August 26, 2009
Podcast #57 from https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/2009/08/podcast-57-what-a-doctor-thinks-about-the-paleo-diet/
Introduction: In this podcast episode: what a doctor thinks about the paleo diet, heart rate monitors and calorie burning, transdermal magnesium absorption or whether you can take too much magnesium, running faster for triathlon and big news about an upcoming training camp.
Ben: Hey podcast listeners, this is Ben Greenfield and I’m going to start right off by delivering you the content that I completely spaced last week. I was going to tell you whether or not a heart rate monitor could really tell you how many calories you’ve burned and I completely forgot to discuss that. Just left it out of the podcast. So we’re going to jump straight into that, and then we’ll go on to special announcements and Listener Q and A and finally our interview on the paleo diet.
The reason that I wanted to talk about whether a heart rate monitor can actually tell you how many calories you’ve burned is because heart rate monitors are claiming to do a lot of things these days including cleaning your house, doing your dishes, flushing the toilet, making your bed. No, but really some of these companies like Polar and Suunto they do have a button that you can push that will tell you how many calories you’re burning during your workout. Where there’s a recent study in the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research and this study was titled Validation of Heart Rate Monitor Based Predictions of Oxygen Uptake and Energy Expenditure. The whole idea behind the study was they were checking to see how heart rate monitors actually measure calories and specifically how accurately they did so when compared to laboratory measurements. Because traditionally you can go into a lab and actually find out exactly how many calories you’ve burned but you can’t drag a lab around with you when you’re out on your afternoon run. So essentially they’ve got special software built into these heart rate monitors with equations in the software that approximate how many calories that you’re burning based off of the length of time between each of your heart beats or your heart rate. And they will also approximate your maximum oxygen consumption which is also known as your VO2 max when they do that. So in this study, they compared the heart rate monitors to gold standard laboratory measurements and what they found was that the heart rate monitor usually was about off by about 6% when it came to estimating your VO2 max or your maximum oxygen consumption. Not that big of a deal because that’s just a measurement of how aerobically fit you are and 6% unless you’re an elite athlete is not going to be that big of a deal. However it underestimated – the heart rate monitor did – it underestimated your caloric utilization by about 13% and that’s pretty significant. Because if you think about even 10%, if you’re doing a workout that you think you’re burning say 1000 calories during, and you’re really burning 900 calories and you’re doing that every day and you’re taking in those extra 100 calories every day, that comes up to about a pound of fat a month that you gain or 12 pounds of fat a year just from trusting what your heart rate monitor says when it comes to calorie burning. Now I’m not a huge calorie counter to start with, however, I did take this information to heart just because I was curious… I get that question a lot and it’s something that I’m going to be careful with my own personal heart rate monitor, just that information I’m getting from it from a calorie burning perspective may not be the most accurate information possible.
So we’re going to go ahead and move on to the special announcements for this week and there’s just a couple of quick ones.
Not a huge number of questions this week but remember if you do have a question, just email me [email protected] or leave a comment in the Shownotes to this podcast. And I put a lot of stuff up there in the Shownotes. Any link I ever mention is right up there for you to click on. So if you’re not currently going and visiting the website after you listen to a podcast episode, you’re actually missing out on a lot of really valuable information. So two questions this week and the first is from Listener Matt.
Matt asks: What recommendations do you have for improving speed for my run in Olympic and Half Ironman triathlons? I am thinking of spending the off-season doing strength training for the run (squats, lunges, etc.) and doing hills, as well as intervals of 800 meters. The mantra of triathlon is “to run faster, bike more” which I agree with, but in Iowa, biking during the winter months is not ideal. More endurance on the bike, you have energy on the run and faster cadence will improve foot turnover. I can only spend so much time on the trainer before I get bored. (And then he finishes completely off topic, but he finishes and says…) Also, I may want to set up some time to talk about opening my own PT training studio.
