Holiday Weight Gain and the 8% Rule

Most Americans gain 5 pounds of body fat during the holidays—and never lose it.

Follow this 8% Rule and You Can Start Next Season Lean

From Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald: A majority of elite endurance athletes I’ve surveyed on the topic of off-season diet tell me they eat less carefully during the off-season than they do within the training cycle. The rationale for such dietary slacking off is not physiological but rather psychological. Athletes find it easier to eat with great discipline within the training cycle when they give themselves an opportunity to reward that discipline between training cycles.

Weight gain tends to be unavoidable for many athletes in the off-season because of a reduction in training. When reduced training is combined with a slacker diet, the likelihood of weight gain is further increased. A small amount of off-season weight gain is not a bad thing. In fact it’s a good thing inasmuch as it results from giving yourself a needed physical and mental break from the training and dietary rigors of the training cycle.

All too many endurance athletes gain too much fat in the off-season, however. Cyclist Jan Ullrich was infamous for letting himself go during the winter. His racing weight was 158 pounds, but he would routinely show up for his team’s first training camp of the year at 180 pounds. He would perform poorly throughout the early season as he scrambled to work his body back into shape in time for July’s Tour de France. Many cycling experts believe Ullrich would have won more than the one Tour he claimed at age 24 if he had taken better care of himself during the off-season.

Thanks to favorable genes, a few endurance athletes can slack off as much as they want in the off-season without putting on a whole bunch of fat (although not necessarily without losing a ton of fitness), but most endurance athletes, like most humans in general, have a built-in potential for rapid weight gain. The transition from peak-season training to off-season slacking presents the perfect circumstances for this potential to be unleashed.

The most effective way to prevent off-season weight gain from getting out of hand is to set a specific weight-gain limit. I suggest you try to limit your off-season weight gain to no more than 8 percent of your optimal performance weight. So if your optimal performance weight is 162 pounds, you should avoid gaining more than 13 pounds during the off-season. It so happens that my marathon racing weight is 154 pounds, and my off-season weight naturally peaks at 165 pounds (a difference of just over 7 percent) when I’m doing everything an endurance athlete should do in terms of training and nutrition at this time of year. But this 8 percent rule is not based only on my personal experience. It has been confirmed as a good rule of thumb by a number of other athletes, coaches, and sports nutritionists with whom I have discussed the topic of off-season weight gain.

This and dozens of new and improved weight-loss steps are available in the new edition of Racing Weight, just released in December, 2012. Racing Weight 2nd Ed. RW2 96dpi 400x600p strokeRacing Weight is a proven weight-management program for endurance athletes.

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Breaking Down the 3,500 Calorie Myth: How We Lose Weight Matters More Than How Much

When Pursuing Your Racing Weight, Focus on the Process, Not on the Outcome

by Matt Fitzgerald

One of the oldest myths of weight loss has been laid to rest.

Since the late 1950s, dieters have been taught that for every 3,500 fewer calories they eat than they burn, they will lose one pound of body weight. This dictum was based on research showing that a pound of human flesh contains about 3,500 calories of energy, and it predicted that if a person adjust her activity and or dietary habits to create an energy deficit of 500 calories per day, she will lose 1 pound per week, every week, indefinitely.

This prediction has never borne out in research. When scientists carefully control the diet and activity level of subjects, they usually lose only about half the weight that the 3,500-calorie rule predicts. The main reason is that the body adapts to caloric deficits in ways that progressively reduce their effect over time. In principle, therefore, the only way to lose weight at a steady rate over a long period of time is to progressively increase your activity level and/or reduce your food intake. But this is neither practical nor wise, because energy deficits exceeding 500 calories per day generate more muscle loss than fat loss, leave the body underfueled for exercise, carry a risk of nutrient deficiencies, reduce bone mineral density, and exacerbate metabolic adaptation to energy shortfalls.

The death of the 3,500-calorie myth points to an important principle of effective weight loss: It’s better to focus on process (how you lose weight) than on outcome (how much weight you lose or how quickly you lose it).

Racing Weight elite runners body fat percentage

Elite runners get lean from running, not dieting.

The simple truth is that it is difficult to predict how much weight you will lose on any given diet plan. Nor is it a good idea to chose a diet plan on the basis of a particular weight-loss goal.

Healthy eating habits are universal. Whether you are 50 pounds overweight, 10 pounds overweight, or already at a good weight, you will get the best long-term results from the same core set of eating habits and from combining these with vigorous daily exercise. In today’s food and eating environment, most people find these habits difficult to adopt and sustain.

In fact, focusing too much on results makes it even harder to achieve them. This was shown in a 2012 study conducted by psychologists at the University of Zurich and published in Psychology & Health. The subjects were 126 overweight women involved in a 6-month weight-loss program. The researchers found that those who were more focused on the process of acquiring and practicing healthy eating habits experienced fewer dietary lapses and lost more weight compared to those who were more outcome focused.

