Interview with Matt Fitzgerald: Endurance Sports Coach, Nutritionist and Author
Listen to this podcast interview here.
Chrys: Hi everyone, I am here with Matt Fitzgerald. Matt why don’t you tell us a little bit more about yourself and the work you do?
Matt: Sure! I describe myself as an endurance sports coach, nutritionist and author. So, I really am devoted to helping athletes, runners, triathletes and cyclists achieve their goals.
Chrys: Great! I know you have a new book out, it’s called “How bad do you want it?”. So tell us a little bit more about the book and what inspired you to write a book about the psychology of mind over muscle?
Matt: I’ve been an endurance athlete my whole life, and I always believe that the mental side of a sport is critically important to success, whether your goal is just to finish or to win a race. And there some exciting new science in this area. There is a new model of endurance sports psychology called “The Psychobiological Model”, which is a mouthful but it’s really just based on the discovery that endurance athletes actually never are able to reach their ultimate physical limits in competition because they always encounter psychological limits first, namely the limit of how much suffering they can tolerate.
So Science has caught up to what Athletes always were, which was understanding that the psychological dimension of the sport, which is critically important. So this book is all about that, and I deliver the science through storytelling by giving lots of examples of household names endurance athletes who have gone through major challenges and overcame them through various psychological coping skills. The science is kinda interwoven into those stories to make it easier to understand and digest.
Chrys: How long did it take you to write this book?
Matt: About a year. When I write a book, a lot of it is sort of behind the scenes where I’m developing an idea, so there’s no writing that happens for a while. But once I’ve gotten to a point where I know exactly what I want to do and I sit down and start filling up those empty pages, it takes usually about a year.
Chrys: Back in 2014, you wrote a book about diet cults. It’s very interesting because you debunk popular diets, and everyone seems to be going on diets these days. Instead of diets, how does one develop a sustainable healthy eating habit?
Matt: I think probably the number one key to success that I’ve seen in working with individual athletes is what I call the “Principle of Minimal Disruption”. This comes from the latest science on habit formation or habit change, and what it really means is that if you are trying to improve your diet or change any other health habit, your chances of succeeding are going to be greater if you don’t try to start over.
Too many people, when they decide they want to change their diet, just throw out their current way of eating and start over with some fad diet. And often what ends up happening is that they don’t really like the new way of eating. This way is really unnecessary. A better way of approaching it is “Not I need to replace my diet, but I need to improve my diet”.
No matter how bad your diet is, there are probably some things about it that you can keep and that maybe you should keep, because they are familiar and you enjoy them. One thing you’ll notice about people who do eat healthy and are able to sustain that is that they are not worrying about food all the time. They are not stressed about eating healthy and they enjoy it. That is the point you need to get to, and that Principle of Minimal Disruption will help you get to that point.
Chrys: What is your own training and diet like? Because I’m sure everyone wants to know what a coach eats and how he trains.
Matt: Right. So I have a new book coming out soon, it is called “The Endurance Diet”. I spent a year traveling all around the world studying the diets of elite endurance athletes and looking for common patterns. And my diet is really much like theirs, and the shortest description of how elite endurance athletes eat is a high quality version of a culturally normal diet.
So Kenyan runners eat like Kenyans, Canadians cross skiers eat like Canadians — but there are some common features. They eat everything so they don’t exclude entire food groups. They do a lot of treats — unhealthy treats — but they account for a small portion of the diet. Their diets are very balanced and varied, and are skewed towards high quality options so most of the grains are whole grains, the meats are unprocessed, and that’s what my diet is like.
If you follow me around for a day, you wouldn’t necessarily notice anything that looked un-American. But if you look a little closer, you will notice that pretty much everything I put into my mouth is high quality, unprocessed food.
Chrys: So… no bacon, no burgers or do you actually have those stuff?
Matt: Yes, so when I say I eat everything, I eat everything. I will have a beer in the evening, and piece of dark chocolate for dessert. Every now and then when I’ve done a race, I will celebrate with french fries or something.
But overall, breakfast will be whole grain, low sugar cereal with berries and organic whole milk. Lunch is usually dinner leftovers so maybe a stir fry. I have the advantage of working from home so I have the flexibility. My wife is a great cook so we prepare our food, and we eat a lot of fish. So my diet is normal and balanced, but everything is tasty. It’s not a matter of just putting up with healthy food that doesn’t taste good. Everyone can find a list of foods and meals that are healthy but they also enjoy eating, and there’s no reason you should have to eat things you don’t like to maintain a healthy diet.