What’s This Diet Quality Thing Anyway? – Racing Weight

Leah here: I keep hinting at my fueling strategies and diet quality scores and stuff, so I figured it was time for a post.  This year, I’m attempting to follow the strategies laid out by the book Racing Weight, by Matt Fitzgerald.

First of all, while I can say I’m proud of what I can do as an athlete, there is no question that I’d be a better racer if I improved my body composition.  However, the key is to do it the right way – not with significant deficits and drinking only water through 3 hour runs and eating only celery.  He stresses that not everyone out there can benefit from losing weight, but almost everyone could benefit from improving their diet quality and nutrient timing.

How to find your racing weight (goal):

1. Measure your body fat %.  I’m using some hugely outdated numbers, but mine is around 34% (not terribly great).  My lean mass is 118 lb, my fat mass is 62 lbs.

2. Use his little handy dandy chart (of which I cannot find a picture of and I am too lazy to scan).  I’ll simplify – I have a pretty high body fat % for an endurance athlete, so I’m trying to improve up the chart a little bit to 26% body fat this season.  If I was already around 26% or less, my goal would be 18%.  If I was already at 18%, my goal would be 15-16%.  If I’m at 15-16%, he suggests I’m probably just fine where I’m at thank you very much (for my age and gender).

3.  The goal is to not lose lean mass, while lowering body fat.  So my ideal racing weight (for this year) is: 118+ 26% or 148.  That feels incredibly ambitious for me, but there it is.  I’ll repeat this each season until I’m where I want to be.


1. Improving your diet quality.  Simply put, that is making sure you eat fruit, veggies, whole grains, dairy, lean meat (he separates out plant proteins here instead for veggies and vegans), and legumes in reasonable portions in moderate quantities, and avoid sweets, fried food, refined grains, and fatty proteins.

You are to score your daily choices thusly…

The Good:

Fruit: First 3 servings get you 2 points each.  Fourth gets you 1 point.  After that, you get 0 points (they do not subtract from your score but don’t add to it to suggest that eating a metric ton of veggies and fruits is going to somehow cancel out eating a whole chocolate cake)

Veggies: First 3 servings get you 2 points each.  Fourth gets you 1 point.  After that, 0 points (ditto)

Lean Meats/Fish: First 2 get you 2 points each.  Third gets you 1 point.  Fourth and fifth get you 0.  Sixth and on, subtract 1 from your score. (Once you hit that ~18-20 oz of meat per day, it’s probably time to shove something else down your piehole)

Nuts and Seeds: First 2 get you 2 points each.  Third gets you 1 point.  Fourth and fifth get you 0.  Sixth and on, subtract 1 from your score. (Nut butters and pistachios good.  Cleaning out a whole jar of PB with your finger bad.)

Whole Grains: First 2 get you 2 points each.  Third gets you 1 point.  Fourth and fifth get you 0.  Sixth and on, subtract 1 from your score. (FINALLY someone not telling me that grains are bad… I feel so, so, so, so much better when I eat a decent amount of carbage – I cannot get full on protein and veggies alone, I just feel all weird and heavy and yukko)

Dairy: First 3 get you 1 point each.  Fourth gets you 0.  Fifth gets you -1, and sixth and on gets you -2.  (Some dairy good.  Lots of dairy very bad.)  Both full fat and low fat.

The Bad:

Refined grains: First 2, you subtract 1 point each.  After that, -2.

Fried Foods: Just go ahead and subtract -2 for each of these.

Sweets: If the first or second ingredient is sugar in any form, and it’s not used for immediate workout fuel, it goes here and nets you a -2 each.

Fatty Proteins: He considers anything over 10% fat (give or take a little, 10.5% fat on your steak doesn’t automatically take it from +2 to -2, but it’s there for a reference) in this category.  Subtract 1 point for the first 2 servings, and subtract 2 for each additional serving

The Else:

Your first alcoholic drink per day counts as 0.  Each after that is -2.

Anything consumed immediately before, during, and after training doesn’t count against you (gels, gatorade, bike fuel, recovery drinks, etc etc)

A serving of anything bad counts as at least 1 serving (no half points for half portions).  THIS IS HUGE FOR ME.  I’m a notorious “oh just one bite” “oh just one more” so this will either make me commit to eating a full serving of what I want and be satisfied and enjoy it, rather than just nibble and not feel like I had the calories or enjoyed my treat like I did.

Servings are common sense size servings.  A medium or a cup of fruit/veg.  A glass of milk.  A slice of cheese.  Two pieces of bread.  A fist size of meat.  A palmful of nuts.

Significant amounts of low quality condiments (he’s sort of iffy here on what that means) like mayo or bbq sauce should get a -1.  Something like guac or tziki or hummus should be classified under it’s category since they have nutritional value.

