Introduction: In this podcast episode: electrical stimulation devices, amino acid supplements, high protein diets, food allergies, barefoot running, a movie called Fathead, creatine, cramping, and much more.
Ben: Hey podcast listeners, this is Ben Greenfield. I got to tell you I’m a little sore right now. I actually just this day, today, earlier at noon, I was playing basketball and then I went to the gym after I finished playing about an hour of basketball and I did those little machines at the gym that a personal trainer I used to know called birthing machines because basically sit in them and you kind of put your thighs on these pads and you contract your legs and your thighs go in and then you move to another one and you sit down in that and you kind of swing your hips out and open your legs and just back and forth, I did back and forth between those things about five times and so I’m not only sore from basketball because I just got into my triathlon off season and that’s something I haven’t really been doing much of. And then I also – I just wanted to try out those things and see how they actually felt when you went through a few sets on them. I do have a little bit of a strong opinion that they’re probably not all that great for sports performance. As a matter of fact I know they aren’t and they don’t burn that many calories and they really don’t do a lot for you unless you are practicing to have a baby or engage in the process of making that baby happen. But unless you’re really trying to improve your performance in those areas, there are probably better ways to train your legs. Anyways speaking of the triathlon offseason for you triathletes out there, in the Shownotes to this podcast number 71, I just published the healthy triathlete offseason seminar. It’s called Get Fit Or Get Fat, and it’s a 70 minute audio seminar taken from a lecture that I gave a few weeks ago and I am putting that up on the Internet, available to you, pretty much only on the Shownotes to this podcast. But it’s on special for four bucks this week. Meaning that you log in and you have full access to the complete 70 minute seminar that tells you exactly how to swim, how to bike, how to run, how to crosstrain and if you’re so inclined how to play basketball and work out on the pregnancy machines. But basically it gives you exactly what you need to know to get faster this winter if you’re a triathlete. Or to prepare for your first triathlon, if it’s something you’ve never done before but you want to know what type of things you should be doing this winter to actually get your body ready. Because what it comes down to is you aren’t really supposed to be doing traditional swimming, biking and running workouts this time of year. There are some better ways to be spending your time and I tell you how in that seminar. In the nutrition and fat components. So check that out, that’s in the Shownotes. And we have a really interesting interview today about electrical muscle stimulation and whether that works for everything from burning fat to healing injuries faster to improving your performance and making the muscles stronger. You’re going to find out what works as far as electrical stimulation goes and what doesn’t, and who actually needs to avoid it. We’ve also got a bunch of Listener Q and As, a few special announcements before we get to those Listener Q and As. So let’s go ahead and jump right into those.
This week’s first Listener Q and A regards a post that I made to the Ben Greenfield Fitness podcast called If You Could Eat The Equivalent of a Steak in One Pill, Would You? Because when I went down to Clearwater, Florida a few weeks ago, I met with a doctor who I happen to know. He works out of a place called the Lifeworks Wellness Center and showed me this patented product that he had called NatureAminos which stands for Master Amino Acid Pattern. And it’s basically this pill that’s full of protein. Very dense protein sources. Different than protein powder. It’s an actual amino acid. So you take a protein powder, you take all the tiny little amino acid building blocks out of that and that’s what NatureAminos is. So it’s a very, very dense source of amino acids and I interviewed the doctor about it and put a video up on the blog that you can go over there and view but Listener Patrick wrote in.
Patrick asks: Ben, I have a question regarding MAP, the product you featured as well as your most recent post on www.bengreenfieldfitness.com. I’ve seen the product advertised in magazines for some time now and have always been interested in its potential benefits. On a recent trip to the local health food store I saw several different amino acid supplements, all costing between $12-15 for a month’s supply. What’s more, they all claim a serving size to be 2-3 pills and caution use of more than 4-6, compared to MAP‘s 20-30 per day depending on age, size, diet and exercise load. What are your feelings on MAP vs. other amino acid replacement supplements? Is MAP the clear winner across the board? And does it justify the $50 + shipping price tag?”
Ben answers: So if you go to the NatureAminos website they talk about how it has what’s called 99% net nitrogen utilization. And what that indicates is the amount of absorbable protein that’s in that amino acid tablet. So if we compare that 99% to the other dietary proteins and protein supplements that are out there, that they went through and tested in the lab, those were found to be 16 to 32%, about anywhere from 24 to 96 times lower than what is in MAP. Now, the idea behind amino acid mixtures that are sold everywhere is that if they have a nitrogen utilization rate like that, that’s very low. And especially anything under 20%, that means that the product doesn’t get turned into a protein in your body. Okay? It gets turned into essentially what amounts to carbohydrate plus nitrogen waste. So what the Master Amino Acid Patter product is, is they’ve actually patented this process of having all eight essential amino acids in there and in the correct ratio at a high quality pharmaceutical grade. At a very, very high net nitrogen utilization. So the reason that the other supplements tell you not to take more than 3 or 5 capsules per day is if you took more than that, because so much of the nitrogen doesn’t get utilized and instead gets released into your body and causes kidney damage, gets converted into carbohydrate, they have to warn you not to take that much. What I’ve been doing with the MAP, because I bought a bottle back from Florida is I’ve been taking 10 after a workout just to ensure that my amino acid levels get a little bit higher. Now, other than MAP, the only other product I’m aware of – and I’m not sure of the studies that have been done on this one – the only one for which I’ve seen studies have been the NatureAminos is a product from Bioletics. You all remember that was the company that I got laboratory testing done on myself to actually find out if I was deficient in essential amino acids. And they have essential amino acids in a powder form. So the NatureAminos product is a little bit different. It’s in a tablet form. But essentially what it comes down to is the reason that you have to take so few of the other products and the reason that they’re so cheap, more or less, is because they have a very low net nitrogen utilization. And that’s the defining characteristic of the MAP. So I’ll put a link to the post that I wrote about it, to the video and to the product itself in the Shownotes. It actually comes right out of there at the Florida location. So moving on to another question from Amie. She says – I guess this is another protein oriented question.
