Introduction: In this podcast: getting rid of a stubborn gut, combining strength with endurance training and how to lose over 220 lbs.
Ben: Hey folks, Ben Greenfield here and I am actually on my way down to Montego Bay, Jamaica to compete in the Rose Hall triathlon down there. Among other things, while we are down there my wife and I are going to be bringing you another Inner Circle podcast which you can expect later on this week or early next week. So be ready for that. We have some exciting stuff to go over with you. We’re always looking at the topics you suggest for us to go over in the Inner Circle podcast which is really designed to be more of a podcast that shows you how to make your home a healthier home that supports fitness, nutrition and performance. We also have questions today and an interview with a gentleman who happens to be a podcast listener named Mike, who lost over 200 lbs. As a matter of fact, close to 220 lbs. and still going down. So we have an interview with Mike and incidentally a couple of questions from a couple other listeners named Mike. So lots of Mikes show up in today’s podcast. A few special announcements and then we’re going to move forward into the Q and A.
Remember, if you have a question, you can call to 8772099439. You can Skype to username pacificfit or you can email [email protected]. This week that this podcast comes out, I’m actually going to send a free Ben Greenfield Fitness t-shirt along with a bunch of goodies to the best question that I receive via audio. So remember to ask your audio question. You can call 8772099439 or if you’re international, you can just Skype to username pacificfit. Ask your audio question. The best audio question this week will get a free Ben Greenfield Fitness t-shirt, and of course I’ll throw a bunch of goodies in as well. The first question is from Listener Mike.
Mike asks: I gave up smoking almost 17 months ago. Then within one month of stopping ballooned out to 93kgs predominantly in my gut, still skinny legs and arms. The whole time I had been going to the gym four to five a times week. The weight didn´t move. Neither did my 7 month pregnant gut. How do I get rid of this last weight from my gut and will I have to keep doing gym for the rest of my life like crazy to be at my former weight and body shape when I was a smoker.
Ben answers: Well smoking, which we’ve talked about before on this podcast actually can bump up your metabolism. It can bump up your metabolism by over 200 calories a day and in addition to that, it is an appetite suppressant. Nicotine is a stimulant and it can interfere with the release of insulin and insulin controls the glucose levels in the blood. So what happens when insulin is being blocked from being released, you can get hyperglycemic – have high glucose levels in your blood – and so your body and your brain kind of slows down the release of hormones and other signals that trigger your feelings of hunger because it feels like you have those constantly high levels of circulating energy. Now in addition, smoking can cause a dopamine release in your brain, again due to that nicotine that really simulates the same kind of dopamine release you’d get if you were snacking or eating food or even exercising. And so you again get that appetite suppressing effect and you also get the propensity to be less prone to snack on sugar or anything else that causes that dopamine release. So while smoking is great for weight loss, it of course has a lot of other health risks that go along with it. And when you quit smoking, it tends to be a pretty big issue in terms of you having to reset your metabolism. And we’ve talked about this on the podcast before. But the metabolism will eventually reset when you quit smoking, but weight gain is fairly common and in your case, Mike, even though you’re exercising I have a hunch… you haven’t said this, but I have a hunch that you’re probably not doing everything that you could nutritionally. If you were smoking, it is highly likely that you’ve found other things, specifically food sources that are replacing that dopamine release that you were getting from the nicotine. So it’s very common among ex-smokers to be hitting up sugar, Oreos or other types of cookies, candy… sometimes savory or salty foods. Typically sweeter foods because you get a bigger dopamine release from those or fatty/sugary foods, fried foods, things of that nature. So, if you are consuming those types of foods, what’s going to happen is there’s a two-fold effect. The first is that there’s an inflammatory reaction and when the nerves in your gut are inflamed, those are some of the same nerves that enervate the muscles that are responsible for supporting and giving you a flat stomach. And so folks who eat a higher sugar diet just tend to have less control to be able to have that muscular tone in the stomach that gives you the flat stomach appearance. Or your gut looks like it hangs out a little bit when you have a higher sugar diet or a diet that’s higher in inflammatory foods. And then the other issue of course is that you get the extra fat conversion in the liver from the glucose, from that high sugar getting converted into triglycerides and getting sent out and deposited as adipose tissue. One of the best things that you could do is begin to write down the foods that you’re consuming and try and identify anything that would be considered as a…well begin with processed sugars and grains – two of the most inflammatory foods when it comes to giving guys and girls that kind of gut, even though you have skinny arms and skinny legs. I’ve had people that I’ve worked with before in the gym and it seems like it’s more common with men who have this little bit of fat kind of left around the mid-section. They’ve tried everything, they can’t get rid of it. And we finally pulled the trigger and say ok, no alcohol, no sugar for four to six weeks. We’re going to see what happens. And in almost every case, that last little bit of fat disappears. Now that’s a very good strategy for taking a guy who wants to have a 6-pack from 10% down to 7% or 8%, but it’s also a very good strategy for making a huge dent in that “beer