Coffee and tea, lightly or not sweetened at all, doesn’t count towards your score.  A starbucks carmel frapp is definitely under the sweets category.

Energy bars – first one that is of good quality (read: sugar is not the first or second ingredient) is +1.  Anything after that is -1 for the second, -2 for the 3rd.  If they have lots of sugar, they go under sweets.

There is no “GOAL” score, but each day if you eat all your goods and no bads, you achieve 32 (29 if you’re vegan and cut out dairy, if you’re veg, you would replace meat with protein plant sources).  The goal is to get as close to 32 as possible without losing your mind.

***He definitely pushes good quality foods like organics and food in season and grass fed beef and wild caught fish, and also the importance in eating a variety of foods for nutrients, but I’m just essentially detailing out his scoring system here.

2. Managing Your Appetite.  This is in place of counting calories, which most people find tedious (yep, though I do it).

He goes into a lot of physiological stuff here, but I’m going to skip that and let you read the book if you want.  What I took out of this is that we need to do is determine when we are belly hungry (tummy rumbles, etc) telling us to eat because we need food, and head hungry, when we just want food because it looks good, we usually eat around this time of day, we’re emotional, or it’s right there in front of us.

Insert obvious stuff about cheeseburger calories not filling us up as much as fish calories.  But we know that.  Lower calorie density food is good for gnawing on to fill up.

One great exercise is to spend two days eating ONLY when you’re hungry (belly hungry).  Once your tummy does the “I need food” thing, you are to eat within an hour.  Then, you are not to eat again until it says “hey, lady, gimme some grub”.  This helps teach the difference.

He goes into more helpful tips most of us have heard before – clean the crap out of your kitchen (out of sight, out of mind), spoil your appetite at meals with a big glass of water and/or brothy soup or salad starter, plan for contingencies (the “I know that Martha will have her famous deep fried cheesecake dipped in ranch and want me to try some.  I’ll say I’m stuffed and take some home and then bring it to the office”), etc.

The one new and interesting tidbit was avoid variety.  If you eat a soup, salad, and sandwich, you’ll generally want to consume more than if you just have a salad and sandwich offered to you, and more than if you just had a big bowl of soup, even if the portions for the multiples are smaller (boo – I’m a HUGE FAN of the soup/salad/sandwich combo, I like eating lots of different things in combo).  Eating something like a stir fry or bowl of pasta w/veggies is great because it’s one THING, so you may find you consume less.

3. Balancing Your Energy Sources

Carbs: If you are an endurance athletes you MUST EAT CARBS.  They are not your enemy.  He says frankly, a lot of endurance athletes do not get enough (good and/or properly timed) carbs.  I am definitely in that camp.  So many people have done the carbs are the devil thing at me, I think I’ve just subconsciously tried to limit them more than I should.  I certainly need to be taking in more once my training starts.

Here is how much you should be taking in (DISCLAIMER – as an endurance athlete, he says as a sedentary or just lightly recreational exerciser that less carbs is good):

4 hours per week: 2-2.75g carbs per pound of weight.  So for me, right now, 360-495g carbs.  As someone who usually tops out at ~200 when I track, this blows my mind.  And it get better from there…

5-6 hours – 495-585g carbs (2.75-3.25).  I was in this range in January.

7-10 hours – 585-675g carbs (3.25-3.75).  I will get here in February and remain here through most of the year.

11-14 hours – 675-720g carbs (3.75-4).  I will dip into this a few times early this year.

I’ve worked last month bringing up my carb count from 150-200 to 250-300, and it’s just going to take adding training volume and intensity to feel like I can add more here.  I certainly don’t feel like I can justify 100g carbs before a 30 min zone 1/2 bike ride, and then again later for a run, so I’ll work through some common sense here.

Fats: eat fish at least twice a week.  Other than that, he only really poo poos really high fat diets for althletes (40%) and says that by maximizing your numbers above, you’ll be fine.

Protein: he recommends 1.2g protein per kg (or 2.2 lbs).  For me, that’s around 100g protein.  I’m usually close to that with my normal healthy diet so let’s move on.

4. Monitoring Yourself

He recommends daily to weekly weighing if you can do it without making yourself crazy.  Just take the number as a metric and move on.  Those who measure more often can correct issues quicker.  Measure body fat at least once a month.  He likes the body fat scales and notes while they’re not always correct in measurement, they are at least consistently off so you can track progress. (So I should stop avoiding the scale that clocks me in at 40% body fat and just remember that 40% = 34%)

He also recommends doing time trials at some stages when you record weights to see if your progress is improving.  If you’re slower at 145 than you were at 155, you went astray and probably restricted food too much or you’re just too low for your body.

