Episode #162 – Full Transcript

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Podcast #162 from https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/2011/09/episode-162-are-you-exercising-too-hard/

Introduction:  In this episode, are you training to0 hard, organizing your gear, intravenous vitamin therapy, polycystic ovarian syndrome, training with Jack Daniels, giving blood while training for marathons, training too much, using sauna for heat acclimation, and trouble with knees.

Ben:                Hey folks, it’s Ben Greenfield here.  And in today’s episode, we have a fantastic interview about how to know if you’re exercising too much or training too hard and this is going to be with Phil Maffetone who’s been on the pod cast before.  And he’s back with even more cool information.  He’s a very cool and knowledgeable guy.  He’s experienced in all aspects of medicine and especially natural medicine.  But he particularly has a lot of experience in endurance sports.  So I think you’re going to get a lot out of this interview.  Now I wanted to tell you something real quick before we get into this week’s Listener Q and A.  And that is that I was at the gym two days ago.  I’m running on the treadmill.  I’m getting ready for my big race in Las Vegasthis weekend.  And this guy hops on the treadmill beside me.  And he takes out his phone.  And he puts it up there on the treadmill dashboard which is where a lot of people put their phones and they’re going to listen to music.  But rather than putting headphones in his ears, he just put his phone on speaker phone where everybody else in the gym or at least I could hear it quite clearly.  And he starts pumping out his music.  Almost like a mini boom box thing right there on the treadmill dashboard.  I thought that was a little weird and a little strange.  And it got me thinking that there are probably a lot of strange or weird things that are overheard or seen at gyms when you’re out working out.  So what I want to do is have a little fitness hash take contest here for BenGreenfieldFitness.com.  It’s pretty simple.  What you need to do is just use twitter to tell me the strangest, weirdest or the most unique thing you’ve seen people doing at a gym whether this week or anytime in your life that you’ve been working out.  Now of course since we are going to do this via twitter, you have to express that in a hundred and forty characters or less.  So you basically go to your twitter account or you get a free twitter account if you don’t have one.  You tweet about the strangest, the weirdest, or most unique thing that you’ve seen someone doing at the gym and I suppose it could be yourself.  And you keep to a hundred and forty characters or less.  And then what I’m going to do is next week I will read these on the podcast to see what we’ve actually come up with with the funky things people have been doing on the gym.  For me to be able to see this, please be sure that you tweet it to @bengreenfield when you tweet.  And here’s the hash tag that you’re going to use.  And I’ll put an example of this in the show notes to this episode, Episode #162 if you don’t know what a hashtag is or you don’t know how to use a hashtag.  But all it means is that at the end of your tweet, or I guess you could do it at the beginning of your tweet if you wanted to, you put the number sign which is a hashtag.  And the hashtag that we’re going to use for this is weird stuff seen at gym.  So to get your hashtag of weird things that you’ve seen at the gym read on the next podcast, just tweet that to @bengreenfield and use hashtag weird stuff seen at gym.  I’ll put a link to that in the show notes too so you can see how it’s spelled out.  Alright, we’re going to have a quick special announcement and then jump into this week’s listener Q and A.

Listener Q and A:

Craig:             Hey, Ben, this is Craig from Birmingham.  And I’m collecting a lot of gear.  And sometimes I work out a lot.  Sometimes I work out from the house.  Sometimes I’m traveling.  And I just wanted to hear your thoughts on how to organize your gear and make sure you don’t forget something essential when you’re going out for some kind of training.  Thanks and goodbye.

Ben:                Craig, boy, did you ever ask the wrong guy this question, as my wife will attest.  I am a little bit messy and unorganized when it comes to my gear.  And my garage or at least the section of the garage that is allocated to me for all of my different swimming and biking and running and training stuff is just a little bit haphazard.  However, that being said, I have a back pack.  It’s a great big back pack.  And it is my exercise back pack.  That back pack stays in one corner of my closet and everything is in there whatever I need if I were just going to go exercise.  So I’ve got goggles in there.  I’ve got ear plugs in there.  There are fins in there and little paddles for swimming.  I’ve got elastic bands in there.  I’ve got some action wipes there to wipe my self down if I don’t have a chance to take a shower.  I’ve got portable shampoo and conditioner and lotion in there.  Yes, it stinks a little bit.  But basically it’s my exercise back pack.  I can grab that and pretty much what I need in there is going to be in there if I’m just rushing off to the gym.  I may have to drop a couple extra things in there like a pair of shoes, my credit card, a couple of things I might need while I’m out and about.  But that is the way that I do things.  And then of course I have my extremely messy shelf in the garage where I keep everything else.  Now, if you are listening in, if you’re a podcast listener and you have a very good way that you organize your gear, then please let Craig know.  Go over to our face book page.  It’s facebook.com/bgfitness or just go to the show notes for this episode, Episode #162, and kind of share what you do when it comes to organizing your gear because God knows that I am not the best person to ask this question to.  The solution that I found really is just to have this big back pack and that’s where I keep everything in.  And it’s just kind of this old back pack.  And I can rely on it whenever I’m heading out to the gym.  I grab it.  I know just about everything I need is in there.  So that’s what I do.  Dave has a question.

Dave:              What’s your opinion on intravenous vitamin therapy like a Myer’s cocktail.  Is it an effective alternative for an athlete to do instead of taking ten to twenty pills a day?  Should I do it as a one time deal to get levels back to normal or more of a maintenance thing?

Ben:                Okay, so if you’re not familiar with IV vitamin therapy or what a Myer’s cocktail is, IV vitamin therapy is just what it sounds like.  It’s literally hooking up a needle into a vein in your arm and getting vitamin nutrients injected intravenously.  Obviously, you’re bypassing your digestive system.  So you are reducing the potential for a lot of the vitamin absorption to potentially be lost via the digestive system.  Now what a Myer’s cocktail is and it was named after a doctor, his name was John Meyers, is it’s a combination of a bunch of different vitamins and minerals.  So kind of the standard Myer’s cocktail is magnesium and calcium, all of the vitamin B complexes and a ton of Vitamin C.  It’s about twenty-five grams of Vitamin C.  There are a few other things that are a lot of times thrown into intravenous vitamin therapies but that’s kind of the main thing, it’s mega doses of Vitamin B and Vitamin C.  Sometimes they’ll throw other minerals in there, too.  Magnesium and calcium, that type of thing.  You may have heard Dr. David Minkoff on this podcast before.  And I believe that’s something that he does at his clinic quite a bit.  But in terms of its efficacy for something like athletes, it may be a rather inconvenient way for you to get performance advantages to go do intravenous vitamin therapy. To me this makes better sense for someone who is getting very poor absorption of oral vitamins that they’re using.  So for example, as we age our ability to absorb vitamins decreases and also with certain diseases or certain digestive system issues, absorption can go down or vitamin needs can go up.  So if you have something like a very damaged gut from years living with celiac disease and still eating gluten and things that might have been irritating that your digestive system might be incredibly inflamed and really doing a very poor job absorbing vitamins and minerals and nutrients.  And in such a case, IV therapy might make sense.  Cancer is another situation where nutrient needs may be elevated.  Absorption may not be taking place all that well and so in that case IV repletion of vitamins, minerals and nutrients might also make sense.  Living a long time with a very bad diet using up nutrients and vitamins and minerals might mean that when you jump back into a healthy diet, it may make sense for you to again use something like intravenous vitamin therapy to give you something like a jump start.  And then another situation where this might come in handy is if you have some issue with properly creating something like the hydrochloric acid in your stomach or producing bile in your liver to be able to take care of a lot of vitamins, minerals and nutrients, again using IV therapy for something like that might make sense.  Now, I’m not a doctor.  I’ve never worked in a clinic that administers vitamins and medications via intravenous therapy.  But the issue is that it’s more likely helpful for someone who is just trying to reinvent and reboost their body or someone who is dealing with a chronic disease or who is advanced in age.  Now, I’m a bigger fan of supporting the digestive system and getting it to the point where it can naturally absorb what you need from food and maybe some extra vitamins.  And that would mean that you’re simply using digestive enzymes.  You’re building up your good gut floor with things like probiotics.  Or you’re eating a kefir or drinking kombucha or eating fermented foods.  All of these are the type of things that would build up your digestive tract, and in my opinion, allow you to absorb vitamins from your food a little bit more naturally than having to have them injected through a vein.  In terms of actual sports performance enhancement through the use of intravenous therapy, I could certainly see this being used to help boost performance, shorten recovery time, and really give an athlete kind of a mega boost before a competition.  To my knowledge, it’s not banned by the world anti-doping association or frowned upon by something like the NCAA.  Now, I’m not sure of that.  But to my knowledge intravenous vitamin therapy is not banned.  So it may be something to look into and experiment with.  If you’re an athlete listening in or an intensely exercising individual who has used something like this to enhance your sport performance, write into the show or leave a comment on the show notes to this podcast because I’d like to hear your experience with something like that.  And perhaps I can get a hold of Dr. David Minkoff to pipe in on his opinion on this as well.  But it’s a very good question.  It’s an interesting topic.