belly” or pregnant gut that you have. So that would be my strategy. Really look at this from a nutritional standpoint. If you do, then no, you won’t have to beat yourself up quite as hard in the gym. Really, you shouldn’t have to do that. If you’re physically active, you lead a healthy lifestyle and you eat foods that are not causing that propensity towards weight gain. There’s no reason that you have to go crazy in the gym. Anybody should be able to maintain a thin and slim appearance with anywhere from 40 to 60 minutes a day, right around five to six days a week in the gym. So totally doable if your nutrition is spot on. Incidentally, most triathletes who scoff at that and say “I got to work out two hours or three hours a day to maintain my appearance”… folks, I’ve looked at the nutrition logs from a lot of triathletes. They’re some of the worse on the planet. A lot of endurance athletes, both marathoners and triathletes exercise so they can eat and when eating is under control, it’s very possible to exercise a lot less and get better results. So, next question is from Listener Mike.
Mike asks: My question concerns the timing of weight workouts relative to endurance workouts. What is the correct time for hitting the weights if on the same day as a swim, bike or run workout? Should a strength session fall immediately after a ride or swim or with a few hours between? It seems that introducing a couple of sessions a week on top of a full endurance schedule would put one in a constant state of tearing down muscle fibers with little time between to rebuild and recover.
Ben answers: Well this is a great question. I’m in the process of writing a book right now. I’m actually contracted with a publisher to finish this book towards the end of 2010. It’s called The Ultimate Weight Training Guide for Triathlon. And in that book, I discuss a little bit of this concept of when to time your weight training workouts in relation to swimming, cycling and running. And there’s two different strategies or two different thoughts that you need to bear in mind. The first is that for a triathlete or an endurance athlete… really, swimming, biking and running are paramount. I don’t want to give you the impression that weight training is as important or nearly as important as those if your ultimate goal is to do well in a triathlon. Weight training is the icing on the cake. It gives you a very good advantage, especially if you’re aging for injury prevention and motor unit recruitment. But it’s not going to get you anywhere near the results of actually doing sport specific swim, bike and run workouts. And for that reason, those workouts should be prioritized on most days. Meaning that if you have a bike ride and a weight training session to do, the bike ride goes before the weight training session. Now the other advantage to that is that whenever you do cardio before weights, you tend to tear down the muscle just a little bit less because you’re not tearing it down with a weight workout and then going and starving your body with a cardio workout. You’re more using the cardio workout as a warm-up for the weight training workout. And research has shown that when you do cardio before weights, your metabolic rate after the workout tends to be higher. So it’s almost always a good idea to do cardio before weights and especially if you’re a triathlete, to prioritize your swimming, your cycling or your running workouts before your weight training workouts because the weight training workouts will prematurely tear down and fatigue the muscle and also affect your biomechanics and your economy of movement during the swimming, cycling and the running. The one caveat to that is when you’re trying to train yourself to be tougher and this is definitely a skill or a mental mindset that you can train and this is something that I’ll occasionally do. If I have a run workout planned, that’s usually under an hour – for example a 30 minute tempo run – I will occasionally throw that in after a weight training workout when I am fatigued so I have to practice running when my body really does not feel like running. Now running is sport that I most often do this with. I find that if I do a swim session after a weight training session, sometimes the shoulders tend to be a little bit tired and you can set yourself up for injury. Swimming is so skill based so that it’s very tough to do it correctly after weight training. And sometimes it can turn into a junk session. I’ll occasionally do it with biking after a squat or lunge based workout. But a lot of times I’ll throw in a quick tempo run to teach myself how to run when I’m fatigued after a weight training workout. And as long as the run or the cardio workout isn’t a highly depleting, multi-run kind of workout that you’re doing after a weight training session, that’s ok to do. Finally as far as the nutrition component is concerned, whenever you’re doing that cardio plus weight training or even weight training plus cardio, it is a good idea to make sure that you’re not doing the second session with low blood sugar. So for example, if I’m going to do that weight training workout and then do a quick run, I’ll have just a little bit of sugar like half a banana or an energy gel before I head out for the run and vice versa if I’m doing a bike ride and then heading to the gym to do a weight training session, I’ll make sure that I refuel in between. Same goes if you’re going to do a two a day. If you’re going to do a cardio workout in the morning and then a weight training workout in the afternoon, make sure that you refuel after that cardio workout – that your weight training workout in the afternoon is more productive. And really, as I’ve talked about a couple of times before on this podcast and on other podcasts, for post-workout nutrition – especially for people who are doing two a day workouts – post-workout nutrition becomes fairly paramount and important. For people who are only working out once a day, it’s not that important to eat right after a workout. For people who are working out twice a day, especially after that first workout… it’s pretty important. So I hope that answers your question Mike.
