September 22, 2010
Introduction: In this episode: a peek into the world of professional cycling, ketogenesis during workouts, phenylalanine and aspartic acid on ingredient labels, insomnia and nutrition deficiencies, compression socks, building leg muscles effectively and the benefits of rowing machines.
Ben: Hello folks. I am traveling once again and this week I’m at Inter-bike in Las Vegas, on Wednesday, the day this podcast comes out and Thursday as well as Friday. For those of you who don’t know what Inter-bike is, it’s really one of the world’s biggest bike expos where endurance athletes, cyclists, triathletes and anyone in any of those industries comes together and basically shows what’s coming in the industry over the next year in terms of gear, nutrition and new products. It’ll be an exciting show and I’ll be releasing videos from that show over at a website for which I do some journalism work at www.everymantri.com. So go to www.everymantri.com to see some of the latest and greatest cycling type of products, and I’ll also be doing some reviews of some of the health and fitness products that I see there, right here at www.bengreenfieldfitness.com. Now I’ll be headed down to Sacramento on Friday to teach a fat loss and human performance seminar. So if you’re in the Sacramento or El Dorado Hills area, just email [email protected] and I’ll fill you in on where to go and how to access that seminar. And then finally I’ll be headed down to San Francisco on Monday for a top secret meeting down there that I’ll bring you more information about later on. Now the only thing I wanted to announce before we get on to the special announcements is I know that many of you have enjoyed the articles that I write for Triathlete magazine. I’ve also been doing writing for several other publications and many websites. However I received a memo from Triathlete magazine last week that freelance writers who submit articles to that magazine are no longer allowed to actually write for any other publications. So, unfortunately I’m going to have to move on from Triathlete magazine because I simply cannot commit to only releasing articles for one single magazine. For any of you writers out there, you know that that would be career suicide and when somebody like me who relies on writing as part of the way that I pay the bills, is required to write for only one magazine, that’s a pretty tough rule to follow. So I won’t be writing for Triathlete magazine anymore. My apologies to those of you who enjoyed seeing my articles there and if that’s something that upsets you or it’s something that you don’t like, then write an email to the email address that I’ll put in the Shownotes for the editor of Triathlete magazine. So if you go to the Shownotes for podcast number 113, I’ll put the email right there and you can let Triathlete magazine what you think about me not writing for them anymore. So ending on that high note, let’s go ahead and move on to this week’s special announcements.
Remember, if you have a question for the Ben Greenfield Fitness podcast, you can email [email protected]. You can call toll free to 8772099439. We had a lot of call in questions this week. Or you can Skype if you’re international to user name pacificfit using the free Voice Over IP call service from Skype.com.
And the first question this week comes from Ian who asks…
Ian asks: Why sometimes after a training session do I have an ammonia like smell in my nostrils by the time I get to the shower? Is it something I’m not doing right with nutrition? I can’t figure it out.
Ben answers: Well, this is something that actually happens to more people than you’d think and it’s basically almost like an acidic ammonia like smell that you get in your nostrils and you can sometimes taste it a little bit in your mouth or even smell like a nail polish removal on your breath when this is happening to you. Now basically this comes down to the concept or ketones. So I’m going to explain this to you. Ketones are basically a normal fuel that the body uses for energy and they’re produced from the liver actually breaking down body fat or breaking down fatty acids when it doesn’t have access to a lot of carbohydrates or glucose. Now there is absolutely no rule that you have to break down carbohydrate or glucose to make energy. The body very efficiently breaks down fats and fatty acids to make energy and these ketones are a byproduct of that breakdown of fatty acid. Now when your body is producing these ketones or using ketones for fuel, it’s called ketosis. Any diet that restricts calories underneath what you’re actually using during the day from exercise and physical activity or any diet that severely restricts carbohydrates is going to put you into a state of ketosis. Because basically your body is going to start relying on fat for fuel, so the liver is going to convert these fats into energy and ketones. Now some people in the medical profession will tell you that burning these ketones for energy can be dangerous, or that high levels of ketones in the body can be dangerous. But the main reason for that is because there is a condition that diabetics can get called ketoacidosis. It’s very dangerous for diabetics because what happens is the blood PH becomes very acidic due to high blood sugar levels. And that’s because diabetics don’t produce insulin so a lot of blood sugar ends up being in the body and ketones are produced by the body to provide fuel since the cells aren’t able, in the diabetic who’s in the state of ketoacidosis, to be able to use the blood sugar. So you get this combination of high blood sugar and an acidic condition combined with high levels of ketones. Now, the high levels of ketones aren’t the bad thing. The very acidic PH is the bad thing. The high blood sugar and the high levels of sugar circulating in the bloodstream – that’s the problem, not the ketones. So ketones really are fine to burn. Producing energy from fatty acids is something that more of us could do more of the time. The brain actually really likes to use ketones for energy. That’s why some people who do intermittent fasting or people who go on severe caloric restriction or go on a diet for a certain period of time, they get very focused mentally because the brain learns how to very efficiently use those ketones – its natural source of fuel for energy. Now on the flip side, if you are training for performance, if you are not trying to lose weight and if you are struggling with energy levels then being in a state of ketosis may not be where you want to be, especially during your workout. That’s why for a lot of folks, I really do encourage a higher fat, higher protein diet. But before that workout you should be attempting to – if you’re going after performance or doing a hard workout to get a pre-workout meal consisting of carbohydrates so you’re not burning so many ketones for energy during your workout. Now, there’s a very easy way to tell if you’re in a state of ketosis. You can just get PH strips that are urine PH strips and when you use those PH strips, if they’re showing up purple or dark purple, that’s usually indicating that there are actual ketones that are at a high level in the bloodstream. I’m again not saying that’s a bad thing but that would affirm what I’m suspecting here, that that ammonia like smell on your breath is due to the burning of ketones. If you feel great, if your energy levels are fine, if you’re not having performance deficits then take a breath mint and get on with your life. But if you are having low energy levels, if your performance isn’t where you need it to be, then consider amping up your carbohydrate levels a little bit especially pre-workout or even during the workout so you can burn some of the fast burning kindling for fuel – the carbohydrates. And then put that slow burning log on the fire, those ketones, and basically use those fatty acids for energy the rest of the time. So I hope that helps. It’s a great question. A lot of people actually struggle with that and I’ve smelled it on clients before as a personal trainer and sometimes it’s a real hint as to what’s going on in the diet.