Amie asks: I wondering what your thoughts are on a high protein diet. I am not referring to the Adkins. There has been some “buzz” (again) about high protein diets. The suggestion for a typical day is oatmeal w/protein powder and soy milk for breakfast, then mid morning protein shake, 2 slices of whole grain bread w/thick layer of organic meat, no mayo and veggies and then salad or steamed vegetable with brown rice and lean organic meat for dinner. The day’s snacks suggestions are raw veggies and/or fruit or raw almonds. I have heard mixed feedback on whether this is an ideal lifestyle choice. I recently heard too much protein regardless of the combining with carbs can be toxic, is that true? And, will excess protein pack on the pounds?
Ben answers: Let’s first address the first part of your question about too much protein and whether or not that’s toxic. Yes it is. What happens is that if you’re taking in too much protein – for a lot of people that can be anything above about 40% of your caloric intake, it can cause a buildup of what are called ketones which are the protein breakdown products. So what these ketones do is they essentially put your kidneys into overdrive because your kidneys have to flush ketones from your body. So your kidneys are getting rid of these ketones and the way that they’re doing that is they’re flushing them out with water. So you not only feel this toxic load from the ketones and your kidneys having to work overtime, which is bad for your kidney but you also get dehydrated. So you feel weak or dizzy. A lot of times you have bad breath. Your breath kind of smells like fingernail polish. It’s what’s called a ketogenic breath. And that can happen in a high protein diet, especially one that’s high in protein and void of actually using that protein in exercise and void in carbohydrates. So in terms of what you can actually utilize for protein, for a non-athlete, right around 0.3 to 0.6 grams of protein for every pound that you weigh is fine, is adequate. Now I know there are a lot of athletes listening to this show and I got to tell you that most of the athletes that I coach and most of the meal plans that I write – and not only the athletes that I coach, but anybody who I have exercising a lot – whether that be to burn fat or improve performance or put on lean muscle, we’re up around 0.8 to 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight. I wouldn’t put a sedentary person on that, but someone that’s constantly breaking down their muscle and exercising, they can do that and they’re not going to get necessarily a protein toxicity. Although you do need to make sure that you are drinking a lot of water and staying hydrated and also being aware of the fact that you need to continue to take on carbohydrates that your body doesn’t operate on protein as a fuel very well. That leads to the second part of your question. Can excess protein pack on the pounds? Well, there is a process called gluconeogenesis. And what gluconeogenesis is when your body breaks down its own protein or breaks down protein and turns it into blood sugar to be used as fuel, or as we mentioned in the previous question, breaks down nitrogen, converts it into carbohydrate. You’d have to be eating a lot of extra protein in order for all that extra protein to be converted into sugar and then be converted into fat. What you should be more worried about is the saturated fat levels or any other amounts of fat that you might be getting in along with those proteins, because if you’re relying on a lot of dairy foods, egg, cheeses, etc. for your protein intake, then those come along with fat that can add up quite quickly, calorically. Now the sample meal plan that you gave me. That sounds fine. I wouldn’t consider that really a high protein diet because you’ve got oatmeal in the morning and soy milk has carbohydrates in it and the whole grain bread that you mentioned has carbohydrates in it, and all that is fine. That’s really what I’d consider to be more of a paleo diet or just a diet that consumes almonds, nuts, seeds, vegetables, small amounts of fruit, limiting bread, limiting starch intake. That’s fine. That’s what I consider to be what’s called a low glycemic index diet and those types of diets have been associated with not only better weight loss but also better overall health. Reduced risk of chronic disease. So, you need to just make sure that if you’re doing the calculation, counting calories, try not to exceed 1.2 grams of protein per pound of body weight or try not to exceed 40% towards your intake.
Miguel asks: I have bought your book “Holistic Fueling for Ironman”. I find that you are really capable to change people’s views about Powerbar and other brands that only care about profit. (I never said that about Powerbar in the book Miguel. All I said was that they have genetically modified wheat in their products and a lot of other stuff that I list in the book. But Miguel goes on.) When I drink milk or eat whole wheat bread, one to two hours after when I head to a run most of the times I have GI distress. Does that mean that I have allergies to cow milk or wheat/gluten products?
Ben answers: It could mean one of two things, Miguel. The first is you could have a lactose intolerance which is different than an allergy. So an allergy to the proteins and cow’s milk is going to be a little bit different than lactose intolerance. Lactose intolerance is going to cause GI distress. It will cause bloating, gassiness and can be controlled by simply supplementing with a lactose based enzyme that helps you break down the lactose sugar. Something like… I think Beano has lactase in it. But there are lactose specific digestive enzymes that you can supplement with. The other thing you could do is fuel with a non-lactose based milk like a rice milk. Soy milk – I’m not a huge fan of. Almond milk would be another good one. If it’s an allergy, there are a lot of other symptoms that you can have. Everything from the gas and the bloating but a lot more severe diarrhea, constipation, high cortisol levels which is kind of your body’s stress release hormone. Low blood sugar which is called hypoglycemia. Low energy. Skin problems. Acne, chronic fatigue, really heavy legs. There are a lot of stuff that goes on when you are consuming a diet that’s high in allergies. I actually have a good primer on food allergies and what they do to your body and a better way for you to understand food allergies and what happens with food allergies over at my website www.shape21.com. If you go to www.shape21.com, all that is is it’s a non-food allergy based nutrition program that I’ve designed and if you just go read the website – you don’t have to buy the book but just go read what I’ve written on the website, it gives you a really good introduction to food allergies. But the short answer to your question is yes. That can indicate food allergies but it can also indicate something as simple as a little bit of lactose intolerance. For me personally, it’s not an all or nothing approach. I can handle a certain amount of dairy product and wheat product per day before I personally start to get GI distress. I can get the equivalent of about a small container of yoghurt, like a cup of yoghurt and about one to two slices of bread. If I do any more wheat product or any more dairy product than that a day, that’s when I usually start to have issues. If I’m getting ready for a triathlon or something like that, I completely avoid those food groups that entire week.