5. Nutrient Timing Self in 6 months – I think you’ll be pleased with your results if you can get this one down…

Nutrients taken while exercising or within the magic 2 hour window before and after are MUCH more likely to get used immediately or stored in muscles and not in adipose (fat).

What follows are the timing rules for athletes…

Rule 1: Eat early.  Energy drink before workouts if you don’t have time for real food.  Eat a significant breakfast.  Snacks in the AM if you’re hungry.

Rule 2: Carb heavy in the morning, protein heavy at night.  For an endurance athlete, he’s not recommending like chicken and veggies only at night, but no more than 50% of your evening meal/snack should be carbs.  In the morning, it should be more like 80-85% and it should get less and less through the day.

Rule 3: Eat on a consistent schedule (at least 3 meals).  Figure out what works for you and do it.  (This is something I need to be better about – I tend to skip breakfast on the weekends so I can splurge with a big brunch I couldn’t otherwise justify)

Rule 4: Eat before exercise.  A big meal 4 hours out (2pm lunch for a 6pm workout).  A medium meal 2 hours out (5pm meal for 7pm workout).  Aim to consume at least 100g carbs in the 4 hours before a workout if possible.

Rule 5: Eat during exercise: Using sports drink/gels during workouts means that you take advantage of getting the calories in when they’re most useful and you’ll be less hungry later, instead of being me and trying to get by with the least amount possible so I can pig out later. :P

Rule 6: Eat after exercise: As close as you can, but up to two hours out you should consume about 1.2g carbs per body weight (so for me about 215g, as in, more than I usually have in a day) + 20g protein.

Rule 7: Minimize eating late: to attain racing weight, it’s not horrible to go to bed “mildly hungry”.  If you can’t do it, have a late night snack of protein to help with building muscles.

6. Training For Racing Weight.  Pretty much follow a reasonable training plan.

This section says lots of common sense stuff like 80% training below lactate threshold, 10% at lactate threshold, 10% above lactate threshold, do strength training with heavy weights and power drills, etc.  Just like the Triathlete’s Training Bible has a token chapter on nutrition, this has a token training chapter.  It’s all good theory, just stuff I’ve already covered and know and studied with the other book.


For those of us QUITE A BIT above our racing weight, we can take our first 4-8 weeks (depending on how close you are) of your season and attempt to lose weight faster.

He suggests:

-Maintain a 300-500 calorie deficit only.  More than this and training will suck.

-Commit to weights during this time.  Building muscle is most important now.

-Increased protein intake, up to 30% (sacrificing carbs for protein in the ratios)

-Perform at least one fasting bike workout per week – one moderate intensity, somewhat long bike workout without consuming calories before or during. (I did this once but it’s hard to coordinate because I rarely rode first thing AM this month on Saturdays, so I skipped it)

-Do very short power intervals at max intensity – like 20 x 20 sec sprints.

There’s more in there, but this is really what’s relevant to me, so I’ll stop here.

I’ve been doing this for about a month and here are my thoughts:

-The scoring system appeals to the video gamer in me – I want to get a high score so maybe I’ll skip the sweets or drink a little less if my score is in danger of sucking that day.  They gave 3 examples – a poor diet was like -2 (eating a typical American junk food diet), a decent diet (what looks like a reasonably healthy diet for the general population) was about a 13, and a super great healthy diet was 23.  The first week, I averaged 11.  Last week, while trying to “game” the system (eating only things that gave me positive points as much as possible), I scored an average of 27.

-It feels like a lot of carbs on paper, and I admit I’m not eating that much yet, but it feels nice to have “permission” to eat grains again and to be encouraged to fuel my workouts.

-Nutrient timing is the key here, I think.  Eating a massive amount of food around my workouts is making me feel much better than when I would just try to get by with less fuel.  And oddly enough, when I eat more calories early in the day, I don’t want to just stuff my face when I get home from work/gym.  Nice!

-I’ve been at this for a month.  I have not lost much weight, but I’ve lost about 4.5% body fat, and I am eating much better quality food than I was before.  Being able to plan out my day to have three meals full of good food, and then plan snacks around those has been key (been at that about 1.5 weeks).  I think this will really start succeeding once my volume really picks up.  In the past, that’s been license to eat whatever I want.  Hopefully fueling with lots of high quality food will make the weight and body fat just drop off!

Just today, DQ helped me.  See, we have a work function with lunch, and I at first thought I’d splurge and get a burger and fries.  Then, the amount of food I was going to have to cram down my throat to still get my score was daunting.  I tried chicken sandwich (not fatty meat), nope, sub fries for salad…. I finally decided to just get a greek chicken salad and get my normal meal carb elsewhere.  Calories can lie, but DQ doesn’t.

Question: What’s your DQ score for yesterday?  Would using a quantifiable scale to assess your nutrition help you or just annoy you?


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