A few weeks ago I made a review of Matt Fitzgerald’s popular book Racing Weight – How to Get Lean for Peak Performance. I thought it was a great read with many practical examples and illustrations of how athletes can manage their diet to perform better. However, many readers are not going to read the whole book, but want practical tips that are easy to implement now. So I decided to contact Matt Fitzgerald to ask for some easy digestible tips that you can implement today.
Interview with Matt Fitzgerald
Jesper: Many riders bulk 5 to 10 kg during the off-season. People train less and eat more. What is in your opinion the most valuable advice for road cyclists to limit excess body weight during the winter season?
Matt: Start by giving yourself a limit for off-season weight gain. A certain amount of weight gain is normal and healthy. If you set a numerical cap on it, though, you’ll be less likely to gain too much. Keeping your diet quality high will help you stay within the limit you’ve set. In my book, I present a diet quality scoring system that makes it easy to stay on track in this regard. There’s also a DQS (for Diet Quality Score) app now available for iPhone and Droid.
Jesper: Can you provide a practical example of how my readers can implement such strategy?
Matt: In the book I talk about something I call the 8 percent rule. According to this rule, you are allowed to go up to 8 percent above your optimal racing weight during the off season. So if your racing weight is 68 kg, you may go up to 73 kg during the off season. This doesn’t mean you HAVE to gain that much weight, and some of it should be muscle, as I recommend maintaining a heavier emphasis on strength training during the off season.
Jesper: In your book you talk about body composition and the strong correlations between fat percentage, body weight and performance. For riders that are new to serious bike training it can be difficult to know what exactly target they are shooting for. Can you provide some numbers that are relevant for road cyclists that want to perform at their best in 2015?
Matt: All cyclists perform at their best when they have close to the minimum amount of body fat that is healthy for them. So even though body weight (or mass) is measured in kilograms or pounds, it’s body fat percentage that really determines an individual rider’s optimal racing weight. There are several factors that influence the BF% that is realistically attainable for an individual cyclist. These include age, gender, history of being overweight, and genetics. Because so many factors are involved, it’s impossible to rigorously predict a rider’s optimal racing weight. It is possible to make reasonable estimates, though, and I’ve created a tool that does this. It can be found here.
Jesper: What is your argument for using these values?
Matt: The tool works very well. Athletes who actually attain their optimal racing weight (something that few do) typically find that it is very close to the number that the calculator predicted. I should add that the only way to determine what your optimal racing weight really is is to attain it, because racing weight is functionally defined. Specifically, an athlete’s optimal racing weight is his weight/body fat percentage at the time of peak racing form.
Jesper: In your book, you state that ‘the dietary habits and training methods of the world’s best performing athletes define what works’. I like the idea of using the leaders as role models. It’s pretty hard to argue against the nutritional strategy from an olympic champion… However, there is now evidence that doping play a significant role in professional endurance sports including not only methods to increase endurance for example EPO or blood transfusion but also drugs that will manipulate body composition over time, e.g. insulin, growth hormone, testosterone etc. Should we still follow the leaders (without doping, of course)?
Matt:Yes. The six rules of the Racing Weight program (1. Improve your diet quality, 2. Manage your appetite, 3. Balance your energy sources, 4. Monitor yourself, 5. Time your nutrition, and 6. Train for racing weight) are not only practiced almost universally by elite endurance athletes but also supported by experimental science. They are proven to work just as well for athletes who do not use performance-enhancing drugs as for those who do. I can assure you that, as a clean endurance athlete, you are not likely to reach your optimal racing weight by lowering your diet quality, failing to manage your appetite, etc.
Jesper: I know that IF there was a magic formula for optimal eating or training, everybody would use it. However, if you were supposed to re-write your book today, are there any recommendations you would adjust now or expect to adjust in the future?
Matt: Actually, I got a chance to revise the original Racing Weight for a second edition that was published in 2013. I still consider this edition fully up-to-date and therefore would not make any significant changes.
Jesper: Are there any ‘trends’ in nutritional strategies you expect that will get more attention in the future, for example post-exercise practices or use of protein supplement?
Matt: Lately I see more elite endurance athletes engaging in the practice of carbohydrate-deprivation workouts. It entails doing a long training session without what would normally be considered adequate carbohydrate intake before and during. It is done only occasionally, once a week or so, and its main purpose is to increase the fat-burning capacity of the muscles during exercise, but it may also have a very small favorable effect on body composition.
Jesper: Ok, final question. From my personal experience, practical tips and tricks are more valuable than ‘eat no more than 30% fat’ or similar. Instead, it’s more effective for me to eliminate all the kind of low quality food items I’d better not eat. Simply, make all cakes etc. out of reach. Matt, do you have any tips in this category that you would share with my readers?
Matt: One helpful tip is a complement to the example you just gave. In addition to keeping unhealthy foods out of reach, try to keep healthy foods always within reach. Have healthy snacks such as fruit and nuts available everywhere: in the car, at your office desk, in your airplane carry-on bag, etc.
Thanks to Matt Fitzgerald for contributing with his knowledge about nutrition for endurance athletes here on Training4cyclists. If you want to learn more about effective nutritional strategies there is a recent review of ‘Racing Weight’ on Training4cyclists and you can find a couple of other books from Matt Fitzgerald over at Amazon.