Ben answers: Let’s save the last part of your question here for a second Matt, and move on to the first part because those are two very different questions. Improving speed for your run, something that I personally have had to deal with. I’m not naturally a very fast runner. I do very well at incredibly short sprints because I was a high school and college tennis player and I do well at very long death march type of runs, anything from 13 to 20 miles in the heat, I generally can move for long periods of time without stopping. Now as far as improving speed for the run, you’ve talked about how you want to spend your off-season doing strength training for the run and that’s a paradox for people because when you add muscle to your body, it takes energy to cool that muscle and it takes energy to carry that muscle. I personally have competed in triathlon at about 210 lbs of muscle and 3% body fat when I came off of a bodybuilding stint. And that was some of the most painful and inefficient running I’ve ever experienced. So obviously there’s a law of diminishing returns and what you would want to do if you were strength training to become a faster runner, you’d want to make sure that you weren’t making the mistake of actually adding lean muscle mass to your body. Now squats and lunges can bulk up the legs quite a bit depending on how you do them. There are several variations of squats and lunges in my book about resistance training for triathletes. The top 12 training resistance routines for triathletes. But, they’re done primarily at high reps and at body weight resistance so you don’t bulk up. Now, some of the strength training exercises that you could and should do for the run, that may not be considered traditional strength training exercises but ones that I’ll personally do – one is called hip hike where you’re simply standing on a platform that’s above the ground or a stair works fine. You drop one hip lower than the other and then you raise that hip. Another one is called fire hydrants where you get into a crawl position on the ground and you just hike your leg up like a dog. Well I’ll let you take the analogy where you may. The final exercise would be elastic band side raises with your legs where you attach one end of the elastic band to a bedpost or any other stationary device and you kick out into the side with your other leg. There’s also a variation of that with the GymStick that works quite well. I will do those three exercises, for example while I’m watching TV, during commercials, whatever. Just spend about 5 to 10 minutes a day or every other day on those exercises because those strengthen the external rotators. Specifically the gluteus medius and the gluteus maximus and those tend to be some weak muscles that can make you a stronger runner. Craig Alexander who won Ironman last year, that’s one of the things that he really spent a lot of his time doing during the offseason was developing his gluteus medius and you’ll know you’re doing it properly if the next day your upper outer butt is a little bit sore. So I would work on developing endurance and stability in your gluteus medius as well as stability in the single leg stance phase. So if you’re going to the gym and you like to go to the gym and you’re doing whatever, overhead presses… let’s say maybe you’re even doing curls. I’m not a huge fan of curls but sometimes they’re fun to do – you would do those standing on one leg. That’s it. You just stand on one leg and you get your body used to activity of the upper body with only one leg to support you because that’s what’s going on when you run. So from a stability standpoint, that works well. Now from an actual standpoint, yeah it’s all about neuromuscular turnover. Two of the things that I’ve been implementing to make myself a faster runner and I was able to shave about 45 seconds off my 10k just in the past couple of months and these were the two things that I added. One was barefoot running to work on a forward center of gravity, to work on muscular turnover and to work on a better feel for the ground. I just literally jog to a park and do about ten 100 or 200 meter barefoot sprints back and forth and then run back. The other exercise that I’ve started implementing is working on turnover with the run, focusing on high cadence. One of the best ways to do that, and you can implement this with the barefoot running if you wanted to, is to run downhill. Whether that be throwing your shoes on and hitting the pavement, hitting rolling hills and really conserving when you’re going uphill and the flats but just flying down the hills to get your legs used to that high turnover that they’re going to need to become a faster runner. Or going out to a grassy park, taking off your shoes and just running downhill and trying to get your legs to turn over as quickly as possible. While we’re on the issue of cadence, those of you who listened to the swimming super special last week heard John Kenny and Paul Newsome talking about a cadence of 84, 85, 86 being optimal for open water swimmers. Paul actually was kind enough to send me something called the wetronome which is literally just a metronome that you put in your swim cap that you can listen to and it gives you a cadence of anything you want, from 40 on up to 100 and then you can get those at his website, www.swimsmooth.com, but I put it in and used it and 84 is a very difficult cadence to maintain. You have to have a lot of neuromuscular skill and the ability to turn over your arms quite quickly and efficiently in order to maintain that cadence. So that’s not strength. That’s simply neuromuscular training and the same goes for running. If you want to actually train yourself to be faster, you get the legs to turn over a little bit quicker and downhill running and barefoot running are two of the ways that I’ve developed to be able to do that.
