Introduction: In this podcast episode: A green triathlon, vitamin D and sports performance and how to convert fast twitch muscle to slow twitch muscle.
Ben: Hey podcast listeners, this is Ben Greenfield. Welcome back to the www.bengreenfieldfitness.com podcast. I have an interesting interview to bring to you today with the founder of a particular triathlon event that actually is doing more for the planet than just sending Styrofoam cups and plastic water bottles and litter all over the highways. It’s actually really interesting how this particular individual is actually putting together a triathlon event that saves the planet. I know there are a lot of triathletes that listen to this show. So this might be interesting for you and if you’re into marathoning, cycling – anything of that nature that requires an event that happens on the planet Earth, you may be interested in listening in. Before we move on to this week’s special announcements let me just say that after the conversation with Dr. Cirkis on transdermal magnesium therapy last week I have actually started using that in my own protocol for soreness and for sports performance. I am mixing about ½ to 1 cup of 100% pure magnesium flakes with an aluminum free baking soda that I got at the grocery store just in a 1:1 ratio so about ½ to 1 cup of baking soda with ½ to 1 cup of magnesium flakes, putting that in a bath that’s not super hot. If it’s too hot it will interfere with absorption, about 103 degrees, 106 degrees max. So about the level it would be in a hot tub and soaking in that for about 15 minutes. Let me tell you right now that my body feels simply amazing. Those of you who work out, you probably know this feeling of maybe going out, maybe having a run, having stale legs or sore legs or maybe having a little bit of sore joints when you first get out of bed in the morning. I feel like I’m about 2 years old in terms of my joints and my muscles. It’s pretty amazing so I was very surprised at the inexpensiveness and the effectiveness of this type of therapy that we talked about. I’ve been doing quite a bit more research on the magnesium therapy. I’ve also started spraying a little bit of this 100% absorbable magnesium oil on my forearms prior to a workout and it’s probably the closest thing you can get to steroids. Although it can assist with testosterone activation and strength, it’s not a steroid hormone. It’s completely legal. It’s just a mineral and literally you spray it on your forearms or rub it in before your workout. You can combine that with taking these baths. Just a couple of times a week, whatever, when you’re talking on your phone. I don’t recommend you do it while you’re curling your hair or using a hair dryer but if you are simply sore and you’re competing in sports or you’re exercising on a frequent basis, I really recommend that you work this in. I’m going to put a link in the Shownotes exactly where I got my magnesium flakes, exactly where I got my magnesium oil and I would recommend that you get it. I think the flakes cost me something like – it was somewhere around 45 or 50 bucks for about enough to last me a month. That’s less than a massage and I feel awesome. So check those out and let’s go ahead and move into this week’s special announcements.
Nick asks: Hi Ben, this is Nick in San Francisco. My question has to do with endurance training and racing for individuals with large amounts of muscle mass and a high metabolism of blood sugars. I recently had my metabolism tested and learned that I burn through stored blood sugar much faster than the normal endurance athlete. I also tend to race at a relatively high weight even though my body fat percentage is low and I do very little in the way of strength training. Are there any special training principles or nutritional protocols that will allow an individual such as myself to delay fatigue in an attempt to race better at longer distances such as Ironman?
