Book Review: The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition

finally am posting my review of Matt Fitzgerald’s newest book, The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition. It’s long. I really did try to cut it down; this was as short as I could get it. And it’s a little academic-sounding (why, yes, those citations are in MLA format; thanks for noticing). I think I spent too many years in grad school writing literature reviews to write a book review that doesn’t sound academic. At least Ryan Gosling will like it. And I hope you do, too.

(I saw this on Google images…turns out, it’s from a blog on my alma mater’s website. Oh, Colorado State.)

I love Matt Fitzgerald. I always read his articles in Competitor, and I’ve read and enjoyed two of his other books, Racing Weight and Brain Training for Runners. I bought this book with high hopes, and I wasn’t disappointed. In fact, The New Rules is my favorite of Fitzgerald’s books. It’s engaging, well-organized, and supported by solid science. I highly recommend it to any distance runner who wants to improve his or her nutrition.

The book is divided into three parts. Part I, “The Two-Rule Diet,” discusses day-to-day eating. This was my favorite part of the book (probably because it’s the part I’ll use the most). The two rules of Fitzgerald’s “Two-Rule Diet” are: Make sure you’re getting enough carbs, and eat a high-quality diet. Easy, right?

No, it’s not hard. But a few things surprised me. I thought I’d have rule number one, meet your carbohydrate needs, easily under control. Wrong. Fitzgerald includes a handy chart for determining your carb needs, based on your level of activity. This week, I’ll be training approximately 10 hours (running and strength training), so according to the chart, I’ll need 372-434 grams of carbs each day. I eat a ton of fruit and veggies, so I thought I had the carbs covered. Once I started tracking my carb intake, though, I realized that I’m averaging carb grams in the low-to-mid 200s. So I’ve put a focus on eating more whole grains, sweet potatoes, and carby fruits like bananas. I’m still experimenting, because eating too many grains in one day upsets my stomach, but I’m getting closer.

The second rule of the two-rule diet is to eat high-quality foods. Fitzgerald explains that runners who are training for a long race can’t follow traditional dieting advice (i.e., drastically cut calories) to cut excess body fat. If we do, we’ll risk being undernourished and injured, or at the very least, be “intolerably hungry. In other words, you need to focus more on the quality than on the quantity of the foods you eat” (60).

Fitzgerald’s method of ensuring that your diet is high-quality is the most logical approach I have ever read — for runners or non-runners. He ranks food on a continuum. Veggies (including beans/legumes) are at the top, followed by fruit, nuts and seeds, fish and lean meats, whole grains, dairy products, refined grains, fatty meats, sweets, and fried foods (in that order). Fitzgerald explains it like this: “You must eat ten servings of vegetables, nine servings of fruit, eight servings of nuts and seeds, seven servings of lean meats and fish, six servings of whole grains, and five servings of dairy for every one serving of fried food, two servings of sweets, three servings of fatty meats, or four servings of refined grains you eat. This [is the] minimum requirement to achieve diet quality . . .” (86). Fitzgerald explains that nothing is off-limits or lumped under an “Eat sparingly” heading. “Refined grains, fatty meats, sweets, and fried foods are not poisonous,” he says. “They are foods that just happen to be less wholesome than other foods” (88).  This just seems so logical to me. No “never” foods. No calorie counting. No measuring. Just focusing on quality.

I started tracking my diet using a food log like Fitzgerald suggests. Overall, I eat a lot of high-quality foods already. I was surprised, though, when I discovered that I could stand to cut back my sweets intake. I rarely eat the foods that pop into our heads when we hear “sweets” (cookies, pie, ice cream, etc.), but natural sweeteners (honey, maple syrup) and my favorite dark chocolate are still sweets, and it wouldn’t hurt my diet – and thus my training – to cut back a smidge.

Fitzgerald also includes several recipes for breakfast, lunch, and dinner that will help you get your carbs in and your diet quality up. I haven’t tried any yet, but I’ve got some ahi waiting for me to make the Grilled Tuna Steak, Amaranth, and Kale recipe.

Part II discusses nutrition while training (immediately before, during, and after the run) and during the taper period. Taking in nutrition before and during a run is such an individual thing that most people just have to fool with it until they find what works. Fitzgerald acknowledges this and gives quite a number of fueling options and strategies. He also discusses recovery, and this discussion really made me realize that I need to make sure to remember my post-run nutrition. You’re supposed to take in a 4:1 carb-to-protein ratio within 30 minutes of finishing a workout. My routine is usually this: drink water, water my flowers, talk to the husband, take a looong shower, then make and eat breakfast. The eating is about an hour after I finish the running. So I bought some chocolate milk, per Fitzgerald’s recommendation, and have begun drinking a glass after every hour-or-longer run.

Fitzgerald also goes into great detail about taper nutrition. He suggests “fat-loading” for several days before the traditional carb load. I’d only vaguely heard of this concept, and Fitzgerald admits that it’s a little weird and not for everyone, but he says it can be quite effective. I’m not sure if I’ll try it or not…with my sensitive stomach, it could be a disaster. (Of course, Fitzgerald advocates trying a fat-load/carb-load cycle in training before you try it for a race). He also discusses proper fueling in the last 24 hours before a race and fueling during the race itself; there was nothing new to me in that section, but lots of good reminders.

The final section of the book is entitled “Nutrition-Training Synergy,” and it’s just what it sounds like. Fitzgerald tells you how to put everything you’ve learned about nutrition into practice with your training. He includes several half- and full-marathon training plans that include not only the running workouts but the corresponding nutrition. I think that’s smart; I’ve never seen such a plan. Since I was already several weeks into my current training plan when I read this book, I’m not using one of his plans, but they are a good reference.

As I said, I think this is the best of Matt Fitzgerald’s training books. Everything he discusses is backed up by lots of research, but it’s still accessible to those of us who teach English :). I would buy it in print, though, if I were doing it again. I bought the Nook book, and it would be really handy to be able to run copies of the logs and to more easily flip back and forth.

If you’re looking for some good nutrition info, definitely pick this one up. It’s well worth it.

What’s the best book you’ve read lately (running-related or not)?

No one compensated me for this review. I think you have to have more than three readers to be compensated for something. But if Matt Fitzgerald magically read this and wanted to give me something free, I wouldn’t complain.

9 thoughts on “Book Review: The New Rules of Marathon and Half-Marathon Nutrition”

  1. wow, awesome recap! thats interesting that he suggests a higher nut and seed serving than lean meat. is that typical? i love that 🙂 i guess going on his fat is good model, that would make sense. theres a lot of research that proves that, actually. i certainly eat my share of almonds (actually probably 2 people’s shares) on a regular basis, but i’ve been trying to cut down and upping my lean meats.

  2. So much information. I might have to go pick it up from the library. Did you like Racing Weight? I have been curious about that one, too.

    I love the excuse to drink chocolate milk after runs. It’s one I definitely use after all my long runs, but I should probably bring it back into my weekly runs, too =)

    Right now I am reading “A Life Without Limits” by Chrissie Wellington. So far it’s okay. It talks a lot about her struggles with body image and mostly I just wanted to hear about her racing, ha. I know, that makes me super selfish and cold.

    I just recently pilfered through all of the Dean Karnazes books, but my all-time favorite running book is Born to Run.

    1. I liked Racing Weight, but I like this one better. It’s a lot of the same information, but he’s simplified his nutrition-tracking system in this book, and it’s a lot less work for the same thing. I love Born to Run, too!

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