With regard to the second part of your question Matt, those of you listening to the show may not be aware but I do quite a bit of business advising for fitness professionals and for coaches and I have a website where I help you make a little better use of your time and implement different types of marketing techniques, blogging, etc. I would refer you to the website www.trainingfortopdollar.com and there is a blog and there is a podcast over on that website and I have helped several trainers open their own personal training studios. So head over to that website and that will give you the information that you would need to know about that. And then the second question for this week comes from Listener Jerry.
Jerry asks: I believe I read somewhere that the skin has the ability to self-regulate its magnesium absorption so that too much is not absorbed. But I am not an expert by any stretch of the imagination. I would be interested to hear your opinion on this, Ben. Can you take in too much magnesium by using it transdermally? On a similar note, I just wanted to shout out that since I began using transdermal magnesium in the last couple weeks, I have noticed an incredible improvement in my ability to recover after tough workouts. Like you said, Ben, this stuff works.
Ben answers: If you’re a new listener to the show you probably haven’t hopped on the magnesium bandwagon but I literally get dozens of success stories via email every single week about… especially athletes who sweat who have started using this and they’re seeing incredible results from diminished cramping to increased speed to better sleep. You name it. But what Jerry asks is can you take in too much magnesium by using it transdermally? Theoretically yes. Once you get above about 600 mgs daily dose of magnesium, you can start to get the loose stool, the upset stomach, some of the toxicity, some of the symptoms of over mineralization. If you look at something like transdermal magnesium, especially the spray that I recommend on the show, that I personally use, you’re looking at anywhere from about 15 to 20 mgs per spray assuming you haven’t watered it down. And so you would have to – let’s do the math real quick – you’d be looking at 30 sprays per day rubbed into your skin and fully absorbed before you may start to experience some of that loose stool, diarrhea and toxicity overload of magnesium. That’s a lot of sprays. And that’s assuming full absorption. So yes you could take in too much magnesium. There is no way that you’re going to experience – I know someone had asked me does it mess up your heart, you’re going to have a lot of problems just with your bowel before it starts to act on your cardiovascular system. So I would limit yourself to no more than 30 sprays unless you’re a really heavy sweater. I personally do about 5 to 10 sprays before a workout and 5 to 10 after a workout. And feel just fabulous with that. So that’s the skinny on magnesium Jerry. And those are our two questions for this week. So again, if you have a question, just email [email protected] or leave a comment in the Shownotes to this podcast and we’re going to go ahead and move on to this week’s interview about the paleo diet.
Hey podcast listeners, this is Ben Greenfield and in today’s featured topic we’re going to be talking about the paleo diet. And I know that some of you may be familiar with the paleo diet and what it is, but today we have a naturopathic physician on the show to talk about her experience with the paleo diet. And the unique part about this particular physician is that she is actually an athlete herself. Her name is Dr. Kalli Phillips and she started really doing bike-related sports as soon as she could pedal. She started road racing when she was 16 years old, she moved on to track racing after that and she spent several years in the upper echelon of American track racing. She had an injury, she kind of had to retire but then she went to medical school. A little bit of a change up there, right Kalli?
Dr. Kalli Phillips: Yeah, a little bit.
Ben: So she’s a licensed naturopathic physician now and she practices primary care medicine down in Eugene, Oregon. So she integrates a lot of herbal medicine, a lot of homeopathy, occasional pharmaceutical prescriptions as well but really, like a lot of the naturopathic physicians that I’ve run into, you’re trying to remove the cause of the condition and remove the barrier to health which I think is great. More of a focus on preventive medicine. So since you got out of medical school Kalli, did you start racing again?
Dr. Kalli Phillips: I did. I did. I had a little more time after I graduated. Started back up as (cat 4) last year.
Ben: Nice. So back into the competitive cycling and the doctoring simultaneously. That’s quite the load I’m sure.
Dr. Kalli Phillips: It’s a stress reliever.
Ben: Well let’s talk about the paleo diet. You picked it up… when did you become familiar with that?
Dr. Kalli Phillips: I became familiar with the paleo diet in a more general way when I was in school. I had quite a lot of nutrition training in school and paleo diet was one of a handful of diets that we studied and critiqued through our nutrition training. But became aware of the paleo diet for athletes, more specifically, maybe about a year ago and it’s taken me about a year or so to get my hands on the book and read through it.