Cassidy:         I was diagnosed with polycystic ovarian syndrome a year ago.  And my doctor prescribed ortho tri-cyclens to regulate my hormones because I was very low in progestin, estrogen and FSH.  I’ve become more health conscious since then.  But I’m figuring out now that putting synthetic hormones into my body probably isn’t the best way to treat PCOS.  I’m twenty- three years old and I would eventually want to have kids.  So I would want to treat my body well so I can live a long healthy life as well as have children.  Do you have any advice as to what supplements, diet, exercise, lifestyle habits, etc, that I should change?

Ben:                And of course you’ll hear me say this often on the podcast that I’m not a physician.  I don’t want this to be misconstrued as qualified medical advice.  But let me tell you if you don’t know about PCOS and what it is.  It’s basically a hormonal imbalance.  So women with PCOS, their ovaries produce too many male hormones or what are called androgens.  And that makes it difficult for the ovaries to release an egg.  And in addition, when you get a lot of androgens released it can cause a lot of issues that you would imagine would take place if a female was producing too many male hormones.  So it can cause irregular or completely absent periods.  It can create pelvic pain.  There can be some depression that goes on.  A lot of times there’s facial hair growth and acne.  Weight gain is certainly an issue with this.  And as the name implies, this can also cause cyst on the ovaries.  Now, the interesting thing about PCOS is it can be avoided and very well controlled by diet and lifestyle changes.  There are a lot of factors that can predispose a woman to developing PCOS.   Like being obese, getting exposure to lots of synthetic estrogens in the environment.  But really the root cause is typically an insulin issue specifically, insulin resistance.  And insulin resistance is something that very easily taken care of really.  Essentially what happens with insulin resistance is it arises due to your body’s constant need to lower blood sugars.  So if the blood sugar levels are constantly being elevated typically due to diet or a lack of exercise, the pancreas has to produce lots of insulin in order to respond to that blood sugar and shovel that blood sugar into the appropriate locations in the body.  So cells eventually can become desensitized all of this insulin that the pancreas is producing.  And insulin, its role is to help glucose pass through the cell walls.  So when the cells become resistant to insulin, glucose doesn’t end up getting transported into cell as storage energies but instead makes its way to the liver where it’s converted into fat.  And then you also have this excess insulin that’s floating around the blood stream.  And one of the things that excess insulin floating around the blood stream can do is it can stimulate the ovaries to produce a bunch of extra testosterone.  And this leads to a lot of the symptoms that are associated with polycystic ovarian syndrome including preventing the ovaries from releasing their egg each month.  So you also get the infertility that comes along with PCOS.  So this is completely a hormonal imbalance issue that is primarily derived from insulin issues.  Now the other thing that can compound this problem is what is called zeno-estrogens.  So when you’re looking at plastics and pollution, household cleaning chemicals, even body care chemicals, as well as like meats that have been treated with synthetic hormones, a lot of those are sources of estrogens or what are called zeno-estrogens which are estrogens that are very close to the chemical structure of estrogen made in the human body.  But they are synthetic.  And these environmental estrogens can make a huge amount of damage occur when it comes to the delicate hormonal processes within your body.  So one of the things that they can do is basically trick your body into thinking that there’s too much estrogen floating around so your body produces excessive amounts of other hormones in an attempt to balance out these excess estrogens.  So there are few other issues going on with PCOS.  You get these high levels of insulin.  And that can actually cause the body to release or lose a lot more magnesium in the urine.  And magnesium is essential in a ton of different enzymatic reactions.  But one of the things magnesium is responsible for is producing serotonin.  And so you get the high levels of insulin.  You get the magnesium dropping.  You get the serotonin dropping.  And without adequate levels of serotonin, you get depressed.  And when you get depressed and you don’t have enough serotonin floating around you start to crave foods.  And one of the foods that you start to crave is the type of food that can basically enhance or increase serotonin levels.  And that would be refined carbohydrates because they are a tryptophan source.  And typtophan makes your body able to produce serotonin.  So there’s one vicious cycle is that you get the insulin created.  You lose the magnesium.  You lose the serotonin.  And then you want refined carbohydrates which are one of the triggers to start this in the first place.  Now one of the other issues is your blood sugar levels are fluctuating and so this triggers the release of adrenaline which is kind of like a fight or flight reaction.  Now anytime your adrenaline levels go up, this makes your liver release a bunch of its storage carbohydrates to pump up your blood-glucose levels.  So once your blood-glucose levels get elevated from insulin or from the liver, basically pumping out all these glucose, that triggers the release of more insulin.  And then you get the bunch of insulin floating in the blood.  It increases the testosterone production.  And it’s kind of this vicious cycle that continues to propagate the symptoms of PCOS.  A lot of times this gets stressful.  And when you produce stress hormones again like cortisol and adrenaline is also a stress hormone that can also deplete the brains levels of the neurotransmitter serotonin.  So again, we’ve got another trigger for food cravings and carbohydrate cravings.  Now there are other issues that can be at play when it comes to PCOS like food allergies, food intolerances, both of which can kind of lower the absorption of nutrients.  A lot times you’ll see that women who have PCOS also have many of these food sensitivities.  And you know whether the chicken came before the egg, I don’t know.  But it’s something that you see quite a bit.  The other issue that you see quite a bit in women with PCOS is imbalanced gut floor which I talked about earlier.  You know not having enough probacteria in your gut.  So if you’re listening in, I’m sure your wheels are already turning in terms of you thinking about some of the things that can help to control or eliminate the symptoms of PCOS.  First of all, low carbohydrate diet can come in very handy.  Stepping up protein and fat intake and really limiting the type of foods that are going to spike blood-glucose levels.  Now granted when you eat meat and when you eat fat, you still get a little bit of an insulin release but it’s a lot more stabilized than when you’re eating high amounts of refined carbohydrates, processed carbohydrates, or really even many carbohydrate foods in general.  I would completely eliminate whole wheat, whole grains, and things of that nature.  And I would also, if you haven’t gotten food intolerance or a food allergy test yet, I would get that done and then begin to avoid any foods that you test as being intolerant to.  I would really look into balancing your fatty acid levels so avoid vegetable oils.  Balance out the omega six and omega three fatty acids by eliminating a lot of the vegetable oils that are going to contain high amounts of omega six and instead getting more natural Omega 3 fatty acids in your diet from things like cold water fish and fish oil.  I would really kind of step down the dairy intake.  I would step down the grain intake like I mentioned earlier.  I would really avoid artificial and processed foods that you’re limiting your exposure to zeno estrogens that I mentioned earlier.  I would definitely be exercising.  Not exercising excessively because again we want to control some of that adrenaline and cortisol release.  But exercising lightly everyday and you can eventually start to exercise a little bit more intensely but I would initially go on a low carbohydrate diet with just light exercise.  And do as many things as possible that you can to reduce stress.  And again we are reducing adrenaline and reducing cortisol.  And then the other thing when it comes to gut floor in addition to stepping up your intake of probiotics and digestive enzymes, you may want to reduce your fiber intake a little bit.  Because in folks with imbalanced gut floor, a really high fiber diet can actually cause even more gut problems.  So that just kind of scratches the surface in terms of PCOS.  But that is what I would start into and hopefully that gives you some direction and it helps you out a little bit.  Okay so we have a question here from John.

