Words by: Matt Fitzgerald, Lead PEAR Sports Coach and Pacer.

Each runner has an optimal racing weight. Your optimal racing weight is how much you weigh when you’ve gotten your body fat percentage down to the lowest level that is realistically attainable for you through healthy eating and training habits.

Attaining your optimal racing weight will enable you to perform better in your next Lexus LaceUp Running Series event. For example, if your current weight is 160 pounds and your optimal racing weight is 150 pounds, you will gain roughly 6.5 percent in running economy by dropping those 10 pounds.

So how do you do it? Not by dieting. Traditional weight-loss diets don’t work for runners because they demand severe calorie restriction, which deprives the muscles of the energy they need for training. A better way to shed excess body fat as a runner is to practice these six steps:

  1. Maximize your diet quality. High-quality foods such as vegetables, fruits, nuts and seeds, fish and lean meats, whole grains and dairy tend to promote a leaner body composition. Lower-quality foods such as refined grains, fatty meats, sweets, and refined foods do the opposite. So shift the balance of foods in your diet toward higher quality.
  1. Manage your appetite. Most Americans eat more than necessary to satisfy their appetite. You can reduce the amount of mindless overeating you do by paying attention to the difference between “belly hunger” (symptoms include a rumbling stomach and energy decline) and “head hunger” (which is simply the idea that it might be nice to eat) and eating only when you experience belly hunger.
  1. Balance your energy sources. The energy sources in the diet are carbohydrate, fat and protein. Whereas fat and protein are used structurally in the body, carbs are used almost exclusively as a short-term energy source. What this means is that the more active you are, the more carbs you need to eat. Studies have shown that runners don’t adapt as well to increases in training load when they fail to increase their carb intake commensurately. Anything that sabotages your progress in training will also stymie your weight-loss efforts, so be sure to increase your carb intake as your training load goes up. Start at a baseline of 3 grams of carbs per kilogram you weigh daily and add 1 g/kg for every 20 miles you run in a week.
  1. Practice nutrient timing. Eating at the right times and not eating at the wrong times will help you shed body fat. The most important times to eat are within an hour after waking and within an hour after each workout. A study by researchers at the University of Texas found that subjects who ate a healthy snack after each workout lost significantly more body fat over the course of a month-long training program than did those who did not eat immediately after exercise.
  1. Monitor your progress. In business there is an expression: “What gets measured gets managed.” The same principle applies to performance weight management. If your goal is to lose weight, you should weigh yourself often—at least once a week. Research has shown that dieters who weigh themselves more frequently tend to lose weight faster.
  1. Train smart. As a performance-minded runner, you should not train for weight loss; rather, you should train for maximum fitness. Fortunately, the best way to train for maximum fitness is also the best weight to train for fat loss. Aim to run or do some other form of aerobic exercise daily or almost daily and try to spend about 80 percent of your total training time at low intensity and 20 percent at moderate and high intensity.

Training smart is easy if you follow one of the 80/20 Running plans that I created especially for the Lexus LaceUp Running Series on PEAR Mobile.

** Matt Fitzgerald is an acclaimed author, world-class running and triathlon coach, and sports nutritionist. His mission is to inspire, educate, and help athletes and fitness enthusiasts achieve their goals.  His books include Racing Weight, Diet Cults, The New Rules of Marathon Nutrition, and many more. He will be the lead pacer at each location of the Lexus LaceUp Running Series presented by Equinox.