Racing Weight bathroom scale

Do check the scale–but just about once a week.

For these reasons, anyone seeking to lose weight or maintain his current healthy weight should concentrate on the process of adopting and sustaining these habits and trust that they will lead to the best possible outcome.

Endurance athletes are no exception. If you’ve read Racing Weight, you might find this statement surprising. After all, the book includes a formula that athletes can use to estimate their optimal racing weight, the ultimate bodyweight outcome goal. But there is a reason this tool is called an estimator, not a calculator.

As I take pains to explain in Racing Weight, there is no way to predict your optimal racing weight with perfect accuracy. The only way to determine it is to attain it, and the only way to attain it is to eat and train your way to the highest level of race-specific fitness possible.

There are six core habits to weight loss for athletes: maintaining high diet quality, balancing energy sources appropriately, managing appetite, self-monitoring, nutrient timing, and adhering to the “80/20 Rule” of training intensity distribution. These six habits apply to all athletes. These habits, not your target weight, should be your major focus. If they are, the numbers will work themselves out, as they always have.

The Racing Weight Series™ is the proven weight-loss program for endurance athletes. Find Racing Weight, Racing Weight Cookbook, or Racing Weight Quick Start Guide in your local bookstore; bike, tri, or running shop; or from these online retailers:

Racing Weight Cookbook Lean Light Recipes for Athletes Racing Weight 2nd Ed. RW2 96dpi 400x600p stroke RWQSG 72dpi_400x600_stroke Racing Weight Quick Start Guide

The Racing Weight Series™ is published by VeloPress, the leading publisher of books about endurance sports.

Skip the Cleanse and Detox: Start the New Year Right with a Racing Weight “DQS Clean Streak”

New Year Cleanses and Detoxes Are a Hoax! Instead, Try a Racing Weight “DQS Clean Streak”.

You don’t need to be a rabid fan of The Dr. Oz Show to know that diet “detox” and “cleanse” programs are all the rage. Examples include Dr. Junger’s 5-Day Gut Flush Cleanse and the Martha’s Vineyard Diet Detox™. By far and away the most popular day of the year on which to start such a program is January 1, a holiday that has become deeply associated with hitting the reset button on one’s health habits.

Racing Weight Cookbook Greena Colada Smoothie RecipeThe only problem with dietary cleansing and detoxing is that it is a make-believe phenomenon. There are no foods that detoxify the body in any meaningful sense. The body detoxifies itself. I won’t waste any more time here debunking the notion of dietary cleansing and detoxing. It’s already been done very well in articles such as this one (The Guardian) and this one (Lifehacker).

If you’re an endurance athlete, you have a second reason not to engage in this bogus practice, which is that it doesn’t mix very well with training. Consider the Nature’s Secret 5-Day Fast and Cleanse™. How much exercise do you think you’ll feel up to on your fifth day of surviving on Colon Clear™ tablets and Super Nutrition™ mini-tablets?

I don’t mean to be a total party pooper. I recognize the importance of symbolism, renewal, and cleansing the body and soul for a new start each year. I have no quarrel with the general practice of starting off the New Year with some sort of dietary reset. But cleanses and detoxes might hurt you and probably won’t help. As an athlete, you should be sure to choose a program that actually supports your training.

So here’s what I propose as an alternative to the phony detoxes and cleanses:

The 7-Day DQS Clean Streak

“DQS” stands for “Diet Quality Score,” it’s a simple, practical method of rating the overall quality of one’s diet from day to day that is detailed in my book Racing Weight and overviewed in Racing Weight Cookbook.

Put simply, the DQS is a simple way to track how well you’re eating:

  • High-quality food types such as vegetables and whole grains earn positive points.
  • Low-quality food types such as processed meats and fried foods subtract points.

You keep a running tally throughout the day, and after your last meal or snack of the evening you are left with a total that represents your DQS for that day.

The goal is not to aim for perfection but rather to ensure that your diet quality is consistently “good enough” to yield the results you seek.rwc_website_background_2.jpg

At certain times, though, it is sensible to aim a little higher. One of these times is during what I call a Racing Weight Quick Start, which is a 4- to 8-week period immediately preceding the formal beginning of a race-focused training cycle, when you want to shed excess body fat more quickly than it is possible to do when you are eating to support intensive training.

Another of these times is when you want to get back on track after a period of slacking off—like New Year’s Day.

Executing the 7-Day DQS Clean Streak is simple: All it requires is that you go 7 days without consuming anything that subtracts points from your daily Diet Quality Score. Specifically, that means no refined grains, sweets, fatty or processed meats, fried foods, low-quality beverages (e.g. high-calorie coffee drinks), or alcohol beyond the first drink of the day.

It’s not a big ask, but it will do your body good, it will feel good, and oh-by-the-way it will also allow you to train normally, unlike a “cleanse” or “detox”.