Sara asks: I am taking a lot of supplements for performance and other health benefits. I’m taking an amino acid supplement that contains aspartic acid and phenylalanine. I’ve seen foods that contain phenylalanine and have a warning on their label for that purpose. I’ve also done research on both of these and see that they’re part of the sugar substitute aspartame. Do these amino acids have health benefits or should I stop taking this supplement because it isn’t healthy?
Ben answers: First of all, when you see a warning for phenylalanine on the label of a nutrition product – when it says it contains a source of phenylalanine or contains phenylalanine, that is because there is a portion of the population that are born with this rare genetic disorder. It’s called phenylketonuria and basically it’s an inability to properly metabolize phenylalanine and this can lead to some health problems that we don’t need to get into, but basically lots of foods contain phenylalanine. Both packaged foods as well as meat, fish, dairy, eggs and of course anything that has aspartame in it. So these people who are phenylketonuric, they have to be very careful with their phenylalanine intake because they can only process so much of it. You will know if you have this condition. You will have known since birth or your parents will have known most likely and so unless you have this condition, the phenylalanine is really something that you have to worry about too much. It’s actually an essential amino acid, meaning your body can’t make it. It’s a building block for protein. It’s not a dangerous chemical. Because it is able to be combined with some other chemicals to produce a sweet taste, it is however used in Nutrisweet and products with aspartame. So that’s where you have to be kind of careful, if you’re getting phenylalanine from a product just because it has an essential amino acid in it, that’s not a big deal. If you’re getting phenylalanine in a product because you’re consuming an artificial sweetener, that’s something you do need to be careful with especially when you consider that many artificial sweeteners contain what are called excitotoxins, and aspartic acid which you also mentioned is among those excitotoxins, and what excitotoxin is, it’s a chemical that can actually damage nerve cells and essentially what it does is an excitotoxin will bind to certain receptors in your brain and cause a lot of calcium ions or calcium to be able to enter into the brain and that can activate a lot of different enzymes that potentially can destroy cell structures and components of your cell membrane. They can mess up the DNA a little bit, they can mess up the cytoskeleton of the cell a little bit and excitotoxins have been associated with some neurodegenerative diseases like multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, Parkinson’s, alcoholism, things of that nature. And the thing with aspartic acid is aspartic acid is also an amino acid but it’s not an essential amino acid. So consuming foods that are very, very high in aspartic acid could be an issue. It kind of depends. Technically from a chemical standpoint, it really needs to be what’s called the base of aspartic acid which is also known as aspartate. So if you see aspartate on the label which you’ll see in something like aspartame or some other artificial sweeteners, that’s where you want to be careful. Aspartic acid as part of like an amino acid compound or protein powder is not a big deal. Just be careful with aspartate and don’t worry too much about the phenylalanine. So, good question.
We’re going to move on next to a call in question.
Geoffrey asks: Hi Ben, I have a question for you concerning my teenage daughter. She has a problem that’s getting worse with falling asleep and more importantly when she does get to sleep, she wakes up around 2 or 3o’clock in the morning and can’t get back to sleep. That seems to be the worst problem. She’s a vegetarian so if I’m wondering if she might be missing something in her diet. Just wondered if you had any ideas as to what food or supplement she might want to look at to help her sleep better. Again my name is Geoffrey.
