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Book Review: Racing Weight
By Stephanie Chase
Date: 1/20/2010
Book Review: Racing Weight

Book Review: Racing Weight - How to Get Lean for Peak Performance

While I’ve never made a resolution I couldn’t break, the beginning of a new year is always time a good-time for goal-setting and self-reflection. And as this year marks the start of a new decade, it seems like the perfect opportunity to go back over the past ten years and see how things have or have not changed. 

Ten years ago, I was still in college, didn’t own a cell phone and was downloading music off Napster; I was also ten pounds heavier than my current (as of a few days ago) off-season weight of 135 lbs. But this no Lifetime movie about beating the freshman fifteen - during college I was a rower and the heavier weight was a slight advantage for that sport. Now as a cyclist, I’ve shed those extra pounds and can barely open a jar of spaghetti sauce with my flimsy arms.

But both as a cyclist and during my rowing years, I’ve been fairly happy with my body, both in its appearance and performance. How could the hefty rower and the spindly cyclist both be satisfied? The mysteries of weight and its relationship to endurance athlete’s performance are unlocked in Matt Fitzgerald’s Racing Weight: How to get lean for peak performance.

 Warning: this is not a diet book. This is a book about your diet.
A lot of this is what you already know - basically weight affects your performance like a seesaw. Weight goes down and performance goes up. And if you’ve had your hand in the Christmas cookie jar for the past month, you might find yourself moving a bit more slowly or those of us who peeled off the spandex, stepped into a pair of comfortable pants and spent too much time around the cheese plate at holiday parties, there’s a bit of respite.

According to Fitzgerald, a slight (slight only! – so do not reach for that cookie jar again) off-season weight gain is nothing to fret over, as our bodies could use a break from the stress and tension of maintaining our ideal performance weight. Breathing a collective sigh of relief, let’s move on to the rest of Fitzgerald’s book. 

Fitzgerald’s motivation for the book came after working and speaking with endurance athletes (cyclists, triathletes, runners, swimmers, Nordic skiers and rowers) and hearing how frustrated they were with their weight and how it hindered performance.

If you’re ever wondered how each sport affects the body, Fitzgerald gives a short summary on average weight and BMI % for elite males and females. But more important than who this book is written for, is who it isn’t written for - those who exercise to solely to achieve aesthetic goals. If you’re idea of a workout is forty minutes on the elliptical trainer to fit into an outfit for a Friday night date, this is not your book.

 A lot of the book is detailed tools on determining your ideal nutrition needs and to help achieve your performance weight via managing your nutrition. Both the make-up of meals and their timing during your day are essential to a healthy diet.  And what makes up a healthy diet? Fitzgerald offers some different advice from other books on the market.

As Snackwells fought against fat and Dr. Atkins battled against carbs, Fitzgerald has had it with athletes relying too heavily on…drum roll… protein. Protein? Yes, protein. Don’t go out of your way to eat too much of it and have it make up only between 10-25% of your diet.  The protein fad, as Fitzgerald terms it, bled from the “fanaticism for protein in team sports and recreational bodybuilding” and has influenced endurance sports “to a degree.”  The average American gets enough of it in their diet to not seek out supplemental sources of protein.

 Other nifty sections include food diaries from some top runners, rowers, cyclists, and triathletes that offer a quick glimpse of what a training diet should look like. And to follow up, there is a recipe section in the back. If you’re a bad cook, however, there are no tips to save you from burning the noodles or scorching the scones. That’s another section of the bookstore.

 There are a few things missing from the books, as there will be from anything written for a general audience. Vegetarians, vegans and other dietary issues are noticeably absent, though ultra-runner Scott Jurak, mountain biker Jeremiah Bishop and cyclist Phil Zajicek’s food diaries offer insight into eating and training with high blood pressure, being a vegan, and Crohn’s disease. If you’re got detailed questions, see a nutritionist. But if you’re a DIYer who’s got a basic handle on both training and nutrition, this book offers the means to improve both your diet and athlete performance.

Publisher: VeloPress
Format: Paperback, 288pp
ISBN-13: 9781934030516
ISBN: 1934030511

Matt Fitzgerald is a prolific journalist and an authority on sports nutrition and endurance sports. Since 2005, he has authored 10 books, including Brain Training for Runners and The Runner’s Body. He lives in San Diego, CA.

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