John says:     What is the deal with VDOT and the Jack Daniels training method?  As I understand it, you train your running to a pace and not necessarily heart rate or perceived effort.  Do you use Jack Daniels or do you know others that use it?

Ben:                Yeah.  The whole idea with the Jack Daniels training method, not to be confused with the whiskey, there’s no correlation there.  Jack Daniels was an exercise physiologist back in the ‘70s.  And he looked a lot at the VO2 max or the maximum oxygen utilization of a lot of different runners.  And what he found was that he was able to basically find a runner’s VO2 max and determine their performance at a specific race distance based on that VO2 max.  And now what has been designed based off of those Jack Daniels equivalent performances or ability to cover specific race distances at specific times are these calculators.  And I’ll put a link to a Jack Daniels what’s called a VDOT calculator in the show notes for this episode.  But what the VDOT formula allows you to do is you can say okay I can run a mile this fast.  And so you put in your equivalent race performances for something like a mile run.  And then once you’ve fed in that time, what the Jack Daniels calculator will give you is your pace for your easy long runs, your marathon pace runs, your threshold or tempo pace runs, your interval runs and your really fast speed work runs.  And then for each of these runs, for each of the running paces, there’s kind of a percentage heart rate that’s associated with it.  So like your easy pace is sixty-five to about eighty percent of your maximum heart rate.  And your marathon pace is eighty to ninety percent.  And your tempo pace is eighty-eight to ninety-two percent.  Your interval pace is ninety-eight to one hundred percent.  And then your repetition pace is kind of like one hundred plus percent.  So it’s kind of a combination of training with pace and also training with heart rate.  And if you have something like a GPS device that you can use to track how fast you’re running, this can actually be a really efficient way to make sure that you’re running at a pace that’s realistic for what your capacity actually is.  So if you know that you can run a mile in x period of time and you feed that into a VDOT calculator, you’ll automatically know your easy pace, your marathon pace, your threshold pace, your interval pace, and your repetition pace.  You know the approximate heart rate ranges associated with each of those paces.  And then when you go out and do your training, you just be sure that you train at the appropriate pace for the type of training session that you’re going out to do.  So when you go out and do your long run, you would take whatever the Jack Daniels VDOT calculator gave you for your marathon pace.  And you try and hit that as your average for each mile that you run like during a marathon pace training run.  So I think it’s a good way to train.  It’s a decent way to kind of know the pace that you should be running at.  You obviously do have to have a GPS device to do it.  And you need to kind of familiarize yourself with the different pace zones using something like a calculator.  But I think it’s an efficient way to train.  It’s a realistic way to be able to monitor your pace.  I tend to do things a little bit differently.  What I do is heart rate testing and then generate an actual pace or monitor a pace based on heart rate rather than just your speed.  And so what I track is what your speed is at for any given heart rate.  So I do things a little bit differently.  But the Jack Daniels VDOT calculator can certainly work.  And I’ll put a link to that in the show notes if it’s something that you want to use.

Mik:                My question is related to exercising and giving blood.  I’m a fifty-three year old runner.  And I was working my mileage back up after nine months of struggling with injuries and inconsistent running.  I was making good progress but then I gave blood.  I’ve given blood for thirty-five years so I thought I was used to the effects.  But it seemed to set my stamina back more than I remember.  The first week was really a struggle.  Week two was better but not normal.  So my question is, is this normal and how long does it take for the stamina to return after giving blood?  Is there any positive effect from exercising while my red blood cells regenerate?

Ben:                Well, it’s kind of important to understand what happens when you give blood because blood is a pretty complicated tissue.  So when you donate blood, you’re giving up mostly water.  But you’ve got a lot of little proteins and cells that are in that blood solution.  And really one of the things that you’re using or that you’re giving away is hemoglobin.  So when you go out and run, hemoglobin is what’s delivering oxygen to your tissues.  And when you exercise your muscles obviously require oxygen.  So if you lack sufficient hemoglobin then what’s going to happen is you’re not going to have enough oxygen.  And you’re going to feel that you’re working much harder for any given intensity.  So when you donate a typical donation of blood which is usually about a pint, that results in you depleting about ten percent of your total blood volume.  And the fluid part of that volume that’s made up primarily of water, that can be replaced as you hydrate literally within hours.  But to completely replace all of the red blood cells, it generally takes anywhere from about six to eight weeks.  So if you’ve lost these red blood cells, what will happen is that the amount of blood that your heart pumps out is going to remain constant because remember your actual blood volume is back up within a few hours.  But the hemoglobin concentration in that blood is lower.  So what happens is when you are going out to exercise, the amount of oxygen that your body is wanting is kind of outpacing your body’s ability or your hearts ability to deliver that oxygen to the muscles.  The only issue is that this really isn’t a problem typically at paces that would be considered kind of easy and aerobic.  Really where it’s going to bother you is if you’re going out and doing hard interval training sessions or if you’re doing what would be considered an anaerobic activity.  So this means that for six to eight weeks after you donated a significant amount of blood, interval training and hard intense training might be a little bit difficult.  So it may not be the best idea, like before say like a big triathlon or event in which you plan on being anaerobic that you may want to consider avoiding donating blood in that case.  So if you’ve got really good iron levels, protein levels, you might be able to draw that line as short as four to six weeks.  And in that case what you’d want to make sure that you’re doing is eating adequate protein and iron intake.  Specifically one of the best things you can be eating for the few weeks after you donate blood is red meat because it’s got both the protein and the iron in it.  And if you’re a vegetarian, it’s going to be really tough for you to rebuild that iron very quickly or kind of hit that four to six mark after you’ve given blood.  So in your case if you’re having a really difficult time with this after you’ve given blood, I would certainly look into your diet and see if you’re getting adequate protein.  I’ll look into your iron levels or your ferritin storage levels to make sure that you’re getting enough iron in your diet.  You can use a company like Bioletics to do a ferritin test on you.  And you can also get an amino acid test done from them to see if you’ve got adequate proteins on board.  But I’d really pay attention to iron and protein intake especially for at least a couple of weeks and preferably four to six weeks after you’ve given blood.  Ultimately, you will bounce back.  But you may need to modify your training to be a little bit more aerobic in addition to that focus on protein and iron intake.

Matt:              What are your thoughts on Smart Balance peanut butter?  Do you think it is a better choice than regular Smucker’s natural peanut butter?