Ben: So there actually is a book called The Paleo Diet. Is that what’s it called?
Dr. Kalli Phillips: Yeah, it’s The Paleo Diet For Athletes. It’s by Loren Cordain who was the author of Paleo Diet as well as Joe Friels who’s kind of the grandfather of endurance sports in the United States. So kind of a good combination of some really knowledgeable folks. One is really knowledgeable about nutrition and the other super knowledgeable in endurance sports so they put their two heads together and wrote the book.
Ben: Hopefully he doesn’t take issue with you calling him the grandfather rather than the father. Let’s see if Joe writes in upset to the show. So what is the paleo diet Kalli?
Dr. Kalli Phillips: The paleo diet is… the simplest way to put it is basically a diet that our Paleolithic ancestors would have eaten before we started farming, before we started agriculture and basically growing and eating grains and legumes and actually dairy as well. To implement the paleo diet, the simplest way to put it would be to avoid (inaudible) which includes grains and potatoes as well as dairy products. So, lean healthy meats and fruits and vegetables and nuts and seeds. That’s kind of the basis of the diet in general. And there’s the modification that’s made for athletes but that’s the general diet.
Ben: So essentially you’re eating like a caveman, if you want to put it in the simplest terms possible.
Dr. Kalli Phillips: Exactly.
Ben: So when you walk into the grocery store and you’re looking around the aisles and trying to decide which foods would actually adhere to the paleo diets and which wouldn’t – are there a set of rules that you try to follow?
Dr. Kalli Phillips: Well nothing that comes in a box more or less would be included in the paleo diet, so anything of course in the produce section and you kind of have to be careful with the meat section but more or less any seafood or bird so chicken or turkey or duck would be ok. You have to be kind of careful of red meat with pork and beef, just because our agricultural farming practices have created… the meat that comes out of our agricultural system is more inflammatory than it would be if it were just grass fed so purely grass fed beef would be ideal but that’s hard to come by and it’s more expensive. So you’re not going to find that in the grocery store or aisles necessarily.
Ben: And for more on the meat, go watch Food Inc., right?
Dr. Kalli Phillips: Yeah, yeah.
Ben: If you want to know what you’re talking about with inflammatory markers. So it sounds like you’re taking that concept that is good to follow anyways about shopping around the perimeter of the grocery store where most of the natural foods are and you’re taking that one step further by essentially implementing foods that are even more Paleolithic or more like your caveman ancestors would. So a bag of Oscar Meyer processed baloney meat, they wouldn’t have necessarily been able to hunt down, track and kill or pick hanging from a tree.
Dr. Kalli Phillips: No. No. The food is as close to its whole state as possible, as close to the way it was in the world before it came into the grocery store. The closer the food is to that state, the more ideal it is I guess would be a simple kind of rule of thumb.
Ben: Right. So are people using this diet Kalli, to lose weight? Are they using it to manage health? When we’re talking about say just a non-athlete or someone who doesn’t have really high aspirations in sport, is this a diet that would actually work for them?
Dr. Kalli Phillips: This diet is – I have found in my clinical experience in the more general population to be extremely anti-inflammatory. I have a handful of patients who I’ll call them volcanoes. All of their inflammatory markers are really high. Their blood pressure is high. Their blood sugar is high. High cholesterol. All that stuff that leads to a heart attack eventually. Who also refuse my prescriptions for pharmaceuticals, which the naturopathics will tell you that it’s (inaudible) good idea to take a pharmaceutical. Maybe it’s a little more serious than… you may need to take it a little more seriously. So when I have these patients who refuse the meds and I really strongly encourage them to implement the paleo diet, that’s been the only thing in my clinical experience that (inaudible) numbers down in a pretty quick reliable way. So it also helps them to stick to the diet. If they give the diet a month and then we do the blood work again and all the numbers are already coming down, that’s really good incentive for them to stick to it, because it is really difficult to do. I’ve tried implementing it on my own and I definitely have had some backsliding here and there.
