February 15, 2014
[00:00] About Barry Murray
[04:15] On Fasted State Training
[10:44] Barry's Diet During Competition Season
[18:33] Adapting To The Fasting Diet
[23:00] Athletes That Work Well With Fasting
[32:30] Fat Adaption Practice Vs. Carbohydrate-based Diet
[34:57] Elite& World Class Athletes Doing The Fasted State Training
[45:22] Athletes On Carbohydrate Diets
[51:36] Barry's Beginner Guide On Fasted State Training
[57:35] End of the Podcast
Ben: Hey folks, it's Ben Greenfield, and in the past, we've had some interesting podcast discussions about fasting, and specifically the combination of fasting and exercise. For example, last year we had Dr. Peter Attia on the podcast. He talked about how he's turned himself into a fat-burning machine by fasting for 24 hours than going out and doing these monster five to six hour bike rides. We talked to Dr. Dominic D'Agostino a few months ago on this podcast about ketosis and how he's working with people like Navy SEALs and extreme athletes and the U.S. military to kind of get their bodies into a state of ketosis for enhance endurance adaptation specifically, and I've even talked on this podcast about myself and how I utilized quite a bit of fasting exercise protocols and ketogenesis to prepare for Ironman Canada and the Ironman Hawaii World Championships last year. But when it comes to fasting and endurance performance specifically, there is one person who I've followed quite a bit over the past year. As far as paying attention to the protocols that he is implementing, especially when it comes to combining fasting and exercise and some of the things, he's writer.
His name is Barry Murray. Much of what he's written, I've seen over on Dr. Jack Kruse's form, and if you're not familiar with Dr. Jack Kruse, he's also been on this podcast before and talked quite a bit about ketosis and kind of enhancing the body's ability to naturally burn fats as a fuel, and Barry has been very active over on that forum and has really, in my opinion, flow under the radar when it comes to being one of the world's true experts as far as how to successfully do something like fast without destroying the body and also be able to do that and be a competitive athlete.
So Barry specifically is a performance nutritionist, and he specializes in endurance sports. He has a degree in Chemistry and a Master's Degree in Sports Nutrition, so he really knows what he's talking about and he has worked with professional cycling teams, triathletes and distance runners. Last year, he worked as a sports nutritionist for the BMC Professional Cycling Team which I know many of you are familiar with. He's a competitive endurance athlete himself, he races in ultra-marathon events and actually represented his country at the 2011 World Ultra Trail Championships, and he's won many Ultra Trail marathons. He places seconds at one of the UK's toughest hundred-mile Ultras. He set national records for trail roots all over the Dublin Mountains, and he's done a lot of this, basically in a fasted state and also a state of ketosis. So Barry, thank you so much for coming on the call today.
Barry: Thanks for the introductions there, Ben.
Ben: Well let's jump in, and by the way just to clarify 'cause I don't think I mentioned this, exactly which city and country are you based out off?
Barry: Now I live in a Tuscany Valley, just outside Florence in a small town about one hour. Just outside Florence.
Ben: Okay, gotcha, and originally you're from where?
Barry: So originally I'm from Dublin, Ireland.
Ben: Gotcha, Dublin, Ireland, that's the accent folks. So Barry, let's just delve into, before we get into kind of an overview of the mechanism and the function behind what goes on when you train in a fasted state or when you race in a fasted state, can you talk about your history? How you got into doing what you do, especially with the experiments that you're doing on yourself and the protocols you're using with the athletes that you coach and kind of your philosophy when it comes to nutrition and how you've used it yourself?
Barry: Okay, yeah sure. I guess I started about five years ago, kind of just after I did my Masters. I started just looking into a few things related to glycogen depletion and started looking at fact, just some of the basic stuff on fat adaptation and just started looking on the whole thing with insulin. So I started kind of saying to myself, well maybe if I wanted to become fat adapted. Maybe going out on my long rides or my long runs in the morning, it might be better if I suppress or not cause an insulin response 'cause that was my basic understanding at the time is that insulin suppresses fat oxidation. So I said well, if I eat a bowl of porridge or a bowl of oatmeal as you call it in the morning, that's probably not going to be the best thing for me if I want to completely open up my fat oxidation pathway.
