Introduction: In this podcast episode: how to know if your carbohydrate intake is proper, how long should it take for the heart rate to recover after exercise? Are some fruits better than others? Eating before a morning workout, how to stop appetite cravings, cardio before weights or weights before cardio? Should athletes train their bodies to burn fat? Does getting stronger make you faster? Do you have to give up a muscular body to be an Ironman triathlete and is something called Zone 3 training a bad thing?
Ben: Hey podcast listeners, this is Ben Greenfield coming at you with podcast number 96. Wow, we’re almost to 100. I have to be completely honest with you, I have no special plans for the 100th episode but if you have ideas about something special to do for that 100th episode, let me know. I’ll probably end up doing something special anyways. But either way, it’d be nice to hear what you guys want for that 100th episode. Here’s what I was thinking, I’m only going to answer questions that I get from call-in listeners. Just to keep it interesting. I think that would be pretty cool. But I want to hear what you think. So, as usual leave a comment in the Shownotes to this episode number 96 if you have feedback for me. And really anything that you want to talk about that you hear in this podcast, go leave it as a comment on the Shownotes. I actually love to start questions and discussions and comments and just a second, you could see right there I fumbled. I’m having difficulty. Did you hear that? That was my morning cup of coffee. It’s about 5:30 a.m. right now while I’m recording this podcast. Makes it far more simple when you record from a home office not to have children running around and screaming in the background. The only problem is that was decaf coffee. Because I’m racing a triathlon in a few days and I really don’t want to put too much caffeine in my body. However, the decaf still gives me that wonderful placebo effect. Okay. I’m droning on. Let’s go ahead and move on to this week’s special announcements.
Our featured topic today is going to be Dr. Cohen who you longtime podcast listeners have grown familiar with as the expert from Bioletics and he’s going to be talking about a really cool new blood sugar and carbohydrate test that they have called the A1C. So, listen in to this podcast episode later on after the Q and A if you want to catch that interview. Now another couple of special announcements. I have actually just put the finishing touches on a vegan meal plan. And like most of the meal plans and the training plans that I write all of that is available over at my Training Peaks store and if you want to link to that, just head over to podcast number 96 because not only did I just release that vegan meal plan but I also just put out an “exactly how to train and how to eat for the last four weeks leading up to Ironman” plan where all your workouts and your meals get delivered to your email or to your phone, whichever you’d prefer. And I also have a few different marathon training, triathlon training fitness and fat loss programs over there that you can simply grab and download to your computer and follow. They send you an automatic email every time that your workout is coming up, you can go look at your calendar for the week, get your meals delivered, things like that. It’s the same type of software that I use to dynamically coach the clients that I work with for endurance training or for sports or for fat loss, but I also have some pre-packaged more budget-oriented plans that I’ve written, and I’ve just released that vegan one that I think is quite interesting. So the next special announcement is that the Summer Body Challenge is underway. We have people from all over the country who have sent in their photos and their videos and those are of course completely private. I’m the only person who sees those but that is how I am judging the contest to keep it fair. Each person gets a weekly mailing for me that gives them their fitness tips, their nutrition tips and their recipes and then they go from now until August 1st, and whoever has the best progress by August 1st wins. If you still want to get into that challenge, technically you’re no longer eligible for the $300 and the exercise tools and the other prizes that come along with that competition but if you just want the accountability then head over to the link that I’ll put in the Shownotes and you can get into the Body Transformation Club and be a part of the Summer Body Challenge. Or you can get into the Body Transformation Club and not be in the Summer Body Challenge, whichever you want. Now, the next announcement is that the Get Fit Guy podcast, my new Quick and Dirty Tips podcast to slim down and shape up has been ranked as one of the top podcasts in iTunes for the past few weeks. The number one podcast in the fitness category. If you’re looking for something that’s really very quick that you can listen to, maybe during breakfast or your drive to work or you want something that’s a little bit more basic, you know someone who may not be an Ironman triathlete or something like that but just needs to start from square one, it’s a really good podcast to listen to. However, I also put some tips in there that get a little bit more advanced. For example, this next episode coming up is going to be on spot reducing. How to take a certain area of your body and target and tone it. So, you’ll want to check that out. We’re going to go ahead and move on to this week’s Q and A. As you have probably discovered by listening, I am struggling this morning with my talking. Oh, just one more time. There we go. Let’s get this Listener Q and A done with. It’s really good today, by the way.
Now if you have a question for the podcast then you can call 8772099439 and I’ll put that number in the Shownotes as well, but that’s a good way to leave a voice mail message for me. The other thing you can do is email [email protected] or if you’re international outside the US and you want to leave a Skype message, just Skype to Pacific Fit and any of those will work well for getting a hold of me and asking a question.
Now the first question that we have today is from listener Mark.
Mark asks: I regularly run with a heart rate monitor. At the end of a short run, I’m used to seeing my heart rate quickly drop to below 120 when I slow to a jog. A couple of times now, following runs longer than an hour, my heart rate has barely slowed when I slow down. For example, this past weekend following an 80 minute run, I walked for at least five minutes but my heart rate remained in the 140 to 150 range. When I came to a complete stop, my heart rate actually increased by 10 points over my walking heart rate. It took five to ten minutes of sitting in the shade before my heart rate dropped below 120. On this long run, I didn’t have any water or food and I may have been starting to bonk as I’m prone to low blood sugar. I also was exercising right around and occasionally above my threshold for the last two miles. Could any of these factors explain why my heart rate took so long to return to normal?