Ben: So it’s a diet that… is it one of those diets where you’re going to be pretty good if you can follow the 80-20 rule or is it something that you say, ok I’m going to implement 100% all out for four weeks to get some condition under control like weight or inflammation and then I’m going to go back to eating the way I was eating before?
Dr. Kalli Phillips: I recommend – if I have a patient who doesn’t have really serious conditions, but they do have inflammatory situations going on, which inflammation is really the root cause of just about any condition that a human being can have whether it’s cancer or heart disease or psoriasis, asthma… if it’s not a super serious inflammatory condition, I have them start doing one meal a day grain and starch free. But it’s something that I try to have people implement as a lifelong commitment which means not necessarily implementing it 100% the day that they walk out of my office, but I try to help them figure out award systems for themselves, whether it’s one day a week where they don’t worry about it or two meals a week where they don’t worry about it or whatever they feel is their comfort level, that they can have those days where they’re not worrying about it and not backslide into 5 days a week not worrying about it.
Ben: Right, so you’re having your nuts and berries and maybe some… did you say that the whole grains in any amount are ok on this diet?
Dr. Kalli Phillips: No, no grains at all.
Ben: Now what about a grain such as like a quinoa or an amaranth or millet or something of that nature? None of those?
Dr. Kalli Phillips: Sure, here’s the simplest way that I break that down for my patients. If you take a serving of an ideal grain like quinoa or brown rice and compare it to a serving of any fruit or vegetable, it doesn’t matter what it is really, as long as it’s not white potatoes, the fruit or vegetable is going to have more – it’s going to be denser in micronutrients and anti-inflammatory nutrients than the whole grain is and if you’re spending only a certain amount of calories in your day – if you’re spending some of those calories on that grains then you’re losing on the more nutritious fruit or vegetable.
Ben: Gotcha. Ok so I guess… oh go ahead.
Dr. Kalli Phillips: I was going to say grains, the modification for athletes – for the paleo diet for athletes does include grains.
Ben: That’s exactly what I was just going to say because there in lies the rub, right? If you try to get – if you’re one of the Ironman triathletes listening to the show and you’re trying to shove 4000 calories down the hatch and you’re doing that with oranges and apples and bananas then you’re going to have a whole different set of issues, speaking from personal experience, being someone – I have tried to completely eliminate grains before and you’re either dead dog tired because you have no energy or else your gut is doing funny things. So what type of modifications are out there and are they in the book or do people go elsewhere to find those?
Dr. Kalli Phillips: They’re in the book and the basic modification is about half an hour before and then for the half hour glycogen recovery window, after your workout or event, you have either grains or potatoes or sweet potatoes or energy gels, sports drinks, recovery drinks, those kinds of things to keep your glycogen high and then (inaudible) after your workout.
Ben: Now is there a reason that it’s only around the workout time that people are taking in those types of nutrients or taking in those types of carbohydrates on the paleo diet?
Dr. Kalli Phillips: Right, so the only other way our bodies pull glucose out of the blood, muscles using insulin is during exercise. The body doesn’t need insulin during exercise to keep blood sugar at a low level. So it keeps the insulin levels fairly low and it also still allows you to keep your glycogen levels topped off. Does that make sense?
Ben: I think it’s interesting. I’ve had some people tell me before, like some of my athletes when I send them their meal plans… oh this looks like a paleo diet meal plan. They’re really known exactly what they were talking about. I actually have never read this book. I’ve heard it dropped here and there but that’s interesting. That’s one of the things that I try and encourage them to do is have their sweets, have their cheat foods, have their grains and have their sugary foods before, during or after a workout. I guess it’s all the same science. The insulin response.
Dr. Kalli Phillips: Exactly.
Ben: So do you have any bones to pick with the diet? What do you think about the way it’s been modified for athletes being an athlete yourself?
Dr. Kalli Phillips: I don’t have specific bones to pick with the diet in general terms. They include in the book kind of an ideal day for an athlete including time of day and what this athletes eat at one time during the day, and the way they laid it out was about…let’s see, it’s about 3000 calorie day and a little over 1000 of those calories were in the form of energy drinks, sports drinks and recovery drinks.
Ben: In a day?