Ben: Nick, great question. Ok, first of all this test that you did that showed how quickly you were actually using blood sugars – I’m guessing that was probably a substrate utilization test. it’s also known as a metabolic rate test. It’s basically just a way to see how much fat, how much carbohydrate you’re using at rest. Based on your description you probably had a high what’s called RQ or respiratory quotient which means that you’re burning more carbohydrate at rest than the average individual. Theoretically because it does burn a lot of carbohydrate somebody with a high amount of fast twitch muscle may actually as you have indicated be burning a little bit more carbohydrate. Essentially what your question boils down to is how can you convert fast twitch muscle to slow twitch muscle because slow twitch muscle is your endurance muscle and fast twitch muscle is your heavier and denser, more powerful strength based muscle. So, let’s talk a little bit about slow twitch muscle and fast twitch muscle and what each one contributes. So first of all, you can actually test the exact ratio of slow twitch muscle and fast twitch muscle in your body by getting what’s called a muscle biopsy. It’s not a real pleasant test. They basically push a needle down into your muscle and the muscle has kind of almost like a guillotine mechanism in it and it slices off about a rice size – about a grain of rice size piece of tissue and then that’s taken out and that’s chemically analyzed. They do a PH stain on it. And even though there’s a lot of different variations of the type of muscle fibers in your body, they’re basically slow twitch or also known as type 1 muscle fibers or fast twitch type 2 muscle fibers. Another term for the slow twitch is red fibers and the fast twitch are known as white fibers. The reason the slow twitch are known as red fibers is because they have a lot of mitochondria in them and we talked a whole bunch about mitochondria last week. If you want the lowdown on mitochondria, listen to podcast episode number 45. But basically slow twitch muscle twitches at about 10 to 30 twitches per second and fast twitch muscle, you get about 30 to 70 twitches per second. So fast twitch muscle creates a lot more work in a lot shorter period of time. Now there has been one study done that looked at the long term effects of endurance training on muscle fiber adaptation. What the study found was that when they took skeletal muscle from the front of the thigh in people who had about 10 years of endurance training under their belts and compared it with people who were basically untrained – control group – they found that the training group had about 70% slow twitch muscle fiber. And the group that wasn’t doing the aerobic training over those 10 years had about 37% of slow twitch muscle fibers. And then of course conversely the training group had a very low amount of fast twitch muscle fiber – about 25, 30% and the other group had about 50to 60% of fast twitch muscle fiber. So the researchers in this study concluded that the endurance training promotes that transition from fast twitch to slow twitch muscle fibers and you actually lose that fast twitch muscle fiber as you do so. This is the same reason that for example when you go out and you train for a marathon or a 10K or a triathlon, you may lose your vertical jumping ability. You may lose your bench pressing ability. You may lose a little bit of that power and that strength and that’s why we always want to include just a little bit of fast twitch muscle type of work when we are training for an endurance sport so we retain some of our strength. But when we talk about somebody like Nick who has this high amount of fast twitch muscle, very dense kind of strong muscle tissue, he would be type of athlete that if I were writing out a coaching program for him, we wouldn’t do as many intervals, as much weight lifting, as much power, as much strength as somebody who tends to have a lot less fast twitch muscle. I don’t send everybody out to get a muscle biopsy. You just look at body type. You can usually tell. People typically fall into one of three different body types. The real skinny, high amount of slow twitch muscle. They’re kind of thick, muscular, athletic type, high amount of fast twitch muscle or else they’re fat and that also most of the time is a little bit higher in the fast twitch muscle. So one of the ways that you can actually train your fast twitch muscle to convert to slow twitch muscle is by actually performing aerobic exercise at your long slow distance pace meaning that you’re really trying not to tap into to much carbohydrate utilization. How do you know when you’re using carbohydrate? Because when you break down carbohydrate, it produces hydrogen ions and those hydrogen ions have to get breathed – they don’t get breathed out of the body – but basically they get converted into