Ben:                I don’t really like either of these peanut butters to be honest with you, because they both use a lot of hydrogenated fats in them.  So if you look at Smart Balance peanut butter it’s got an oil blend of flax seed and palm fruit oils that they’ve added to it.  So they’re adding slightly hydrogenated oils.  And then they’re dumping in some extra salt and molasses to satisfy our typical Western diet sweet tooth.  And the Smucker’s is really no better.  If anything, it has even more of the hydrogenated fat in it.  If I use peanut butter at all, I try to choose a natural organic peanut butter.  And really most of the time I use almond butter just because peanut butter has such a high amount of Omega 6 fats in it.  You can certainly lower the Omega 6 content of peanut butter by pouring off all the oil that settles on the top of the peanut butter jar instead of stirring it into the oil.  And you could, if the peanut butter gets too dry from doing that, just dump some Omega 3 enriched oil in there like an extra virgin olive oil or a macadamia nut oil to replace that oil that was in the peanut butter.  Peanuts do have some nutrient value.  They’re just, in my opinion, not a nut or specifically there are legumes that give this much bang for your buck compared to doing something like an almond butter.  They also tend to, because they’re an underground grown crop, be more frequently contaminated with aflatoxin which is basically a mold that can cause some food intolerance and food allergy issues and it maybe carcinogenic.  Peanuts also tend to be pesticide contaminated.  So you can go for like a natural organic peanut butter and eliminate some of those issues.  But all I do when I buy peanut butter is I turn it over and look at the label.  And all I want to see are basically peanuts.  And there shouldn’t be much in your peanut butter other than peanuts.  If there is, try and choose a different brand or switch to almond butter.  So yes, I do use peanut butter.  But pretty much the only time, to be honest with you, that I use peanut butter is when I’m traveling.  It’s because when I’m traveling and I go to the grocery store it’s tough to find travel sized portions of nut butter and almond butter to buy a big container of it if I’m only traveling for two or three days is super expensive.  So a lot of times I’ll just pick up some natural organic peanut butter, dump some oil off the top, and just go with that.  Good question.

Anonymous: I was listening to an episode of endurance planet on which you were a guest.  You talked about how many people unintentionally over train for races and that there’s no reason to do a twenty-mile run ten weeks out from a marathon.  I’m following a marathon training program that has me doing just that.  So what type of marathon training program do you recommend?

Ben:                Well the whole idea and every Wednesday I’m a guest at a sports nutrition podcast over at EndurancePlanet.com.  And I remember this discussion I was talking about how I really don’t start like hot and heavy like long runs to get ready for an Ironman until I’m about eight weeks out.  And I only do one twenty-mile run in my build up to the race.  And one of the issues with a lot of folks who are training for a marathon or training for something like an Ironman triathlon is that they try and do multiple long runs and those are really hard on the body.  It would take a long time for your body to recover from and it’s the one part of the training session that put you at the highest likelihood for injury.  Especially if you’re kind of the average like the age grouper amateur athlete who is just doing this stuff for fun and doesn’t have the amount of experience in running volume in your legs like a pro marathoner or a pro triathlete has.  So if you’re like ten or twelve weeks out from your marathon and I’ve seen this in many marathon training programs and you’re already running twenty miles, you’re probably significantly increasing your risk of over training if you’re putting in that much training volume especially for your long run day that far out from the race.  I recommend you do your last long run and really your only long run for marathon prep about four to five weeks out from the race.  It gives you adequate time to rest and recover from that long run.  And it also keeps you from doing your twenty-mile runs so far out from the race that they’re probably not going to help you out anyways.  And all they’re going to do is set you up for injury because, let’s face it, we all know how we think mentally.  If we run twenty-miles and we’re ten weeks away from a marathon, we’re going to think okay nine weeks out I’m going to try and run twenty-one and eight weeks out I’m going to try and run twenty-two or maybe run twenty-one again.  And you’re going to try and maintain that long run endurance all the way going into your marathon.  And somewhere along those eight to ten weeks, it’s very likely that you could get injured.  So I’m a huge fan of minimalist training when it comes to marathon running.  Many of you who are listeners to the podcast may remember that last year I came out with a program I co-designed with a running coach from Seattle.  It’s called the Marathon Dominator.  It’s over on MarathonDominator.com.  I’ll put a link to it in the show notes.  But the program in MarathonDominator.com is a four day week running program.  There’s a ton of quality over quantity.  And it just comes with a bunch of extras.  So there’s a bunch of strength training extras, DVDs, shin splints prevention, marathon race day cheat sheet, a couple of kind of insider interviews with me specifically on nutrition and staying fit through injuries or avoiding injuries and some advice on low back pain for running.  There are also supplements and discount guide.  If you’re taking care of your body from a recovery and a nutrition perspective, you don’t have to run as much as you think you need to run to be ready for a marathon.  And that’s really my whole philosophy of training is take care of your body.  So you don’t have to beat it up everyday with training.  That is just fighting against all the junk food and environmental stresses that you’re putting on to your body.  So I’d recommend you check out MarathonDominator.com for something like that.

Jim:                You mentioned on the last podcast that you are spending a significant amount of time lately on a sauna to prepare for the 70.3 World Championships.  What do you recommend in terms of frequency and amount of time to spend in the sauna as a race gets closer?

Ben:                Well, I’m certainly a fan of a sauna.  I’ve got an upcoming article in a magazine that I write for called Lava Magazine where I talk about all these different ways to kind of hack your body for heat acclimation.  And a sauna is definitely one of those things that is a prime importance if you live in something like a northern climate and you’re preparing for a warm marathon or triathlon.  And you’re unable to do heat training.  So what you do is you go to the sauna.  Technically you’ll need to go every three days.  You’ll hold on to heat acclimation for about three days.  As the race gets closer, I tend to try and go everyday.  So a lot of times if I’ve got magazines, books to read, things to catch up on, I will head out to the sauna and get that stuff done.  It becomes torturously hot after about twenty-five minutes or so.  It gets very tough to stay in there.  We’re talking about saunas that can top out the one hundred sixty to one hundred eighty degree range.  A lot of them are kind of more along the lines of one hundred thirty to one hundred forty-five degree range.  And if you have access to an infrared sauna, that’s even better.  If we’re talking about the sauna in typical health club, whether a sauna for preparing for dry heat or a steam room for preparing for human heat, you’re looking at starting off at about ten to fifteen minutes.  And I recommend adding about five minutes a week.  So if you start off at ten to fifteen minutes, you’ll gradually be able to get yourself up to about forty to forty-five minutes.  I generally don’t find that many athletes that can tolerate much longer than forty to forty-five minutes in a sauna.  But that’s basically what you do.  You take a bottle of water.  You take a towel to wipe off all that sweat.  You maybe get ready to take a cold shower afterwards because you’re going to be really hot and wanting to bring your body temperature back down especially if you got anything else to do during the day that you don’t want to be sweating during.  But for example, I’ve been in the sauna almost every day for the past fourteen days for anywhere from twenty-five to thirty-five minutes to prepare for this race that I’ve got coming up in Las Vegas.  I mean because it’s quite cold around there.  It drops down to forty-degrees at night.  It’s been hitting kind of like the ‘80s during the day and that’s just not hot enough to go down and compete in a race that could get as hot as one hundred and twelve degrees down in Las Vegas.  So that’s my recommendation is you do it frequently.  You can sit in there.  You can stretch in there.  You can read in there but essentially at least every three days and as the race gets closer preferably everyday.  Choosing either a steam room for something like Kona, that makes sense or dry heat for something like Vegas makes a little bit more sense and just basically putting in lots of frequent exposure to that heat.  And one of the other strategies that you can use is you can pre cook or post cook your body.  Pre cook meaning you do sauna or steam room exposure before you actually do your workout.  And post cooking meaning you go in there after you’ve done kind of a hard run and heat up your body really well.  And you sit in there and give your body some extra heat exposure afterwards.  Okay, we have a question from Darren.

Darren:          I want to ask three questions.  I’ve been building up my mileage from zero.  I don’t run very far but I made a stupid mistake of pushing my pace beyond my body’s ability and I injured myself.  I’m going in for surgery on Thursday for cartilage damage.  That won’t knock me back.  But I wanted to ask, am I mad getting into triathlons after one ACL construction and then this surgery on my other knee?  Number two, what kind of supplements would you recommend for someone with a history of bad knees who’s trying to get into triathlons?  Number three, your Bullet Proof Knee program is designed for people with an IT band injury, would this be beneficial for people with other types of knee injuries?

