Tuesday, February 23, 2010

Race Weight


A bite of gluten free muffin. Not a quandry.

Over the years I have been blogging, I have posted at least once a year about race weight- mine, diets, weight loss, "looking like a runner", etc. As the first major efforts of the year are creeping closer and closer, I am again thinking about it. Most of the thinking has been prompted by reading the book, Race Weight by Matt Fitzgerald. This book is geared towards endurance athletes and focuses on more than just beginners.

As someone who knows a good deal about nutrition, healthy eating and food, it is nice to read a book that does offer simple steps/ practices to move towards race weight. The book isn't touting any certain type of diet, though it is in line with what I already believe and practice, a very Michael Pollen-esqe "eat real food" type recommendation. It is informational yes, but in the end it runs me into the same road blocks/questions/conundrums that I consider my biggest hurdles in achieving my race weight.

Currently, as of this morning, I am about 5-6 lbs over my lightest race weight. I could go as much as 7-8lbs down and still be within a healthy range for me. If I am being honest, I would definitely like to achieve something like that weight this season preferably before WS100. I also don't want to sacrifice health and training and such just to be lighter. Fitzgerald says, your ideal race weight is the amount you weigh on the day you run your PR. I care less about the number, than I do about how I feel on race day. Weight is, ultimately, an arbitrary number.

Fitzgerald argues that the best way to lose weight is to increase your training. I agree it is much easier to run 5 more miles (and not up calories accordingly) than to cut 500 additional calories out of your diet when you are in training (at least for me it is). The really big roadblock that I continually run into and did with this book is: calories in to lose weight, but eating enough not trigger hormonal imbalances, muscle loss and fat gain. I have been in the position where (when vegan) I wasn't getting enough calories, got hypo-thyroid and ending up gaining fat/losing muscle because my calories in/calories out were too far out of balance. Thus, I find myself when training hard constantly wondering if I am eating too much (to lose weight) or eating too little for the mileage I put in.

I have had my BMR checked and would wager based on my weight that I burn, maybe 90kcals/mile. Thus, on an average weekday during February in which I have been doing at least 100mpw, that I run (say 20 miles over 2 runs) and work (seated/computer) that I would be burning about 3500 calories per day. My average calories in (weekdays) is about 2400-2800 calories. In theory that means, I should lose a bit of weight each week. But that is not happening. Which means, I am either overeating (which is what I am always convinced I am doing, but not necessarily true) or undereating and freaking my body out. Trying to figure out which one, could drive you insane. Instead, I just try to listen to my body and my hunger. I eat an incredibly healthy diet, so I am not really concerned about the quality of my diet at all.

I know that I could be like some of the elite athletes in the book/that I know/that I have been at one point or another and be completely rigid about my diet. But that is the second roadblock I run into. Do I want to be so strict about my diet that I don't enjoy my life? Do I want to abstain from wine with friends, coconut ice cream out of the container after a long run and trying new things at restaurants or going on weekend trips designed around all the places we can eat? I don't. Being overly obsessed with food and weight is unhealthy and alienates you from everyone and everything. I don't think that running is a free pass by any means, but I think moderation is completely fine.

I don't like to even thinking about race weight or weight at all, but as Fitzgerald discusses, we think about it as elite endurance athletes because it makes a difference. We can feel it. I am less worried about achieving a certain number than I am about feeling a certain way about my body.

Thus, as the season thrusts itself upon me, I am devising strategies to encourage my body towards race weight or better described, race body feeling,  while being happy, healthy and fueled enough to do the good hard work. At the same time, I am remembering that the things I will remember most about my training days are the fun I had with friends running then refueling, not how fat or fit I felt on that day.

Post run treats with speedsters at Flying Apron


  1. "I am remembering that the things I will remember most about my training days are the fun I had with friends running then refueling, not how fat or fit I felt on that day."

    This is so true. I run on a totally different level than you do, so I can't really relate to the pressures you have (no one expects me to do much ya know :p) but I do relate to the neverending food issues you have experienced. It would be nice to be able to just naturally know what to eat, how much and when without consciously thinking about it. That will never be my life so I just try to be super-aware 80% of the time and a glutton the rest :p

  2. Interesting post. Sounds like you have a good balance and healthy attitude, which are paying off with amazing race results.

    I thought Racing Weight was a very good book too.

  3. I finally just threw in the towel on hitting a target weight, and just give my body what it's asking for. Perhaps the better mood outweighs the extra lb or two at the starting line. ;-)

    Good luck at Napa next weekend!


  4. I guess I should have mentioned that I rarely ever weigh myself but decided to a few months ago and have been weighing myself maybe once a month since. I fully believe that "race weight" is ultimately very arbitrary.

    I agree Scott, I think that the better mood and the reduced anxiety definitely outweigh the extra few pounds. And like Danni, I balance being aware most of the time with space for indulgence as well.

