Book Review: The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition
Oh My Gosh! I don’t think I will be able to contain myself when it comes to describing this book. Now I’ve tried reading lots of other “running-tip” books but usually I fall asleep half way through chapter 1 and I can never get myself through the rest of it. Not in any way with this book. Matt Fitzgerald’s The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition is FABULOUS!!! See… I told you I wouldn’t be able to contain myself. 🙂 This was the first book strictly about running nutrition and training that I have ever gotten through all the way. It was concise, had TONS of information, and had lots and lots of diagrams and charts to help you decipher exactly what Fitzgerald was saying. Needless to say, I am asking for this one for Christmas. Did you hear that Santa!?! It was THAT good. And really, that’s saying something, because as an avid reader… I actually buy very few books. I borrow tons from the library, but I only buy books that I know for a fact I will read again- and this is one of those books. And this one I won’t only read again, I will highlight, dog-ear, and take notes in. In fact, there are a few people on my Christmas list that might be getting a copy of it themselves. 🙂 Honestly, I can’t rave enough about it.
Phew, ok, deep breathe.
With all that said… let me explain what Fitzgerald’s book discusses.
He breaks down what and how to eat during training, recovery, and the race itself; as well as giving tips and tricks on training, hydration, supplements, etc….but most of all- how to avoid THE WALL! Ahhh, the dreaded wall! The runner’s nemesis, the bane of our existence, our Achilles heel… so to speak. 😉
Fitzgerald works tirelessly to give you all the information that you will need to fuel your body; the timing, the percentages, everything.
He breaks a runner’s training time into 3 basic categories:
The Quick-Start, Race Specific Training, and Post Race Recovery
The Quick-Start is a 4-8 week period where you focus on building your base fitness, shedding unwanted pounds, and preparing your body for the rigors of serious training. He gives several guidelines for this time period including eating high protein and low(er) calories (never go below a 500 calorie deficit daily), do strength training 3x per week to increase strength output and relieve muscle imbalances, include short high-intensity workouts to build lean muscle, do long(er) runs, slowly, without carbohydrates (no sports drink, gels, etc) to increase your bodies fat-burning capacity (60-90 min) that will aid you during your race-specific training. The length of this period will depend on a) how much weight you need to lose and b) how long it has been since you have trained hard continuously- which leads me into the next phase…
Race Specific Training
This is the time that you spend working for a specific race, be it a half-marathon or marathon (or if 5k, or 10k, 50k, whatever!) and could be anywhere from (usually) 12-20 weeks. This is the meat of the book and Fitzgerald gives tips and guidelines for almost every scenario imaginable. He describes training in terms of zones (zone 1 being extremely easy, zone 5 being an all out sprint) and heart rates and he gives an easy to use guide to create your own training plan for half-marathons and marathons (though he also includes training plans of his own creation too). As per day to day nutrition Fitzgerald lays out a super simple to understand and extremely easy to use eating plan. He places all food on a sliding scale. Vegetables are first, then fruits, nuts and seeds, fish and lean meats, whole grains, dairy, refined grains, fatty meats, sweets, and fried foods. He gives no calorie breakdown or portion guidelines, he simply says, in the course of a week, eat more vegetables than fruits, more fruits than nuts and seeds, more nuts and seeds than fish and lean meat, etc…
Isn’t that great!! It’s not complex or overdone… not even restrictive! In fact, you can eat any foods you want on his plan as long as you eat more of the good stuff than the bad. It even works for specialty diets (paleo, vegan, etc)- veggies and fruits are mandatory, everything else is optional. Now he does say that dairy and “up” are quality foods and refined grains and “down” are poor quality (which we knew already of course!), but he doesn’t make you give them up. As long as you eat more of the good stuff- every once in a while a poor quality food will not harm your training.
For example- in a given week, if you ate 10 servings of vegetables, you should eat 9 fruits, 8 nuts and seeds, 7 fish and lean meats, 6 whole grains, 5 dairies, and could eat 4 refined grains, 3 fatty meats, 2 sweets, and 1 fried food. See! Super simple and super easy to understand. I LOVE THAT!!!
He does say that recording what you eat is a good tool to keep track of this, but you don’t even have to write down exactly what you eat- just tally your servings under each category. LOVE IT!!! You’ll also notice there is no “fat” category- this was on purpose. He says that you aren’t ever going to eat fat by itself and that fat is necessary, so just tally what you eat it “with” and you’re good. Pat of butter on your veggies, just record the veggies. Splash of olive oil on your salad, just record the veggies. Soooo simple! As a way to maintain your size (meaning you aren’t trying to lose or gain weight)- this is perfect!
As for nutrition during training and the race? He goes into great length on the number of carbs to eat and as well as adding protein, how to use caffeine, etc. This is where my only negative comes in… he talks about taking Tylenol before a race to ward off pain and stiffness. Please please don’t do this. It may give you the edge on speed and PR’s, but it will not give you the edge when it comes to your health. A new PR is not worth a trip to the ER for your liver, ok? There are much better ways to deal with pain than that. Acetaminophen overdose is just too easy and just too risky.
Ok, end of negatives. 🙂
Fitzgerald also spends a great deal of time in his book discussing the Taper period of your training. He discusses fat-loading (yes, I know, FAT-LOADING!!!), carb-loading, reducing calories, reducing training load (though increasing the intensity) and how to use the taper to the best of your ability. It really made me understand what the taper is and how to utilize it. It makes sooo much more sense now.
As for what to eat right after a training session, Fitzgerald says carbs, protein, water, and antioxidants. This is what your body needs. And in fact he says to avoid fat because it slows down the absorption of these nutrients into your blood stream for speedy recovery. Though I have to wonder, what whole food protein sources don’t have fat in them? Any thoughts?
Lastly, Fitzgerald talks about the Post-Race Recovery period as a time where you feed the soul more than the body. That’s not to say you stop eating well, just that you are a bit more easy on yourself. He says you work so hard during training, restricting yourself, pushing your will power, that it’s actually important to cheat a little. Cut yourself some slack and eat that slice of pizza… not the whole pizza mind you, but you can ease up on the “guidelines”. In fact he says it’s important to put on a little weight (8% is his rule) to give your body a chance to heal and recovery from the grueling and taxing period you just completed as well as to give your mind some time off too. Rest, relax, drink a beer, and relish in your accomplishments. Without this break, running (or any passion really) can lose it’s luster, the joy it gives you; and that would be the greatest tragedy. Because really, that’s what exercise gives us right?- joy, passion, an outlet… but living life too rigorously can suck that right out of even your favorite activity. Life is meant to be enjoyed; fully, with strength, lots of love, but without becoming overbearing.
So train, and train hard, but never forget that it’s just as important to take some time off too. Honor and thank yourself for everything that you accomplish each and every day.
Love and Joy,
Be on the lookout next month when I review the book, The Nature Principle by Richard Louv. 🙂