Lisa asks: Just wanted to write in with a question of my own this week. It has to do with running gear. What are your thoughts on barefoot and minimalist running shoes? Out here in Southern California, there’s been a lot of hype lately about barefoot running and minimalist shoes, such as Vibram Five Fingers. (For those of you who don’t know what Vibram Five Fingers are, those are the shoes that literally you pull them over your feet. They fit over your toes and they look like a barefoot shoe. They kind of spread out your toes. They’re interesting. ) Barefoot enthusiasts claim that the most natural way to run is barefoot because the foot naturally knows how to land in order to be most efficient at running. Shoes, they say, are to blame for a lot of running injuries because they force the foot to do something that it’s not supposed to do, like excessive heel striking. Do you have any experience with barefoot running or running in something like Vibram shoes? I typically train in very minimalist shoes like Nike Frees or racing flats and just got a pair of Vibrams. I’m trying to figure out the best way to incorporate them into my workouts.
Ben answers: Well I have two thoughts Lisa. The first is that this is probably enough to fill an entire podcast. The idea of barefoot running. I know lots of people have written books on it. Lots of people have done audio or video programs on barefoot running. I personally in my own workouts during the warmer months when I have access to a grassy park or a softer surface area of terrain, will go out and do some barefoot running repeats on that surface. However, if you come at this from the caveman approach and you say that the foot naturally knows how to land or to be more efficient at running, yeah that’s true. But is our natural running surface asphalt and concrete and glass and all the other type of nasty things the foot is going to be exposed to if you’re constantly running barefoot? The answer is no, and that’s where the Vibram shoes come in. They do give you padding against that and then you ask the second question, well is the natural running for humans supposed to be running 26.2 miles or pounding away 10 miles on asphalt? And I’m not convinced that barefoot running is going to protect you against the type of stress fractures that are associated with that type of – what you would almost call unnatural exercising. Yeah if you’re out farming on grass and dirt all day and you’re wearing the Vibram Five Fingers and you’re not pounding the pavement, sure that’s one thing. But if you’re a runner who’s running regularly, who’s training for a marathon or a triathlon, it’s my opinion that barefoot running does expose you a little bit more to the elements and put you at a higher risk of not only injuring your foot but also getting a stress fracture. So I’d be cautious with them. If you’re going to switch over to them, do so very gradually. And then the other thing is I have a friend. His name is Tellman Knudson. And Tellman is running across the entire country right now, barefoot. He’s made it about as far as Ohio and he started a couple of months ago. Here’s what I’m going to do Lisa. Next week, I’m going to call up Tellman while he’s running, which I’ve done a few times. I’ve talked to him and it’s kind of funny because he’s running along and talking at the same time. He has a cell phone and he’ll shout “ouch” when he steps on a rock, but I’ll interview him. I’ll give you guys about a 10 to 15 minute interview with Tellman and we’ll talk with him about what he’s experienced running barefoot and I can tell you right now, he just came off a two week hiatus from running barefoot across the country based on doctor’s orders to stop. Now he’s back at it. But we’ll get an interview with Tellman and we’ll give that to you sometime in the next couple of podcasts. Probably podcast 72 or 72. He’s a very entertaining guy. If you go to his website, www.runtellmanrun.com, very entertaining and interesting guy.
Corey asks: I enjoy your podcast and find it very informative, I have a question about nutrition during an Olympic distance triathlon. This distance usually takes me around two hours to complete depending on the course and I normally don’t eat anything during the event and finish ok so I guess I can store enough fuel to get through two hours of racing but would there be any benefit to eating anyway and topping up during the bike leg?
Ben answers: Yes. There would be. Even though most males are going to have around 2000 calories or storage energy, most females around 1500 calories of storage energy and most people will… they’ll burn through that towards the end of an Olympic distance race. There are benefits to keeping your fuel stores topped off. When you have high blood sugar levels or when you have caffeine levels, either one, it decreases your rating of perceived exertion. What that means is that exercise feels easier and you can push yourself harder while feeling less pain. So even if physiologically you don’t need the sugar, mentally your brain likes that feeling of knowing that sugar is on board. As a matter of fact, they did a study on cyclists who saved over 60 seconds in a 40 kilometer time trial, that’s a little over 26 miles biking hard and they were simply flushing out their mouth with the sugary product. They weren’t even swallowing it. So that shows you how powerful the presence of sugar can be to your brain during exercise. You’re doing something like an Olympic distance triathlon. Now what I personally do is I don’t eat anything during the run of an Olympic distance triathlon. I have a little bump in blood sugar, typically like an espresso flavored gel right before the swim to give me both caffeine and sugar and then I’ll eat the equivalent of about 300 calories on the bike. Sometimes a little bit less than that and I’ll try and make sure all those calories or the majority of those calories come on the bike before I’m even halfway through it. So I don’t have any calories bouncing around in my stomach or not much bouncing around my stomach when I get to the run. So, ultimately it can help you quite a bit.
Chuck asks: I watched a movie the other night called “Fat Head.” Essentially, it is a response to the movie Supersize Me, but instead, this guy shows how he lost weight on a McDonald’s diet. Not by eating purely salads, but by eating the real foods just not gorging himself. The film is somewhat tongue in cheek, but what I really found interesting was the research he did and his interviews with doctors concerning the intake of saturated and regular fats. His main focus became to avoid highly processed carbs later in the day, for example, a double cheeseburger for dinner, but no additional sides like fries. At the end of his “diet” he had actually lost weight and had healthier cholesterol and body fat levels. Obviously, I won’t recap everything in the movie, but I was wondering if you had seen it, and what your thoughts on it were?
