidance in terms of getting a few steps closer - and so far, I have not been disappointed. Sometimes small changes = big results.

Without giving too much away, below is a not-so-brief summary of what you'll find between the covers.


The book opens exactly how I hoped it would; with an explanation as to why it is so beneficial to be lighter and leaner as a runner. The key is reducing body fat, which in turn will reduce overall body weight, and these opening chapters encourage the reader to "enhance your focus, awareness and motivation" in achieving this goal.

Finding Your Racing Weight

I have to admit, I cracked this book open hoping it would give me a black and white answer as to what my ideal "racing" (a.k.a. "optimal performance") weight is. But of course, it is not that simple. There are far too many factors and the same formula is not going to work for everyone.

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...
1. Improve Your Diet Quality

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.

2. Balance Your Energy Sources

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.

3. Time Your Nutrition

"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. 

4. Manage Your Appetite

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)

5. Train Right

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.


The final pages are reserved for supplements and a strength-training routine, which I will not get into since I skimmed through it.


(Did anybody actually make it this far?)

As you can probably tell, this is a topic that I am passionate about and I really think this book has a lot to offer. I would love to take the opportunity to pass it along to some of you! When I first mentioned that I was reading it back in October, a certain someone expressed an interest in borrowing it and she sparked an idea. Since I can't part with this copy, I picked up another one in the hopes that it can start making the rounds in the blog-o-sphere. Tonia is first! (See? Sometimes all you have to do is ask.) The rules are simple:

1. Add your name/blog/date inside the front cover.
2. Blog about it. Post a review, a photo of yourself with the book or anything you like.
3. Pass it along to somebody else and ask that they do the same!

Thanks for reading!

HBBC Update
Mon. Nov. 29: treadmill warm-up run (2), Spin (6), weights (1), F&V (1) = 8


Pining for Pinterest said...

Thanks for sharing! That is some great information :)

Pretend this is real said...

What a fantastic idea. Kudos.

Quinton J said...

If they don't pay you for this review...they should.

Angela said...

Great review! Thanks. If tonia needs someone to pass the book onto I would love to read it.

Unknown said...

great review, this whole racing weight thing sounds complicated to me, though

RunToTheFinish said...

I had mixed feelings on this book. I thought it generally ahad a lot of good information, but then I didn't like his actual suggested diet plan and once I read it a second time, i realized that I really already knew the 5 things he was telling me. I probably got more info from Thrive, though I also don't follow his diet because it's too raw.

Anonymous said...

thats a lot of info! very informative. i will have to re-read this post when back in training!


Great review! I can not wait to read it! I'll be stalking the mailbox!

Laura said...

VERY interesting concepts. I am going to focus more on nutrition this time around to see if it helps...

J said...

I will get around to reading this book one day!! Great review! It definitely sounds like something I want to read!

Jill said...

This is one of my very favorite books, I've had it for over a year now and do know where I race well...it's just very VERY hard to get my body to 13.5% BF and keep it there for any length of time. I guess that's why you "peak" only so often in a year. Thanks for the review!!

TNTcoach Ken said...

This seems hard! I'm just going to stay fat...............

ShutUpandRun said...

Really intersting sounding book. Thanks for the detailed review. I'm with Q, they should pay you. I've always wanted to know my body fat %, but never have.

Bethany + Ryan said...

Cool, I'll have to check it out, thanks. I do feel like I'm carrying extra weight when I run and every time I lose a few pounds my times drop! Thanks for the review

Stacey said...

Great review. I will definitely have to check it out.

racing dawn said...

Great review! This is exactly what I'm looking for right now! I've been running/racing and not dropping a pound! Time for some re-evaluation! I'm gonna have to pick up the book cause I just can't wait!! :)

Nitmos said...

I do not believe I need the book now after reading the review! No matter what I do, I end up at around the same weight going into every marathon so I figure that must be optimal.

Denise said...

now that was a good review!! good enough to make me want to read it.

Anonymous said...

This was ana awesome review - my husband the crazy cyclist has this book and has been trying to get me to read it for ages. Of course I can't take any diet advice from him without getting super defensive, so this is great...now to get one of those scales that measures body fat...

Robin said...

Have a copy and I'm reading this myself....very interesting/good stuff. I bought his other book as well "RUN: The Mind-Body Method of Running by Feel" (will read that next).

Great review!

Emz said...


I [kinda] read this book. Overwhelmed - doesn't even cover it.

Fifty K said...

great review

Stacie said...

Awesome idea. I'd love to be a part of the book share.

Anonymous said...

What a great idea! I have several books that could be shared with others. I want to start a book-share!

Unknown said...

Thanks for the review! I've been wanting to read this one, I just haven't gotten the chance (and I don't know if I am ready to embrace the concepts at this point...).

Shellyrm ~ just a country runner said...

Looks like a worth while read!

elaine said...

Valuable report, thanks!

Nicole said...

Thanks for sharing! Very very interesting!

Lindsay said...

wtffff my phone is eating my comment grrr. um anyway. Let me summarize: I'm lazy, do math for me, I'm mad that yo did not hold a legit giveaway. Prejudice.

H Love said...

great idea....I wanna get in line too!!

CautiouslyAudacious said...

I have this book but I need to get past the 1st chapter, maybe that's why I've gone in the opposite direction! You've inspired me to revisit this book and pay attention!

Richelle said...

Looks like a great book! I definitely have to check it out.

Zaneta @ Runner's Luck said...

great review!! :D

Mark said...

Great review!! I want in on the book! Thanks Marlene!

Anonymous said...

I was waiting to hear what you thought of this book - great review! While I have an opinion on some of his points, for the "every day athlete" (i.e. not elite), there is truth in finding a weight that feels better and allows you to perform at your best!

"Time your Nutrition" & "Manage Your Appetite" - those are two things you can't go wrong with ;)

MCM Mama said...

Great review. I'd definitely be interested in the "book share".

Unknown said...

Loved your review ... and your book share idea!

Winks & Smiles,

Mel -Tall Mom on the Run said...

GREAT GREAT idea.. We should have a Bloggy library to capture the books in circulation.. Can I be after T?? I NEED to get down to "my old playing weight."


Anonymous said...

I'll add in to what everyone else is already saying...but really great idea! I'm going to def. check this book out.