By Pete Williams
In his book Racing Weight: How to Get Lean for Peak Performance, Matt Fitzgerald stressed that every endurance athlete has an ideal racing weight that will shed seconds, if not minutes, off of race times.
In his new book Racing Weight Quick Start Guide he provides more specific formulas to reach that point during the offseason or, better yet, preseason. We recently chatted with Fitzgerald about the new book. An audio version of the interview is available on The Fitness Buff Radio Show.
Q: The idea of an ideal racing weight is a great concept, but how do you pinpoint it?
A: I’d hoped to be able to do it to provide some kind of magic formula people could use to predict their racing weight by simply punching in height, weight, and gender, but that’s not possible. The way to do it is to achieve it. It’s the weight at which you race your best. You have to get there to know it. But you can at least set a target that might not be 100 percent accurate but will serve the purpose of focusing you on a number because, after all, we tend to be goal oriented as end athletes.
Q: Is it a moving target of sorts?
A: It can change over time. You might even have different racing weights for different disciplines. I race at a different weight for marathons than triathlons, but if you focus on a single discipline, you have one ideal sweet spot. Many of us never get there. The trouble is that the weight can be the thing that holds you back from best performance. It’s kind of a circular thing. How do I know? The goal is to set a reasonable target. It might not be 100 percent accurate, but it will be close enough to get you motivated to get there.
Q: Obviously this is meant for people who have been training, not those just getting into shape, right?
A: It’s definitely focused on performance. I’m surrounded by relatively skinny people everyday who feel that they’re five or six pounds too heavy. It’s a different crowd from those who are just getting started. A lot of the same principles still apply and you can read this book and use the methodology, but when you’re just getting started you have other things to worry about besides perfecting your body.
Q: How do you walk that fine line between performance and weight loss?
A: One of the important points I tried to drive home in Racing Weight was that you can’t maximize weight loss and fitness gain at the same time. When you’re training hard for a marathon or triathlon, you‘re probably going to get leaner and lose excess body fat. Because performance is your top priority, you need to focus on fueling your body adequately. When you’re doing that, you’re not going to lose as much as you would if you put performance in the background. There is a time to switch those priorities and put performance on the backburner but it shouldn’t be at the same time. Racing Weight focused on losing weight the right way within a training cycle. The Quick Start Guide is intended to be used in a four-to-eight week period before you get serious about training. It’s literally a time to get a quick start on your ideal racing weight. Then you’re really ready to get going once you ramp up your training for a race.
Q: Using triathletes as an example, would it make most sense for them to do the Quick Start Guide during the preseason? Or even the offseason?
A. Sure. It’s a seasonal type of thing for most of them. This time of year, late winter or after the New Year is when a lot of people start thinking about next season. Or maybe you do a marathon in spring and in the summer ramp it up again and do a quick start again. It’s any time you’re ready to get started training for a race.
Q: Most triathletes think, “I’m in the best shape of my life.” How much more do I have to drill down with this?
A: The thing is no matter who you are it’s almost impossible to maintain your ideal racing weight all year round. Chris McCormack, the reigning Ironman champion, won in October at 175 pounds and now he weighs 185. That’s natural. Expecting to maintain your racing weight year round is not realistic. We’ll all slide away when we’re not training as hard. It becomes a cyclical thing and a Quick Start becomes another phase in your routine. You take time off, do a quick start, and then ramp it up.
Q: Is it a combination of training and nutrition or is the focus more on nutrition?
A: It’s both. They’re kind of synergistic. There are specific things you want to do on the nutritional side and the training side and they work together. The fundamentals stay the same. In Racing Weight I talk about maximizing diet quality and that doesn’t change. But other things do. For example in the regular training cycle you’ll want a high-carbohydrate diet but in the Quick Start your training volume is lower so you’re not going to eat that much carbohydrate. It’s just going to be excess fuel that you’re not using that will sabotage your efforts to lose weight.
Q: Are food journals important in this?
A: They are. Counting calories are effective but a pain in the butt. Nobody wants to do that year round and it’s not necessary either. But within a Quick Start, which is a short window of time, it does make sense to suck it up and count your calories and keep track of everything you’re eating. Not for the rest of your life, but we can all handle it for a four-to-eight-week window and it will pay off
Q: Let’s go back to Chris McCormack. Let’s say he has a big race to kick off his season in April. Would the goal be to get from 185 to 175 by then?
A: It depends. He’s the heaviest guy to win Ironman Kona by a long shot. That (175 pounds) doesn’t sound all that heavy, but for a champion Ironman athlete it is. That race is very long and very hot so he tries to get as lean as he can without sacrificing the strength he needs for that long day. He’ll be heavier in other races. If it’s cooler or the race is shorter, he can be a little heavier. He has a lot of fun with this. He’ll be 38 soon and he says that’s why he’s still in the sport. It’s a fun game to see how he can manipulate his body. It’s an intellectual challenge and he’ll dial it in to where he has different (weight) targets for different races
Q: What about someone like myself whose weight doesn’t fluctuate that much, maybe from 172 to 165, over the course of the season?
A: If you were more than 20 pounds over, you’d do a longer and more aggressive Quick Start, a full eight weeks and aim to consume 500 fewer calories than you took in. If you were 11 to 19 pounds over, you’d choose six weeks and 400 calories and if you’re pretty lean, less than 10 pounds above, then you’d do a four-week Quick Start with a 300-calorie deficit. But they’re just recommendations. You choose one plan and you calculate. The idea is not to get to your racing weight during the Quick Start, but to get a fast start toward that destination and whatever excess body fat you have, your actual race training after the Quick Start will take care of the excess.
There is some flexibility, but let’s say you do five races over the course of the season. You might reach your ideal racing weight for the first race. In other cases it might not be until your last.