  5. Love the idea that my race weight is my PR weight. And now I want to read that book.

  6. I think your health and energy level over the long run (hey- a pun!) are what is most important. You may be lighter and faster if you lose a few, but risk running out of gas or running your body into overtraining syndrome or something if you're underfueled. I would bet that your intuition will steer you right since you know your body better than anyone else. If you do lose weight, gradual would be safer, so as to avoid triggering any reactions- just my two cents.

    Best of luck in your season. We'll be cheering for you!

  7. I'm one of the guys who was at the vanguard of eating disorders in men. My weight when I set my PRs was 128-132 lbs. on a 6-foot frame. I was still growing and probably would've done better if heavier. Now I weigh myself just when my pants seem a bit snug or a bit loose and don't think about it much.

    I've read the book. Some good stuff in it.

  8. As an experiment last year, I tracked every single mouthful I ate for a month using nutrition software (Nutrition Data) and then analyzed the results to see what, if any, changes I could make to optimize calories in/out, my balance of food categories, glycemic load, etc. I was already eating very healthily anyway (veggie organic). I can honestly say that the experiment was largely useless (and laborious) except to support your good points about the need to listen to your body & your hunger rather than becoming completely obsessive about food.

    Part of the challenge of interpreting the data from my experiment was that the software couldn't take into account when I'd had a hard day at work, the energy demands of significant elevation change in a run, how much quality sleep I was getting, whether I had a cold, and a host of other variables that play into the food in/energy out equation which aren't easily quantifiable even though they play a significant role in both how well/far I ran and what I needed to eat.

    I don't think the answer is better software. Ultimately, I believe evolution has given us very good intuitive tools to judge when we need fuel & rest, and that provided we follow some basic nutritional guidelines (along the lines of Michael Pollan's suggestions) the body will make its needs transparently known so long as we learn to listen to them.

    In the past five years I've dropped from 220 to 170 pounds through running marathons/ultras and cutting out crap from my diet (refined sugar and saturated fat). I find my weight now fluctuates plus or minus 2-5 pounds depending on training volume, but I've stopped feeling obsessing about it and completely share the thoughts of your last paragraph.

  9. This is a great and interesting topic. I am much like you and sometimes feel those pressures to be thinner for racing. That is one aspect of it that I try not to think about although, I always do at some point or another.

    Last year my weight got down to the lowest it has ever been 129 (without trying). It just seems to go down to that when I am training for 50 mile- 100km. However, I have run a lot of PR's at 132 and I actually feel like I have a lot more energy when I race at this weight. I also feel stronger at 132 than I do at 129 which I feel is important for running up mountains! I personally think I look to skinny at 129 and then I just feel frail, which is crazy because it's only a 3lb difference.

    Anywho, just my own experience with it. I love food and am not one to say 'no' to something very often because I am 'in training mode'. If I do, I just feel like I am depriving myself and with all that training we do, the odd treat here and there is harmless.

  10. Nicola- you hit on an interesting point which he addresses in the book. That lighter is not always better that there is a point of diminishing return. You have found your "sweet spot" so to speak of leanness at 132 and thus just losing weight to lose weight doesn't serve your running.

  11. I was wrecking my brains for a long time about it too. Last fall I tracked every bite, and figured I was eating 1600-2000 (max) cal a day while running 70 mpw. I did loose weight I gained in the previous 3 months of hiatus. But since then I haven't moved a pound. Although the mesaruments off my waist/thighs went down some more. What is my race goal weight? This is where the real question is. I had run my best year (2005) at 140-145, what is 10-15 lbs above my weight now. I had also ran awesome at 130 - in a longer races though (like 100's). Bottom line is, I have no clue. I think about getting thinner/smaller quite some, I eat pretty healthy, but I am not starving myself. Although at the same time, 2000 cal is not enough. May be I did screw up my metabolism and put my body in starvation mode? I wish somebody can give me a strict answer, just like a coach gives a strict schedule:) In a meantime - I love to eat, I pick wisely, but I am not about to go without.

  12. New to the blog. Love the topic.

    I do not own a scale and havent weighed myself in months. I also live off of Lucky Charms and a bunch of other crap that make all my running friends shake their heads in disgust.

    Anyways for me I always know when I am at the correct weight by the way I feel during my runs. I think when you just run a ton of miles the body just naturally changes to fit its lifestyle. I do not have any clue what that weight is but I just know when I am at it.

  13. Devon I eat 2,600 cals a day and I am only 5'2" and weigh 110. From someone who has dabbled in the physique world I can tell you one this is certain. If you don't eat enough to fuel your cardio output you will lose muscle and hold fat. I like to stay under 110. It's where I feel the best but when I cut my cals I move up to 112-114. Every single time my body fat goes up from 12% to 14% and I lose some muscle. It's a crazy concept but it's been tested and tested by many. Most certainly in the physique world where calories and body fat are key. I know many girls who can shed fast but after a few cycles of cutting their cals they wreck their metabolism and hunger is a bad measure for an athlete. Due to the high output the metabolism goes to sleep unless we feed it often. I am sure to eat about every 3 hours and I am pretty much starving at 2.5 hours. 3 years ago I could go 5 hours without eating. I was heavier and certainly not as lean. Eat up!


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