Ben answers: Then he goes on, tells me to get it from NetFlix. I’m not a NetFlix member. The reason I’m not a Net Flix member is because then I would watch movies just to use my membership. So I’m not an NetFlix member. And he moves on and he has another part of his question. Let’s answer this Fathead question first. The idea is that if you’re looking at fats, there’s not a lot of credibility to the idea that when you avoid animal fats or you consume a low cholesterol diet, you reduce your risk of heart disease. And one of the things that you can look at is that the consumption of animal fat in the American diet – a lot of it due to us becoming more “aware” of the dangers of cholesterol or saturated fats has plummeted in the past century, but at the same time our level of cardiovascular disease has gone through the roof. So in 1910, the average person consumed about 18 lbs of butter a year, and now they consume closer to about 3 lbs. We’ve cut our fat consumption way down but we’re still having a lot of chronic disease and a lot of cardiovascular disease. At the same time we’ve brought down the animal fats and we’ve brought down our cholesterol intake, what have we replaced those with? Vegetable oils, more processed fats like what you find in crackers and cookies and the Starbucks bakery case, shortening, refined oils and of course refined sugar. Higher carbohydrates like the fries that you talked about. And there’s really not any studies that have shown between a direct link between natural fat consumption and heart disease. And if you look at all these cultures that are lasting longer and living healthier than us like the Mediterranean cultures, the Japanese… they all have lots of rich saturated fats in their diet like butter and cheese and eggs and fish and meat. And even the French have high fat sauces but all those cultures, they have a lower rate of coronary artery disease than we do here in America. And it sounds like the guy who did the Fathead movie is on the right track because the big issue with cholesterol is not necessarily the natural cholesterols that you get from natural fats. Yeah, natural fats are very calorically dense and you need to be careful if you don’t want to gain weight not to eat too many of them, but what is more dangerous to us are the vegetable oils that have very, very high amounts of free radicals which are more damaging to the bodies than the natural fats that we consume like butter or coconut oil or gently treated olive oil. And then the thing that all refined sugars have is what’s called a very small low density lipoprotein form of cholesterol and this very small what’s called oxidized cholesterol is what is responsible for creating inflammation in the arteries. And what scientists and what the medical profession is discovering to a greater and greater degree is that it’s the small oxidized cholesterol that’s a bigger issue, that’s a greater threat to us when it comes to heart disease and overall health when compared to the saturated fats. And so, yeah if you were eating at McDonalds and you were eating what I guess would be considered more of the protein McDonalds diet and staying away from a lot of the refined sugars, then you’d be okay. There are other issues. The hormones in the meat, the antibiotics, the bun, some of the sauces that are on there. But technically, yeah the guy in Supersize Me probably did more damage to his body on his 30 day or 40 day McDonalds diet from the French fries and from the carbohydrates than he did from the meats and the saturated fats. So, let’s see. Good book, even though we’re doing an interview on essential fatty acids and fats here in a couple of weeks, a good book would be one called Fats That Heal, Fats That Kill by a guy named Udo Erasmus. That’s a great book that talks about fat and there are other books out there that kind of go over some of the stuff that I just mentioned. But the whole idea is that natural fats are definitely not as big an issue as the factory processed fats or the refined sugars. So good question Chuck, and the second part of your question, you say…
Chuck asks: My other, short, question is about the triathlon dominator package. You say it’s the a great plan for people who have jobs, or still want to have a life and not neglect loved ones while they train for Ironman. But for those who might actually have the extra time, is this still the best training method? In other words, if an athlete had infinite time in their day to train, would this still be the best plan, or would that vary?
Ben answers: You know what, I hate to say this because obviously it’s a product I created and I profit from the sale of the Triathlon Dominator package, but no it wasn’t created for the person with infinite time Chuck. If you have infinite time, if you’re able to roll out of bed and just do what you want all day and train all you want and you don’t have a family and maybe all your friends are athletes too so they’re training with you – there are other ways to train. More along the lines of the way a professional triathlete would train. More hours, more time spent training, more time that you’re able to devote to recovery. We’re talking about being able to train four hours or five hours or six hours a day. Yeah that’s not the person that the Triathlon Dominator package is created for. It was created for the working Joe or Jill who has a family, who wants to still be able to do an Ironman triathlon or the person who is not a pro triathlete but wants to get faster at Ironman triathlon and maybe have an hour and a half a day that they’re able to train, or maybe two hours a day or maybe a few extra hours on the weekend. If you have unlimited time to train, go to my coaching website. I’d love to coach a person who has unlimited item to train. Because that’s about 1% of the people I work with right now. That’d be a blast, to just be able to tell somebody okay go out and ride your bike for six hours today. Have fun. Call me when you’re done. My coaching website is www.pacificfit.net. So go ahead and visit that Chuck and look me up. If you have infinite time to train, I’d love to give you some workouts.
Paul asks: I love the podcasts which I discovered about five weeks ago. I‘m now enjoying my 40 minute drive to work for the first time in years while I trawl through the podcast archives. The first thing I do as I switch off the engine is jot down all the changes I’ll make to my protocols then I check your Shownotes. (That’s great. That’s why I put them up there.) Anyway on to my question… having read some research about glutamine and creatine supplements, I bought some. I take one teaspoon of each once a day with juice. I’ve been “loading” one month on and one month off. During each on cycle I have developed an episode of cramping on the outside of each shin within 10-15 days. Is it possible that these supplements are causing the cramps? It’s not something that I suffer regularly and this is my only change to my routine in these months. Having listened to the Magnesium Miracle podcast I know this is something I really do need to be taking. Keep up the great work Ben, and thanks for making a difference to my running and well being in general!