Ben answers: Alright, well first of all nothing I say here is to be misconstrued as medical advice to control a medical condition or medical diagnosis or prescription. However, there are definitely nutritional deficiencies that could be contributing to insomnia especially in a vegetarian diet. I’m not necessarily saying that vegetarianism is the culprit here, but it could be likely. You take for example the B vitamins. B vitamins really help your body cope with stress, with tension and both of those are common causes of insomnia. Vitamin B12 specifically is something that vegetarians really need to be careful to supplement with or get in high amounts in their diets. You find vitamin B in things like Brewer’s yeast and nuts and seeds, molasses and eggs. Whole grains have them. But vegetarians are notoriously deficient in B vitamins. Tryptophan is an amino acid and amino acids are always found in higher contents in meats and dairy products and to a limited extent in nuts. But tryptophan is a substance in the body that is converted into serotonin which is a compound that’s crucial for sleep and so if she’s low on the amino acid tryptophan, which you could get that tested by a company like – for example Bioletics does amino acid testing. That’s one company you could ask about looking into her tryptophan levels. That’s something that could be a culprit as well. Vegetarians are notorious carbovores and a high sugar diet, because of high blood sugar levels, can basically cause you to wake up at night once those blood sugar levels drop off because essentially you get an insulin response to the hypoglycemia and then your blood sugar levels drop off and you wake up in the middle of the night. So if your daughter has erratic blood sugar levels because she’s eating lots of grains and sugars and processed carbohydrates because she is a vegetarian, is either not managing her protein intake well or just avoiding meat and eggs in favor of carbohydrates, then that could be an issue. And the trick there is going to be really increase the vegetarian based fats and proteins if she wants to remain a vegetarian. So getting lots of avocadoes and olive oils and olives and lots of seeds and nuts and seed and nut based oils that are cold pressed and not produced in a factory or exposed to high amounts of pressure or temperature – so we’re talking about a cold pressed olive oil or flax seed oil or one of the Udo’s oils that I actually take now. The Udo 3-6-9 oil. I shared last week that when I’m consuming these fats with my meals, it actually really stabilizes my blood sugar levels. You would expect them to increase after a meal, but those fats in fact decreased my blood sugar following a meal. Those would all be things to consider. Selenium is another compound that could actually be tied to insomnia. People with low levels of selenium often higher levels of blood pressure which can contribute to insomnia so that’s something that I’d look into as well, and along with selenium, I would look into the mineral magnesium. And Dr. Caroline Dean is someone who I interviewed on the show. I’d highly recommend that you go to www.bengreenfieldfitness.com and you do a search for the “Magnesium Miracle.” And in this interview with Carolyn Dean, she talks quite a bit about the link between magnesium and insomnia, and you could for example just try something like using a Peter Gilham’s Natural Calm Powder mixed into a little bit of water before bed at night or a topical magnesium spray. And then if you really want to get down and dirty and get into the testing, you could use a company like Unikey Health Systems. That’s one of the companies that I recommend to my clients for tissue mineral analysis, but also food allergy and food intolerance testing. I use their expanded GI panel and their tissue mineral analysis. So I’ll put a link to Unikey Healthy Systems in the Shownotes. I’d also look into Bioletics. You can look into magnesium testing with them as well as the amino acid testing from them. And finally I’ll put a link to the two magnesium products that I would recommend in terms of like a pre-bed intake. I’ll put all that as a link in the Shownotes.
Alright, the next question is from an interesting Twitter handle. Chunkybearcub.
Chunkybearcub asks: Is there a particular brand of compression socks you’d recommend? I’m looking to wear a pair for a 50 mile ultra.
Ben answers: Well for those of you who aren’t familiar with compression socks or what they are, you’ll see a lot of people wearing them in marathons, cycling events and triathlons these days. They’re usually socks that go up just a little bit above the calf or even all the way up to the knee and essentially they’re designed to improve circulation, prevent blood pooling in the feet during long periods of time spent in physical activity and to also stabilize the muscles from jiggling so to speak. From some of the damage that could occur during a long day of impact. Now the type of compression socks used in sports are quite different than some of the medical hosiery that you’ll see used as compression socks. A lot of the medical stuff is just designed to eliminate some of the excessive swelling that can happen during long periods of sitting or activity and those can help you a little bit if you’re just sitting on an airplane or something like that. But the types of socks that are actually designed for sports performance are called graduated or gradient compression socks and those are the type that you want to get and most of the top manufacturers – Skins is one example, Beaker Concepts is another – they’re going to use the graduated compression socks. Now I personally own a pair of compression tights and I wear those typically the night before I do a race to really help flush my legs. Sometimes I’ll even use them a few days leading up to a triathlon. And although I don’t – or have not yet used compression socks during a race, I will be using kind of like a modified shorter version of the Beaker Concepts compression sock prior to or during Ironman Hawaii this year and I’m also using a sock called the recovery sock that is a little bit higher in the compression types of fibers though a little bit harder to put on. That’s not designed for activity per se but for recovery. Now, as far as a certain brand, it doesn’t really matter too much on the brand as much as the fact that you’re getting a sock that was designed for activity, not recovery and also make sure that it’s a graduated compression sock and that will help out quite a bit. And yes, there has been research done on compression socks. Research goes back and forth in terms of performance benefits, but definitely points to a significant benefit when it comes to recovery. And in my opinion, while you are running, something like an ultra-marathon, recovery is paramount because when you’re running miles 23 through 50 you are trying to recover from miles 1 through 25 and so that’s the same reason you would want to do something like take in a protein carbohydrate blend rather than just carbohydrate during an event like that, just because you need to be thinking of recovery during the event, not just after the event.
Now if you want to ask a question via Twitter, just go to www.twitter.com/bengreenfield. Click “follow” and ask your question. So, next we have a call in question from Listener Sarah.
Sarah asks: Hi Ben, my question is geared toward muscle building. I have two questions, one of which is for someone who is wanting to put a good amount on and specifically in the legs, how much cardio would you recommend? I’m trying to put on a good amount of muscle. I get mixed reviews about the cardio because I’m a woman and I’ve talked to a couple of figure competitors that have said that on non-training days it’s okay to do upwards of 45 minutes to an hour worth of cardio. I don’t know if that’s too much cardio especially if you have a tendency to tear down a lot of muscle in the legs. I’ve heard also that just 20 minute of interval training is sufficient enough. I’m currently doing three to four sessions of cardio a week. On the days that I train, sometimes I’ll do 30 minutes and that’s it. On the days that I don’t train, I have taken their advice and a couple of times done upwards of 45 minutes. But I don’t want to tear down muscle. I’m trying to build it, so I was curious as to what your recommendations would be.