For full details on how to track your DQS, check out my free online DQS Calculator. There’s also a smart phone version available for iOS and Android devices for $0.99. Just search “DQS” in your app store.

Healthy New Year!

The Racing Weight Series™ is the proven weight-loss program for endurance athletes. Find Racing Weight, Racing Weight Cookbook, or Racing Weight Quick Start Guide in your local bookstore; bike, tri, or running shop; or from these online retailers:Racing Weight Cookbook Lean Light Recipes for AthletesRacing Weight 2nd Ed. RW2 96dpi 400x600p strokeRWQSG 72dpi_400x600_stroke Racing Weight Quick Start Guide

The Racing Weight Series™ is published by VeloPress, the leading publisher of books about endurance sports.

315 Pounds to Magazine Cover Model: Donald Sorah’s Weight-Loss Journey

by Donald Sorah

At age 31, I was morbidly obese. I weighed 315 pounds, almost double the normal BMI for my height. Inevitably, my weight would come up in conversation with others, and I’d joke that if I were at a “BMI normal” weight, I’d look like a skeleton.

Donald SorahI had tried a variety of weight-loss programs with some success. The most effective “diet plan” of all my attempts was the South Beach Diet, which helped me lose 100 pounds in 1 year. I didn’t gain it all back, but a few years later, half my hard work was wasted.

Then I got a bike.

My wife presented me with a bicycle for my birthday, and I accepted it reluctantly. I wasn’t really interested in cycling, but I soon fell in love with the invigorating sense of freedom, the coolness of a breeze wicking sweat from my cheeks. Meanwhile, I was burning calories—and lots of them. By the time my weight fell to 260 pounds, I was burning over 1,000 calories every ride. The sense of freedom and the thought of burning all those calories kept me motivated to ride and to ride more. Soon I discovered I’d made a mental switch; I started planning my nutrition so I could get faster at cycling.

Instead of riding to lose weight, I was eating to ride better.

Donald Sorah CannondaleI started setting goals. My private goal, which I didn’t share with anyone, was to start shopping for a brand new road bike once I dropped my weight below 200 pounds. For me, this was the Holy Grail, a goal that seemed impossible.

Then one morning, I stepped on the scale. 197. I stepped on the scale again. Still 197. A third time, just to be sure. Yes, 197.

A few weeks later, I was riding a new Specialized Roubaix. Now that bike has seen 6 states, more than 7,000 miles, and over 300,000 feet of climbing. I’m a cyclist, and no longer a fat one.

Donald Sorah bandage

Battered, but not out of the race

Then I had another realization about my relationship with food. I rode a local 72-mile ride that finished with a very steep 3-mile climb. I finished the ride and made it home, but I passed out unconscious in my driveway. The scar I wear on the back of my head is a reminder of this critical moment.

It was at this point I realized I couldn’t starve myself to lose weight. What I was doing was unhealthy, and I needed a better balance of calories out and calories in. And this is when the Racing Weight series came into my life.

Enter Racing Weight

Although my Ph.D. is in music education, my “hunger” for knowledge led me to search for the ultimate nutrition plan. I interviewed friends and read about experts to analyze their approaches. I bought and read several books on nutrition. I purchased and downloaded the Racing Weight e-book on iBooks, reading it cover-to-cover in a few days.

After the conclusion of each chapter, I would make a collection of notes highlighting the most salient points, including ways this approach could be assimilated into my nutritional plan for cycling. Although the Diet Quality Score system seemed like a wonderful method of data collection for analysis of diet quality, I have decided to stick with my use of the LoseIt! app to catalog all my foods (which I have now done for over a year and a half).

I was intrigued by a mention in Racing Weight of a new cookbook. Being a foodie, a decent amateur cook, and the primary food preparer in our household, I sought to get my hands on the Racing Weight Cookbook. I found a copy at a local bookseller.

Donald Sorah Racing Weight Cookbook recipe

Playing with food (photography)

Before continuing, I should mention that, in addition to my career as a musician and music educator on the college level, I fancy myself a photographer and foodie. This means that my wife often asks if I am planning to eat dinner before it gets cold or if I am just going to keep capturing photos of my culinary concoctions. You must also understand that our lives as musicians and music teachers (my wife is a choir director and adjunct instructor at the local college) are quite complex and are very busy, especially with our growing four-year old!

My wife will be the first to tell you that our menu selections before Racing Weight Cookbook were quite limited and our weekly repertoire was quickly growing stagnant. The Racing Weight Cookbook has provided a breath of fresh air into our culinary repertoire. Thus far, I have prepared over twenty recipes from this cookbook.

Our Favorite Racing Weight Recipes

My favorite breakfast has been the the Cinnamon Raisin Wheat Berries (try it yourself!). With the flavor of cinnamon-spice oatmeal and the meaty texture with enhanced “tooth­sinkability” (thanks to Dan Pashman and the Sporkful podcast for the terminology), and nutty flavor of the wheat berries, this breakfast is filling, tasty, and packed full of nutrition. My four-year old even enjoyed a few bites and he is an extremely picky eater.