Ben answers: For you podcast listeners out there who know what’s going on here, jump through your mp3 player or computer and try to answer Mark’s question because I know you’re screaming at the top of your lungs right now, right? I will go ahead and just go into a little bit of the idea behind this whole concept of heart rate recovery, because your body has several liters of blood flowing through it. Basically that blood has to be distributed to your entire body and depending on how efficient your body is at grabbing oxygen from that blood, your heart is either going to pump slower or pump faster depending on how efficient you are. Now, if you’re very inefficient, you’re going to have a higher resting heart rate, you’re going to have a longer time to recovery and you’re going to have typically a higher heart rate while you’re exercising as well. Whereas if you’re efficient, you’re a trained athlete then your heart rate is going to be lower. It’s going to recover faster just because you’re better able to grab that blood as it comes around. Now a few things that could affect your body’s ability to be efficient at utilizing that blood would be one, if you just don’t have enough blood to go around and interestingly one of the primary determinants of adequate blood volume is adequate hydration and if you are dehydrated you are going to have a higher heart rate during exercise and a longer time to recovery during your heart rate. Low blood sugar wouldn’t necessarily cause the heart rate issues, but low glycogen levels – being glycogen depleted would affect efficiency and for any given effort would actually increase your heart rate and increase the time to recovery. Now there are actually calculations out there and research out that that shows that more than a 50 beat per minute reduction in your heart rate after a one minute period will reduce your risk of a heart attack or is indicatory of a reduced risk of heart attack. Less than a 30 beat per minute reduction after one minute is a predictor of a heart attack. What you need to understand though is that most of those studies were done after a very short exercise period – typically three to five minutes long. Not a long hydration depleting, blood sugar depleting, glycogen depleting run like the one you went on. And the fact that in your shorter runs, you’re not experiencing this. Your longer runs show that you are experiencing this point to the fact that with you, it’s probably less of an issue of a cardiovascular problem – although I’m not a doctor and you could go get that checked out if you wanted to – as much as an issue of not drinking enough or eating enough and having that affect your heart rate. It comes back to showing the importance of taking care of your body from a hydration and a nutrition perspective during exercise and doing your whole depletion at a different time. We’ll get into that in a little bit more detail in another question today’s podcast. But ultimately what it comes down to is you need to be drinking more – preferably at last 10 to 15 ounces an hour while you’re exercising and making sure that you keep your blood sugar up and your glycogen levels up by having a gel every 30 minutes or so while you’re out there on that run, Mark. So, hope that answers your question. And the next question is from listener Patrick.
Patrick asks: In keeping with your holistic fueling plan, I’ve gotten pretty used to keeping nuts and fruit on hand to snack on after shorter workouts. Or for just afternoon hunger pangs. In the beginning, I stuck mainly to Granny Smith apples but now that summer has hit, I’m eating more of the sweeter melons like cantaloupe and watermelon. How do sweeter fruits stack up nutritionally with the more conservative choices like grapefruit, pineapple and blueberries? Is there a significant difference from a recovery or general health perspective or am I splitting hairs?
Ben answers: You know what this question boils down to for those of you who aren’t really familiar with the differences between fruits, is that some fruits have a low glycemic index meaning that the sugar in those fruits is not released quite as quickly and some fruits have a high glycemic index. I’m not going to get scientific and say exactly how the sugar is actually metabolized but suffice it to say that some fruits are fast releasing and some are slower release. For example, berries are very low on the glycemic index. Cherries are very low on the glycemic index. Apples and pears and grapefruit, and if you use any of the nutrition plans that I write you’ll know that those are typically the fruits that I encourage you to eat because as you move up the index from apricots and peaches up to figs, up to dates and finally to a lot of the citrusy, melony fruits – the melons, the mangoes, the papayas, the pineapples – fruits get sweeter and sweeter. Now the issue here though is that fruit is very low in calories. Meaning that it is a low glycemic load. And the glycemic index is an indicator not only of the rate at which the sugar is released but also the actual number of calories in a serving, and because the calories in fruit are very low – you take something like watermelon and it’s basically mostly water – it has a low glyemic load. As a matter of fact the glycemic load of a serving of watermelon is lower than the glycemic load of apples. And so, what this boils down to is that to a certain extent you are splitting hairs especially if you’re an active individual. Now the people that I really recommend focus on lower glycemic index foods most of the time are people who are pre-diabetic, who struggle with blood sugar issues. Again I’m not medically managing their diabetes, I’m making suggestions on the foods that are going to be less likely to cause the blood sugar levels to go on a roller coaster ride and the people that would want to pay attention to the glycemic index of fruits would be those types of individuals. If you’re active, you have nothing to worry about. I mean you could eat ten pears a day and you’d probably be just fine as long as you didn’t have a pre-diabetic or a diabetic condition. So, in your case Patrick, as a triathlete because you’ve written into the show before and I know that you are an Ironman triathlete, you would probably be splitting hairs with this. But for someone who is very concerned about getting every little advantage that they can get, someone who is very concerned about stabilizing blood sugar, that’s when you would want to choose as your primary fruits – the berries, the cherries, the apples, the pears and the grapefruit and maybe not do so much of the melons, the citrus, the papaya, etc. but like I said, very, very small issue. There are much bigger fish to fry if you’re trying to eat healthy, but good question. Now the next question comes from listener Anonymous. Beautiful name.
Anonymous asks: Living in Virginia, it gets pretty hot in the summer. I like to run in the morning as soon as possible to avoid the heat and humidity. What do you think would be a good thing to eat so that I can run, but not be starving during the run. I usually eat half a power bar to take the edge off. My runs are usually an hour long. I am part of a Master’s swim group that meets at 6am. I really don’t want to get up and eat at 4:30 just so food will sit well in my stomach. Any suggestions?
Ben answers: Sure, I have a quick answer to this one. We just got off the topic of fruit. This is a great time to get back on it. But just a little bit of fruit just to spike the blood sugar slightly is fine. Because when you wake up in the morning, your body primarily has burned through its liver’s carbohydrate stores. Your muscle carbohydrate stores are still full, ready to rumble and a lot of times just a little bit of fruit to spike the blood sugar is great. As a matter of fact, for primarily an aerobic workout, as long as it’s under an hour, you’re fine with not really eating anything at all. So long as you have a little bit of breakfast afterwards to replenish the nutrients that you’ve gone through while you’re working out. So, if you don’t like the fiber, the solidness of the food, then you can also use a sports gel or a little bit of sports drink but even something as small as 50 to 100 calories right before you head out is just fine. And a lot of times you’ll be a little bit groggy for the first 10 to 20 minutes of that workout and as soon as your body really starts to efficiently tap into that muscle glycogen and bring your blood sugars up, you’re good to go. So I have had people complain about that before when I’ve told them to go out and do their morning workout without eating and once they get 15 or 20 minutes in, they say wow that actually didn’t feel too bad. So, good question.