Ben:                A lot of issues going on there with the knee.  First of all, many folks do triathlons and marathons, post ACL reconstruction and post knee surgery, that’s not an issue at all.  A lot of folks do it.  Post knee total replacements.  So as long as you have recovered properly from surgery, attended to the scar tissue that’s going to be laid down after the surgery, rebuilt the strength of your quadriceps, attended to the tight hamstrings that tend to take place when you’re sitting around rehabilitating from the surgery, and kind of re-strengthen your leg, rebuilt those muscles.  Then it’s not a big deal at all to jump back into triathlons or marathons.  And really a lot of times I find one of the things that can lead to bad knees in the first place if it’s not just an acute injury where your tripping over something or something of that nature getting hit playing a game of football.  One of the things that are really the prime contributor to the bad knees is weak quads and tight hamstrings.  I’ve talked about this before in the show.  It sounds simple and stupid.  But I had to stop running for almost nine months a few years ago because I developed weak quadriceps and tight hamstrings because I wasn’t attending to my strength training and my stretching.  So I would really recommend that you stay on top of those things whether you have bad knees and you want to make sure that they don’t get any worse or that they get better.  Or whether you don’t have bad knees and you want to prevent it from happening in the first place.  I know for me I thought I was bullet proof and it turned out that I wasn’t.  And I had to go into a very intensive quad strengthening and hamstring stretching program, lots of yoga combined with a lot of straight leg extensions, leg extensions, and squats.  Tons of different exercise for the quadriceps to really get myself back into healthy knee shape.  In terms of supplements, I got to be honest with you, there’s no supplement that’s going to fix bad knees compared to changing up your movement pattern in addressing muscle imbalances and strength issues.  Now, a glucosamine chondroitin supplement, something like Capraflex, which I’ve recommended before in the show, that has a mix of anti-inflammatory enzymes and herbs along with glucosamine and chondroitin.  I’ve found that many people who have joint pain have it helped quite a bit when they take something like Capraflex.  But again you don’t want to use a supplement as a band aid to cover up a deeper issue.  So I would look into to something like Capraflex.  But I would emphasize that it’s going to be even more important for you to attend to muscular imbalances, strength and flexibility issues.  And then you ask me about my Bulletproof Knee.  And the Bulletproof Knee program which you can check out at BulletproofKnee.com, that really was written specifically to fix and eliminate IT band friction syndrome in cyclists, runners, or athletes who have pain on the outside of their knee.  It is not designed for anything else.  So if you’ve got pain on the inside of your knee or the front of your knee or the deep back of your knee, it’s likely that it’s not IT band friction syndrome.  And I don’t recommend that you buy my program.  I’ve had people get my program not read through what I write about the program over there at BulletproofKnee.com and they end up writing me and ask me if they bought the wrong thing.  And I always just give them a refund because it’s not designed for anything except IT band friction syndrome issues.  The whole program arose from me actually injuring my IT band getting ready for a race having about three months to rehab my program to prepare for the Ironman World Championships down in Clearwater.  I fixed my knee and I think I did a 4:11 down there at that Half Ironman after fixing my knee.  And basically I just logged everything I did.  I wrote down everything I did, every tool I used, every supplement I used, every tweak and fix and trick that I did to fix my IT bands as fast as possible.  And I just put together a bunch of online modules to walk people through it.  So it’s beneficial for IT band friction syndrome.  But really that’s what it’s designed for.  Alright on a related note, I had a call in comment from a listener and so I wanted to play that before we move on to the interview with Phil Maffetone.  So let’s jump into that and then we’ll move forward into todays featured topic.

Luke:              Hey Ben, Luke from Louisville, Kentucky.  Just want to give you a quick testimonial as part of the Triathlon Dominator program back in December gearing up for Ironman Louisville which was this past weekend.  I needed a program I could do without having to workout fourteen to sixteen hours a week.  The program is going great.  I followed all your workouts.  I followed the nutrition advice.  Everything was going well until week thirty.  I had IT band issue.  I took a couple weeks off and it still wasn’t going away.  I followed your Bulletproof Knee program with four weeks to go ‘til Ironman.  Just help me be able to do part of the run.  And long story short, I did the full Ironman this past weekend.  I was able to run a full marathon at an overall time of twelve hours and eight minutes.  I couldn’t be happier with the results.  Triathlon Dominator program works.  Bulletproof Knee works.  Everything works.  So anyone that’s concerned that the program doesn’t train you well enough I’m here to tell you that it does.  So thanks for the program, Ben.  Thanks for the podcasts.  Keep up the good work.

Feature topic:

Ben:                Hey, folks, it’s Ben Greenfield here.  And I’ve got Dr. Phil Maffetone on the call.  Now, you may actually recall that Phil Maffetone guest back in podcast Episode #135 in which we talked about a lot of different aspects of training.  As well as Dr. Maffetone’s many books including Complementary Sports Medicine, the Maffetone Method which you may have heard of, Training For Endurance, book In Fitness And In Health.  And he’s very well respected especially in the endurance sports industry as being a doctor who really has a lot of ground breaking ideas when it comes to things like training and recovery.  He also has a fantastic website.  And what’s the URL of your website, Dr.  Maffetone?

Dr. Maffetone:  It’s philmaffetone.com

Ben:                PhilMaffetone.com and I’ll put a link to that in the show notes.  Today we’re going to talk about recovery because it’s something that Dr. Maffetone knows a lot about.  And there are many aspects of recovery that really aren’t addressed much in the main stream literature.  Especially when it comes to athletes and people who are exercising a lot like a lot of the listeners to this show do.  So Dr. Maffetone, thank you for coming in the call and let’s jump right in with recovery.  When you’re looking at recovery, if you had an athlete that came to you and you kind of wanted to set up everything perfectly for them from a recovery standpoint, what are some of the principles that you would work from when it comes to recovery?  And what are some of the tools that you’d use?

Dr. Maffetone:  Ben, it’s great to be with you again.  The first thing I would do and in the beginning of my career in the ‘70s, I realized quickly that training an athlete involved a lot of education.  And if the athlete understood certain concepts, they didn’t have to understand the physiology behind it or the philosophy or experiences.  But I think the understanding of some of the basic aspects of training that was a big focus for me.  And in explaining some of these things and some of them are complicated when we get to things like recovery and how the nervous system works and so forth.  It has a simple explanation.  And I developed a simple formula so that I could convey the importance of training.  And it’s my training formula.  And it’s that training equals your workouts plus your recovery.  And if athletes understood that it just puts everything in perspective.  They want the best training that they can get.  And if they want the best training then they have to balance their workout and their recovery.  And it’s a reflection of how the body functions.  It’s the reflection of the brain and the nervous system and the different components of the nervous system.  And if we workout too much or if we recover too little or as many athletes sometimes do a combination of both then training suffers.

Ben:                Okay.  So when an athlete is putting together a program in terms of structuring it properly for training and recovery, what are some of the things they should be thinking about?

