What I Read: Alex Hutchinson

Someone who doesn’t read gets about the same education as someone who can’t. Where you get your information seems of vital importance to how you see the world. We are bombarded with information, and misinformation all day long. I’m fascinated by how people wade through the deluge, when and where they consume, and how they structure their work-life around it. TheAtlanticWire has this wonderful series called Media Diet that I read religiously. They focus on the reading habits of “prominent figures in media, entertainment, politics, the arts, and the literary world”. I’m going to steal this idea from them, however my focus will be on prominent figures in athletics, nutrition, and health.

This essay is from Alex Hutchinson, a former physicist and national-class runner, who writes Sweat Science for Runner’s World MagazineAlex has won a National Magazine Award for science journalism, and his latest book is called Which Comes First, Cardio or Weights? Fitness Myths, Training Truths and Other Surprising Discoveries from the Science of Exercise.  ~ Matt Hart


I should start by saying that my media diet is affected by the fact that I’m currently (but temporarily) living in Australia. It’s funny how that changes what I read. I’ve been dividing my time between Canada and Australia for four years now, while my wife completes a degree. It means that paper subscriptions to magazines are essentially an impossibility, and that means that I miss a lot of stuff that I would check regularly if I were stably based in one place. It’s not that it’s impossible to get those things here – it’s just that a bit of minor inconvenience is enough to drop some otherwise good content off the radar.

On the flip side, it can be pretty valuable – and surprising – to learn what you can live without. Like many people, I’m sure – especially people who write for a living – I sometimes find it a struggle to get the right balance between staying informed and spending all my time reading (and envying!) other people’s work.

I wake up reasonably early, around 6 or 6:30, and immediately flick on my computer to check email and respond to anything urgent before the end of North American business hours. Then I check the websites of The New YorkTimes and The Globe and Mail, both of which I pay to subscribe to online. I’ll read a few articles, then head out for my run with my wife. For the rest of the day, I’ll be checking those two websites very regularly, as distractions/breaks between bits or work. I tend to read most of what appears on the main page of the Times, and rely heavily on the most-emailed list, which I find is a pretty damn good filter of what’s interesting. (In contrast, the Globe’s most-emailed list tends to be dominated by anything remotely titillating. I haven’t figured out whether that’s a difference in audience or site moderation!)

Most of my work these days involves writing about scientific research related to fitness, training, and health. I try to keep up with some of the journals in the field – primarily British Journal of Sports Medicine, Medicine & Science in Sports & Exercise, Journal of Strength & Conditioning Research, and European Journal of Applied Physiology. I’ll do a round to skim their tables of contents and preprints once every week or two. I also do a round of blogs to see what people are saying – people like Amby Burfoot (whose exerscience Twitter feed is also a great resource), Yoni Freedhoff, Pete Larson, Steve Magness, the Science of Sport guys, the Obesity Panaceaguys, Stephan Guyenet. I also find Twitter often sends me to interesting places, and I’ll end up spending half an hour reading a blog that I don’t follow regularly.

As a big running fan, I also end up checking Letsrun and the Runnersworldsite, among other places, pretty close to hourly. Say what you will about Letsrun, but they do a very good job curating good content from across the runningsphere. There are a lot of excellent running sites that I don’t need to check regularly, because I’m confident that Letsrun will flag the stuff I’d be interested in.

For pleasure (I can make a case that the running stuff is “work,” though it’s pushing it a bit), my first go-to is The New Yorker, which I read essentially cover to cover every issue. That’s what I’ll read over lunch, if I need a break during the day, and in bed before sleeping. I bought a Kindle specifically so that I could get The New Yorker instantly, wherever I happen to be in the world – and carry as many issues of the inevitable backlog as I need to! These days I read less fiction than I’d like to; the last novel I read was “Cutting for Stone“, by Abraham Verghese. I do find myself reading a fair amount of nonfiction that’s peripherally work-related; right now I’m in the middle of Daniel Kahneman’s Thinking, Fast and Slow. (Both are great, by the way.)

I don’t consume much of other forms of media. I don’t like video on the web, at least for information that could be conveyed just as well with text, like interviews. It’s just way too slow and inefficient. My wife and I will typically watch a half-hour of TV after dinner to unwind. Sometimes it’s something being broadcast, but mostly it’s a series on DVD. And if there’s a good marathon or track meet being streamed from somewhere in the world, we’ll find time for that!

Runner’s World Magazine: Alex Hutchinson’s “What I Read” essay 


Others from the Media Diet: What I Read Series



Matt Hart
Endurance Coach, Athlete and Writer


Dr. Ben Lewis
UltraRunner, Doctor and Banjo Player