Last month, I read Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald and as I’m starting my training plan this week, I thought this would be a good time to talk about it as I’ll be incorporating some of these concepts into my eating for the next couple of months.
One of the interesting things about this book from the beginning is that it takes the perspective that there is no ideal body weight. There’s the body weight and composition that allows you to have the best performance and that will be different for everyone. The first few chapters go into some interesting science about why performance might be better if you’re carrying around less fat but really keeps the focus on how those things affect your athletic performance rather than how you look or any particular number. As my goal this year is to get a healthier place in my relationship with food, where I’m seeing it as fuel rather than an enemy or something to be controlled, I really appreciated this perspective. That’s definitely the approach I’ve been taking for the last month in terms of making food choices and for the most part, it’s worked well.
The backbone of Fitzgerald’s approach is something called the Diet Quality Score. As you can see above, you get points for eating the “right” amount of foods that are better fuel for workouts in particular and overall health in general, with negative points for foods that aren’t adding much nutritional value or intriguingly, too many servings of things that are “good” in the right amounts. He specifically calls out carbohydrates as being something that runners need to be sure they are getting enough of, which is important given a lot of trends towards low carb and gluten free perspectives right now.
Interestingly, there isn’t a target number for your Diet Quality Score or even the recommendation that you track it every day. Instead, he suggests you check in periodically to see if it is getting higher and how that is correlating with your performance, your body weight, your body fat percentage, etc. As someone who lived and died by my daily points target for years at Weight Watchers, this boggled my mind a bit but I think at this point, I could handle something like this. It also goes back to one of the recurring themes of the book – this isn’t about dieting, it’s about performance. Restriction isn’t the goal here, quality is. It’s also interesting that there’s no mention of “earning” extra food by exercising. Your workouts are what you do because that’s part of your fitness goal, not something you’re tracking to “buy” yourself a cookie.
Thank goodness this isn’t intended as a diet book, because this approach definitely would not have worked for me when I was trying to lose 100 pounds. 🙂 The whole idea of self-regulating what you eat (which includes a lot of tips like being intentional in your plan for what and how much you’ll eat, learning to recognize true hunger cues, etc that are covered a lot more effectively in the Beck Diet book in my opinion) may not be effective for people who are interested in weight loss. Weight loss may be a benefit of optimal fueling your athletic performance, but if that’s your goal, I don’t know that this would be the book for you.
I liked the discussion of the science early on and the fact that he is fairly upfront about things where the science isn’t strong yet. I also liked that he explicitly calls out a little bit of chocolate or wine as good things to include in your daily diet (thus, I added wine to my list of acceptable alternatives to night time snacking) and that the occasional french fry off your kid’s plate won’t kill you. I did sometimes feel like this book wasn’t talking to me, particularly. It did feel like it was targeted more at front of the packers in a lot of places, but that may have been my own projection onto the material. It also doesn’t give you a whole lot of concrete guidance for what to do, but there are companion cookbooks and things you could get as well. There are sample daily menus included, which are interesting, but because they come from elite athletes, I had a hard time seeing how they would apply to me. That’s a common complaint in the Amazon reviews as well.
All in all, I found this book really interesting conceptually and I’d definitely recommend checking it out at your local library if you’re interested in some of the science of food and performance and in thinking about how those things play out in your own life in a different way. Practically, I’m taking from this:
a) keep the focus on quality and performance, not the superficial stuff;
b) quality might mean adding more of good stuff like nuts, the occasional glass of wine and extra dairy;
c) eating good stuff doesn’t mean eating ALL THE THINGS – even healthy foods need to occur in moderation.
A lot of these concepts were part of the Weight Watchers Simply Filling plan too, where you just ate good stuff. I didn’t feel like I was particularly good at the self-regulating volume part last time I tried Simply Filling. We’ll see if I do better with the “eat good stuff” model this time around.
Do you think worrying about fueling runs with your everyday diet is silly for someone looking to break 2:30 in the half marathon rather than someone looking to break 1:30? I don’t – eating well is important to all of us and if putting it in the perspective of training helps me a) break the bad link between the almighty calorie and the scale and b) stick with a reasonable, healthy diet like a sane person, that’s worth a little bit of feeling like a poser. 🙂