a form of CO2 and so when you start to breathe hard, when you start to breathe off CO2, that’s an indication – that type of ventilation is an indication that you’re actually using your carbohydrates, that you’re starting to use more fast twitch muscle. So if you’re trying to convert fast twitch muscle to slow twitch muscle, you would actually want to stay away from that range where you are breathing hard and I’m not saying this is the way I believe you should train for maximum fitness, but if you’re just training for maximizing that slow twitch muscle fiber capacity, that’s the way that you could do it. There’s also a theory called the central governor theory, which basically argues that you can alter your brain’s ability to persevere when it comes to endurance sports. In other words you can make those slow twitch muscles get accessed for even longer periods of time if you are able to reset your brain’s ability to withstand long amounts of endurance activity. And the reason for that is that a lot of times, even when somebody thinks that they’ve exercised for as long as they’re physically able to exercise, what they found is that the body can still hold on to about 80 to 90% of its ATP or its energy levels and also hold on to quite a bit of its carbohydrate or its storage glycogen levels after an intense endurance effort and so what researchers who are looking at this central governor theory have been doing is one way to actually get the body to last longer – to not fatigue quite as quickly from a mental standpoint – is to actually precool the body with ice baths, ice vests or ice helmets. This is kind of new research but the whole idea is that you essentially reset your body’s ability to withstand endurance by precooling it. It’s a little more science than we’re going to get into right now but the idea is for example that earlier in the day you would take an ice bath or go swim in a cold river or lake and then go do your longest endurance activity of the week at some point after that precooling has occurred. The interesting thing is that I personally have had some of my best long runs on the same day that I went for a nice cold icy swim in a river or a lake on that same morning. So it is interesting. It may hold some credence that you can actually get your slow twitch muscle to last for a longer period of time, stimulate more of it, get more fast twitch to slow twitch muscle fiber conversion by not only doing long slow endurance sports but also precooling the muscle prior to engaging in those sports. So all we’re trying to do is enhance the slow twitch muscle fiber that’s already there, convert more of it into fast twitch muscle fiber with long distance cooling and then work on that precooling technique. Now understand that fiber reversion occurs after inactivity. Meaning that if I go sit on the couch after I do an Ironman triathlon – I stay on that couch for four weeks, I’m going to have a bunch of fast twitch muscle fiber and I’m probably going to be able to jump higher than I would than if I hadn’t sat on that couch for four weeks. I’m going to be able to run faster because what happens is I get all that slow twitch muscle fiber reverting back into my powerful strong fast twitch type muscle. Obviously that’s not saying that couch potatoes are fitter than people who run 10ks but what it does say is they do have more fast twitch muscle fiber and they would have a little bit more power and strength but unfortunately it would also fatigue very quickly. So let’s wrap this up. In a nutshell, my recommendation to Nick would be to do lots of long slow endurance training several times per week, to not do a lot of weight lifting, not do a lot of power, not do a lot of fast twitch muscle fiber stimulation and from a nutritional standpoint, you know you could try to limit the amount of carbohydrate that you’re consuming just so you don’t have as much capacity to use fast twitch muscle fiber because carbohydrate is its main fuel source. Of course the problem with that is I never like to recommend that people go on a super low carb diet just because they’re a lot of times replacing those slow carbs with proteins that can get hard in the liver, hard in the kidney. So you want to be a little bit careful. But I definitely wouldn’t be taking in a high carbohydrate intake with the type of training that I just recommended for fast twitch to slow twitch muscle fiber conversion. So you could combine some of that endurance training, some of those precooling techniques with a slightly lower carbohydrate intake. So, try some of that out and good luck. Great question.
Now my second question this week was from Listener Chris.
Chris asks: With as much as Dr. Cirkis talked about magnesium and magnesium deficiencies, I was surprised he didn’t mention vitamin D. Are you familiar with any of the recent research on vitamin D and sports performance?
