Written by: Matt Fitzgerald
There are lots of good books on endurance sports nutrition. There’s Sports Nutrition for Endurance Athletes, by Monique Ryan; Nutrition Periodization for Endurance Athletes, by Bob Seebohar; Performance Nutrition for Runners, by yours truly; and many others. Most of these books contain a chapter on weight management. But body weight and body composition are such major factors in endurance performance that they really deserve more than a single chapter, don’t you think?
I thought so, anyway, so last year I set about writing the first book exclusively focused on the issue of weight management for endurance athletes. That book, entitled Racing Weight: How to Get Lean and Fit for Peak Performance, has just been published. If you have ever struggled to reach and maintain your optimal racing weight, you’ll want to check it out. I know I’m biased, but I think it will help you!
Racing Weight is divided into three parts. Part I (“Finding Your Racing Weight”) covers the importance of being light and lean if you want to perform better and gives you some unique new tools to determine your own optimal performance weight and to track your progress toward it. In this section you will also find chapters that address seasonal considerations (which cover topics such as managing your weight during the off-season versus the competitive season), as well as sport-specific nutritional challenges, and tips for beginning endurance athletes.
Part II (“Five Steps to Your Racing Weight”) presents a five-step plan to get leaner and lighter in a way that maximizes performance and all-around health. Each step in the plan is based on the latest advances in the science of weight management, especially as they relate to endurance athletes, and on the practices that are proven to work best in the real world. Here’s a quick synopsis of the Racing Weight plan for body weight optimization:
Step 1: Improve your diet quality.
Step 1 in my Racing Weight plan is to improve your diet quality, or the amount of nutrition you get from each calorie in your diet. Increasing the nutrition-per-calorie ratio of your diet will enable you to get all the nutrients you need for maximum performance from fewer total calories, thus enabling you to become leaner. An effective way to improve your diet quality is to grade or score the quality of your current diet and continue to score your diet quality as you make efforts to improve it. Nutrition scientists have come up with various ways of measuring diet quality. Most of these approaches are a bit too complex to be useful to the average runner, so I created a simplified diet-quality scoring system that you will find very easy to work with and that will help you nourish your body for health and endurance performance.
Step 2: Balance your energy sources.
There are three main sources of energy for the human body: carbohydrate, fat and protein. Each of these three “macronutrients” is used by the body in a different way. There are also different types of carbohydrates, fats, and proteins that affect the body in slightly different ways. Consuming the right balance of macronutrients and the right balance of carbohydrate, fat, and protein types will help you achieve your optimal performance weight.
Step 3: Time your nutrition.
When you eat affects your body as much as what you eat. The timing of your food intake has a big impact on what’s known as energy partitioning, or what becomes of the calories you consume. There are three main destinations of food calories in your body: muscle, fat cells, and energy. If you want to become leaner, you need to shift the balance of energy partitioning so that more calories are incorporated into your muscles, fewer calories are stored in your fat tissues, and more calories are used to supply your body’s immediate and short-term energy needs. This shift will lead to more metabolism-boosting lean tissue and less health-jeopardizing fat tissue.
Interestingly, you can often achieve this objective with little or no reduction in the total number of calories that enter your body. We’re really talking about redirecting calories once they’ve entered your body, not about decreasing the number of calories that enter your body in the first place. The practice of nutrient timing, or consuming the right nutrients at the right times throughout the day, will enable you to partition your energy more effectively and achieve your racing weight.
Step 4: Manage your appetite.
Appetite is important. It is your body’s built-in mechanism for food intake regulation, and its job is to drive you to eat enough to meet your body’s energy and micronutrient needs, and no more. The appetite mechanism works very well under normal circumstances, having survived millions of years of evolutionary testing to the benefit of our health. But our modern lifestyle does not constitute “normal circumstances” in relation to the environment in which most of our evolution took place. Consequently, our appetite cannot be entirely relied upon to ensure that we don’t overeat.
In recent years scientists have learned a lot about how the appetite mechanism works. Understanding how your appetite works puts you in a better position to manage it effectively so that you consume only the number of calories you need to maximize your performance and no more.
Step 5: Train right.
Training errors are common in every endurance sport, even at the highest levels of competition. Many of these training errors not only limit performance but also prevent athletes from becoming as lean as they could be. Training methods continue to evolve at the elite level of each endurance sport. Bringing your training methods up to date will help you raise your level of performance and achieve or maintain your racing weight.
Part III of Racing Weight (“The Racing Weight Menu”) provides resources that will help you put the Racing Weight plan into practice. These resources include sample food journals from elite athletes in several different endurance sports (including Ryan Hall and Chrissie Wellington);
21 delicious and easy-to-prepare breakfast, lunch, and dinner recipes created by professional triathlete and dietitian Pip Taylor; and information about the few nutritional supplements that may help you get leaner.
‘Tis the Season
The holiday season – also known as the off-season for many endurance athletes – is upon us. This is the time of year when we tend to stray farthest from our ideal racing weight. That makes it the perfect time to invest a little pocket change in a resource that will help you reverse the trend. Don’t wait: Get your copy of Racing Weight today!
We now return you to our regularly scheduled programming…