The next question is from listener Olivia.
Olivia asks: I just finished my first half Ironman. Now that it’s over I think I would like to focus on losing the weight I gained during training. I’m 5’8 and weighed 152 pounds before training, but now I’m pushing 159 pounds. What are the chances that this weight gain is muscle? If it’s not muscle, I want to lose the weight but I’m having a really tough time eating less now that I’m not training as much. Do you have any advice for how to taper calories and change the eating habits I started during training? I’m still hungry.
Ben answers: Olivia, I see this happen all the time with Ironman athletes who get done training for an Ironman or a half Ironman. And they’re so used to being able to eat anything they want and tons of calories that as soon as they stop and lay off that intense exercise protocol, they balloon and any weight that they put on during that training – unless they’re doing a significant amount of weightlifting – which it doesn’t look like you were, then it’s a pretty slim chance that any weight gain experience during that training was muscle. And it’s usually cortisol related, stress hormone related water retention. And a lot of times that’s a bigger issue for people who are eating a ton of food, typically inflammatory foods, high amounts of carbohydrates, doing a lot of slow aerobic training versus the people who are eating more of the protein, the healthier foods, the non-gluten based foods and engaging in a lot more of the interval based intense training. Those people usually do a lot better with not putting on weight and fat during the Ironman or the half Ironman style of endurance training. So that being said, you’re at a point now where you need to satiate your appetite and get your body able to be satisfied with less or lower caloric intake. A few of the ways that you can do that is you can make sure that you increase the fiber content of most of the foods that you eat and choose fiber dense foods. Do a lot of beans and legumes. You’ll want to do things like quinoa, amaranth, millet, sweet potatoes and yams are fiber dense. Although they’re not so fiber dense that you can’t have them before a workout. Do a lot of vegetables, salads, leafy greens. Anything or most of those will kind of expand in the stomach. A lot of fruit that has the skins on it – apples are good, peppers are good, strawberries, berries – typically any of these types of things would be much better choices than lower fiber foods. For example, breads that are not whole grain, cookies, biscuits. You’ll want to avoid juices, sports drinks, bars, things like that. Things that aren’t so dense. So focus on that. Focus on increasing the protein content because protein is very satiating. That’s why protein diets sometimes tend to work. It’s not because protein does something magical. It’s just that it makes you less likely to eat a lot and so if you include a soy, a whey, a rice or hemp protein that would be good. That Living Green Super Fuel is really good. That’s one that’s over on the www.pacficfit.net Web site, and that’s got both the high fiber and high protein. We interviewed the guy that designed that on the show sometime back and that’s something that’s really good that I’ll actually tell a lot of my clients to include as a meal replacement that satiates the appetite for a long period of time. It’s called Living Greens Super Fuel. Any of those types of things can also be replicated in your blender like a VitaMix, taking a bunch of vegetables, fruit juices – cranberry juice usually works quite well – and blending all that together. I know a little earlier I told you not to drink juice but if you’re using the juice as something to mix a ton of fiber with, then it’s not an issue. So go with the high fiber. Add proteins into your diet. You could also go with nuts as well. I talked about the beans and legumes already. If you struggle with gas while you’re consuming high amounts of those, soak them. I actually just shot a video for the Rock Star Triathlete Academy on how to make your own homemade hummus and I walked people through the process of doing that, and one of the things that I point out in that video was the importance if you’re doing this at home to soak the garbanzo beans or the chickpeas overnight in water. That improves digestibility and then you’ll also want to rinse them after you boil them, which again will improve the digestibility and give you a little less gas. The other thing you can do is as you boil them, drop a little bit of seaweed in there. Drop a little bit of Nori in there and that also will reduce the amount of gas that they produce after they’ve been consumed. Just a little bit of pre-digestion going on so your stomach doesn’t have to do it. So the higher fiber, the higher protein and then include some blood sugar stabilizing type of compounds. Chromium is good, vanadium is good. Both of those are in the Thermal Factor that’s over at Pacific Fit. I’ll just put a link to Pacific Fit in the Shownotes. Cinnamon is also really good. You can work in anywhere from two to four teaspoons of cinnamon into your daily diet, that also helps stabilize the blood sugar, satiate the appetite. This is all stuff that I talk about in the book 100 Ways to Boost Your Metabolism. So I’ll put a link to that as well. Now, the higher protein, the higher fiber – I didn’t mean to make that sound like a commercial but the Thermal Factor, the 100 Ways to Boost Your Metabolism and Living Greens are also really good as well. So I’ll link out to that stuff and that should help you out.
Now, the next question comes from listener Eric.
Eric asks: I’m a big proponent of weight training. I really believe you are too, and I like your strong triathlete training guide. My question is that most of the days I lift, I don’t have time to split my endurance training and my weightlifting so on an average day I might do a hard 45 minute lift, an intense 60 minute spin class and then a five to seven mile run with some intervals thrown in. I know I have depleted a lot of my glycogen stores during the lift, and so this always makes cycling and running a lot harder. But knowing the times and paces I want to hit, I’m able to maintain the same outcomes as the days I didn’t lift. So if this is the case, is it better, worse or indifferent that I lift before all the training and on days like this, should I be eating something during or after the workout?