Ben answers: Well Paul, there’s not a lot of evidence that glutamine could cause your cramping. That’s great that you’re taking magnesium. But if you’re cramping is creatine related which it probably is, it’s going to come to actually looking at the type of creatine that you’re taking in. So the whole idea is that the cramping that you get with conventional creatine powders is caused by what’s called creatinine which is what’s produced in your body when it breaks down creatine. So the theory is that when creatine – any type of creatine – is exposed to the acidic environment in your stomach where there’s all that acid, the acid actually breaks down the creatine and degrades it to creatinine before the creatine actually gets absorbed into your body. Okay? So you’ve got these high levels of creatinine and what that does is it draws water from the muscle to dilute the creatinine. So the same type of thing we were talking about earlier where your body has to – when you take in a low quality protein source – it has to bring more water into the kidneys to help it filter out all the nitrogen byproducts, is the same thing with the creatinine that occurs from the breakdown of creatine. So that’s also why people tend to conserve water or put on anywhere from five… some people put up to 10 lbs of water weight when you take creatine, is to make sure that your body has enough water on board to be able to dilute that creatinine. Okay? So what you would need to do and this is what I personally ended up doing, because I had the same problems when I used to bodybuild, and I had to research all this myself and find out why it was happening and what I needed to do – you need to find a creatine source that will not get broken down in the acidic environment of your stomach. So you need to get the creatine into the less acidic environment of your small intestine where it gets absorbed without being converted into creatinine so you get less water taken out of your muscle so you don’t get the cramping that’s occurring from dehydration at the muscle level. So, what is available now in creatine sources is called an Enteric Coded Creatine. And the enteric coding on creatine actually allows it to bypass the acidic environment of the stomach before being degraded in the small intestine. So the product that I use, the enteric coded creatine product that I use is called Cre02, and that’s put out from a company called Millennium Sports. I’ll put a link to that in the Shownotes Paul. But the glutamine should be fine. The creatine, I’d consider making that switch.
Clay asks: I have purchased your Triathlon Dominator package. I have set a goal for a half Ironman next summer, and am currently three weeks into it. I enjoy the depth of information as well as the thorough workouts spelled out from day to day. It is exactly what I need to stay focused and motivated. There is, however, a few times throughout the 36 weeks that I will be on vacation, out of the country, away from my bicycle or pool for up to 10 days at a time. What are your suggestions for maintaining training intensity when you cannot logistically maintain the training plan> How do you adjust your training when you know you will not have access to a cycle or pool?
Ben answers: So great question, Clay. Let’s address the pool part first. Whenever I travel, I take an elastic band with me, just like a simple portable elastic band. You can put that around the bed post in the hotel room, around a stairwell or whatever. You can face towards the object that the elastic band is attached to, and you can actually do a rowing type of motion. So if I’m at a hotel, I try and do this in front of the TV and I’ll just row during the program when I’m watching the TV and then I’ll turn around and I’ll push the opposite direction during the commercials. So you can go back and forth like that. And if you’re using an elastic band, you can do literally hundreds of reps and simulate a pool workout. You’ll finish and your shoulders and upper body will feel much like they do after you finish a swim workout. Yeah you don’t get quite as much of the cardiovascular stimulation but if you throw in a few sets of jumping jacks throughout, it’s a great kind of swim-based dry land strength training workout and that’s one that I do quite often. It sounds simple but it works. And the nice part is that you’re facing towards the television or whatever you’re looking at so you can stay entertained while you’re just standing there rowing and then you can get the presses in facing the opposite direction when the program is on that you’re not quite so concerned about. So as far as the bicycle goes, that’s tough but stair climbing is probably the best activity that you can do. One thing I’ll do when I’m travelling, whenever I can take the stairs, I do. If I can find a stadium and run to it and do stadium stairs, that’s a great alternative to a cycling workout. If I’m at a hotel or motel and there are stairs, I can do stair repeats. The other thing I’ll do is if you’re really limited on space is lunge jumps where you get down in a lunge position and you jump and switch legs to an opposite lunge position, and you can do five sets of 2 minutes of lunge jumps. When you do that you’re going to feel like you rode your bike for about two hours. So that’s one of the keys. If you’re going to do a substitute for bicycling, typically a high intensity for the legs that make the legs bend a little bit more than they would when you’re running, is a great alternative to maintaining some of that strength and cardiovascular intensity for bicycling. And then in a pinch, you can always use a recumbent bicycle station or a bicycle at a hotel. I do that all the time because I travel a lot and speak and I’m stuck a lot of times without my bike or without a pool. You just learn to make do. But those are two things that I do. The elastic band and then lunges or stairs. So, and then running of course is easy. You can run just about anywhere.
And then the final question is from Listener Eric and Eric says… it’s not a question. It’s a comment, and I wanted to put this in there.
Eric writes in: I just posted this on Facebook – but I wanted to write to let you know that thanks to the Ironman Dominator Plan, I have already shaved off 10 seconds on my 100 meter T pace in the pool – from 1:48 per 100 meters down to 1:38. That’s in only 5 weeks in and a full 7 minutes off my anticipated Ironman swim!
Ben answers: Congratulations Eric. So yeah just wanted to put that in there. I like it when people write in and they tell me that the program that I wrote is actually working. That’s what I want to hear. So anyway, those are this week’s Listener questions and remember if you have a question, write in [email protected]. Let’s go ahead and go on to this week’s interview on electrical stimulation devices.
Hey podcast listeners, this is Ben Greenfield and I’ve gotten several requests to talk about whether or not electrical stimulation devices actually work, what they are, what the science behind them is and if they can be used in the way that they’re advertised for either performance or recovery or even in some cases enhancing fitness. So, I have somebody on the other line who has quite a background in the use of and understanding of these electrical stimulation devices. His name is David Markovich and he is basically going to tell us right now about his background and his history with the use of these devices. So David, thank you for coming on the line.
David Markovich: Oh you’re welcome. Thank you.
Ben: So, tell me a little bit about how you came to be familiar with these?