Ben answers: And in Chris’s question, he is referencing the interview with Dr. Cirkis from podcast interview number 45 which was just last week and that is a fantastic question about vitamin D because it has been mentioned on this show before, we did an interview with Dr. Minkoff down in Florida several episodes ago and you can just do a search for Dr. Minkoff over on the website and he talked quite a bit about vitamin D, vitamin D deficiencies and the fact that a high amount of the population is actually deficient in vitamin D. Now the study that Chris is probably referring to is the brand new study that came out in Medicine and Science and Sports and Exercise in their May 2009 issue. And what this study did was they had researchers review all the world’s literature since the 1950s for any evidence that shows that vitamin D could affect physical or athletic performance. And what they found was that there was a consistent trend in exercise and science research that showed that physical and athletic performance is seasonal – that it peaks when vitamin D levels peak, it declines as vitamin D levels decline and it reaches its lower point when vitamin D levels are at their lowest points. They also found quite a bit of research that showed that vitamin producing ultra violet light could improve athletic performance. Now before we talk a little bit about these findings, let’s just review real quick what vitamin D is. It’s basically a steroid hormone. When vitamin D is activated in your body, it’s a steroid hormone. It regulates over 1000 different genes within your body. Unfortunately a lot of research indicate that a lot of people can be deficient in vitamin D, even people in sunny climates like Arizona or California or Florida. People who have darker skin, whose skin produces less vitamin D in response to sunlight, they tend to have higher amounts of deficiencies and the problem is that because vitamin D is a steroid precursor – if you have a vitamin D deficiency, you’re not going to have the proper amount of hormones on board for many of your body’s functions and especially because vitamin D is found in its highest concentrations in the nerve tissue and muscle tissue – especially for athletes, that can be a pretty big problem. Now vitamin D deficiencies have been associated with quite a few chronic diseases like cancer, hypertension, heart disease, even obesity. So if you’re vitamin D deficient, there could be quite a few considerations for you from a health or performance standpoint. Now the research study in Medicine and Science and Sports and Exercise came to the final conclusion that vitamin D could improve athletic performance in vitamin D deficient athletes. Because of the high number of people that are vitamin D deficient and because athletes tend to use more hormones and more vitamins than the average person anyways, it is fair analysis to say that vitamin D should be something an athlete is considering as part of their sports performance protocol. You can go get your vitamin D levels actually tested if you want to. There’s a simple blood test you can do. You can just call your physician, tell him hey I want to go get my vitamin D tested. They can get it done for you. But what I would recommend as an athlete is that you make sure that you’re spending enough time in the sun and while I do recommend that you never let yourself get burned in the sun, I would recommend that you do allow your body fair exposure to sunlight, as much as you can get without burning and then the other thing you can do and it’ll only cost you probably about five or ten bucks for a month’s supply – I’ve seen it as low as $4 – is supplement with a vitamin D supplement. Vitamin D3 is going to be your best bet. It’s also known as cola calciferol but you can supplement with vitamin D. I would recommend that you keep track of how much you’re taking using something called an international unit. How much vitamin D that you actually take is going to depend on your age, your body weight, how much body fat you actually have because vitamin D can be stored in body fat, the latitude of where you’re located in terms of sun exposure, how much skin coloration you have, what season it is, what sun tanning lotion you use. Old people usually need more than young people. Big people need more than little people. Heavier people need more than skinnier people. People in northern climates need more than people in southern climates. Dark people need more than fair skinned people and so there’s quite a few different individual considerations for vitamin D. So, the maximum that the actual FDA says that you should take is about 2000 IU and I would recommend that you actually start at only about 400 units because you can get vitamin D in some other supplements you’re taking like say a fish oil supplement has a vitamin D. So you’re getting it from other sources and then you automatically start taking 2000, you might be reaching toxic levels. You’ll know, you’ll get nauseous, you’ll get diarrhea. A lot of times your body just doesn’t feel quite right when you’re overloading with a fat soluble vitamin because unlike vitamin B, you aren’t going to pee it out. It’s actually going to get stored in your body. So pay attention to the way that your body feels, you shouldn’t feel nauseous or light headed or dizzy or have bowel difficulties. But I would recommend that you start adding in vitamin D at about 400 IU per day. You could gradually bring that up to 2000 but research shows that it can improve sports performance. Spend a little bit of time in the sun, add some vitamin D3 into your protocol and make sure you listen in to the very end of this podcast today because I’m going to share with you about 18 other ways that you can get your body to heal like Wolverine from Xmen. So listen to that. I’ll put it at the end of this post right after our interview with Jeff Henderson, the interview of the Portland Triathlon.