Ben answers: There have been studies done on the whole weight before cardio, cardio before weights issue and what it boils down to is that if your focus is strength and power, then what you want to do is not glycogen deplete and fatigue your body prior to weightlifting. And in a case like that you would want to do your weightlifting and then your cardio. If your goal is endurance training which it appears that yours is if you’re talking about triathlon, probably your primary competitive goal is endurance training then you would actually want to flip that and do your high quality cardio prior to your strength training. Now, the issue with doing the strength training prior to the cardio is not only that you’re going to deplete your carbohydrate stores before you go do your cardio, but you do muscle damage and so you’re exercising damaged muscles that are in need of recovery after you strength train. If you’re able to rearrange your workout to do cardio before strength, that would be ideal. So what you would do is you would have your pre-workout meal two hours prior or have a little snack before you head to the gym. Do your cardio session, after your cardio session, replenish your glycogen stores, your carbohydrate stores because that’s really what your body taps into while you’re weightlifting by eating for example a banana or an apple or an energy bar. Do your weightlifting and then have your post-workout protein and carbs based meal. Now, if logistically it’s impossible for you to actually do the cardio before the weights, do your weightlifting and then take in your protein and carb based meal and because you’re going to need better digestibility, the way that I would suggest you do that is just take in for example a branch chain amino acid source. Roctane is an example of a gel that has both branch chain amino acids and carbohydrates. Recoveries is a supplement in pill form that you could take with again like a banana, an apple, little bit of carbohydrate. And the protein will help you with basically the muscle cannibalization or the lack of muscle recovery that’s going to occur during the cardio session that you’re doing after your strength. So best case scenario is cardio before weights. Next best case is do the weights, take in a protein-carb blend and make sure that the protein is easily digested. Chicken would not fit into that. Branch chain amino acids in powder or capsule form are usually a really good choice in that situation and then move on to your cardio. And then of course have your post-workout meal and try and get it within 20 minutes especially after a two and a half or three hour session. I mentioned this before on the show, but essentially you take your target body weight, you multiply that by two calories for each pound of your target body weight and that’s how many carbohydrates you should take in. And then protein would be half that. So, if you want to be at 150 pounds, then you would take in 300 calories of carb, 150 calories of protein 20 minutes after and then about an hour later have your post-workout meal.
Omar asks: I have been told that I have a very nice body. This is a result of a lot of weight training that I’m used to doing after playing football in college. I’m down to 187 pounds but I can’t seem to shed more weight and honestly I’d still like to have a nice body. Is this something I’ll have to sacrifice in order to be an Ironman triathlete? I’m 6’3 so it’s not like I’m huge although I do know that I have a large volume compared to most people my size. When I get your Ironman Triathlon Dominator program, will I be able to consult with you in order to maintain both my goals in check?
Ben answers: You know, it is kind of an interesting deal with Ironman training and the amount of muscle that you need. If you look at Ironman athletes even at the pro level, they’re always a little bit meatier, a little bit muscular than the small, spry sprint and Olympic distance athletes simply because muscle does help you a little bit on a long 9, 10, 11, 12 hour day. That muscle, that strength is something that you need a little bit more than you need during a shorter 1 or 2 or 2 ½ hour event. So, the muscle does help you just a little bit in the Ironman, but yes you do know from looking around at people that Ironman athletes a lot of times will tend to have that gaunt marathoner type of look. And you may notice that even muscular people tend to lose some of their muscle. When I first started into triathlon, I was at 205, 210 pounds of muscle hanging right around in there and now I’m at 175 and most of my weight loss was not fat. It was muscle. Now, it is possible to still have a lean, cut, muscular look whether you’re a guy or a girl if you’re doing Ironman triathlon. But the trick is to, as I mentioned earlier, incorporate lots of intervals, harder intervals in your training. Not do a lot of the long slow aerobic training, especially unfed long slow aerobic training. Make sure that you’re eating a healthy diet. You can use the Holistic Meal Plan, Omar, that you’ll get with that Dominator plan. And then make sure that you follow the weightlifting in there very closely. There’s two chances to weight lift during the week. If you follow all the rules that I write in there, you go at the intensity that I recommend, then you’re going to find that you’re actually able to maintain a pretty nice body. And remember that your body fat is probably going to dip a little bit as you’re doing your Ironman training as well which even if you drop a little bit of muscle is going to make you look more muscular. So the way to do it is to just not do the long slow aerobic style of Ironman training with no weightlifting. You can combine weightlifting, intense intervals, still do your Ironman training and the way the Dominator plan is written, a lot of the longer sessions are taking place towards the weekend with a lot of shorter interval based stuff during the week. You’ll be fine. I would like to say that I still had a pretty nice body when I was doing Ironman. Right now I’m focusing on half Ironman, but you know, you can do it. You can still look pretty good when you’re doing Ironman. It is possible and I’ve seen a lot of other guys and girls who do have nice bodies, who don’t look like they’ve starved myself, who go out and do Ironman. Now that being said, if you really want to take it to the next level and podium, you’re probably going to have to get pretty gangly and you may not have the gun show that you’re looking for.
So the next question is from Alicio.
Alicio asks: I’m using your Triathlon Dominator package to prep me for Ironman. I must say for the money it is a steal and extremely useful program. I’ve used many plans before but nothing comes close to what is included in your package. (So, thank you.) I also love the Web site as it has lots of great information and secret tips. (That’s awesome Alicio, thanks.) My question about the package are regarding your heart rate zones and workouts in these zones. When I compare your zones to other programs, they seem a bit higher. Because of this, it seems that there is a lot of Zone 3 work from which I understand leads to mediocre racing or injury. Do you have any thoughts or perspectives as to why or what the intent is behind training in Zone 3 under your program?
Ben answers: You know, the whole Zone 3 training being bad for you idea I think initiated from Joe Friel’s Triathlon Training Bible, and in that he indicated that Zone 3 training was at a high enough intensity to deplete your muscle’s carbohydrate stores but it wasn’t at a high enough intensity to give you a good fitness response. The issue with that is that if you look at Zone 3 and I’ve studied this in the lab, most of the Zone 3 calculations put Zone 3 right smack dab at the peak of fat oxidation, which is the money zone for an Ironman triathlon. Zone 3 should be the zone that you’re in during the bike and really the majority of the run up until about the 20 mile mark. And so my question is if you’re going to race in that zone then why wouldn’t you be doing some training in that zone? Versus doing all aerobic training and all interval based training? Because of that, that’s why I put that into the Dominator Program and that’s what really differentiates it from a lot of programs that I’ve seen, is a typical workout for you like in your base training – rather than doing a four hour Zone 2 aerobic bike ride, you might do 90 to 100 minutes smack dab right at Zone 3 at peak fat oxidation. And so, you’re literally throwing down a workout that’s exactly in the zone that you’re going to be doing your Ironman training in. Now that being said, yeah if you’re going out and you’re always at – Zone 3 feels like about 70, 75% but if you’re going out and all your runs are at 70, 75% and all your swims are just at that mid-distance or mid-intensity pace and all your bikes are there, then you’re just training yourself to be kind of a ho-hum medium paced athlete. But if you combine a few solid focused Zone 3 sessions – Zone 3 especially key workouts like a key Zone 3 bike, run and swim and then you supplement that with easier Zone 2 recovery workouts and then Zone 4, Zone 5 and Zone 6 high interval based workouts, that’s an ideal program. So the idea behind eliminating Zone 3 is that it’s not intelligent – at least that’s my perspective of it as a coach and as a physiologist because you’re avoiding the zone that you’re going to be racing in. Now, for those of you who really don’t understand zones, essentially the way that you get a zone is – and this is the way I do it in the Dominator plan – you go out and test either with power on your bike or heart rate on your run or your bike and your swim is pace-based – and based on that test, you have zones that are set up according to your heart rate or your speed. So if you go out and you test and your heart rate is at 175 and you follow the test instructions, then essentially Zone 1 might be 130, Zone 2 might be 136 to 140, Zone 3 might be 140 to 150, Zone 4 might be 160 up to 170, Zone 5 would be 175 plus, Zone 6 would be max, etc. So that’s the idea behind the zone training. But good question, Omar. Or I’m sorry, Alicio. Omar was the first question. You guys are coming at me with these unique names. At least for America.