David Markovich: Well, electrical stimulation in the physical therapy realm is very common. Physical therapists who go to school are trained in different modalities including ultrasound, heat, massage, different modalities like that and of course electric stimulation is one of the modalities that we learn in school. Everybody knows about electric stimulation. If you just even Googled it, you’ll see that it dates back to way back to I think the 1930s even, if my memory serves me correct. So electric stimulation has really been around for a long, long time. Of course it’s used in different types of venues. But in a physical therapy realm, it’s been used a long time and of course since time has gone on and technology has advanced, of course clinicians have found better ways to use electric stimulation and of course they’ve learned how it helps the body and the results it gives the body in terms of recovery, tissue healing and muscle healing.
Ben: So, at a muscular level, what actually happens? When I take one of these devices and I’d like you to tell me about how I would actually hook an electric stimulation device up to my body – but what happens to my muscles when I hook one of those up?
David Markovich: Well, probably one of the first things that people should realize is there are so many different nomenclatures out there and terms you hear. You hear TENS unit, electrotherapy unit, you hear muscle electrical therapy unit. So, the nomenclature is something I think most people have to get straight. A TENS unit, typically what most people know of is it’s literally the size of a transistor radio. It runs on a nine volt battery. And a TENS unit… which TENS stands for Transcutaneous Electric Nerve Stimulation, that just means electric therapy or electric current applied through the skin. An NMES, which is a neuromuscular electrical stimulation is a little bit different in that it actually stimulates muscle. A TENS unit as we know of them do not. But when you think of what an NMES is, which is what sports guys use and things like that – a neuromuscular stimulation unit – in itself is also a TENS unit because it is transcutaneous or through the skin. So it’s a TENS unit but now in how we know it. But most of it, we hear TENS unit… the small ones, it’s given by doctors. People put them on their back. All they are is a small electrical current given by a small battery which just sends a little stimulation to the skin. So if you have back pain, you put it on your back. It just sends electrical current to the skin so that you feel in your body and that area of pain senses the electrical current which is a slightly noxious type of stimulation and all it’s meant to do – a TENS unit – all it’s meant to do is just stimulate the sensory pathways to the brain to flood them with this noxious little stimulation so that your brain will not feel the pain. You only have so many sensory pathways to the brain so if pain is taking up most of those sensory pathways… it’s your brain and you’re feeling pain in your back, if you apply a TENS unit to that area, it just will give the nerve pathway something else to carry to the brain so the brain will not feel that. Now we get to somebody coming to your back and just rubbing your back and that feels really good and it feels like the pain is going away but it’s just your brain is sensing something different. So that’s what a TENS unit does. Medically it does nothing. Physiologically it doesn’t do anything. It just takes away the pain, just masks the pain. So your brain is sensing something else. So when people who have chronic pain have that, and they get TENS units, that’s what it is. It doesn’t cure anything and again, it doesn’t physiologically do anything. Now an NMES, again a neuromuscular electrical nerve stimulation, that is your interferential, your Russian spin which was used back in the day DC Galbanick, there’s also an alternating current stimulation – that is something that is deeper, it’s a more advanced unit, it’s a bigger unit, works on bigger power and that actually stimulates the nerves, the muscle and depolarizes the muscle which cause the muscle to contract. So, TENS units I won’t go into because obviously I just talked about that. We know what it is. The neuromuscular units, those are typically the ones that are used in sports facilities and neurological conditions – stroke patients, spinal cord patients, things like that. That is a neuromuscular unit. And typically what that does is stimulation is given the body. The machine itself, whatever type of machine it is has a particular wave form to it, has a particular current to it and it is modified such that it can depolarize the muscle, causing the muscle to fire and therefore getting a contraction in the muscle. So that’s how an NMES or electric muscle stimulation works, which I believe is what your audience is wanting to know about. How you apply it to your body, whatever units you have and of course the units, Ben, are across the board in variation. Small ones, little bigger ones, little powerful ones. How you apply it to your body… the area of pain, you apply typically one channel or two channels. Each channel typically is divided into two electrodes so each channel has a pair of electrodes and you just apply it on the body to where the pain is in a particular area that usually someone or a doctor or somebody can show you or even the companies who are providing you the stimulation unit will show you in diagram how to connect to the paths in a picturesque type form. It is different when you’re doing tendonitis as in actually doing a clinical diagnosis on patients. There are actually specific spots of tendons, muscle tendons that you want to stimulate when you are trying to cure an injury such as tennis elbow, golfer’s elbow, Achilles tendonitis and things like that.
Ben: So by producing a contraction, it seems pretty intuitive that it would just increase blood flow to the area or help to reduce inflammation, assist with something like recovery. But would someone just put one of these on after a workout? Like directly after a workout? Would you sleep with something like this? What would be the best way to use it for recovery?
David Markovich: Since we’re talking recovery, I’m assuming we’re talking about sports. We’ll talk about sports medicine.
Ben: Yeah, let’s say somebody’s going out on a long run and they have one of these – what seem to be becoming more popular – like one of these home units. They’re not going to a physical therapist. How would they use something like that?