My wife and I have at least two recipes vying for first place dinner: Beefy Stuffed Poblanos and Asian Chicken with Peanut Sauce.

I have to admit that we have made a few substitutions in the recipes. We have always used 97% Fat Free Ground Turkey for the Poblano recipe and have used tofu as the protein the last two times we have made the Asian Peanut recipe. We did use chicken the first time we made the Asian Peanut recipe and it was just as good if not better than the tofu. We typically use whatever protein is on-hand and is simplest and quickest to prepare. Another favorite is the Black Bean & Cheddar Burger recipe.

We have also selected two dessert/sweet recipes as our favorites so far. The Lemon-Poppy Protein Bars, which I prepare as muffins, were one of my first recipes and remain my favorite sweet treat. My wife is quite fond of the Apple-Raisin Bars.

Have I Lost More Weight?

Truth be told, I have not observed any weight loss since investigating the nutritional guidelines in the Racing Weight book and preparing meals from the Racing Weight Cookbook. This is not to say that it doesn’t work. I am certain it does. However, I think my weight has settled where I need to be; in the low 160s.

What I have noticed is that my cycling fitness has improved, particularly in the area of endurance.

I have ridden seven metric century or longer distances so far this year and have not once “bonked” or run low on energy. In fact, a recent endurance ride of 60+ miles turned into 85 miles because I still had more to give.

It is remarkable how my energy level has surged since incorporating the Racing Weight Cookbook recipes into my diet. It would be interesting to collect data on the implementation of the Racing Weight philosophy into the diet of those who have significant weight loss to accomplish. I would presume that those athletes would be directed to minimize the preparation of those sweeter recipes and to place more emphasis on those designated as high-protein options.

The Cookbook Itself

The layout of the cookbook is well-designed. Although I love to cook and could spend hours in the kitchen even after a long day in the saddle, not all athletes share that same sentiment. The first two sections of the book are designed for athletes who don’t like to cook or just don’t have the time to prepare a more involved recipe. The middle sections are designed for those who can cook and have a little more time to prepare a meal. The final sections are offered to those athletes who enjoy cooking and are able to spend half an hour to an hour in the kitchen. Any athlete can find recipes that are easily within their current ability level and time constraints—and some that may provide a challenge to become a better cook should they desire to improve their culinary skills.

The Reaction

Since preparing these recipes and posting photos to social media including Facebook,Twitter, and Instagram, I have received numerous comments, questions, and requests for recipes from friends both local and virtual; many of them not even athletes. It is my desire that through social media exposure of the photos and recipes, others might begin to seek a healthier lifestyle.

My wife and I were recently featured on the Jan/Feb 2014 cover of Bicycling magazine for our weight-loss because, between the two of us, we have lost over 260 pounds. We will also be guests this summer on the radio show With Good Reason. Kelly was featured on the Half Size Me podcast last month.

Bicycling magazine Jan-Feb2014 Donald and Kelly SorahOur mission aligns with my mission of publicizing the Racing Weight Cookbook; we want others to see that if we can do it with all the time challenges in our lives, anyone can experience the same success and a healthier, happier lifestyle.

At age 31, I was morbidly obese. Now I know there is nothing like the feeling of being healthy and fit.

The daily increase in energy and brain power pays off at work as well as with the family. Why would anyone pass up the opportunity to be healthy, eat real food, raise their energy level, and be at the top of their game?

Donald and Kelly Sorah on bikes with son

The Sorah family

It took me forty years to achieve the best fitness and overall health of my life. With the continued support of family and friends, logging miles on the bike, and through the nutritional advice of the Racing Weight series, I look forward to many more years of healthy living, fun times in the kitchen, and flavorful and nutritious eating.

Donald Sorah is a cyclist, music professor, foodie, musician, photographer, father, and husband. He lives and rides with his wife and son in Virginia. Catch up with him on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.

The Racing Weight Series™ is the proven weight-loss program for endurance athletes. Find Racing Weight, Racing Weight Cookbook, or Racing Weight Quick Start Guide in your local bookstore; bike, tri, or running shop; or from these online retailers:Racing Weight Cookbook Lean Light Recipes for AthletesRacing Weight 2nd Ed. RW2 96dpi 400x600p strokeRWQSG 72dpi_400x600_stroke Racing Weight Quick Start Guide

The Racing Weight Series™ is published by VeloPress, the leading publisher of books about endurance sports.

Pro Athletes Don’t Diet, They Practice These 6 Racing Weight Steps

The smartest way to manage your weight for endurance performance is to emulate the methods of the fastest men and women on the planet.