Chuck asks: As a triathlete, would it make me faster overall to get stronger especially in the disciplines that I need a lot of muscle recruitment like the bike and the swim? I’ve been doing pretty hard lifting sessions three to four times a week but how can I actually put on muscle while training at half Ironman distance volume and can this muscle and weight actually be beneficial in getting me faster, not slowing me down?
Ben answers: This is kind of interesting because it relates a little bit to Omar’s question about maintaining muscle and having a nice body. The idea is that maintaining the muscle and having a nice body is not going to make you faster. Getting stronger is not going to make you faster. There’s no research to show that strength training actually makes people run or bike or swim faster. Now, power training – plyometric training, doing lighter loads and lifting them very quickly – that can make you faster. However, doing the strength training – the benefit of that would be of course as we talked about earlier, being able to maintain a nice body if that’s what you want to do but also being able to strengthen the joints and the ligaments and support the things that you’re working in chronic repetitive motion so that you avoid injury. Whenever I’m doing strength training I get injured far less and if I’m doing an intelligent strength training program, I barely get injured at all. Especially in the rotator cuff and the knees – two areas that a lot of triathletes tend to have problems in. So the reason for strength training would be for injury prevention and based on that, there’s really no need for you to be going more than two times a week if you’re doing about 45 to 60 minutes and more than three times a week if you’re doing a shorter 20 to 30 minute session and I really wouldn’t recommend you be spending a lot more time than that in the gym unless you have something that really needs focused work like a rotator cuff issue, a core strength issue and that’s a case where I would put an athlete in the gym just a little bit more to do targeted sessions that focus on that weak spot. And then as soon as that weak spot catches up, back off that volume, taper that weight volume so they can focus more on the swimming, the biking and the running. So ultimately getting stronger won’t make you faster but it can help you reduce your risk of injury.
And we have a question here from Kevin. Kind of a long question but it’s our last one before we move on to the interview with Dr. Cohen.
Kevin asks: I’m a 47 year old male. Ran my first marathon in the early 80s and over the years have competed in ultras, runs, long distance swimming and triathlon. I’m 5’9 and weigh 150 pounds. Back in the late 70s and 80s, we used to follow a strict carb load diet prior to an endurance event which included two days of no carbs followed by three days of carb overload. In those days, there were no gels and sports drinks. Water tables in races included water and pop. I primarily drank water and on occasion watered-down Coke. What did we know? We ate raisins instead of gels on long runs, sometimes bananas and even had chocolate in the very long events. Then along came Dave Allan who believed in — (I wonder if you mean Dave Scott. I’ve never heard of Dave Allan, but I could be off. Maybe you’re mixing up Mark Allan and Dave Scott, but either way…) – then along came Dave Allan who believed in using body fat for endurance events with a theory of training at a low heart rate to encourage the body to use fat as opposed to carbs for fuel. Interestingly, I recently read in a runner’s magazine two articles both in the same magazine. One covered the carb load and the other dealt with runners that rely on fat for fuel. The no-carb runner does not train with gels or sports drinks and just uses water. The thought being that as the run progresses, they get stronger compared to other runners who rely on carbohydrates for fuel. What is your opinion on what works best? Have you ever tried to train your body to use fat as opposed to carbohydrate as a fuel?
Ben answers: Great question Kevin, kind of opens up a big can of worms. Should you go out and train with no carbohydrates so that your body becomes more efficient at burning fat? Well, first of all let’s split this into a couple of camps. We have the people who are trying to lose fat and then we have the people who are trying to get fast, trying to do endurance exercise. For the people who are trying to lose fat, what it comes down to is that laboratory studies have shown that if you don’t eat anything during a long primarily aerobic training session, your body actually tends to slow its metabolism during that session and also shuts down the post-exercise metabolic rate resulting in you getting subpar results compared to if you fueled that long training session and then engaged in your caloric restriction outside of that session. So from a pure weight loss perspective, going out and doing long, starved sessions is not doing you any favors unless that session is no longer than about 60 minutes. So an easy aerobic session after an overnight fast is fine. Going out and doing a two or three hour ultra running type of workout would not be a good way to go. Now, if you’re an endurance athlete here’s the deal. Research has shown that if you exercise in a glycogen depleted state, your body can actually get stressed out to the extent that it has a stronger fitness response because the workout – essentially you’re artificially making that workout harder by exercising in a glycogen depleted state and assuming that you take care of your body afterwards and refuel and recover properly, you can have blood markers that indicate that you’ve had a better fitness response to that workout. However, the question is can you actually push yourself at a fast pace, at a race pace when you are training in a glycogen depleted state? And the answer to that is unless you’re training for an event that is an ultra event like a very long bike ride – we’re talking about racing across America type of distances, 500 miles up around there or up to the thousands of miles mark – if you’re training for a very long run, the 50 mile, 100 mile events – then yeah, it would be a slow enough pace where it’s really not going to matter if you’re burning carbs or doing the beta oxidation of the fat as long as you’re maintain enough sugar to keep you awake and keep your brain going. However, the practice of not eating carbohydrates during workouts for athletes who are wanting to compete in pretty much like Ironman athletes on down is really not all that smart because you’re going to be essentially engaging in fat burning which results in your body being able to work out or having to work out at a slower pace. No matter what, when you’re burning fat you just have to go slower. The body does not engage in beta oxidation or fat burning at a rapid enough rate for you to be moving fast. So, a long unfed session every now and again just to basically make you stronger as an athlete mentally – that’s okay. If you’re trying to cannibalize lean muscle, shed weight and if that’s truly your goal to cannibalize lean muscle, that’s okay. I did it a little bit when I was coming down off bodybuilding and I knew I had to lose some muscle to be a faster triathlete. And if you are training for an ultra distance event then that’s okay. Otherwise I would make sure that you fuel your training sessions and engage in your caloric restriction outside of the training session. So I hope that makes sense. Hopefully that wasn’t too convoluted a response. But, if you have follow up questions to any of these topics that I just covered then leave it as a comment in the Shownotes and we can generate a discussion around it. Now, the top question of this week – because I really did think it was an interesting question and the person who’s going to win a free month’s membership to the Body Transformation Club is Kevin. The question I just answered, because I thought it was very interesting. So Kevin, shoot me an email and I’ll hook you up with a free month’s membership to my Body Transformation Club. You’ll get a postcard from me every week with fitness tips, nutrition tips and access to a secret video page where I shoot videos for you, put up recipes for you and really help you along your health and fitness journey.