Ben: Hey podcast listeners, this is Ben Greenfield and I have a gentleman who happens to be the race director of a very unique event. And one of the things that I’m always looking at when I try and give you cutting edge health or nutrition or fitness information on this show is, is it healthy for you? But for those of you who listen in to the episode on (salmon) and some of the things that are going on in the fish farming industry, you know it gets a little bit more involved than just thinking about the effect that something has on your body. Sometimes you have to think about the effect it may have on other people, on other life or even on the planet. And that’s what we’re going to talk about today because I know that there are a lot of triathletes out there that listen to this show and I know that a lot of you are even from the Northwest and the guy I have on the other line is from Portland, Jeff Henderson. Jeff, thanks for coming on the show.
Jeff Henderson: Thank you Ben, I appreciate the opportunity to talk to you today.
Ben: Jeff is the race director of the Portland Triathlon. Jeff, why is the Portland Triathlon unique?
Jeff Henderson: Well, the Portland Triathlon really started three years ago and in living in Portland and being an athlete myself, you can’t help but realize the environment around you. You can’t help but notice the clean lakes and rivers and the air that you breathe and so starting the triathlon in Portland – it seemed appropriate to honor the city’s efforts and being an environmentally responsible city and trying to (audio cut). What we tried to do from the very beginning is hold a race that aligns with people’s views and people would be pleased to compete at because it held the same values that they do in their homes. You made an interesting point there, Ben. People are taking care of their bodies, they’re eating right, they’re working out and when you go to an event, a race that you want to participate in, you want that race to do the same thing in the environment.
Ben: Yeah, and that’s one of my pet peeves – is when I’m rolling around town the day after I’ve gone and done a triathlon or a marathon or a 5k or something of that nature and there’s gel packs lying all over the place, there’s cups here and there, you see plastic bottles in ditches. You see people walking around with sometimes five or six different plastic bags. What have you guys done to try and minimize some of the effects of that?
Jeff Henderson: Well, it really is embarrassing. You hit the nail on the head. There’s a lot of waste. There’s a lot of inefficiency. It’s difficult to go to these events and not see it these days. It seems to be ubiquitous. So, what we try to do is from the outset just eliminate all the unnecessary stuff. People want to go to a race to race, to enjoy the athletic experience and they don’t need all the other clutter. So things like goodie bags, things like advertisement and flyers – all of those things, we tried to rethink and come up with a better way to do it. Is there a better way to showcase the sponsor without putting a flyer on every goodie bag and it turns out there is. Is there a better way to hydrate an athlete without handling a plastic water bottle to each and every one of them at the finish line? And it turns out there is. It’s just getting away from common practices that we tried to do first and foremost and when you think about 20 years ago, races weren’t doing all these things but there were still races and people were enjoying them. So it’s really just a matter of getting back to where we were without all the additional stuff that people are immersed in when they go to a race.
Ben: So what do you do? You gave some great examples there of ways that you can eliminate race but in a practical sense, how do you give somebody water without using the plastic bottle or how do you give them goodie bags without actually cutting down 10 trees for 18 different brochures and so on and so forth?
Jeff Henderson: Well, it turns out that technology is a big help. You can cut down on a lot of things right from the get go. With everybody using the Internet now and computers and hand held cell phones and things like that, you can do your registration system entirely online without using a single piece of paper and a lot of races are starting to do that. So you can distribute information through email and through your website, you can spotlight your sponsor with electronic coupons or electronic flyers. A lot of these things that used to have to be printed, you can now do electronically. So that’s a good place to start. As far as the plastic water bottle, if you just put a cooler at the finish line with some compostable cups and you seek out a way in your local community to compost those cups and just let athletes take them if they need them, that cuts down on a lot of waste from the beginning. Because not every athlete is going to take one, first of all, and if they do and if you’ve figured out a way to dispose of those cups responsibly then you’re cutting down a lot of waste that doesn’t go into the landfill. So that’s one way to do it. And there’s other ways too.
Ben: What about the water that’s out there in the course? On the rest of the course? Because it’s an Olympic distance triathlon, right?