Dr. Kalli Phillips: In a day, yeah. So, that was really the only… the main kind of bone I had to pick with it in that if I’m not going to eat any grains and then I’m going to have this many calories that I can use to eat grains or the less ideal foods, I’d rather eat a croissant than have a drink.
Ben: Right, because at least you’re getting a little bit of fiber and a little bit of protein. See, that’s interesting. I guess that’s a paradox that I’ve encountered before with some of the athletes I work with. Where when they’re burning so many calories but they’re saying well you want me to limit bread, you want me to limit potatoes and those types of things, can I take my sports gels instead while I exercise? And my thoughts on that Kalli are the gels, the sports drinks and the compounds that are completely nutrient stripped and almost 100% processed and 100% refined are something that you’re going to encounter on race day and so maybe you should practice it once a week or so during a long session or during a race paced session. But what I encourage my athletes to do and this is something I do myself, I mean I’ll grab a bag of Trail Mix and shove it in my jersey. Granted it may not be ideal but my stomach feels a lot better, I sleep a lot better. I don’t know if anybody out there has ever laid awake after a long bike ride or half Ironman or an Ironman. A lot of that is just that hyped up sugar and caffeine response that you get from some of these. That’s the way that I do it. Do you have substitutions that you use during training for the gels or the sports drinks?
Dr. Kalli Phillips: I use… well it’s the (inaudible) because fruit is in season but I use figs and I’ll peel a small orange and just have that and a little bag in my pocket. So the thing with whole fruits during the race is they do have fiber and that might not agree with all of the GI symptoms out there, but if it’s just the basic training ride or run or whatever, a little fiber is not going to hinder your workout. It’s really more the event to be concerned with in that way.
Ben: Yeah, my take on that too is that it’s not just about the fruit necessarily having the fiber but also from an aerodynamic perspective or from a convenience of storage perspective, that is the one thing that you really can’t beat a sports drink or sports gel with, is they’re easy to carry. You can’t shove an apple up the leg of your wetsuit for a long swim.
Dr. Kalli Phillips: No, but I’ve seen folks take a really baby potato, boil them and peel those and have them in little tin foil packets. It’s just like a gel in terms of how fast it will increase your blood sugar.
Ben: That’s true. But there’s also no million dollar companies going out and putting advertisements for baby potatoes in Triathlete magazine.
Dr. Kalli Phillips: No, better than chemistry is what they like us to believe.
Ben: Well interesting, so your take on the paleo diet is that it’s good for the general population. It’s good for athletes but especially for athletes just be careful with the fake food or fake sugar recommendations, huh?
Dr. Kalli Phillips: That’s really well said. Yeah. That’s exactly what I feel about the paleo diet.
Ben: Ok, well we have a lot of…
Dr. Kalli Phillips: It might be difficult like I said.
Ben: Yeah, a bit difficulty implementing. I’m sure that initially, someone coming out of eating fast food and shopping for packaged and processed food at the grocery store will have a real hard time with this. I think people trying to eat healthy would probably – do you think they’d have an easier time, someone who’s already kind of eating vegetables and fruits?
Dr. Kalli Phillips: Yeah, I think a big part of it is just planning ahead. Planning your day or planning the next few days ahead and prepping things out so you aren’t coming into the kitchen totally hungry and not feeling frustrated that you don’t really have anything to eat.
Ben: Yeah, well we have a lot of listeners, I know in the Portland… well you’re in Eugene. But where can people find out more about you Kalli?
Dr. Kalli Phillips: So I work at Village Health Services. It’s just on the edge of town on Corporate Road, and it’s an interdisciplinary clinic so I’m the naturopath there and there’s a chiropractor. We have a couple of massage therapists. A few other practitioners as well, an acupuncturist. So www.villagehealthservices.com is our website and all our contact information as well as my bio is on there.
Ben: Well fantastic. It was a pleasure having you on the show and just while I have you on, is there any chance that maybe you’d come back sometime and join us for another topic?
Dr. Kalli Phillips: Oh, I’d love to. This is super fun. I’ll have to figure out another book to read though.
Ben: Yeah definitely. Well shoot me an email anytime once you get another book down the hatch and we’ll talk on the show. So until next time, this is Ben Greenfield and Dr. Kalli Phillips from the Portland and Eugene, Oregon area signing out.
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