2 December 2010
Racing Weight by Matt Fitzgerald is the first dedicated book for athletes on maintaining an optimal body composition. I first heard about it a few months ago and raced to get hold of a copy. As soon as I read it I bought a stack of them for my shop (right here) as I felt this is a must have book for any climber investing time and effort into manipulating their weight for climbing. I’ve been meaning to write this review for a while to explain why.
First off, climbers will notice that this is a book aimed at endurance athletes like cyclists and runners. Why is that important? Because their training is totally different to ours. Aerobic athletes need to burn larger volumes of calories for more hours than climbers do. But despite this, much of the book is relevant to us and even the bits that aren’t help to inform what us climbers should be doing in our nutritional regime.
Fitzgerald has all the credentials to write this book - a successful athlete (triathlon), nutritionalist, coach and professional writer. Although he references the scientific literature throughout, the text is still easy to read if you aren’t a sports scientist and is both well laid out and clear in its messages.
The discussion early on comparing the sizes, shapes and demands of many different sports was very illuminating. We are totally not alone in our challenging nutritional and physiological needs as climbers. While endurance athletes have one killer advantage in the weight loss game (that their sports use up a ton of calories), they also struggle because any caloric deficit interferes seriously with training intensity. If they don’t eat really well at all times, they get unfit.
Fitzgerald outlines in excellent and convincing detail how many angles we can come at these problems using the content, volume, timing and quality of our diet. I learned a great deal about all of these different components, as well as reinforcing a lot of what I had previously learnt in my own study of this subject.
I’d also read a lot of research in recent years about the tactics of appetite management, perhaps the ultimate nemesis for those permanently adrift of their fighting weight. It was fascinating to see an up to date review of all of this in one place. An excellent chapter and surely useful to just about anyone never mind just athletes.
The only place I’d like to have seen an extended discussion was that of intermittent fasting - an increasingly popular protocol in several non-cardiovascular sports that depend on low body fat percentage. Fitzgerald essentially dismisses it as unsuitable for endurance athletes due to the inability to fuel daily training sessions. This totally makes sense. But given that a lot of the book seems to be written with a wider audience of athletes or the general public in mind, I was surprised that more space wasn’t given to it. I suspect that lack of solid research on it’s effects on sport performance was the main reason. It does however leave an opening for someone else to discuss this aspect (or better still research it!) further with a greater range of sports and applications in mind.
As a coach myself I observe climbers constantly applying bits and pieces of nutritional tactics from all kinds of sources; pseudo-scientific diet books aimed at the mass market, knowledge adapted haphazardly from other sports, out of date knowledge or simple unconscious habits. In my view, every climber who cares about training or knows their body composition could be better should read this text.
It’s in the shop here.