David Markovich: Well how they’d use it is again it depends on the type of stimulation unit that it is and the reason it depends on it, because it depends on what it’s going to do physiologically. I’ll talk about V Care which is the company I’m involved with and the electric stimulation unit that was developed by a NASA engineer and it’s the exact technology that was used on Christopher Reeve before he passed away. A lot of people saw him walking. They saw him walking with that apparatus on his legs. That is the same technology and the same gentleman – Steve Petrosky of NASA – who actually designed that machine and he’s also the one who designed our machine. I’ll talk about that later. But your question was how somebody would use it. Depending on the stimulation unit, if you were a walker, you were a jogger and you came home – even if you don’t feel any pain, electric stimulation unit is great to put on those exact muscles, be it your quad muscles, be it your calf muscles, whatever you may have, any kind of area of problem that you had previously. And using electric stimulation on that for 30 minutes, each session could be 30 to 45 minutes, a couple of sessions a day – that just helps to, as you said before, increase blood flow to the area, increase profusion to the area, help to wash away metabolytes in that area. Using that in conjunction with ice or heat is also a great therapeutic benefit to muscles that have just been worked. It’s been used quite extensively actually. In baseball, pitchers would actually use electric stimulation on their shoulder. Obviously it would be hooked up into strategic areas – the rotator cuff of the muscle on the shoulder – and use electric stimulation on the muscles of the shoulder after they’ve pitched along with some ice and heat as well. So increasing profusion to the area again just helps to bring healing aspects to that muscle. Because, I hope everybody knows that whether you walk or you run, whatever sporting event you partake in, when you get done you’ve actually got some small microtrauma to those muscles and tendons if you’ve worked them hard enough. They may not be noticeable to you or to myself or to your brain, but your body does sense it. And that’s where healing takes place. And electric stimulation – a specific type of electric stimulation – can enhance that healing aspect.
Ben: Now taking it a step forward, could something like this actually help with the fitness of the muscle or muscular endurance?
David Markovich: I personally don’t believe it can. I think from an injury standpoint and from a recuperation standpoint of an injured tissue, I believe it does help. But once you’ve got healthy tissue – I have not seen studies that show that taking healthy muscle tissue and you can stimulate it can make it even healthier or stronger. Of course, back in the day many years ago, I remember Bruce Lee would use… if you’ve seen this documentary on Bruce Lee, he would use muscle stimulation on his pecs and stomach. And you’ve seen those gadgets that have been out there that show that you wear this belt that has muscle stimulation on it, stimulating the muscle – that it actually will give you a six pack. I don’t believe that is true. I’ve never seen studies that show that is true. And I think the reason why is because you need to use the body’s resources, you need to utilize the body’s resources i.e. cardiovascular burning muscle, sugar in order to get the effect of exercising. So from the healthy muscle standpoint, I don’t believe electric stimulation can actually enhance that. So if you were putting stimulation on a healthy bicep and you stimulated that seven days a week for a month, I don’t believe you can have stronger biceps after that. It just doesn’t work like that.
Ben: Now as far as something like fat loss, and you mentioned putting the pads on your abs and getting a six pack, I guess I’ve heard some people say that you’re increasing the heat or making that muscle produce just tiny little contractions that might heat it up and make the fat burn away more quickly. Do you put any credence into a claim like that or have you seen that at all in your profession?
David Markovich: I’ve seen that and I’ve seen those gadgets on TV where they show putting the stimulation on the belt, we’ll call it, that I’ve seen on TV. They’ve got a thermal device there which shows the heat that’s being generated in that area. The heat may be generated but it may be more from a stimulation going in. you have to remember too that some stimulation – and since I work in the medical field – not all stimulation is good stimulation. If you’ve got… and I’ll sidetrack for a little bit, if you’ve got an injury, let’s say an injury to an abdominal muscle or any muscle in your body… if you apply a particular stimulation to it and that stimulation is too noxious or it’s too harsh, you’re actually causing more of an irritant to a tissue that’s already irritated. That’s the difference between certain stimulations. A lot of people, if they go to a therapist’s office or a chiropractor’s office and they get stimulation on their back while they’re getting their back treated – generally they can only keep it on for 20 minutes because it feels a little too harsh and you want it off. That’s the kind that you got to be careful of, because if you’re trying to treat tissue you can actually cause an irritant to that area and do actually the opposite of what you want which is to take the inflammation out.
Ben: Interesting. So as far as muscular fitness, muscular performance, you’re thinking more along the lines that you would use this to enhance recovery so that you could bounce back quicker the next day and go into a workout, the same way that an ice bath might work or something of that nature?
David Markovich: Yes, exactly. I agree. I think using muscle stimulation to the body, to certain areas of the muscles can help increase and enhance recovery of that muscle, give you a little bit better recovery – shorter period of recovery time – so that when you go back to doing the next bout of exercises that you’re wanting to do, some of that soreness is out of there and maybe a little bit better performance. And that’s exactly the sort of hypothesis that I’m sure pitchers use. And the reason they do that is because they’re wanting to come back in rotation quicker and sooner. In fact, I’m not sure if it’s been done but that would be just a fabulous study, to see if stimulating a pitcher’s shoulder under a certain protocol can actually bring a pitcher back in a sooner rotation. That would be phenomenal for any baseball team.
Ben: Yeah, and in my personal experience, E-stims has actually been something I’ve used in conjunction at the physical therapist with ice and ultrasound to actually really help me get over in this case a knee injury. But then also for some little aches and pains, I actually had this VST unit at home for a few months and used that off and on. It really seemed to help as well just in terms of pain reduction. I hurt my back once and used a little bit on that. There are obviously a lot you can do with it, but I think a lot of people might not know how to actually get their hands on something like a home E-stim device. So can you go into that a little bit?
David Markovich: Well, in the VST… I’ll touch on that real quick since you mentioned the VST and you used it, the VST is a huge change in technology and what Steve did, and I talked a little bit earlier about the harshness or the noxious stimulation that you can get from a current. So what Steve Petrowski did was he tried to develop a stimulation unit or current or a wave form that would mimic the body’s wave form. Such that when the stimulation was applied, it would seem like a more natural stimulation applied to the body. The body accepted it much better and the result of that was a more physiologic reaction. A more natural physiologic reaction. So what he did is develop this E-stim, the VST, with a particular current, a rounded wave form of the current which makes it very comfortable, very accepting by the body – that’s why I think if you used it, you were told to use it for an hour. Did you use it for an hour, Ben?
Ben: Yeah it has this little time clock. I would usually use it for 30 to 60 minutes while I was working on my computer or watching TV or something of that nature.