And then finally, the last question – I’m not going to read… but I posted it on the Shownotes to episode number 116. It’s a question from another guy named Mike. These are three different Mikes by the way. But anyways, this last question is one that I’ve answered before in a podcast. This was written to me by a guy named Mike. I answered the question and Mike wrote back and started to tell me his story and I was fascinated. This guy used to be over 400 lbs. and he’s been listening to the podcast. He’s been incorporating triathlon training. He’s been eating right. He’s been doing a lot of things that we’re going to talk about later on. But he’s now down around 178 lbs. from over 400 lbs. And so what I did was I got him on an interview to talk to him in detail about how he lost that weight and how he’s coped with going from being an obese individual to being basically what he is now – a skinny triathlete. You’ll want to see the photos that I put up on the Shownotes to episode 116. They’re absolutely amazing. The before and after photo. I put the before photo at the top of the Shownotes. The after photo at the bottom of the Shownotes. Check those out. Simply amazing. So we are actually going to move on to the interview with Mike and listen in. I think you’re really going to get a lot out of it.
Ben: Hey folks, this is Ben Greenfield and I’m here with Mike. And Mike, how do you pronounce your last name?
Mike Bernico: It’s Bernico.
Ben: With Mike Bernico. And Mike actually used to be about 400 lbs. He is now at… what are you at? About 175?
Mike Bernico: 178.
Ben: 178. Ok, I’m off three pounds. So Mike went from 400 to 178 lbs. and for those of you folks who listen to this show who are trying to control your weight, trying to perhaps lose some body fat, perhaps trying to maintain weight, I thought it would be good for you to see how the average guy goes out and drops from 400 down to 178, because a lot of the things that he did to get there are probably the same type of things that could help you. And you didn’t actually do surgery to get down to this weight, right Mike?
Mike Bernico: Oh, absolutely not.
Ben: So let’s go ahead and start with probably one of the questions that will help people quite a bit – how did you actually get up to being 400 lbs?
Mike Bernico: Well it didn’t happen overnight. I’ve always had a problem with my weight. I was never a super active kid. I never really did sports or anything like that. Grew up kind of eating the standard American diet – hotdogs, burgers, pizza, instant pasta out of a box, stuff like that. Things just got kind of worse. I was always big but then in high school I started working at a fast food restaurant at night after school and I would eat that food. Then I got a job professionally after college. I traveled a lot, I ate on the road and I just really got addicted to highly processed, really calorie dense food. And then things… it just got completely out of hand. In about 2005, I was not moving. I was completely inactive and I would eat an entire pizza on a Friday night.
Ben: Wow. So were you physically active during the time? Did you try out exercise programs? Were you yo-yo dieting or for you was it just a case of just eating?
Mike Bernico: You know there was of course a lot of yo-yo dieting. I definitely did not want to be that weight. So I would try and lose weight. I tried many, many times to lose weight and I tried just about every fad that was out there. But my thing was always eating. I ate too much and I did not have nearly enough activity in my life.
Ben: Ok, so you got up to 400 lbs and how old were you when that happened?
Mike Bernico: I was about 27 years old.
Ben: Wow. So what triggered the realization for you that you didn’t want to weigh that much and you wanted to actually lose weight?
Mike Bernico: Well, you know there wasn’t necessarily one thing. I don’t know that I necessarily had an “a-ha” moment, I guess. But there were a couple of things that really made me come to the realization that where I was going was not the right path. About seven years ago, I fell on the ice and when I did, it should have been no big deal. But I was so heavy, that it actually tore all the tendons away from my kneecap and it required surgery. In fact, I was so big that I remember being on the operating table in the surgery room and they’re wondering if I was going to exceed the weight limit on the table they’re going to operate on.
