Book Review: Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald

One look at my bedroom’s nightstand and it’s pretty apparent that I’ve always sort of been into reading books and magazines about fitness and nutrition. Even if I don’t always follow a plan or diet word for word, I am a firm believer in the idea that if you throw enough mud (for lack of a better word or worse substance) against the wall, SOMETHING is bound to stick. So, when I found myself smack dab in a New Year’s frenzy of wanting to shed some of the pounds I picked up since becoming a semi-unsuccessful cycling media mogul in 2009, I did some email arm twisting* and was able to get my pizza-greased hands on a copy of Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald (Velo Press).

Racing Weight has been on my “to read” list for some time now, but I never got around to it. I was probably too busy eating a burger and drinking beer or something. Anyway, eventually I got the book and FINALLY finished it. Damn, it took a while too. Not because it’s a bad read, but because between the website, the mag, podcasts, riding and all my other work and family duties I wasn’t finding the time. But alas! I am done and can finally put some thoughts down.

One of the main reasons I wanted to read Racing Weight is its focus on endurance athletes. This isn’t a book or diet plan to get you skinny, it’s a book to help get you fitter, leaner and perform better at your chosen sport. The book focuses on endurance sports like cycling, running, cross-country skiing, swimming and a few others. As the book says in the introduction, “achieving your optimal performance weight is a matter of lining up your training, nutrition and lifestyle habits in a way that sends your body the consistent message: ‘Keep the muscle, lose the fat, and take your performance to the next level.’”

The book is pretty much split into two parts:

I. Finding Your Race Weight and how to determine your ideal race weight for your sport (i.e. cycling).

II. Five Steps to Your Racing Weight…
• Improve Your Diet Quality
• Balance Your Energy Sources
• Time Your Nutrition
• Manage Your Appetite
• Train Right

The book starts out, as most fitness books do, with some information on diet myths, calories, BMI charts, body fat percentages, etc. to give the reader some background on just what’s going to be covered. It soon delves into a neat little section where body compositions of various sports are examined. I wouldn’t say I learned anything new about the makeup of a cyclist’s body composition or needs in this section (other than my body composition would be closer to that of a female power lifter with a love of cheese than a male cyclist), but seeing how a cyclist compares to say that of a cross-country skier (holy low average body fat percentage!!) or swimmer was pretty interesting.

I like that the author takes the time to point out that BMI charts and height vs. weight charts are in no way useful for athletes to determine their optimum weight. These numbers are VERY general guidelines for doctors to use with John Q. Public about his widening waist line, etc. The book then proceeds to be more direct to help you start finding some baseline fitness and potential weight and body fat numbers.

I appreciated that the book focused more on the intake of QUALITY foods (good fat, lean proteins and quality carbs from fruits and vegetables) and total number of calories rather on whether those calories came from carbs, proteins or fat. Fitzgerald presents the reader with a way to keep track of those quality foods with his Diet Quality Score (DQS) chart. The chart assigns numbers to type of foods over 11 different categories, i.e. a serving of fruit = 2, while a serving of fried food receives -2. Because eating too much of anything can have a negative effect, adding to daily caloric intake, etc., multiple servings of foods will eventually take on a negative score.

The goal of the DQS chart is to encourage moderate, balanced eating focusing on the first six categories: fruit, vegetables, lean protein, whole grain, low-fat dairy and essential fats. The maximum number of DQS points is 29 but the Fitzgerald makes note that you in no way HAVE to hit this goal every day – just making adjustments along the way until you’re satisfied with the results that you get in your training and goal weight helps. The DQS system is pretty cool tool to see what exactly you are putting in your body without obsessing about percentages of carbs and proteins. The only real problem I had with utilizing the DQS was “gray area foods.” For example, if I include a serving of baked corn tortilla chips with a meal or have a glass of wine or a beer, what is the score?

Having just typed all that I realized that the whole DQS thing makes Racing Weight sound like a diet book or some Richard Simmons infomercial diet plan. It’s not. The DQS is just a tool to help you and is a small part of the book, but one that I found interesting and helpful. The book soon turns its attention to balancing your energy sources, nutrient timing based on when you’re doing your workouts, managing appetite and training for your optimum racing weight.

I believe this dinner I cooked earned me 14 DQS points.

One section that I thought was particularly interesting was “What The Pros Eat.” In this section several different pro level athletes (cyclists, XC skiers, swimmers, etc.) were asked to keep a food diary for a day and share it. It’s pretty eye opening to see what various athletes are and are not eating. I myself (a mid-pack at best schlep) have been known to belly up to a box of pasta for dinner just because I rode for a few hours a day. Meanwhile, Jeremiah Bishop is eating a large mixed green salad with smoked salmon, vegetables and mandarin ginger dressing. I course I found it equally as amazing that Olympic rower Anna Cummins is having three eggs, cherry tomatoes, half a small avocado, a piece of whole grain toast and a bowl of fresh fruit as a between workout morning snack. That’s some snack!

The book ends with a chapter on endurance fuel (with recipes created by a friend of the author, nutritionist and elite triathlete Pip Taylor), a look at supplements and an appendix on strength training that includes 30 different exercises that benefit endurance athletes. I enjoyed this section because it includes not just “how to” but also what muscles the exercise is training and what benefits the exercise has to a particular sport (cycling, swimming, running, etc.).

Throughout the book the author cites various studies and papers from a variety of colleges, institutions and labs that debunk or back up a number of nutritional and fitness myths and/or facts. While interesting, at times these became slightly annoying. To me, it seems that for every study that says one thing, another study proves it wrong. It can be a lot to process.

I found Racing Weight to be informative, pretty easy to understand and a good read. While I don’t know if I’ll ever get to my “racing weight” again, I do appreciate the book’s focus on eating a balanced variety of health foods while training for endurance sports, rather than a book focused on just cutting calories or totally eliminating foods from my diet. GIVE ME LEGUMES OR GIVE ME DEATH!!!

As with any book on nutrition or diet, some folks will read it and still long for more information and others will feel that there is TOO much information. As for me, this book will surely remain on my nightstand along with a stack of other books in the months to come as I continue to try to eat better, train more and race. Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald is published by VeloPress and can be found at VeloPress.com for $18.95.

* Note: “Digital arm twisting,” is my way of saying that the book was provided to xxcmag.com at no charge for review. I received no cash, VeloPress are not advertisers, yada, yada, yada. This is just my opinion on the book. Kapeesh?