This past week I read Matt Fitzgerald’s The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition: A Cutting-Edge Plan to Fuel Your Body Beyond “the Wall” during our plane rides to and from Milwaukee, WI. This book had been on my reading list for some time now and I could not put it down once I started reading it! Overall, The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Training is an invaluable resource for runners that is a must-read if you are training for a marathon or half marathon now or in the future.
Matt Fitzgerald is one of my favorite authors of running books. He studied English in college and continued on to become a certified sports nutritionist and running coach, and these experiences certainly shine through in his books. He communicates scientifically-backed concepts of running, training, and nutrition with a clear and engaging style.
The primary objective of The New Rules of Marathon and Half Marathon Nutrition is to help runners avoid hitting the wall during their next marathon or half marathon. As Fitzgerald points out, avoiding the wall isn’t just about what you eat during the race—it is influenced by how you eat during your entire training cycle.
The book is divided into three sections, all of which are overflowing with practical and fascinating information about how to make the most of your nutrition to run your best race and avoid hitting the wall. I greatly appreciated how comprehensive the advice in this book was: it truly takes you from day one of your training, through your race, and to the final stages of post-race recovery and base building. Fitzgerald also a healthy, balanced view on food that is refreshing in comparison to the many extremes we tend to see in mainstream diets.
Focus on Carbohydrates and Quality Rather than Calories
Part One: The Two-Diet Rule offers advice on (1) how to get enough carbohydrates to fuel your running while (2) eating a high-quality diet that will lean you down for race day. Fitzgerald’s Two-Rule Diet provides a scale of high-quality foods (vegetables, fruits, nuts/seeds, lean proteins, whole grains, and dairy) and low-quality foods (refined grains, fatty meats, sweets, and fried foods). Low-quality foods don’t need to be avoided, but most of your diet should come from high quality foods during training. As long as you’re eating high quality foods, you don’t have to worry about counting calories to achieve your racing weight. In fact, the high quality diet is best for runners because overall nutrition, not caloric intake, is what matters for fueling your training and ultimately your race. This diet quality balance is very similar to the system he outlines in Racing Weight.
My favorite part about this section was that Fitzgerald provided a clear and easy calculation to use to determine how many carbohydrates you should eat each day based on your weight and total training time (running and other) for that given day. By eating enough high-quality carbohydrates throughout training, you are doing approximately 75% of the work in avoiding the wall and fueling well for race day.
Additionally, I must say that I appreciated how Fitzgerald encourages the moderate consumption of alcohol (beer, wine, straight liquor with no mixers) based on research that indicates that those who have 1-2 drinks a day are healthier than those on both extreme ends of the spectrum. Once you add a mixer or exceed 2 drinks in a single day, then it is counted as a sweet, but beer and wine lovers can rest assured that a daily glass won’t derail their training goals.
Taper Diet: Fat-Load, Caffeine Fast, and Carbo-Load
Part Two: Performance Nutrition from Day One to Race Day delves into the specifics of how to fuel before, during, and after your runs, including during your taper and the race itself. Fitzgerald leaves no nutritional stone unturned as he discusses how to determine your race day nutrition plan, when to use gels and sports drinks, how to balance “high” and “low” carb runs in your training, and what exactly to eat before a race.
Perhaps the most interesting takeaway from Part Two was Fitzgerald’s proposition of a specific taper diet. During the taper period, Fitzgerald recommends lowering your caloric intake (to prevent weight gain during a period of less running), including a fat-loading phase before the carbo-loading phase, and fasting from caffeine until the race. In this chapter and throughout the section, Fitzgerald also talks about how to maximize your fat oxidation (i.e. teach your body to burn fat as well as carbs at race pace) to help you avoid the wall on race day.
The chapter on nutrition after the race is perhaps the most interesting. Fitzgerald encourages a slight weight gain after the race (since racing weight can’t realistically be maintained without a high training volume) and then offer tips on how to lean down during off-season. His approach is very realistic—who doesn’t want to eat some burgers and fries after finishing a marathon—which makes it easy to implement for every runner, not just elites.
Make the Most of Your Training with Your Nutrition
Part Three: Nutrition-Training Synergy provides the reader with several training plans for full and half marathons based on level of experience. These plans are similar to those Fitzgerald outlines in 80/20 Running, with one outstanding difference: he also gives nutritional guidelines for how to refuel after each run. Definitely worth a look if you are curious about how to eat after a run.
The book itself is a quick read. I think it took me about 4 hours to read the nearly 300 pages, and I have a tendency to re-read and mark up sections I enjoy. I couldn’t put it down!
Overall, I highly recommend The New Rules of Marathon and Half Marathon Nutrition to all runners. As Fitzgerald states, running and nutrition go hand-in-hand! It’s refreshing to read a book with runners in mind and that doesn’t advocate one particular diet (i.e. low-carb, Paleo, vegan, etc.) but rather can be adapted to fit individual needs and preferences.
(Disclaimer: This post does contain Amazon affiliate links. I am receiving no compensation nor am I affiliated with the publishers or authors of the books. I simply wanted to share a book I enjoyed with you!)
Questions of the Day:
Do you fat-load or caffeine fast before a big race?
What are you most interested in learning about in regards to nutrition for runners?