So, we’re going to move on to this week’s interview with Dr. Richard Cohen.
Hey podcast listeners, this is Ben Greenfield. I’m here with Dr. Richard Cohen from Bioletics. And if you’ve heard podcast number 53, number 64 or if you’ve just been to www.bengreenfieldfitness.com, and done a search for “Dr. Cohen” or for Bioletics, you are missing out on a ton of fantastic information on the internal performance factors that are just as important as things like a new pair of shoes or decreasing weight on your bike and as many of you know, I’ve been using a protocol from Bioletics in my own training, in my racing and seeing some fantastic results. But I was on the Bioletics Web site and it’s actually a fantastic Web site over at www.bioletics.com and I noticed that they actually have a new assessment there called glycohemoglobin.
Dr. Richard Cohen: Glycohemoglobin.
Ben: There we go. Glycohemoglobin blood glucose. And at first I thought that this was just a normal blood glucose measurement but apparently it’s not so I wanted to get Dr. Cohen on to explain to you what it is and why you should even care about it. So, what is the glycohemoglobin blood glucose and is there a shorter term that I can use for it so I don’t have to say it over and over again?
Dr. Richard Cohen: Well I mean some people call it hemoglobin A1C. And we can call it A1C.
Ben: A1C, I’ve actually heard of. So that makes sense.
Dr. Richard Cohen: A1C. So let me tell you what it is, glycohemoglobin is glycated hemoglobin and by glycated, it’s almost – the analogy is when proteins become exposed to sugars they brown. So you’ll see browning in bread. It’s actually the proteins changing its structure. So what happens in our body is the sugars – the glucose specifically – in our body binds with protein and that’s really not a good thing. In fact, it’s one of the components of aging and illness, is the structural changes in protein. Glucose is damaging and that’s really the key component to think about. It is a toxic substance and our body has a very specific way of trying to keep those levels as low as possible. But also to provide the necessary energy that we need to survive. As the sugars in our blood, it actually binds with hemoglobin. Hemoglobin has proteins in it and this marker called glycated or glycohemoglobin. Basically in the most simplistic terms, it gives us a sense of the average amount of blood sugar that we’ve had over the past three months. And that’s specifically what it tells us, is what our average blood sugar has been for three months.
Ben: So it’s not just like a snapshot of your blood glucose levels, but it basically tells you how good of a job you’ve been doing at monitoring your blood glucose levels?
Dr. Richard Cohen: Right, well yeah. Maybe monitoring — typically if most people are aware of it, if you’re in the medical or health field you’ll think of diabetes and that’s what it’s traditionally been used for is to sort of get a snapshot of what a diabetic’s blood sugar has been over the past three months and if the percentage of glycated hemoglobin is over 7 to 8%, you say no either job is not good enough. The blood sugars are high and like I said before blood sugar is toxic to the body, especially the higher it goes, the more risk you are at. Where if you check individual blood sugars, you’re hitting and missing and you don’t know depending on what you ate, did you exercise afterwards or what’s someone’s ability to handle sugar. So this three month snapshot from the medical perspective tells us if the sugars are too high. So, why I added it to the performance. I guess we know we do… we’ve talked about the plasma amino acids and we’ve talked about the essential fatty acids.
Ben: So, if people want to go back and listen to previous podcasts they can hear about those.
Dr. Richard Cohen: Right. So we have a way of assessing the body’s ability but basically capacity to produce structural proteins from amino acids and essential fatty acids with regards to the immune response. I really was looking for a way to determine how well people are handling blood sugar issues. And what this tells us and it’s an interesting way to look at this is like we said blood sugar of glucose is toxic. Fortunately, a lot of athletes – and it’s the one saving grace – when you are physically active you burn up your glucose stores which is something called glycogen. So a lot of times athletes can get away with eating a lot of carbohydrates and not put on weight. So you tend to think and that’s sort of where the whole carbohydrate loading issue has gotten in and people and athletes using a lot of carbohydrates for energy and then burning up and saying “Am I really doing the right thing?” I think even recently you’ve talked about that in a previous podcast. We’re learning that lots of carbohydrates really are not the ideal energy source for most people. So what I wanted to see was an ability – let me backtrack – so while we can burn up the carbohydrates and the glucose with our physical activity, it is a stress on the body. It’s a metabolic stress on the body. It’s a hormonal stress on the body. And we do in Bioletics, we do evaluate everyone’s metabolic fuel needs. But I wanted a marker to get a sense of where and how well people are tolerating their carbohydrate load. Because they may feel like they’re doing fine and they may even be performing okay. But if we take a snapshot of their glycohemoglobin and it’s sitting in the mid fives, to me it’s a sense of a metabolic stress on their body. Ideally, so we talked about diabetics being around 7%, glycated. A healthy person should really sit under 5 or even 4 ½. In that case we know their metabolism is really right on. They’re handling their insulin, they’re processing their sugar. They’re not dealing with high bursts of sugar on a regular basis. So our body only – let’s go back here, what that can mean. In the perfect world, you might eat a meal and then check your blood sugar an hour afterwards. It would tell you how well your body is able to handle that blood sugar load and with people with cardiovascular issues and problems, in some ways it’s a very powerful tool because sugar affects your lipid levels and it changes them to the more damaging type of cholesterol and it causes swings in blood sugar and can affect your mood and energy levels. But obviously that’s not very practical and realistic for a generally healthy person. He’s not going crazy and monitoring themselves. So what we’re able to do is get a sense of on average – is a person overloading themselves with carbohydrate? Are they able to process the carbohydrates effectively to use them for energy as well as storing them for body fat? So, someone is carrying too much bodyweight, that glycohemoglobin is going to be a tell-tale sign. If it’s sitting in the fives, you know you’re eating too many carbohydrates for your own body’s metabolism. Does that make sense?