By Matt Fitzgerald

The leanest cyclists, runners, and triathletes are typically also the fastest endurance ones. This pattern holds even within the select ranks of the professionals. One study reported that in a small group of elite Ethiopian runners, all of whom were very lean and very fast, those with the least body fat had the best race times.

Genes account for a portion of the difference in body fat levels between individual endurance athletes. But there is a tendency among us age groupers to overestimate the importance of the genetic contribution to leanness in the pros. We like to think that the world-class men and women who were blessed with the right DNA can eat whatever they want without putting on body fat.

In fact, most of the top cyclists, runners, and triathletes work very hard at managing their weight and body composition for performance. What’s more, they tend to rely on the same methods to stay lean. And guess what? The very same methods of weight management that work so well for the world’s best endurance athletes are can help everyday competitors like us achieve our optimal racing weight too, even if that weight is a few pounds greater than the pros’.

I’ve spent a lot of time studying the diets and weight-management practices of world-class endurance athletes. In 2009 I collected the top five and linked them into a systematic program in my book, Racing Weight. Since then I’ve identified a sixth key practice and added it to the recently published second edition of Racing Weight. Let’s take a look at these six methods.

Step 1: Improve your diet quality

After graduating from the University of Wisconsin in 2007 as a five-time NCAA champion, Chris Solinsky moved to Portland, Ore., to run professionally for Nike. He also decided to improve his eating habits. Instead of adopting a diet with a name (e.g. vegan, paleo, gluten free) and lots of weird rules, he simply improved the overall quality of his diet in commonsense ways, eating more vegetables, fewer frozen pizzas, and so forth. As a result he lost several pounds and achieved a performance breakthrough, setting an American record of 26:59:60 for 10,000 meters in 2010.

rwc_website_background_1500.jpgIncreasing the overall quality of your diet is the simplest and most effective way to shed excess body fat and move closer to your optimal racing weight. That means eating more of the six categories of high-quality foods—vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, lean meats and fish, whole grains, and dairy—and less of the four categories of low-quality foods—refined grains, fatty meats, sweets, and fried foods. In Racing Weight I present a unique scoring system that enables athletes to easily rate the quality of their diet and systematically increase it.

Step 2: Manage your appetite

At the height of his training for the Ironman World Championship each year, triathlon legend Peter Reid kept no food in his kitchen—none—so that he wouldn’t be tempted to overeat. It was an extreme measure, but Reid knew his ideal racing weight was 164 to 165 pounds (or 7-10 pounds below his natural off-season weight) and he knew that he could not reach his racing weight if he fully indulged his appetite. It’s hard to argue with the results: three victories and three runner-up finishes in Kona between 1998 and 2004.

Research conducted by Brian Wansink, author of Mindless Eating, and others has demonstrated that most people automatically eat more food than they need unless they take conscious steps to control their “food environment” and eat more mindfully. These measures do not need to include removing all of the food from your kitchen, but they may include removing all of the low-quality temptations from your kitchen and replacing your current dishes with smaller dishes on which you serve yourself slightly smaller portions.

Step 3: Balance your energy sources

The world’s best runners come from Kenya and Ethiopia. The diet of the typical East African runner is 76 to 78 percent carbohydrate. Compare that to the diet of the average American, which is only 48 percent carbohydrate. Research going all the way back to the 1960s has consistently shown that a high-carbohydrate diet best supports intensive endurance training. Unfortunately, the low-carb diet craze of the late 1990s and early 2000s has cast a long shadow, causing many age-group athletes to eat too little carbohydrate to properly support their training.

Actually, not every endurance athlete needs a high-carb diet. Carbohydrate needs are closely tied to training volume. The more you train, the more carbs you need. Use this table to determine the daily carbohydrate intake target that’s right for you.

Average Daily Training Time(Running and Other Activities) Daily Carbohydrate Target
30-45 minutes 3-4 g/kg*
46-60 minutes 4-5 g/kg
61-75 minutes 5-6 g/kg
76-90 minutes 6-7 g/kg
90 minutes 7-8 g/kg
>120 minutes 8-10 g/kg

* 1 kg = 2.2 lbs

Step 4: Monitor yourself

When Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France in 2012 he weighed 158 pounds and had 4 percent body fat. Four years earlier, when he won his last Olympic gold medals as a track cyclist, Wiggins weighed 180 pounds and his body fat level was a few points higher. His slimming was a major factor in his Tour de France triumph, and he achieved that slimming in part by continuously monitoring his weight and body composition.

Photo: Michael Pereckas

Photo: Michael Pereckas

In business there’s an expression: “What gets measured gets managed.” If you’re trying to reduce your weight and body-fat percentage, it only makes sense to measure these things regularly. The pros do, and research has shown that nonathlete dieters who weigh themselves often lose more weight than those who avoid the scale. I recommend that all endurance athletes weigh themselves at least once a week and use a body fat scale such as the Tanita Ironman to estimate their body-fat percentage once every four weeks.