My second question is about carbs. I’m doing the recommendations that Darin said. He was on your podcast several months ago, about eating carbs on the days that you train and very little carbs on the days that you don’t train. But I train at night. So my 3rd and 4th meal are carbs, but my last meal would be my post-workout meal and by the time I come home, I’m tired from lifting heavy. I do take my protein and of course a good amount of protein, I don’t take in a lot of carbs for my post because I go right to bed. What are your recommendations on how much carbs I should take post-workout? That would be my last workout and it would be prior to bed.
Ben answers: Alright, well let’s first address the first part of your question. For a female figure competitor who’s trying to build muscle, the first thing you want to consider when it comes to cardio is you don’t want to do exercises that are considered very catabolic or exercises that are more prone to tear down your leg musculature. And in this case that would be running. I would stay away from doing much treadmill, high impact running and instead I would do incline walking or cycling. Either of those activities will allow you to maintain your leg musculature, even build leg musculature especially in the hips, thighs and butt where female figure competitors can actually get an advantage and not break down your muscle. Now in terms of general figures, you’re going to see most figure competitors kind of in the offseason, prior to those four to eight weeks building up to a figure event doing anywhere in the range of about three to six hours of cardio during the week in addition to their lifting. And as you get closer and closer to the event, you’re looking at needing closer to four to eight hours of cardio. And remember, I’m not recommending this for the general population, I’m recommending this for the female figure competitor who needs to achieve a very low body fat. Now you’re going to want to split this up between cardio intervals and long-slow fat burning cardio sessions because you don’t want to train your body to simply rely on those high intensity intervals and the carbo-based fuel but you also want to include a few slow steady fat burning sessions as well. If time permits you could do for example two interval sessions on the bike during the week and then also do two long slow uphill walks on the treadmill of anywhere from one to two hours as well during the week. Again we’re talking about a female figure competitor. I’m not making this general recommendation for the general population. But that’s what I would do. Go with non-weight bearing cardio. Focus on lower amounts, right around that four hour range as you’re not within eight weeks of your competition, then bump that up to four to eight hours as you get within range of your competition. And you don’t have to worry about breaking down muscle as long as you’re eating proper calories and protein.
And speaking of calories, the second part of your question as far as your post-workout carbohydrate intake… what happens is when you consume pre-workout carbohydrates, a lot of times your insulin levels and your blood sugar levels are still going up or stabilizing even after you’re done with the workout, unless you’re doing some monster two to three hour workout. And so the need for post-workout carbohydrate and even post-workout protein intake really is not something that you need to prioritize too much. I recently wrote an article about this over at the Rock Star Triathlete Academy. If you go to www.rockstartriathlete.com, you can read that article on post-workout nutrition. But essentially what it comes down to is that if anybody, not just a female figure competitor, but anybody is working out late at night and you’ve eaten a carbohydrate and protein based meal prior to that workout, there’s no need to do anything but have a very small snack after that workout before you go to bed. And the advantage to that is you’re not raising your insulin levels very high. You’re not going to get that hypoglycemic drop which can interfere with sleep and also interfere with growth hormone release and muscle repair, and so you’re really doing yourself a favor by prioritizing your pre-workout nutrition if you’re a late night exerciser. And then after the workout you could do something, for example, like have a little bit of protein powder mixed in with some coconut milk and go to bed. So the post-workout carbohydrate is not something you need to worry about too much if you’re taking in a pre-workout meal. If you’ve skipped your pre-workout meal, then at that point the body is basically going to be bulletproof against fat gain after the workout. If you haven’t eaten your pre-workout meal and you’re actually a little bit glycogen depleted. So you don’t have to worry too much about the type of carbohydrate or overdoing it on the carbohydrates, within reason. The general recommendation though is about 0.5 grams of carbohydrate per pound of body weight. 0.5 grams per pound. So if you’re 150 lbs. you’d be looking right around 75 grams of carbohydrate which is going to be about 300 calories or so. So hope that helps and great questions.
And then finally we have one more call in question.
Daniel asks: Hi Ben, love your podcast. My name is Daniel, I’m from Israel. I’d like to ask a question for your next podcast about the difference between rowing, running and swimming in intensity, calorie burning and interval training. Is there a benefit for rowing instead of running or rowing instead of swimming? And if you row and do not run, can you achieve the same goals of body image and condition? Thanks a lot. Bye.
Ben answers: So the deal with rowing machines Daniel, is that when you compare them with swimming, you actually end up burning more calories with the rowing machine if you’re using it properly. What I mean by that is if you’re pulling with your thighs, your stomach, your hips, your torso, your calves and your arms as you’re supposed to on a rowing machine and making it a full body motion, you’re going to get up getting just about as many calories burned as if you were running at a pretty intense pace on a treadmill. You will see a lot of people sit down on a rowing machine at a gym and just kind of do some ginger pulling with their arms or push with their legs and not do much pulling with their arms. Those people really aren’t using the rowing machine effectively. But when used effectively, you get a ton of benefits especially in your upper arms, your upper back and your shoulders and also in your glutes from that push off with the rowing machine. Now I’m not a huge fan of doing long bouts of training on the rowing machine. I’ve actually had that damage the low back of some of my clients before when they’re trying anywhere from a 20 to a 45 minute bout on the rowing machine. So what we go for instead is to use the rowing machine as an interval as part of a workout. So for example, if you’re doing an upper body workout or even just a full body weightlifting type of workout after you finish each circuit of exercises that you’re doing – let’s say you’re doing five or six exercises, you pause, you go over to the rowing machine, you row hard for 500 meters or for 1000 meters or four two minutes or for four minutes and then you get off and continue your routine and that gives you a great cardio burst in the middle of your routine. Rowing machines – because of the type of muscles that they use in a similar way a swimmer, you will notice that you’ll gain just a little bit of mass, especially in your chest and your forearms and your shoulders when you use a rowing machine. So it can be good for those esthetic purposes as well. I personally will hop on a rowing machine about once a week because it is something that my body isn’t used to, because I’m not doing it as much as I’m doing, say, swimming, bicycling or running. So it’s a great way for me to burn a lot of calories very quickly. Because I’m not an efficient rower. And because I don’t do rowing very much, I’m not very efficient at it, it’s something that I make it a point to throw in just to help out a little bit with my calorie burning and my conditioning. So make sure that you row with proper form. If you do, you’re going to burn more calories than swimming, as many as running and it’s also going to be really beneficial for strength building and physical experience. So, great question.