Jeff Henderson: That’s right. We’ve eliminated the aid station on the bike course and one of the first things – you’ve heard the saying reduce, reuse, recycle. And the key part of the whole phrase is reduce – right on the front end. So if you can eliminate something that you don’t need, you’ve automatically gotten yourself steps ahead because you don’t have all that waste to deal with. The Olympic distance triathlon – we’ve eliminated the aid station on the bike course. You don’t need one. Because it’s only 25 miles and if people are told beforehand that they need to carry two water bottles with them then they bring their own, they fill them up with what they need and they can use them along the way. So you don’t need to hand anything to them.
Ben: I see, so the participants come a little bit more prepared.
Jeff Henderson: Yeah, yeah. The key here is getting your participants involved in this. Telling them what you’re trying to do and getting their support and an amazing thing happens when you do that Ben. You end up with participants who are really invested in the race. People who are not throwing gel wrappers on the ground. Who are not taking 10 water bottles at the finish line, because they know that what you’re trying to do and they’ll support you in that. People want to do the right thing. You just have to give them the opportunity to do so.
Ben: Now what about – I noticed another thing that you guys do is you’ve got bamboo race shirts. Tell me about those.
Jeff Henderson: Bamboo race shirts are something that we did for the very first time, the first year. We were the first triathlon in the company to have the bamboo race shirts. It was an attempt to get away from cotton. Because cotton is a very water intensive and pesticide intensive crop that is very damaging to the environment and so trying to get away from that is a difficult thing to do because a lot of athletes expect a race shirt in their goodie bag when they come to a race. So we started experimenting with bamboo, which is a little bit more of a responsible and sustainable fabric. It’s not the best solution and there are going to be better ways to do it but it is better than cotton for the sustainability aspect, and people love them. It’s very soft. It’s silky smooth. And it’s a neat fabric.
Ben: Is there anything else that you guys do to make the Portland Triathlon green?
Jeff Henderson: Well, we wanted to make a statement with the race. We wanted people to notice what we were doing so they could take it home with them and try to add some habits into their own lives so what we did was I commissioned an artist in Portland – a local artist – to make a finish line arch that was completely different than any finish line you’ve seen in your life. And he came up with this arch that’s made of surplus steel that was left over at a steel yard and cedar prayer boxes which he created and we got native local Oregon plants growing out of the finish line. So it’s a fusion of recycled materials and actually living things that people are running through at the end. And we put it up the day before the race and people walking through the park see it and they notice it and they ask what’s going on here? And it’s a beautiful piece of public art that becomes a valuable piece of the triathlon infrastructure and that’s what we’re trying to promote.
Ben: Wow, I really admire what you’re doing down there. You know, a lot of the listeners who are athletes, especially the listeners who spend a lot of times outdoors swimming, cycling, running, walking, hiking, whatever the case may be – you want your children to be able to do that and enjoy that. To be able to feel the wind in their hair and to be able to breathe fresh air and have trees and flowers and birds singing. We have to make sure that the sport that we’re participating in basically isn’t raping the earth and I think that the Portland Triathlon sounds like it’s a great model for people to look at when they’re seeing how to do an event and how to do it properly. So if you’re listening to the show and you know somebody who’s organizing a triathlon, have him listen in. have him go to – what’s the name of the website, Jeff?
Jeff Henderson: It’s www.portlandtri.com.
Ben: What’s the race date?
Jeff Henderson: Race date is August 23rd this summer. And we’ve got a sprint distance triathlon, an Olympic distance triathlon and this year we actually added a $25,000 open water swim to the Saturday before the triathlon. So we’ve got a swim as well in the middle of Portland.
Ben: Holy cow. Can I bring my family?
Jeff Henderson: You can bring your friends, you can bring whoever you want. It’s going to be fun.
Ben: For $25,000, I’ll do it. Alright, well Jeff. Thank you for your time. Thank you for coming on the show and maybe I’ll see you down there at the Portland Tri.
Jeff Henderson: No problem Ben. Thank you for having me.
Ben: Alright, from www.bengreenfieldfitness.com, this is Ben Greenfield and Jeff Henderson signing out.
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