Dr. Maffetone: Well Ben, once you have this idea, this training equation and I used to recommend that athletes write this on a big piece of paper.  And they have to put it up on their refrigerator or tape it on the wall on their bedroom or somewhere where they could see it like a mantra that reminds them that they need to maintain this balance in their routine.  And it’s not just the training equals workout plus recovery.  There are aspects besides running, biking, or swimming or whatever the athlete is doing.  It’s their whole life.  If you work a forty-hour job and you’re trying to get your training into that, you still have to recover.  And because you’re working forty-hours, your recovery needs are going to be higher than an athlete who may not have to work forty-hours.  Or if you’re working a lot of overtime, you’re going to have to recover even more than normal.  So the big question is what tools can we use to monitor our training.  What tools can we use to monitor our workout?  And then most especially, what can we do to monitor our recovery and really assure that we are recovering.  And many people who have been in endurance sports, and maybe it’s still popular today, I don’t know, but the popular thing way back when was monitoring your morning heart rate.  People would say check your morning heart rate and it should be relatively low.  And as you train it should get lower.  And if you’re starting to over train or if you’re training too much in a few days of interval training for example and your morning heart rate is too high or if you have a cold coming on, the morning heart rate will elevate.  Well that’s a good idea. That’s very simplistic.  The idea’s right.  But it could be misleading because there are other things that can affect that morning heart rate.  For example, chronic over training will eventually lower the resting heart rate.  And so it can be misleading and it’s very simple.  And with the advent of heart monitors especially in the early ‘80s, training with the heart monitor enabled athletes to monitor their training.  They can monitor their workout part of the equation.  And then the recovery part can be more accurately evaluated by wearing a heart monitor.  It’s amazing how easy it is to miscalculate your heart rate by just sitting there and feeling your pulse and counting.  If you’re off by one beat it can be of significant error.  So wearing a heart monitor makes evaluation, makes that heart monitor tool a lot more accurate in the recovery.  So morning heart rate is the traditional one.  But there are two things that I’ve learned to use through the years.  The first which I began using many years ago is the MAF test or the Maximum Aerobic Function test.  And we talked about that in our last interview.  And people can go back and look at that for more detail.  Or I have articles on the website about it.  But essentially, the MAF test measures your running pace for example and this can be done on a bike or a ergometer or anywhere else.  But it measures your running pace against a specific sub max heart rate.  So if you can run let’s say your sub max heart rate that you train with is one hundred forty, if you can run in a nine-minute pace at a one hundred forty heart rate, that’s essentially your MAF test.  And I like to have people do it on a track because it’s a more accurate test.  And I like to have people do three miles or maybe even five miles if they’re used to doing that kind of distance.  And then the first mile split is an important number.  And then the differences between mile one and two, and two and three, and the difference between the first mile and the fifth mile are all important.  And every month if you do your MAF tests, you now have a good indicator not only about whether you’re training is progressing but a bad recovery.  It’s because if you are not recovering you will not see increases in pace at the same heart rate.  So that was a very important thing.  And then even back then as a student I was aware of heart rate variability.  And heart rate variability is the time between heart beats.  And that’s a very powerful tool as well that can give you an idea of whether you’re recovering.  And we can talk about that specifically.  But I don’t know if you want to get more into the nervous system and the brain and how we actually recover in the process.

Ben:                Yeah.  I think that would be helpful because when you talk about how the resting heart rate in the morning might be lower when you’re over trained.  Or your heart rate might higher for any given speed during something like an aerobic test.  I think that it would be interesting to hear exactly why and what happens with the nervous system when you are training too much or not recovered properly.

Dr. Maffetone:  Right.  You know, our muscles don’t work on their own.  They work because the brain tells them to.  When we think about our swim stroke or our bike posture we think that thought and the brain sends messages from a certain area in the brain the motor cortex.  And those impulses, those messages go down through the spinal cord and to the muscles and the muscles contract and relax.  And that on going activity is what gives us our gait and so forth.  The nervous system has two important components.  One is a voluntary component which is the example I just gave you.  We think about our hand going into the water during our swimming workout and how that arm is going to flex and come down and then extend and then come back out of the water.  And that’s the voluntary part of the nervous system.  We also have what in the past has been called the automatic or the autonomic part of the nervous system.  It is where we don’t have to consciously think about what it controls.  It controls heart rate, blood pressure, digestion.  When we eat a meal we don’t have to think well I’ve got to turn on my stomach enzymes now.  That happens automatically.  And that’s the autonomic nervous system.  And the autonomic nervous system is further divided into two components, the sympathetic and the parasympathetic.  And when we look at the training equation, the training equation is really in a simplified view again is really the sympathetic system plus the parasympathetic system.  The sympathetic system is our workout.  When we go for a workout we’re stimulating the sympathetic part of the nervous system to develop muscle contraction, develop the whole movement mechanism of our workout.  And then after our workout the recovery part involves the parasympathetic part of the nervous system.  So training is really the combination of sympathetic stimulation and parasympathetic stimulation.  And I think most athletes assume that it’s the workout, that sympathetic stimulation that gives them the benefit of training.  And it’s really not because when we’re involved in that sympathetic stimulation, when we’re involved in the actual workout, we’re involved in a catabolic mechanism in the body.  The catabolic components of the body are the parts that tear the body down.  We literally wear the body down from training.  That’s what training is.  That workout is going a little beyond your normal state.  If you could normally run two miles and you’ve gone five miles, you’re going beyond your normal abilities.  And you tear your body down as a result.  And that’s the workout part of the equation.  After your workout, you’re going to the recovery part.  And that’s the parasympathetic part.  And that’s the part where you’re supposed to be relaxed.  And it’s during that part, during that parasympathetic part, that recovery part where the anabolic aspect of metabolism takes place.  And that’s the rebuilding of your muscles and other components.  And that’s really where the benefits of training take place.  What we need is the balance of the two.  And in physiology, they often introduce this topic by saying the sympathetic part of the nervous system is the gas pedal.  We step on it and we go.  And the parasympathetic part is the break.  It slows you down.  It stops you.  And again the balance of that is what’s really important.  And if we do too much of a workout and too little of a recovery or a combination of both like I said before, we no longer train well and we actually over train.

Ben:                So with the parasympathetic and sympathetic nervous system, if you’re tracking your morning heart rate or you’re doing the aerobic test and you’re finding that your morning heart rate is dropping very low, is that going to indicate something different going on with the nervous system in over training compared to if say the morning heart rate is too high?

Dr. Maffetone:  Well, if we look at what the sympathetic and parasympathetic parts of the nervous system do to the heart rate, then it becomes easier to evaluate the sympathetic nervous system is our fight flight mechanism.  It gives us strength.  It gives us power.  It gives us the ability to do more.  And as a result, it raises the heart rate.  It also raises the blood pressure.  If the heart rate gets too high, it triggers the production of stress hormones and so on and so forth.  So if our sympathetic system is turned on too much because of training or because of combinations of training stress and other stresses in your life, then the morning heart rate is going to be higher.  And if you take that a step further and your morning heart rate is higher well quite possibly your training heart rate is also going to be higher.  And if you’re using an MAF test, then training heart rate that’s higher is going to slow you down because if you’re training at a specific heart rate then you’re keeping the heart rate consistent.  And as a result you’re going to have to slow down to maintain that.  Conversely if you say well I run an eight-minute pace every day, in that instance the eight-minute pace is going to give you a much higher heart rate if your sympathetic system is turned on too much.

Ben:                So if you’re going out on a run and you’re trying to stay below a certain heart rate during your running because your coach or your training plan was having you do that, then if your sympathetic nervous system is over stimulated because you’ve been over training then essentially you have a very hard time staying below the heart rate that you’re supposed to stay below is what you’re saying.

Dr. Maffetone:  Exactly.  And that’s often what people complain of.  And many times when I would first see an athlete, whether a professional athlete who can easily run at a seven-minute or a six-minute pace or a beginner or someone in between, they often complain that well I’m at this heart rate I’m running too slow.  I feel like I’m not doing anything.  And that’s because it’s indicating that there’s too much sympathetic and not enough parasympathetic, not enough balance in the training equation.

Ben:                Okay.

Dr. Maffetone: And a lot of times, it’s really all about balance and the focus in sports.  And part of it is because of the no pain, no gain philosophy that has crept in since the ‘60s.  The focus is always on the workout.  And the recovery is often kind of not discussed or not thought about.  Or even though athletes say I’m resting as much as I can, they’re often not.  Rest is what recovery is all about.  And if you don’t rest enough, you don’t recover.  And rest also includes sleeping, the primary component of recovery.  And so a lot of times you’ll have people again it’s that no pain, no gain, that’s sort of macho attitude.  You know I could get by on four hours of sleep a day.  I’m strong and powerful.  Well, that’s not true.  You might think you can get by on four hours of sleep.  And you can drink enough coffee to do it.  And you can rev up your sympathetic nervous system which people can do often subconsciously.  And they can get by for a long time seemingly functioning well but with a really sky high sympathetic nervous system getting through their work day on four hours of sleep.  But it diminishes recovery and the training equation is significantly out of balance.