And we’re going to have a special message and then move on to this week’s interview with Robbie Ventura.
Ben: Hey folks, this is Ben Greenfield and I’m here today with a guy who was a professional cyclist for 12 years and actually spent his last four years as a member of the US Postal Service cycling team which you may recall was the same team that Lance Armstrong rode with and this guy was a competitive racer when he was riding on the dirt, road, and track since the age of seven years old. Over that time, he had over 70 victories during his professional career. He was a member of the US World Team. He rode the Track World Championships and he is now a cycling coach, serves as director of Cycle Ops Training. He owns Vision Quest Training and he is also someone you may recognize from TV, because he’s now with Versus Television and is a commentator on all of the Tour de France coverage for Versus. Robbie Ventura is on the call today and Robbie, how are you doing?
Robbie Ventura: Doing great. Doing super. We got a great day here in Chicago and just driving my bike to the airport and want to talk training.
Ben: Awesome. Well Robbie knows a lot about training. So Robbie, I guess my first question for you is you’ve done a lot of professional cycling, we have a lot of cyclists and triathletes who listen to the show and I’m personally curious as well – what exactly does a typical training protocol look like in those build weeks? In the crunch time leading up to the Tour de France? What type of workouts are you guys doing?
Robbie Ventura: For the Tour de France athletes, it’s significantly different than the recreational athlete. Even the very, very serious recreational athlete. I consider myself a pretty serious recreational athlete. Now I train between 8 and 12 hours a week which is a lot of training time. We even have 15 hours… and it’s nowhere near the amount of volume that the Tour de France athletes train, and the reason that they can absorb that volume is because really it’s all they do. They eat, sleep and recover pretty much the rest of the day so they can handle training 5, 6 hours a day, day after day. Whereas even if we had the time as recreational athletes, because we have families and kids and jobs and yard work and other things to do, we just can’t afford ourselves the recovery necessary to be able to handle those loads. So leading up to the Tour de France, a lot of times these riders will do between 25 and 30 hours, maybe a month out. And the neat thing about the preparation for the Tour de France is a lot of times they do it on the exact course they’re going to race. Just like (Eddie Nelson) trains for an Ironman or trains for a 40k time trial, being as specific as they can be is really important those last two months before the Tour de France. So much so that they even race the (unintelligible) a lot of times, which is similar road, similar courses, similar times as the Tour de France to kind of give them that last minute sharpening of the blade so to say. Oftentimes the first week of the Tour de France creates that last two weeks of training. The first week of the Tour de France is easy and these riders can recover. They’re going to want to train all the way to the Tour de France with very, very little recovery week. Because they use the first week of the tour to recover. Because they… this is a GT rider. A sprinter will take a different approach because they’re sprinting in that first week of the Tour de France so they’re going to take a rough week and a little bit of a taper the week before. So this year, Tour de France is different. They race hard from the gun. Therefore the riders rest significantly more than they usually do leading to the tour.
Ben: Gotcha. Now what would a workout look like? Like an average workout? Can you give me an idea in terms of like an interval training session or something like that of what a cyclist would be doing?
Robbie Ventura: For the Tour de France, it’s not what you think. They don’t do a lot of intervals per se leading up to the Tour de France. They actually go ride the climbs pretty much at race space and that’s kind of their interval. Sometimes that climb may be 30 minutes. Sometimes that climb may be an hour but they try to ride that climb at the same pace or same watts per kilo as they would in a race. Sometimes they finish it off with an attack or something like that kind of predicting what the race might shape out. A lot of the interval training is actually done significantly earlier in the year when they’re really focusing on those original energy systems like the VO2, that short term energy system or some of the longer steady state stuff. But a lot of the professional athletes allow the terrain to create their interval. So they’ll go out and say hey, I’m going to go climb up Mustang Canyon four times today. Not so much worried about the exact time of the interval, but they really want to stimulate the energy system that they’re focusing on. Because if you train as much as these guys do (unintelligible) and doing that kind of stuff… they do far less than that than let’s just say a recreational athlete with limited time. Because when you have limited time, you want to really make sure the workouts are concise and measurable and repeatable. Therefore the interval work for a 90 minute training session is much more specific than these guys going out for six hours and getting, let’s just say, 1 to 10 minute efforts in throughout the six hours.
Ben: That makes sense. Now you had mentioned recovery, and we’ll talk about recovery a little bit later. For those of you who want to know how these guys recover from a workout like that. But before we do, I got a couple of questions for you. In terms of strength training or resistance training, whatever you want to call it or something like say plyometrics –do you in your experience see a lot of professional cyclists using something like that?