David Markovich: That’s why we keep it on for an hour, 45 minutes to an hour, because it is so comfortable to the body that the body accepts it and the longer it’s on like that, actually the more benefit that you get and the longer the benefit will remain once it’s taken off the body. Although I mentioned to you that if you apply a noxious stimulation to an already injured tissue, all you’re doing is just irritating the same tissue that’s already irritated. The VST – why it’s so great in muscle healing and tissue healing – is because it applies a natural non-noxious, non-harsh therapy to those injured tissues, allowing for a naturally physiologic result bringing blood flow to that area, helping to heal that tissue without irritating it even further. That’s where the healing aspect comes in so well with the VST and that’s really what’s been honed in on and what’s been a trademark with the VST. I think the VST… we’ve used it at the University of Texas Football, I’ve used it myself on the PGA tour on different players. We use it all over the place. I work for a foot ankle surgeon right now and two orthopedic surgeons. We use it on almost everything and anything that requires some tissue healing. So the VST – that’s just the crux of why I want to get out to your folks there about what kind of device that they get, because not every device is going to do the same thing. That’s why it’s very important for them to be sure of the types of device they’re getting. And typically if they’re going to get a device that’s $50, $60 or something like that, it’s probably not the device they’re looking for. Unfortunately, the devices that give you the best therapeutic physiologic benefits of E-stim are going to be your more expensive units that are generally just found in physicians’ offices, therapists or chiropractors’ offices.
Ben: Okay. So for somebody who wants to get their hands on a home unit, how would they do that? Is this something that you would just go to a…
David Markovich: You could probably Google “electric therapy units” or even just go to your local hospital or local sports medicine physician and/or sports medicine physical therapy clinic and see what kind of units they use. Because typically some of the manufacturers of those units will also provide or also manufacture a smaller home unit that can be purchased by individuals at home. Because of course, the units that clinicians purchase of course are multiple thousands of dollars. So that would be my best advice to somebody. I do not have specific units or machines that I use or that I would recommend. Of course the VST is one that I’ve been using for the last five years, I wouldn’t use anything else. Of course I’m biased to that because I know exactly what it is and what it does and I’ve treated thousands of patients and gotten great results with it, especially in the sports realm. But that would be my advice to your folks. To either talk or consult with a physical therapist who’s in the sports medicine realm and see what kind of units they use. I’m sure that any orthopedic surgeon who sends their patients to a physical therapy clinic – that that clinic is recommending certain types of E-stim units for the patients at home. You could probably bet that those are probably good units and since they’re rehabbing surgeries, that they’re getting the results that they want to get. So that’d be my best case scenario in getting something that they’re looking for. But in this type of thing, definitely cheaper is not better.
Ben: Now kind of probably one of the most important questions and one of the last things I want to ask you today is there anybody that shouldn’t be using something like this? Is it something where you shouldn’t use it if you have a pacemaker, if you have a heart condition or anything of that nature?
David Markovich: Yes, great question. Of course with any device like that, there are contra-indications. Whether it’s a small device or big device, anybody with a pacemaker should always contact their cardiologist and let them know what they’re using, where they’re using it and how they’re using it. It used to be that certain types of pacemakers were a contra (inaudible) but for myself, no matter what type of pacemaker that person has, I make sure that I consult a cardiologist and get an okay. Even if they’ve got a pacemaker and are stimulating the toes or the feet or the calf muscles, electric stimulation to the body will travel. You cannot control where it travels too. So you definitely want to make sure you’re not disrupting any other electrical activity in the body such as a pacemaker or a fibrillation type of device. So definitely pacemakers, consult your cardiologist first. The other thing with profusions – since you’re increasing profusions – you don’t want to have any type of infection going on in the skin and also with myself, anybody who’s undergoing any type of cancer treatment or is in fear of any cancer treatment or any cancer going – I do not treat anybody with that. I do treat cancer patients but that is only after I’ve gotten the okay from their oncologist, if they’ve got a current cancer going on. But any type of cancer or cancer treatment going on, the person needs to finish that cancer treatment and then of course consult their oncologist on what they’re going to do and where on the body they’re going to use it. That said, any other skin infections going on, you don’t want to spread any infection. If you have an infection in the skin area… of course we’re talking about where you’re trying to treat. If you’re trying to treat your calf muscle or ankle injuries and you’ve got any kind of skin ulcer or infection going on in the area you’re trying to treat, do not do that. Make sure that is all healed first before you do that. If you’re treating anywhere on the leg from the hips to the legs to the thighs, feet, calf muscles – if anybody out there has any history of blood clots in their legs, that’s definitely something you want to consult your doctor for. Any blood clots can be moved with electric stimulation to another place so definitely consult your physician if you’ve had any history of blood clots in the lower leg.
Ben: So it sounds like the synopsis is recovery, yes. Performance – in that enhancing recovery will enhance performance – yes. Fat loss, probably no. And then make sure that you don’t get some cheap unit that doesn’t actually work but invest the money and then make sure that you’re not one of those people who shouldn’t be using it.
David Markovich: Exactly. Like I said, behoove your folks to research the type of stimulation units that will provide tissue healing which is what you’re wanting and that is not just a TENS unit. So if it’s running on nine volt battery, folks, it’s definitely not what you want. Those little stimulators again are just TENS units and it’s just giving you a little stimulation to trick your brain into feeling something else. So again, it depends on the application. It depends on what they’re using it for but in our discussion, what you said… we’re talking about tissue healing, recovery from sports and things like that… definitely research which type of stimulation that they would want to get. And again, there are interferential and there are different units out there. For home units, I wish I was a little bit more educated on what’s out there in terms of home units so I can suggest to your folks, but I hope I gave them a little bit better background about what stimulation really does and how it can really be effectively used.
Ben: Absolutely. You did. Well I’d like to thank you for coming on the line today, David, and for giving us the information about the E-stim. And this has been Ben Greenfield and David signing out from www.bengreenfieldfitness.com.
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