Step 5: Time your nutrition

A naturally big guy who once tipped the scales at 200 pounds, professional triathlete T.J. Tollakson stays lean by frontloading his daily energy intake in accordance with the dictum “eat breakfast like a king, lunch like a prince, and dinner like a pauper.”

With respect to weight management, when you eat is almost as important as what you eat. The most important times of the day to eat are in the morning and within an hour after workouts because calories eaten at these times are less likely to be stored as fat and more likely to be incorporated into muscle tissue and used for immediate energy needs.

Step 6: Train for racing weight

Nearly all professional endurance athletes train by what’s known as the Lydiard method, which entails doing a high volume of training, about 80 percent of it at low intensities, 10 percent at moderate intensities, and 10 percent at high intensities.

While a low-volume, high-intensity approach to training has gained popularity among age-group endurance athletes lately, it is not the most effective way to train for endurance performance or achieve a lean body composition. Research provides clear support for the Lydiard method that is used almost universally by the elites.

Obviously, few age groupers have the time, energy, or durability to train as much as the pros do, but that’s not the point. The point is to maintain a training volume that is close to your personal limit and to keep the intensity low for four out of every five workouts. If you do this you will burn far more calories and build greater aerobic fitness than you possibly could by doing the small volume of training you can handle if you go hard (or even moderately hard, as a majority of age groupers do) in most workouts.

When it comes to training and eating to attain your optimal racing weight, the best thing to do is the same thing you do in races: follow the pros!

The Racing Weight Series™ is the proven weight-loss program for endurance athletes. Find Racing Weight, Racing Weight Cookbook, or Racing Weight Quick Start Guide in your local bookstore; bike, tri, or running shop; or from these online retailers:Racing Weight Cookbook Lean Light Recipes for AthletesRacing Weight 2nd Ed. RW2 96dpi 400x600p strokeRWQSG 72dpi_400x600_stroke Racing Weight Quick Start Guide

The Racing Weight Series™ is published by VeloPress, the leading publisher of books about endurance sports.

Your Weight Predicts Your Race Performance More Accurately Than Your Training

You are not going to believe this: your weight is a better predictor of your race performance than how much or how well you train.

From Chapter One: Get Leaner, Go Faster in the new edition of Racing Weight:

The advantages of being light and lean for endurance performance are so obvious that they hardly needed to be scientifically proven, but exercise scientists have gone out and proven them anyway, and the proof is interesting. In a 1986 study Peter Bale and his colleagues at England’s Brighton Polytechnic University compared a host of anthropometric measurements in a group of 60 male runners (Bale, Bradbury, and Colley 1986). The subjects were divided into three groups of 20 based on their best 10K race times. The average weight of the men in the “average” group was 152 pounds compared to 145 pounds in the good group and 141 pounds in the elite group. Body composition measurements followed a similar pattern. Average body-fat percentages were 12.1, 10.7, and 8.0 in the average, good, and elite groups, respectively.Racing Weight Quick Start Guide

It bears noting that even the runners making up the average group were somewhat lighter and significantly leaner than the average nonrunner. The sport selects for naturally lighter and leaner individuals because they generally find greater initial success. The selection pressure continues within the sport right up to the top level. While most world-class runners have similar body weights (with women being lighter than men, naturally), research has shown that within the population of world-class runners, those with the lowest body-fat percentages tend to have the fastest race times.

Studies involving other types of endurance athletes have yielded similar findings. In 2011 Swiss researchers compared anthropometric variables against Ironman® swim, bike, and run split times in a group of 184 agegroup triathletes (Knechtle et al. 2011). Body weight was found to have a statistically moderate effect on total race time, while body-fat percentage had a large effect on total race time and a moderate effect (bordering on large) on swim, bike, and run splits. Both body weight and body-fat percentage were more strongly correlated with split times and total race time than are training variables such as average weekly training time.

The Racing Weight Series™ is the proven weight-loss program for endurance athletes. Find Racing Weight, Racing Weight Cookbook, or Racing Weight Quick Start Guide in your local bookstore; bike, tri, or running shop; or from these online retailers:Racing Weight Cookbook Lean Light Recipes for AthletesRacing Weight 2nd Ed. RW2 96dpi 400x600p strokeRWQSG 72dpi_400x600_stroke Racing Weight Quick Start Guide

The Racing Weight Series™ is published by VeloPress, the leading publisher of books about endurance sports.

Tall and Lanky vs. Small and Lean: How Does Body Type Affect Athletic Performance?

Each sport favors a particular body type.

body typeDuring the Olympics, we stumbled across a blog post on a photo book called The Athlete by sports photographers Howard Schatz and Beverly Ornstein. This book is a collection of photographs of Olympic athletes wearing very little–and perhaps a bit more oiled up than is strictly necessary. Nevertheless, to see a tiny figure skater next to a weightlifter is a fascinating reminder that the elites in our sports are elite in part because of how they are built.