Ben: Yeah, absolutely. And do the type of carbohydrates affect the A1C, for example if I’m eating more sweet potatoes than bread, does the gluten content affect things? Does the grain content affect things?
Dr. Richard Cohen: Yes and no. It’s really all going to vary and ultimately if someone has a problem, if their glycohemoglobin is coming in five or six, especially for (inaudible) person, we then would need to go back and say you know what? It might be worth you taking a look at some of your meals that you think you have nailed, that you think are right for you and then you might want to check a blood sugar an hour later. Just a simple little finger stick and that will give you your clue. So it’s kind of hard to say. For the most part, glutinous grains are worse. Processed food, sugars, alcohol is going to give you the worst response. But some people individually – sweet potatoes could be a problem. Typically you’d want to see a fasting sugar which could vary – I’m sorry, not a fasting sugar, pre-meal sugar should sit around 75 or so, 70 even. But if you eat a meal and you’re shooting up to 140 whatever that meal is, even if “it’s a healthy meal” that load is too much for your body so it also plays a role of what types of food and what the quantity of food is. The healthier the more metabolically balanced, the better your vitamin D is, the better your central fats are, the thinner you are – or leaner would be a better word – the leaner you are so your muscles and the receptors in the muscles are more active and more sensitive to insulin which drives glucose in to the cells, the less you’re going to be at risk. But as you start to get older and some of these other systems start to down-regulate and as you have deficiencies in those other critical nutrients we took a look at, this is something that ultimately could do you in weight wise and metabolically wise as well.
Ben: So, this would be for people who are not just trying to say, lose weight, but also people who are concerned about their metabolic efficiency?
Dr. Richard Cohen: Absolutely. Your ability to process the carbohydrates for energy and then what that load is on your system, and that’s why I put it in there so it really gives us now a way to look at proteins, fats and carbohydrates. A screen, a snapshot of how well your body is processing fuel for energy and how well it’s utilizing this fuel to create the key factors in your system and ultimately performance – it’s going to allow you and it’s another cornerstone for me to sort of say to someone hey you know what, if you’re still following the old carbohydrate load or eat carbohydrates as an endurance athlete and your glycohemoglobin is sitting in these upper fives, low sixes and you’re a little bit healthy – it’s like the proof is in the pudding there. Even besides if we would do a metabolic fuel assessment and they’d come back – someone who really needs to eat more protein and vegetables – but it’s been honed in so many people for so long to eat lots of carbohydrates as an endurance athlete and I think that’s starting to – things are finally starting to fall.
Ben: And the interesting thing about this test is you can kind of tell if people have been honest too, right?
Dr. Richard Cohen: Oh absolutely. From the diabetic – from the traditional doctor – you could tell if they’re cheating. So it gives a sense… and this is not cheating. It’s ultimately how your body is handling it and the lower it is, whatever the fuel that you’re taking, the lower it is it says to me that your body is that much more efficient. It’s that much more efficient at processing fuel for energy. I’m not saying just go eat proteins and fats and not eat carbohydrates but if you’re active and you’re processing things well and your energy is good, that should be in the fours. Otherwise, something’s off metabolically or you’re just eating more than your body needs with regard to carbohydrate load. Or carbohydrate on a daily basis. So it’s a nice little reminder and from a health perspective as I mentioned briefly before, that glycohemoglobin or the high sugars relate to triglycerides, they relate to healthier lipoproteins and unhealthier lipoproteins and so forth, so it is kind of a powerful first screen on your overall health status as well.
Ben: So walk me through the steps where somebody would actually – how does it work logistically? Is this blood? Saliva? Urine?
Dr. Richard Cohen: Yeah, it’s another blood stick. So, actually we’re using the same lab that we’ve used for the vitamin D. So if I’m on the initial assessment, it’s really just another drop of blood in the process. If someone’s done a vitamin D or they’re not doing one concurrently, it’s just two drops of blood.
Ben: Now, if someone ‘s A1C levels turn out to be high after they’re tested, what can they do about it?
Dr. Richard Cohen: Most importantly is take a look at how you’re fueling yourself. Most likely they’re eating too many carbohydrates for their metabolic needs. So it’s going to be reducing those specially major offending substances and then finding out where that happy balance point is and like I said earlier… concurrently though trying to see what else is imbalanced, out of balance so typically essential fatty acids and vitamin D are going to be a problem for people with carbohydrate intolerance.
Ben: Gotcha. Okay so basically people get this test sent to their home, it’s a blood stick test. You test A1C and then you guys send the results back. How long does it take if I get this test where I’m actually getting it, doing the blood stick and then sending it back to you guys?
