Sunday, December 19, 2010

Book Review: Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald

I read this book in two sittings. It's a short read with some excellent points. I'd recommend if for any endurance athlete who is not at their goal racing shape.

The book is about attaining what Fitzgerald calls your "optimal performance weight" or "racing weight" which he defines as "the weight associated with your optimal performance level". Each individual's "optimal performance weight" is a combination of actual weight in pounds and percentage body fat. Fitzgerald makes a point to emphasize that weight in pounds is only 1/2 of the challenge- for many of us, losing excess fat or, even better, converting that excess fat to muscle is the main challenge. For me, that's a very important point. By weight, I'm perfectly healthy and unlikely to lose much poundage. But at 16.6% body fat, there is room for improvement, room to lose fat and gain muscle.

Early in the book, Fitzgerald helps you estimate your personal "racing weight". He makes the point, that by definition, it's not possible to predict your true optimal performance weight. The only way to know your true optimal performance weight is in retrospect, after you've attained your peak performance in a race. For many, it takes years to reach your "racing weight" in part as you try to change your body but also as you improve your overall physical fitness and training methods. But, knowing how much endurance athletes like goals and numbers, Fitzgerald provides a calculation of your estimated racing weight. Based on his calculations, my goal would be to go from 16.6% body fat to 15.5% body fat which corresponds to weight loss of 1.6 lbs. Very minimal weight loss (since I'm already at a healthy weight), but a more substantial, about 5%, change in body fat.

The book is not a weight loss book per se, because it is more specifically targeted to runners, cyclists, cross country skiiers, triathletes etc who want to enhance their competitive performances by optimizing body weight and composition. However, Fitzgerald's Diet Quality Score (DQS) that he presents in Chapter 7, can be useful to anyone.

1st, Fitzgerald stresses the importance of a food journal; after all, it is the only "diet" intervention that has proven to correlate with weight loss. I'm a huge proponent of food journals- recording calories in and calories out- to help find patterns and problem areas, unhealthy trends that must be modified.

Fitzgerald does discuss the importance of intermittently keeping a food journal but he focuses more on eating high quality foods. Foods that provide the nutrition that is important for everyone, and particularly for athletes who ask a lot of their bodies on a daily and weekly basis. His DQS gives points for servings of nutritious foods like fruits and veggies, lean protein, low fat dairy, whole grains. You get more points for the first couple servings of the day, emphasizing the importance of variety in your diet. As you eat more of each food type the points gained decreases and for some food groups you can get negative points if you eat too many servings, putting emphasis on not eating too much of any 1 thing. For example, you get 0 points for the 5th and 6th serving of fruit, and -1, -2 points for the 5th and 6th servings of low-fat dairy. For less nutritious foods such as refined grains, sweets, fried food, full fat dairy and fatty protein, you get negative points for each serving, the more servings of any "unhealthy" food group, the more negative points you get.

I look forward to implementing the DQS starting today!

Another great chapter is Chapter 9 on 'Nutrient Timing'. I didn't learn much from the chapter, per se, but it validated a lot of what I thought to be true such as the importance of eating breakfast and the value of concentrating your calories before, during, and after work-outs.

In general, Fitzgerald does a great job of incorporating lots of sports medicine and nutrition research to make his points. It's a well-researched book. It's easy to read, it's a quick read, and it certainly has motivated me to renew my dedication to losing body fat and focusing not just on food quantity, but food quality.


  1. I've had my eye on this book for awhile - I'm glad to hear you thought it was worth the purchase. I am down to a healthy body weight at the moment, strictly speaking, but it certainly isn't an optimal performance weight. And if I want to get back to some decent running times, I need to be much closer to my optimum weight than I am now. I think the amount of food I'm taking in is okay, because the weight is still gradually dropping, but the quality could definitely be better!

  2. Thanks for the review. I've considered picking this book up for some time now, but just haven't followed through.

  3. I'm glad you reviewed this book. I've wondered about it, but haven't seen a review that went into this much detail. The points system is interesting. Happy New Year!

  4. Fascinating - thanks for pointing this out to me. I also think that my weight is fine, but I might need some of the same conversion from fat. I also think I eat too many of the same things (see: 4 bananas before noon).