Robbie Ventura: You know, a lot of cyclists use weight training as almost a break, mentally, and to keep themselves just strong and resistant to injury. They don’t necessarily build a lot of strength because that’s going to make them faster in a road race or a time trial. A lot of times the strength training that they do is really to get their heart rates up. They do some stuff where it’s a lot of high efforts extended over a minute so it’s a great way to keep their heart rate up and to keep their intensity up without using their bicycle. And also they want to create a lot of durability so they do a lot of functional movements. They do squats. They do sometimes plyo work. Some explosiveness. The track sprinters and the short distance riders tend to lift a little bit more weight thinking it might help but there’s not a lot of research on actual pure strength and how it affects athletes’ ability to produce power – steady state power. And there’s not a lot of correlation between people who can lift more weight and do more power in a time trial. There’s a slight correlation with a sprinter, like a track sprinter or a Keirin rider being able to lift a lot more weight. It might give them a little more advantage on the high efforts and their ability to tolerate more lactate, their ability to tolerate more high intensity and muscle damage. Because for a time trial or a Tour de France rider, there’s not a huge correlation with being stronger and being faster on the bike. But there is a correlation between athletes who are functionally fit, well balanced, strong and being able to not get injured as often. So I think a lot of athletes do it a, as a break mentally and to get some high work in and become stronger but they also do it because they really want to do everything they can to eliminate lower back problems, knee injuries, hip injuries and things like that that sometimes plague cyclists and triathletes for that matter.
Ben: Did you do much weight training when you were riding professionally?
Robbie Ventura: As a youngster I did a lot of it, because I didn’t know any better and I did a lot of squats and I did a lot of plyometrics work. I even did some speed skating stuff. And I actually believe it helped my strength a little bit and I also believe it made me really strong and really (unintelligible). I didn’t get injured much at all in my career and I attribute it to a lot of the weight work I did when I was 17 to 25 years of age. But after the age of about 25, I switched completely from (audio cut) single legged squats using a weight vest, doing some lunges, doing lateral lunges, doing some balance work on the ball, doing a lot more core stability work and my power – my explosive power and my sprints – didn’t go down at all. But I was able to train more volume on the bike in the wintertime with less damage to my muscles. So I ended up kind of morphing my strength training into more functional training later in my career and I think it was a good move.
Ben: Interesting. Interesting. So, in terms of actual nutrition – to move on here and talk about something a little bit different, obviously during the tour, people are needing to restore their carbohydrate levels, restore their glycogen levels post-workout – now when you’re looking at somebody who has gone through a typical day of the tour, what are you typically seeing in terms of how much fuel and the type of fuel consumed during a typical tour stage and also after. In terms of both calories, carbohydrates, things of that nature. Are there any specific volumes that are pretty standard across the board?
Robbie Ventura: Well since you’re saying… even when I’m talking about weight training, the elite professional cyclist – as far as… just the amount of focus and specificity that it takes to be a cyclist, I’m not recommending that recreational athletes, people doing Ironman and people just training less than 15 hours a week – I do believe that strength training plays a huge role in making them better athletes and creating – maintaining that muscle mass we lose as we get older. So I think there’s a place for weight training for cyclists and triathletes. When you think about cyclists, when you think about triathletes, 98% of them – some of the things that we’re talking about don’t apply because these professional cyclists –the Tour de France rider – that’s all they do. And they don’t want to be necessarily great athletes. They want to be great cyclists. And I think there’s… sometimes when people hear what the professionals do, they go out and they try to mimic that or they hear that that works for Levi Leipheimer and it really doesn’t work for a lot of people outside of Levi Leipheimer that normally just want to get fit or be better bikers. So as far as calorie consumption, a lot of the guys in the Tour de France, they don’t focus so much on how many carbohydrates versus how many protein, sugar or fat and all those different things. They really want to get the volumes in that they need and they’re just incredible processors of fuel. They can process a Payday or a Twix bar probably just as efficiently as they can process a Cliff bar. I know there are going to be nutrition people that argue that until the cows come home, but for me and professionals… and if you look at some of these (cut bags) in the Tour de France, there are candy bars, there’s Coke, there’s little pastries, there’s cream cheese pastries. There are turkey sandwiches, there’s all sorts of food because when you’re intaking that much volume of food – they’re probably taking in 400 calories an hour on average from the start of the race and the first hour of riding, they’re staying between five and seven hours – so they’re taking between 300 and 400 calories an hour. That’s absolutely all they can process when they’re working as hard as they are, so they don’t want to take in more than that because it’s a waste of energy. It’s the amount of calories they’re trying to consume is more important to them than the actual makeup of those calories I believe. Especially kind of later in the day when they want sugar, they want some caffeine, they want something that tastes good that they really want to crave… because after 21 days of racing six or seven hours a day, eating something that’s really nutritious but doesn’t taste that well they’re going to choose not to eat and that’s the worst thing that can happen. It’s better for them to eat something, even though it’s absolutely not ideal because it tastes good than nothing at all because they just can’t get down a power bar after 21 days of racing. So I think 400 calories is kind of that magic number these guys try to hit and they try to hit at least two bottles an hour, and if it’s really, really hot they sometimes go up to (inaudible) bottles an hour.
Ben: Do you really see much of a focus on say like liquids versus solids or is it just kind of whatever you can get your hands on?
Robbie Ventura: Well the higher the intensity, the more liquids they try to get their calories from. If the intensity is low, they’d much rather eat their calories because it’s more satisfying and they don’t need the… they can give up a little bit of the energy that it takes to digest a Cliff bar. But if the intensity is high, they don’t want to waste the energy in digesting something that’s solid and they’ll choose liquid calories more often times.