The BBC picked up on the fun of this during the London Olympics with this “body type matcher” where readers could enter just two variables–weight and height–to be matched with an Olympian of the same stats. Obviously, this little web app is so simplistic that it’s really for entertainment.

Racing Weight explores the average body types of athletes in cross-country skiing, cycling, rowing, running, swimming, and triathlon. Why? To show how the demands of each sport enforce body composition types.

Racing Weight explains why each average body type makes sense for each sport, but here’s the basic message: the best athletes in any sport tend to be built in ways advantageous to that sport’s demands.

The best basketball players are tall because the point-scoring method involves a 10-foot high basket. The best football linebackers are massive because their job is to be immovable.

So what’s the best body type for endurance sports? Mostly, one that is light and lean.

In fact, weight and body-fat percentages are more strongly correlated with finish times than training variables. That’s right, the fastest elites also have the least body fat. Why?

  • Because they are more efficient (less gravity to overcome),
  • dissipate heat better (less insulation), and
  • can send more oxygen to muscle when there’s less oxygen demand from fatty tissue.

The Racing Weight Series™ is the proven weight-loss program for endurance athletes. Find Racing Weight, Racing Weight Cookbook, or Racing Weight Quick Start Guide in your local bookstore; bike, tri, or running shop; or from these online retailers:Racing Weight Cookbook Lean Light Recipes for AthletesRacing Weight 2nd Ed. RW2 96dpi 400x600p strokeRWQSG 72dpi_400x600_stroke Racing Weight Quick Start Guide

The Racing Weight Series™ is published by VeloPress, the leading publisher of books about endurance sports.

Carb Up! Low-Carb Diets Can Hurt Athletic Performance

Carbohydrate restriction in many popular diets actually hurt endurance sports performance

In the new edition of Racing Weight, author and certified sports nutritionist Matt Fitzgerald debunks the low-carb approach to dieting.

rwc_website_background_1500.jpgLow-carb diets restrict calories from carbohydrates, a fuel source that dozens of studies over decades have shown to be the most critical fuel source for high performing endurance athletes. Citing a wide variety of recent academic studies that show decreases in performance among devotees of low-carb “diets with a name”, Fitzgerald argues that among endurance athletes, carbohydrate is king.

From the new edition of Racing Weight:

Such diets typically do not deprive athletes of the total calories they need to support their training. But like the popular weight-loss diets, they do tend to deprive athletes of adequate carbohydrate. Also, their restrictive, imbalanced nature makes them just as hard to sustain as low-calorie diets. Research dating back almost a century has demonstrated that low-carb diets such as the Zone Diet reduce the body’s capacity to handle higher training loads. In 2002, researchers at Kingston University in England looked at the effect of the Zone Diet on training capacity in runners (Jarvis et al. 2002). Volunteers were required to run as long as they could at a fixed intensity of 80 percent of VO2max on two separate occasions: before starting the Zone Diet and again after a week on the Zone Diet. The average time to exhaustion before the Zone Diet was 37:41. A week later the average time to exhaustion had dropped all the way downto 34:06. Just seven days of inadequate carb intake had reduced these runners’ intensive endurance by nearly 10 percent.

Fitzgerald offers a few other critiques of the Paleo Diet in this recent post on Triathlete.com. Read more on the Paleo Diet and the Zone Diet’s effects on performance in Racing Weight, 2nd Ed..

The Racing Weight Series™ is the proven weight-loss program for endurance athletes. Find Racing Weight, Racing Weight Cookbook, or Racing Weight Quick Start Guide in your local bookstore; bike, tri, or running shop; or from these online retailers:Racing Weight Cookbook Lean Light Recipes for AthletesRacing Weight 2nd Ed. RW2 96dpi 400x600p strokeRWQSG 72dpi_400x600_stroke Racing Weight Quick Start Guide

The Racing Weight Series™ is published by VeloPress, the leading publisher of books about endurance sports.

What’s Your Body Type: Cyclist, Runner, Triathlete, Rower, or Swimmer?

Each sport favors a particular body type.

Racing Weight explores the average body types of athletes in cross-country skiing, cycling, rowing, running, swimming, and triathlon and explains how each body type is suited to its sport.

So what body type do you have?

Racing Weight and Body Mass Index BMI for athletes

The Runner’s Body: Let’s face it, top runners and light and skinny. Elite male marathoners average 7% body fat (only cross-country skiers are leaner) and women weigh in at 12% body fat, the leanest of all endurance sports. Why? Runners who have less gravity to fight with each step are more efficient.

The Cyclist’s Body: There’s more than one body type in cycling because cyclists often specialize in climbing or time trialing. Cyclists tend to be twiggy up top with muscular legs. Cyclists range from 6-11% body fat for men and 12-16% body fat for women. The average elite climber is 5′ 7″ and 130 pounds. The typical time trialist body is 6 feet and 147 lbs.