Ben: You could hear them talking about this?
Mike Bernico: Yeah, exactly. I could hear the surgeons talking about it. And you know I would wake up at night and I would just be gasping for air. I’d have terrible acid reflux all the time. Even just sitting at work sometimes, my heart would race. I’d start sweating and shaking. I was in bad shape. I was going to die.
Ben: And that’s what triggered it for you – just this entire range of symptoms that you were experiencing as a result of your weight?
Mike Bernico: Exactly.
Ben: So before we talk about the strategies that you used to drop from 400 down to 178 lbs., how long did it actually take you to lose that weight?
Mike Bernico: It actually took me something around three years.
Ben: Ok, so it took you how many years to put on that amount of weight?
Mike Bernico: Well I would say that I was always overweight, but I was probably a little overweight in high school. I was probably about 200 lbs. at 5’10. I probably hit 400 when I was 26, 27. Something like that.
Ben: Ok, so it definitely wasn’t one of those deals where you put it on in three years and took it off in three years. You spent a much longer time putting it on than it took for you to get it off.
Mike Bernico: Yeah, I would say so.
Ben: Yeah, which I think is good for people to hear. I know a lot of people who feel like it’s just going to be a never ending battle. But ultimately three years compared to how long it took you to put on the weight is not an incredibly long period of time.
Mike Bernico: No absolutely not.
Ben: So let’s start with fitness strategies before we talk about dietary strategies. But what fitness strategies did you use in your journey from going from 400 to 178?
Mike Bernico: Well it was definitely both diet and exercise. As far as the exercise part, you know when I started off I couldn’t do a whole lot. I mean I would be out of breath walking the block. So I really started doing a little bit of very light strength training and I did as much cardio as I could and a lot of times that involved walking, walking short distances and then walking longer. Eventually I had gotten a recumbent bike – a stationary recumbent bike. I thought that might have been easier on my bad knee and I started using that about three times a week for about 30 minutes. And then as the weight got down I was able to do more. I got a real bike and started riding outdoors. A road bike. I worked up to a 20 mile ride and then a 30 mile charity ride and actually in the fall of 2007, I did a 66 mile metric century.
Ben: So you didn’t do a lot of running. You did a lot of non-weight bearing type of things?
Mike Bernico: Absolutely.
Ben: So a combination of cycling and weight training? Anything else?
Mike Bernico: Yeah, that was really it. I didn’t actually start swimming. That would have been a great idea, but I didn’t start swimming until I had decided to do triathlon in about 2007. I was down to about 240 lbs. when I started swimming and running.
Ben: Gotcha. So, as far as the exercise goes were you kind of sticking to the same program the entire time or did you change up your program quite a bit as you went through those three years?
Mike Bernico: Well I would definitely say that it evolved. Because at first I just couldn’t do a whole lot but then I would add on more and more. Eventually as I started cycling more seriously, I would add in long rides and hard rides and things like that. So I didn’t necessarily train to any specific set pattern. I did long stuff, short stuff, strength training, cycling. That kind of thing.
Ben: So, how about diet? Did you follow any specific diet or use any specific nutritional tools or strategies?
Mike Bernico: Well yeah I would say so. Let’s see, pretty much my diet is all based around – again it was I guess an evolution. I started off just eating less. That was enough, and I saw really big gains or I guess losses just by eating less and then as I got thinner and lost weight I would have to do a little bit more, a little bit more and so my diet evolved to be more and more healthy. And I got away from processed food and I ate more vegetables and I ate things that we know we’re supposed to eat.
Ben: Did you feel like there was some kind of addiction there in terms of sugar, fat? Did it take you a while before you quit craving the types of foods that you were eating?
Mike Bernico: Oh yeah absolutely. It seems like the more of those unprocessed foods and the sugar and the refined carbs and stuff like that – the more I would eat it, the less I would be satisfied, the more I would want and it was just a vicious cycle. And so there was a time – I’d like to say that no food is off limits for me, I do believe that, but there was a time when it was just easier to avoid the really bad stuff. Nowadays I don’t even want it. What I crave is the food I’m used to which is minimally processed food – vegetables, whole grains. Things like that.
Ben: Now how about mentally? What kind of goal setting tools did you use or what type of motivational techniques did you use when I’m sure it seemed like you had an insurmountable amount of weight to lose?