Ben: Gotcha. Now obviously related to nutrition and I really don’t want to touch on the doping scandal because that’s a horse that gets kicked to death, but in terms of just sports performance supplement in general – everything from creatine to nitric oxide to alanine to all these things that are kind of generally recognized as safe when it comes to doping at least or illegal performance enhancing supplements – are there nutritional supplements that are real popular among cyclists that are also considered safe, that you’re familiar with?
Robbie Ventura: I think that getting enough vitamin D, getting enough vitamins and trace elements and minerals I think is the big push for endurance athletes right now. Getting your branch chain aminos, getting enough glutamine when you’re really working hard and tearing up muscle and things like that… but to be honest, earlier in my career, I was trying to figure out what vitamins I needed, what supplements made the most sense, what worked, what made me feel better. And I would say later in my career I ended up taking just a multivitamin. Actually a liquid multivitamin called Isogenics. That was pretty much all I took later in my career. And I really tried to keep things as simple as possible, because part of it was just… when you start to take too many supplements and you’re trying something like – what’s the popular one? Optagen. It’s just one more thing you have to do. And then you feel like you have to do that. It does make a difference. You really don’t know if it’s your training or the supplement. So I was actually told way back, does this stuff work? I’m sure it’s something that might work for some people, not others. And if you have something that’s legal and safe and it works well for you… whether it’s a placebo effect or whether it works, it’s good to try. You just can’t rely or get too many of those thing that you’re taking because it becomes difficult, especially if you’re traveling or out on the road or if you don’t have it, you feel like you need it, and different things like that. So later in my career I really stripped myself of all supplements or all ergogenic aids or anything like that. And to be honest my life got a whole lot easier and I could focus more on my training and I was much more consistent.
Ben: Gotcha. Okay. In terms of recovery techniques, obviously in a multi-stage race like the Tour and also in the training leading up to the Tour, you’ve already explained that the level of training is over and above what the average recreational exerciser or even the serious age grouper is going to do. But do you have recovery techniques that kind of go beyond the whole rest, ice, compression, elevation or the occasional ice bath the average person is doing? In other words, are there fringe techniques that you find to be more useful for recovery?
Robbie Ventura: Well I think the thing that you mentioned actually are the things that work the best. Truly the things that work the best. I think the one thing you didn’t mention was when I recover, I really make 100% focus on my sleep. I think people try to figure out hey I’m going to wear these compression stockings and I’m going to go lay on a grounded mattress. The grounding technique. All those things are great. I think they’re helpers. But the number one key element in terms of success is good sleep. It doesn’t just mean sleeping a long time. It means getting good quality sleep, good REM, good deep sleep, uninterrupted sleep in a room that’s cool and dark. Trying to create an environment in which you can really sleep well. That is the real true best way to recover, to allow yourself to sleep great. And sometimes when you’re really fatigued and your muscles are really broken down… chart sleeping well is the hardest thing to do. So you have to train yourself, it’s just like cycling. You got to become a good sleeper and I think if you can do that, whether you’re doing the Tour de France, doing an Ironman or you’re doing Olympic triathlon, being able to sleep well in different circumstances… because when you travel to different races and go to hotels, you have to have a routine at a hotel as well when you don’t have all the things you have at your house that allow you to sleep well. I think sleep is number one. Obviously compression is great. We use NormaTech in Vision Quest all the time. NormaTech is a big sponsor of Vision Quest coaching and in all of our facilities we try to have some recovery booths… those compression booths that you saw me demonstrating at the Tour de France. I’m a big proponent of lots of hydration and a good recovery drink if you have it, or a good meal after a hard ride to start that repairing quickly and then just trying to relax your brain a little bit. Relax your mind and focus, a massage. A lot of people hear that a massage is good and it’s like ok, I just did a really hard ride I’m going to get my massage. Massage is another thing we have to get used to. It’s another process that your body – if not prepared for it, might reject a little bit. You may actually have damage from a deep massage if you’re not careful. So again, learning what your body responds to well, working with a massage therapist, understanding what your body needs and how deep you want your massage to be and really getting the recovery routine is probably your best bet especially when the volumes and the intensity get way up there months before a big competition.
Ben: Yeah. It’s a really interesting point because I personally coach many triathletes and many times I’ll get an email the week before a race or a phone call a few days before a race asking some of these questions about how can I sleep better? Do you have any tips for me to get to sleep because I’m nervous. Do you have any tips on a good massage therapist I could work with and these are things people need to be thinking about during the training to really get optimum results.
Robbie Ventura: Absolutely and I think people wait too long. They wait until they’re cracked before they start working on their recovery and a lot of times they’re not cracked… so a month before the competition after they’ve had their biggest volume or their biggest week of training, and by that time those habits need to have been made by then. It’s almost a little bit too late and by that time, you don’t want to start experimenting, right? You want to almost say ok, I’ve learned this from last time. I’m going to try to sleep well because that’s also something I have to get in, if I do get a massage, I’m going to get a really light one just to make sure that it works. And if I’m going to do compression and stuff like that, I’m not going to go crazy, I’m going to start soft or start easy and gradually ramp up the pressure or ramp up the time and make sure what I’m doing is actually working and I’m not trying to crash everything at once.