The Swimmer’s Body: The best swimmers are very tall, often with unusually long torsos and arms. They have large feet and flexible ankles–great for kicking propulsion. Swimmers carry more body fat than other endurance athletes: 10-12% for men and 19-21% for women. Why? Fat is more buoyant than muscle. One study also found that swimmers’ bodies add fat because of repeated exposure to cold water.

The Triathlete’s Body: The three-sport discipline of triathlon allows for great leeway in the body types of the best triathletes. The nature of the sport means that there are more ways to win, which lessens the competitive selection pressure on body type. Triathletes are often tall, but not exclusively so. Male elites have body fat percentages from 6-10% and females range between 12-15%.

The Cross-Country Skier’s Body: Elite cross-country skiers tend to be average height or slightly tall. They are muscular but the leanest of any endurance sport. Average male: 5′ 10″, 165 lbs, and 5% body fat | Average female: 5′ 7″, 141 lbs, and 11% body fat

The Rower’s Body: In rowing, mass is an advantage so the sport is divided into lightweight and heavyweight classes. Both classes feature muscular bodies. Men have body fat ranges under 8% while women are in the 12-16% range.

The Racing Weight Series™ is the proven weight-loss program for endurance athletes. Find Racing Weight, Racing Weight Cookbook, or Racing Weight Quick Start Guide in your local bookstore; bike, tri, or running shop; or from these online retailers:Racing Weight Cookbook Lean Light Recipes for AthletesRacing Weight 2nd Ed. RW2 96dpi 400x600p strokeRWQSG 72dpi_400x600_stroke Racing Weight Quick Start Guide

The Racing Weight Series™ is published by VeloPress, the leading publisher of books about endurance sports.

Why Are Leaner Athletes Faster?

Research, common sense, and race experience have shown that leaner athletes tend to be faster. Why? It’s not just gravity.

Why Skinny Athletes Are Faster - Racing WeightGravity

It’s the most obvious reason. We’ve all felt the heaviness that comes with fatigue while running or riding uphill. Swimmers that have to move larger limbs get tired more quickly, too.

Competition for Oxygen

One of the most crucial underpinnings of endurance performance is the ability to deliver oxygen to the working muscles at a high rate. As body-fat levels go down, aerobic capacity goes up, because muscle has less competition from fat tissue for oxygen and fuel.

Heat Dissipation

The primary function of body fat, of course, is insulation. An athlete’s ability to dissipate heat is an important performance factor in all forms of long-distance racing. While this ability is partly a function of the ratio of body surface area to body volume, this ratio is smaller in bigger athletes. So excess body fat impedes heat dissipation. It’s easier to stay cool on a long ride on a hot summer day if you’re very lean.

Fat-Burning vs. Carb-Burning

Sure, heavier athletes have more mass to move, but body fat isn’t just dead weight. Fat is a metabolically active organ that affects exercise metabolism in important ways that are not yet fully understood. One thing we do know is that athletes with larger amounts of body fat burn less fat and more carbohydrate at lower exercise intensities. Since the body burns carbs during racing but can only store small amounts of carbs, less lean athletes will burn through their valuable carb stores before leaner athletes.

Inertia

Lighter cyclists can accelerate more efficiently. Good criterium riders are often smaller riders who can match surges in the race more quickly than others.

Swimmers with heavier limbs have to use more energy to move their arms and legs.

But small athletes are often at an advantage on flat courses. Why? Inertia and hydrodynamics.

Hydrodynamics

In swimming, the fastest athletes tend to be tall and rangy instead of broad. Their narrower bodies present less frontal area in the water, making them more hydrodynamic.

But Get This…

Excess fat hurts performance, but excess muscle is in fact even more detrimental because it is far more dense, which is why we’re as unlikely to see a muscle-bound Tour de France winner as an obese one.

But what constitutes excess muscle is very different from what constitutes excess body fat since muscle is the engine of movement whereas body fat makes no contribution to endurance performance beyond providing energy for low-intensity exercise. Even the skinniest runner carries enough body fat to fuel 24 hours of continuous exercise.

Too Much Fat Is Bad for Athletes in Many Ways

Not only are top-level athletes quite lean, but also body composition is an excellent predictor of performance at all levels of endurance sports.

The Racing Weight Series™ is the proven weight-loss program for endurance athletes. Find Racing Weight, Racing Weight Cookbook, or Racing Weight Quick Start Guide in your local bookstore; bike, tri, or running shop; or from these online retailers:Racing Weight Cookbook Lean Light Recipes for AthletesRacing Weight 2nd Ed. RW2 96dpi 400x600p strokeRWQSG 72dpi_400x600_stroke Racing Weight Quick Start Guide

The Racing Weight Series™ is published by VeloPress, the leading publisher of books about endurance sports.