Dr. Richard Cohen: One week. So it’s pretty quick. It’ll just give you a snapshot of where you are with how you’re fueling yourself and then allow you – ultimately then if someone hasn’t done it, they probably want to say hey what are my metabolic nutritional needs? What’s my blood type? We’ve talked about am I someone who is closer to an Eskimo than an Asian and obviously the typical American diet is very carbohydrate laden or like I said if you’re following a higher carbohydrate diet because you’re an endurance athlete, you need to re-evaluate that. The simple analogy that I always use with my patients is think about a fire. If you want to start a fire and you know how the carbohydrates are the newspaper and paper that you stuff in there. They’re really hot by they don’t last very long. You need some of the carbohydrates though to get the wood burning and the wood is in essence your fat. Fat provides two to three… it’s 9 calories per gram and carbohydrates are 4, so two and a half times… almost two and a half times the energy per gram. That’s actually based on how your body metabolizes it, it’s probably even more than that. So think of carbohydrates as to start that fire but it’s really your fat stores that are going to give you the long lasting energy. So if you’re someone who’s existing on low fat, high carbohydrate it’s sort of like burning a fire with sticks. You got to keep feeding that fire to keep the energy going where ideally your body should utilize its fat stores and have a little bit of carbohydrate to get the process going. It’s funny, ironically, a couple of weeks ago I was in Marin, we were in Headlands and there was an ultra marathon there and I ran into (Udo Erasmus) down there. We had a great, great chat.
Ben: For those people listening in and don’t know who Udo Erasmus is, he’s the guy that’s the inventor of the Omega 369 Oil, right? And author of Good Fats, Bad Fats.
Dr. Richard Cohen: Correct. A pioneer in the field of fatty acid metabolism and health. They’ve gotten to the point using their 369 oil, having athletes use that – actually carbohydrate deplete a little bit and using the 369 oils to fuel themselves and this is not for everyone. Depending on… we talked a little bit about individual needs but the majority actually find that much more beneficial because they’re sort of like throwing a thick log onto a fire as opposed to using the sticks. So something I wouldn’t recommend you going out and trying right away but it’s just fuel for thought and the fact that maybe we’ve missed the boat a little bit on how to fuel ourselves. So that’s the easiest way to think about fats and carbohydrates. Fats really are our primary fuel, much more effective. So if you’re someone who – and one way to just get a sense for yourself is if you find yourself hungry frequently all through the day and sort of nibbling on carbohydrates and snacks – your body is not efficiently using fuel. So, not even the person who gets low blood sugar type symptoms and they have to eat all the time, but if you can’t make it five, six hours without needing something, your body is not as efficient as it needs to be.
Ben: Interesting. Now as far as the glycohemoglobin A1C test, people should basically at this point thinking of that as kind of like the next – not the next best thing but really the next wave in terms of science as far as measuring the effectiveness of your body and metabolizing blood glucose and also the levels of blood sugar fluctuation. That’s kind of what it boils down to.
Dr. Richard Cohen: Right, this is an old marker. It’s been around a while. It’s just now available by finger stick but it’s a way – and what we’re trying to do is take some of these markers which are used for disease and sort of turn them around so we’re using them for health. How do they tell us how we can fine-tune our body? Because we’re not just trying to avoid disease. We’re trying to understand how we can perform and live at our best. If you’re interested in your health, it’s using these simple markers as guideposts to determine what you need to do. It’s not the latest book. It’s not the latest story. You use your body as feedback. So just as we were talking for some person, a particular meal may be just fine but for the other person it’s not. And it’s going to affect their blood sugar. It’s going to affect their metabolism and unless you have some way of monitoring it with the focus on optimal health so the sense is if you came in with a glycohemoglobin of 5 ½ to your doctor – someone came in to me when I was in more medically oriented practice – Great, you’re doing fine. But with a sort of different set of glasses on, if we’re really trying to finely tune our body to perform, you’re not doing fine. You could be doing a lot better and those small tweaks make all the world of difference in your body utilizing energy and it’s just that little bit of difference with vitamin D or essential fats or your metabolism of sugar which can make all the difference in your performance. I’m trying to get that across to people how powerful small little changes – and for some people dramatic changes with these key factors – can be for their health and performance and so if you’re not recovering well, your performance is not improving with training, look into your body. It’s really straightforward. It’s just a different way. It’s something new. We haven’t looked at performance with our body and I think you’ve seen a difference. I have yet to see one person not feel better.
Ben: Yeah. I completely agree. I got a lot of my athletes doing very well with the protocol from Bioletics and I want to thank you Dr. Cohen for giving your time to come on the show and explain that new A1C test and I hope that people – especially people that are concerned about blood sugar management and about performance – are going to look into that. So, until next time… oh go ahead.
Dr. Richard Cohen: Yeah. I guess the point is it’s something we’ve spoken about. If you’ve looked at the Bioletics, there are ways… just take a step at a time. It’s not overwhelming to yourself. It’s just to understand individual key factors whether it’s a vitamin D or whether it’s your blood sugar. Take one step at a time and that’s going to be your greatest advantage.
Ben: Fantastic. This is Ben Greenfield and Dr. Cohen, thanks for coming on Dr. Cohen.
Dr. Richard Cohen: Appreciate it Ben.
Ben: Alright, bye.
Now for those of you who really enjoyed that interview with Dr. Cohen and want to hear more from him, we’re actually going to have Dr. Cohen on for a live Q and A over at the Rock Star Triathlete Academy and he’s going to be giving all the attendees to the Q and A a coupon for a $20 discount off their new performance health profile as well as a brand new booklet that he’s completed on internal performance factors for athletes. So if you’re a triathlete and you really want to get some one on one with Dr. Cohen and ask him some questions, engage in discussion with him, then make sure that you get into the Rock Star Triathlete Academy before June 9th which is when that interview is going to be. It’s going to be on Wednesday June 9th. So check that out. Now, in addition, anything that I talked about today you can access in the Shownotes to podcast episode 96 including a link to the new Get Fit Guy podcast, a link to the Body Transformation Club and the Summer Body Challenge and a link to those Training Peaks meal plans and training plans that I talked to you about including the vegan meal plan. That would be perfect for someone who is wanting to try out a vegan diet and see what it’s actually like. It’s about 12 weeks of vegan style eating. Now if you like this podcast, please do me a quick favor. Go to iTunes. Do a search for Ben Greenfield and leave the Ben Greenfield Fitness Show a ranking in iTunes. That really helps the show out. You can also leave a comment if you like. So until next time this is Ben Greenfield finally waking up. I think that decaf coffee is hitting my system and I will be back with another podcast for you next week from www.bengreenfieldfitness.com. Have a great week.
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