Mike Bernico: Yeah. Definitely. When I started off, I didn’t really start off with the intention to get to any specific weight. If you would have asked me then if I could have weight under 200 lbs., I’d say no way. I wouldn’t have believed it. In fact I don’t think I’d been under 200 since eighth grade. I’ve always been a big person. So really I just tried to take a really… I like to say (inaudible) approach to it, and I just really focused on making the very next food choice or the very next healthy living choice that I could. So I tried to make in the moment, the next choice I had to make, I tried to make a good one. And let the long-term goal just kind of take care of itself.
Ben: So basically you weren’t necessarily looking at the finish line as much as you were just looking at the next meal or the next workout.
Mike Bernico: That’s exactly it. And sometimes I’d screw up and sometimes I wouldn’t do the right thing and I think it’s important to again look at the next meal and not look at the last meal. That’s done, you can’t change it. So, next.
Ben: Ok, so in terms of some of the things that people are afraid of or maybe already struggle with when it comes to losing the amount of weight that you lost, especially when it comes to things like loose skin or easily gaining the weight back, yo-yoing, those types of things – have you had to deal with some of that?
Mike Bernico: Yeah definitely all those things. The extra skin thing is a real – it’s a real bummer for me. I’m carrying a lot of extra skin around. I don’t like it. So I was measured recently at about 8% body fat but I definitely don’t look it. I don’t have that 6 pack that someone with low body fat would probably have. And the extra skin is getting better with time, but it’s just something you have to deal with when you lose that much weight. And you could probably address it with surgery. I’m probably not going to do that because it would take away from my training time which is what I really like to do. And I just try and remind myself hey, it’s a battle scar. As far as gaining weight which was the other question – yeah, I have a huge fear of that. And it’s really easy for me to put on weight. My resting metabolic rate is not very high. It’s just kind of the way it is. I’ve even occasionally gained weight back, like anyone else has. I’ve occasionally gained weight and I’ve even done it during really big training blocks. Maintenance can be tricky and I’m just probably always going to have to be real careful and mindful of my eating.
Ben: Gotcha. So as far as your activity now, you mentioned that you’re swimming, you’re cycling, you’re running… so are you doing triathlons now?
Mike Bernico: Yes, absolutely. So, I just finished in yeah I guess the end of August, I finished a 70.3 half Ironman – half Ironman Steelhead. In 2007, I was cycling and I did a metric century. I did my first 5k I guess that December in about 45 minutes. In 2009, I worked up to completing the Chicago triathlon which is an Olympic distance triathlon. This summer I did the half Ironman and next year I will be competing in Ironman Wisconsin.
Ben: Gotcha, now when you first started into triathlon where you overweight?
Mike Bernico: Yeah, I was about 230 lbs. when I did my first triathlon.
Ben: Was that embarrassing for you or did you feel that you were still accepted in the triathlon community?
Mike Bernico: Well you know I personally was embarrassed. One of the hardest things for me when I started triathlon was going to the pool and having to be there without a shirt on. It was like “whoo.” Triathlon is a really open sport and people of all shapes and sizes compete and do it. So, I think that they were more accepting of me than I was accepting of myself.
Ben: Gotcha. So do you have any other resources that you use or any other types of encouraging words you’d like to give to the audience?
Mike Bernico: Yeah, absolutely. I guess when it comes to triathlon or it comes to fitness or it comes to weight loss, really what I say is it’s not about being faster or being better than the next guy. It’s just all about being better than who you previously were. That’s I guess my message if I had to sum it up – small positive changes over time can make a big difference.
Ben: Gotcha. Well Mike, I think that’s going to be really helpful for people who are listening to the show who may be overweight or have someone in their life who they want to help out. If you’re listening in and you have a friend you’d like to forward this interview to, I would encourage you to do so because I think a few of the things that Mike shared, in my opinion as a personal trainer, were really helpful. Specifically, the bit about doing non-weight bearing exercise. I think that’s a good non-painful way to get into physical activity. And also from both a diet and exercise standpoint, setting short-term rather than long-term goals. That will allow you to stick with it and not become discouraged in reaching a goal that may seem very far away. So, Mike. Thanks for coming on the call. And you’re located in Chicago right?
Mike Bernico: Yeah, I’m a couple of hours from Chicago actually, to the South. Bloomington, Illinois. And yeah, thanks for having me Ben. I’m a big fan of your podcast. I really appreciate what you’re doing and thanks a lot.
Ben: Well fantastic. Thanks for your time today Mike. Until next time this is Ben Greenfield and Mike signing out from www.bengreenfieldfitness.com.
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