Ben:                So that’s what would cause your heart rate to be too high.  For example like in the morning or when you’re going out and doing your aerobic tests.  What about the opposite?  What would cause the heart rate to be too low?

Dr. Maffetone:  Well, in normal training as you develop your aerobic system and as you improve the components of that whole system which include the heart that now can beat stronger and stronger.  The blood vessels that open up as you train more.  It’s amazing that in an untrained individual, they’ve shown that up to seventy percent of the blood vessels could be shut down because their not needed.  And so as someone trains and trains properly and develops the aerobic system, many of those blood vessels open up.  And so the heart rate normally doesn’t have to beat as often because you’re more efficient from a circulatory stand point.  And so you’ll see the typical pattern of lower and resting heart rate that would be normal.  But in a person who has an imbalanced training equation where their workouts are either too much volume or too much intensity or both.  And their recovery is not good.  They go into an over training syndrome.  And in the over training syndrome, I divide that into three phases.  But in the fist two phases, what happens is your sympathetic nervous system works much more than your parasympathetic.  Even when you’re lying down and resting and quite possibly even when you’re sleeping.  And certainly a lot of people who are into the over training syndrome don’t sleep as well.  It’s one of the signs.  They wake up in the middle of the night.  It’s one of the signs of over training.  But the autonomic nervous system is out of balance.  There’s too much sympathetic and not enough parasympathetic.  And as a result, you start seeing the morning heart rate elevate.  And you start seeing your training heart rate go up.  And if you’re monitoring pace, you start seeing your pace go down.  And these are all big red flags that should warn you that you’re headed for trouble.  If you don’t heed those warnings, then the over training syndrome becomes chronic.  And what happens is the sympathetic nervous system literally starts to burn out.  And you cannot any longer generate enough sympathetic activity in that system.  And as a result the parasympathetic system becomes dominant.  And now you’re in pretty bad shape at this point because your sympathetics can’t generate that energy that fight/flight mechanism.  You usually are not performing very well.  Many pro athletes at this stage of over training are going from doctor to doctor wondering what diagnosis can I get and what treatment can I get for this.  But it’s a metabolic problem.  And it’s a neurological problem.  And eventually the parasympathetic becomes dominant.  The sympathetic is not activated enough and the heart rate literally starts to go down.  And the morning heart rate typically is what goes down.  The training heart rate doesn’t go down.  But the morning heart rate lowering often gives the athlete the erroneous information that they’re training well.  And many athletes say this to me in this chronic over training state.  They say well I saw my morning heart rate get lower and lower suddenly and I thought I must be on the right track.  And of course they’re not.  They’re in an over training state because their workout was too much either too much volume or too much intensity.  And their recovery was poor.

Ben:                Now when you’re training an athlete, a lot of times kind of want to get them close to being not necessarily over trained but over reached a little bit.  Do you ever use heart rate as a sign that you’ve kind of gotten an athlete pushed right to the edge and now is the time to back off and maybe have a recovery block or recovery week before starting back into training?  I mean, can there be some value to getting into the point where maybe the sympathetic nervous system is just a little bit over worked and then backing off before you get to the point where it becomes exhausted?

Dr. Maffetone:  Exactly.  And there is a point.  And that’s really the goal of training.  It’s to get into that over reaching state without going over the edge where you enter the first stage of over training.  And how that’s done is certainly not something I could say well you do this and that.  It’s very different with each individual.  I do it by monitoring the athlete carefully.  How they feel or are they getting any physical discomfort.  Certainly an injury would indicate that they’re going over barring a crash on their bike or something.  You know the parasympathetic nervous system turns on the immune system.  It turns on our intestinal system.  So if someone starts developing gut problems or if someone has an immune problem, if they’re starting to get sick, if they get a cold and it lasts a week that should tell you that parasympathetic is having a hard time keeping up if they’re getting gut symptoms.  As mild as they may be if they didn’t have them before and they’re starting to get mild indigestion and more gas or more whatever, that should tell you that the parasympathetic system may not be functioning and may not be keeping up.  And therefore the balance is off.  There are many things like that that you can look at.  But today, the two most effective ways are the MAF tests and the heart rate variability.  And the MAF test, you think of doing that test every month.  But in reality every workout you do is sort of an MAF test if you’re on a course that you’re familiar with.  So if you go out and go for your morning run and it’s five miles and you run the same course everyday or almost everyday and you’re wearing your heart monitor, then you know from this point to that point or you know that the whole workout takes a certain amount of time.  And if all of a sudden you’re finding that in order to maintain whatever your training heart rate is that your workout is taking longer or your point to point distance is longer or you have a mile split in there somewhere.  And that’s now twenty seconds slower than it was a week or two ago.  Then that’s a huge red flag.  And if that happens two days or three days in a row, that’s an indication that you need to just stop everything and reassess what’s going on.  Find out what’s interfering with the nervous system and what’s causing an imbalance in that training equation and correct it.  And that might require the help of someone, a coach or a health care professional.  But most people can figure that out if they’re honest can figure that out for themselves.  Heart rate variability, that beat to beat measurement is very important.  In heart rate variability there should be a variation from one beat to the next.  And there are various reasons for that.  Just breathing in and breathing out causes the heart rate to increase slightly and decrease slightly.  So at one time we had to do an EKG and measure that.  And today there’s the technology just like the evolution of heart monitors in the early ‘80s.  Before that we had to use these huge, they look like crossing guard uniforms, these big straps that would go around the chest and then over the shoulder and around.  And it had a big cellphone size gadget in the middle.  And you’d have to look at it to see what the heart rate was.  And then the evolution of wireless monitors came about in the early ‘80s.  And that really made heart monitor training easy for the masses.  Likewise in that last few years, the heart rate variability technology has evolved.  And now there’s an application for an iPhone or an iPad where you can use your heart monitor to feed information into the technology and it gives you your heart rate variability quite accurately at least the better units.  And so every morning, you can take one minute out of your day and evaluate your heart rate.  You get a heart rate variability indication and it will tell you whether today is a good day to rest or today is a good day to take it easy.  Or today is a good day to train the same way you’ve been training whether it’s hard or easy depending on the stage you’re at.

Ben:                And your phone would just kind of spit that out to you?

Dr. Maffetone:  Yeah.  And the one I’m most familiar with is the ithlete.  And that gives you pictures.  And it gives you graphs.  And it will graph out your heart rate variability from day to day and give you a monthly chart.  And that’s what I used to have athletes do.  When I was training people, I would have them plot out their MAF test every three or four weeks.  And they give me that information on a regular basis.  So we would both chart out progress.  And quite often an athlete would come in that I would see every few months and I would look at their graphs.  And I would say this is not looking good.  We need to reassess things. Or you’re getting faster and you’re still recovering.  And you’re looking great and it’s time to do some anaerobic training or whatever.  Today, athletes have this simple technology.  It’s relatively inexpensive where they can check themselves everyday.  You know if you’re a serious athlete there’s no reason not to do this.

Ben:                Now let’s say that you’re using heart rate variability training or you’re using your math method of your aerobic testing to monitor any signs or symptoms that you may be over training.  And you find that you are over trained.  Or if you are someone who is listening in who hasn’t been doing any of that monitoring and they’re kind of afraid that they may be pretty over reached or over trained.  What type of methods would you use with an athlete to kind of dig them out of that hole?