Ben: Right. Folks, by the way if you have questions about the things we’ve discussed so far in terms of nutrition, training, strength training, interval training, any of that – be sure to leave it as a comment on the post that will go along in the Shownotes to this interview with Robby. Robby I have kind of a final question for you. Maybe a fun question. But what I’m wondering is if you have some examples of extreme cycling workouts or extreme feats of human performance during a training session or a race that you’ve observed in the time you’ve spent among professional cyclists… we hear things like stories about swimmers going out and doing a 10X1000 swimming set or runners going out to a track and throwing down a 25X800 workout. Do you have any examples of extreme workouts that you’ve observed in the time you’ve spent in professional cycling?
Robbie Ventura: Well I think what’s amazing about some of the training… and I never did the Tour de France… I never put in the volume that some of these guys do, but the thing I find interesting about professional cyclists and some of the things they can handle is… not necessarily one specific training day… but guys, you hear stories about them doing back to back to back to back 5000 to 6000 kilojoules days and just to do one 5000 kilojoules day is very, very difficult. But to do that day after day after day for four or five days in very, very hot conditions – because when you throw heat into a workout, it really kind of takes the workout off by 10 to 15% depending on how hot it actually is. And to do 5000 and 6000 kilojoules a day in the heat I think is something that… I have never been able to do and that’s always been a limiter of mine. Just one big day and then I need a couple of days to recover whereas these guys like (inaudible) and Leipheimer and Armstrong, they can do 5000 and 6000 kj days one after the other. I just can’t believe they can recover and do those things. It’s really amazing and it’s a testament to not only their ability to train but how much they have trained because to be able to do that stuff, you have to have years and years and years of aerobic based training and aerobic driving under your belt and I get a kick out of athletes that have a lot of time to train and they try to do these huge volume based and they can do one of them and sometimes they can do two of them. But unless you have that base, no matter how talented you are, you’re just not going to be able to actually grow from those types of workouts and nothing in particular, but just the fascination with the amount of volume, the amount of work these guys can put in and actually go from (unintelligible) like most athletes would do under those types of stress.
Ben: Interesting. And it seems like a lot of the things that you’ve talked about today in terms of proper sleep, proper fueling during and after a workout, proper recovery protocols as well as possibly a little bit of strength training or body balance training to allow for injury prevention and then consistency… a lot of that is really what it takes to do these day after day hard training sessions, is the impression I’m getting from you.
Robbie Ventura: And it takes time. I think people that want to be good aerobic athletes, you can’t rush the process. And that’s the biggest mistake I find with Vision Quest, some of our Ironman triathletes. Even our Kona qualifiers and our high level Ironman athletes, is it takes four or five years for your body really to become aerobically fit and then it takes another five years after that to really maximize that. I rode my bicycle for probably 35 years, almost 35 years. I turn 40 soon… maybe closer to 30 years and I grew my aerobic system for 20 some of those years and I trained hard and I trained long and it took that long before I felt I was maxed out. So I think for aerobic athletes, they need to be patient. They need to be really patient and they need to over-train a little bit. I think there’s some benefits to overtraining to kind of understand what those limits are and then realize when you pass the overtraining mark and then back it off. I think you need to over-train a few times to understand what those limits are and to push those limits, but once you understand where they’re at you run up to them and you just try to gradually push those out. You don’t try to make a 20% volume increase in two weeks or three weeks or four weeks. It’s small increments over time that win the race.
Ben: Right. Well Robbie, this has been great advice. Where can people find out more about you and what you do?
Robbie Ventura: www.visionquestcoaching.com. We have a great team of athletes that we work with. We have a bunch of facilities in the Chicago area. We also have one at David’s World Cycle in Orlando, Florida. They do a great job down there. We have camps in Santa Rosa in the spring, they’re a lot of fun. We actually try to mimic those high volumes that the pros do and we take care of all their needs from their laundry to exactly everything… just like a professional. And these athletes are surprised at how much volume they can withstand when we basically do all the work for them. So all they have to focus on is riding their bicycle, recovering through massage or massage therapy and we always have great guests that come to our camp who do talks. And if you want to grow your aerobic engine, you want to become a better cyclist, you want to become a better triathlete… I can’t emphasize enough how those camps or how those blocks of training really make the big differences. I think it’s better they kind of do a couple of camps – there are a few camps in the spring rather than try to train every 3rd day long in your house which is a struggle and get more of a 5 or a 6 day big block where you don’t have anything to focus on but recovery for if you really wanted to develop aerobically as well as basically immersing yourself in a culture where you’re learning bike handling, you’re learning pacing, you’re learning power based training, you’re learning everything there is need to know about run, bike and swim and you’re basically getting this (unintelligible) for six days, you come out a better person and you really reset your gauges in terms of aerobically as well as your knowledge of cycling when you do stuff like that.
Ben: Yeah I agree, I’m also a big fan of camps. If you can find one to go to, it’s well worth it. So, Robbie… what’s that?
Robbie Ventura: I said our camps are great. We’re actually doing one in Las Vegas with Gordo Bern in October and then our next camp is in the spring in Santa Rosa. So check out our website www.visionquestcoaching.com. We’d love to help anybody out who wants to be into aerobic training. That’s all.
Ben: Alright, well Robbie thanks for coming on the call today. I appreciate the time.
Robbie Ventura: Thank you very much, and hopefully everyone will train smart, have fun and remember it’s a process that’s the good stuff. It’s not the results.
Ben: Awesome. That’s good advice. Alright, have a good one.
For personal nutrition, fitness or triathlon consulting, supplements, books or DVD’s from Ben Greenfield, please visit Pacific Elite Fitness at http://www.pacificfit.net