Dr. Maffetone:  Well there are obviously training relationships.  If they’ve gotten into that hole, more than likely they got there because their training equation was out of balance.  So the first thing that I would do is look at the training equation.  I would look at the workouts.  What level of training are they doing, what heart rates were they attaining during their workouts, are they warming up with an easy low heart rate and then cooling down by bringing the heart rate down.  And then are they recovering, are they taking the time to get enough rest, are they sleeping eight hours.  Adults need seven to eight hours minimum, and adolescents need a lot more.  But are they getting that eight hours of sleep that’s uninterrupted.  If they’re waking up twice a night for whatever reason, that’s not uninterrupted sleep.  And so that whole training equation needs to be assessed.  But there are also dietary factors.  There are also other lifestyle factors.  Such as what do you do for the rest of the time that you’re not training, do you have a house that you’re taking care of, do you have kids, do you have a full time job.  And all these things really are part of an athlete’s life.  And they can’t be ignored.  And so if you have a house and kids and a full time job and you’re commuting, you can either reduce all that which is not practical for most people.  Or you can reduce your workout schedule because you can’t do it all.  So that’s the first thing.  From a dietary stand point, there are many things that are involved.  If you have an autonomic imbalance, if you’re training equation is out of balance then all kinds of things happen.  It’s really an endless list. You don’t produce as much EPO for example.  EPO being the bone marrow substance that helps you produce more red blood cells.  And autonomic imbalance as I mentioned earlier reduces immune function.  So your immune system is impaired and you start getting anything from asthma symptoms, allergy symptoms, more colds and flu or a cold or flu that lasts a lot longer than it should and pain.  Pain is something that increases significantly when there’s that autonomic imbalance, that training equation imbalance, depression and burnout which is another name for over training and so on and so forth.  So there are many things that will give an athlete clues that things are not happening.  From a dietary stand point, refined carbohydrates and sugar will impair the autonomic nervous system.  Certainly we know it impairs fat burning.  And if you are an endurance athlete, that should be enough reason to not consume refined flour and sugar.  And that doesn’t include when you’re in the middle of a race but in your day to day diet.  There was a recent study.  I think it was last year that showed that a Mediterranean type of diet improved autonomic balance which was not anything new.  But it was specifically done showing that the Mediterranean type diet improves autonomic function.  Things like fish oil and fresh fish that’s not over cooked which has EPA in it can help in function.  Green leafy vegetables specifically are important for the autonomic nervous system.  It’s mostly because of the different forms of folate.  The natural forms of folate, synthetic folic acid which is usually what people get when they get supplements will not do that, and of course insulin.  You increase insulin and it causes a sympathetic reaction.  And you increase insulin because you consume a high glycemic meal or product like refined carbohydrates and sugar once again.  So there are many aspects to this.  And it’s not just about getting up early and going to your swim workout and squeezing your training time into the week and then racing whenever.  There’s a big picture that needs to be looked at and needs to be balanced.  And there are just too many athletes that are willing to sacrifice their health for more training and more fitness.  And it has always been one of my mottos that people or athletes if I’m going to work with them, I don’t want to train them by sacrificing their health.  It’s interesting what happens when the sympathetic nervous system starts to increase relative to the parasympathetic, we get this autonomic imbalance.   And we get a training imbalance.  One of the signs is that people may have a great race.  It’s a clue that if you have a great race out of the blue and then after that you get injured or after that you’re just not feeling good.  You’re fatigued.  You don’t have the same race the next time.  That’s a classic first and second stage of over training.  And it’s because the sympathetics are revved up.  And we’ve all heard stories of a mother lifting up a car because her child is caught underneath it or whatever.  These incredible feats of strength that’s an extreme example of what the sympathetic nervous system can do.  Its fight/flight and you want to fight.  And your muscle strength is incredible.  And that can give people a PR.  It can give people a great race.  And if you look back at some of the pro athletes you often see or anybody actually look at a history, you’ll often see a build up and then a great race maybe two if they’re close together and then a crash.  And then they recover eventually and build up again.  That pattern is very dangerous.

Ben:                Interesting.  Well this has been incredibly informative.  Are there any other aspects that you’d like to mention that you find important when it comes to recovery Dr. Maffetone?

Dr. Maffetone:  The balanced training equation is really the key.  And when we talk about using a heart monitor or when we talk about heart rate variability, we’re talking about biofeedback.  The human body has a natural biofeedback mechanism built in to it.  It’s hard wired into our system.  We have evolved successfully over tens of thousands and hundreds of thousands of years because of this biofeedback mechanism.  We get information from the environment.  It’s fed into our brain from our nervous system.  We feel cold temperature.  So we adapt by developing clothing.  We have this biofeedback mechanism that’s very effective.  And if people can rely on that, they will maintain a balanced training equation and reach athletic potential a lot more easily, a lot quicker and without injury.

Ben:                Got you, alright.  Well folks, I will try or I will put a link to Dr. Maffetone’s website in the show notes as well as to the heart rate variability monitoring that we talked about.  And if you have questions, comments, or feedback about the things that you heard, if you’re a little bit confused about anything, just leave a comment on the show notes for this episode.  And this will be Episode #162 at BenGreenfieldFitness.com.  And we’ll address any questions that you may have.  Dr. Maffetone, thank you for coming in the call today.

Dr. Maffetone:  Thank you, Ben.

Ben:                Well folks, if you enjoyed that interview with Phil Maffetone, you can definitely go to BenGreenfieldFitness.com and do a search for Maffetone and check out some of the other stuff that we’ve done with him on the site.  If you have questions or feedback or comments about that interview or anything else you heard today, then leave it as a comment on the show notes for today’s episode, Episode #162 again over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com.  And then one thing that I forgot to mention in the special announcements is that the website EndurancePlanet.com for you endurance athletes and listeners out there is actually now been converted into a website that allows you to contribute your race reports, your crazy workout stories, any tales of endurance that you have.  So each week the best posts that are contributed are going to be chosen and featured on the main site.  And you’ll also be put into a drawing for some pretty cool prizes from EndurancePlanet.com.  So to become a contributor, you just go to EndurancePlanet.com and on the right side there you can sign up to be an author on the right side of the page.  And you can start contributing articles, photos, videos and everything else.  So that’s over at EndurancePlanet.com.  And the only other thing that I wanted to remind you about was our twitter hash tag contest.  Remember it’s weird stuff seen at gym is the hashtag.  You tweet that to @bengreenfield.  And I will put instructions to that in the show notes to this episode as well.  And I will read your craziest tweets on next week’s podcast.  So I’m headed down to Las Vegas tomorrow to go race in the Half Ironman World Championships.  Maybe I’ll see some of you listeners down there.  But either way, until next week, have a healthy week and this is Ben Greenfield signing out from 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

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5 thoughts on “Episode #162 – Full Transcript

  1. wipergreaser says:

    I have been training in cross country with a new team for about 2 months now, and I have trained with a lot less rest days. How long does it usuallt take to get into parasympathetic fatigue and also low long until my heart rate returns to normal again. I cant take much time off because I have a race in 5 days and a hard workout schedualed tomorrow.

    1. As soon as the race is over, take 3-5 days "off" and see what happens. You're not likely to do TOO much damage between now and then. But don't forget to taper/recover – your race is only a few days away!

      1. wipergreaser says:

        I check my heart rate when I was lying down in my bed and it was 30. I am a high school athlete who is an good/average runner who does 5k's. During the lest 2-3 weeks I have felt weak and fatigued during my runs. Is it possible that I have parasympthetic fatigue and who could I go to to figue out it is that or maby i could be somthing else? Like a thyriod problem? Thanks soo much your answers to my questions are much appreciated and I love the great information on this website, I have recommended to most my cc team!

  2. wipergreaser says:

    My resting heart rate is extremely low. It is in the mid 30's all day long, unless i am training. During training my heart rate get to around 160 and in the last couple of weeks i have felt more fatigued during my workouts. Does this sound like the parasympathetic system is taking over or do this just mean that I am in really good shape?

    1. Mine has been as low as 29. But I feel great energy during my workouts. Low resting heart rate + workout fatigue can indeed indicate parasympathetic fatigue. Take 3-5 days of easy rest and see what happens…

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