So the very kind of first thing that I did was I just went out on my long weekend ride on a Saturday morning with just coffee and just not eating. So that's how it's going to start it off, and it's kind of important to emphasize how long I've been doing this for, so it's kind of like a bit five years ago when I started fasted state training. And I built that up then, in terms of my training over the years, and I just built it up from going out in the morning on the long rides which I first started doing by gradually kind of working up to doing some maybe an easy two-hour ride to going three or four hour rides, and also phasing how I used to eat on the bike. For instance, I might eat after the first hour, and then I said, right. Let's try after a few months and trying to eat after the second hour and then keep on always pushing on the boundaries basically. And then it was just natural for me to do this with running because most runners will know that if you're going out for an early morning run, that generally, you don't want to have anything sitting in your stomach before you run. So I was going out and doing long runs, and I just didn't want to have. Just didn't want to eat, but I was also very aware of the whole mechanism behind it in terms of the fat oxidation, the insulin and what I was switching on.
So it started off with training, and then I started racing ultra-marathons, and that was with my knowledge with nutrition and biochemistry and hormones and everything else was growing at the time. I was starting to realize that everything that is common is usually wrong, so I was kind of flipping, turning everything upside down in terms of what I'd been taught a lot in the textbooks in college. I was starting to look kind of deeper into things, and I realize that the adaptations that were coming from what I was doing were huge. You know you look into things like the enzymes that switch on fat oxidation and the transporter proteins, etcetera, etcetera, and I was realizing that this was really improving my whole adaptation procedure. And then I started racing ultra-marathons. The ultra-marathon events were anything over 50 kilometers in distance, so between 50 and 200 K would be the kind of distance I was running, and I still am. I started applying the same principles of my training to actual racing. I was turning up for these ultra-marathon events while everyone else was eating bowls of cereal and sports energy bars and rice puddings and various different things. I just brew a coffee and have a coffee and then get to the starting line and run, and I started doing well at these events.
So I've done almost about 20 of these events now over the last three years, and I've won a few of them and I've placed in kind of usually in the top 10 in most of them. I supposed to give some recent, I mean last year, I ran 127 K race here in Italy, and lie I said, I ate nothing before the race. I ate very little during, and it was a hundred and twenty-seven kilometers and I finished it in fourteen-and-a-half hours, and I won the race. So that's how the training, the fasting, the process, what I went through. When I tied that in with, of course, because nothing works in isolation as I obviously tied it in with the whole well what kind of way of eating or what kind of food? What kind of diet suits this kind of training? And what suits it is the lower carb, higher fat kind of diet. I built my nutrition up into work in tandem with the whole fasted state thing, so the two of them have to work kind of beside each other, so to speak, or withstand them. So I did a lot of work on looking into low-carb, higher-fat type diets. I looked into timing, used all the things like carbohydrates, back loading, secret ketogenic diets, and I just gradually and gradually improved. I just was looking for every way possible in which you could increase the speed and the intensity and the distance of which you could go at, without being as much as you can in the fat burning.
Ben: Yeah, now before we get into kind of the why you'd want to be in that fat burning zone and what the actual mechanism is and what's going on inside the human body when that happens, just to people can wrap their heads around what it looks like, let's say you were going to go out and you were going to do one of your mountain training runs or one of your ultra-marathon training runs or even an ultra-marathon event, what would your diet look like the day before and then what would it look like during the actual event?
Barry: Okay, well again this has changed over the years. It took me a long time to convince myself that not eating carbs the day before a race was going to be good for me, so just to very briefly tell you where it came from, it came from basically eating a kind of a lower glycemic index carbohydrate diet. So low GI foods, and then I progressed to say, generally having a cyclical carbohydrate diet where I was some days eating low carbs, some days eating higher carbs. And then coming up to races, I was generally eating a low carbohydrate diet, and then the day before, I would eat things like sweet potato and fruits and some rice. Over the last two years, I switched that, and I basically switched it to completely going low-carb, high-fat, practically ketogenic. Debates are ketogenic diets are bull.
Basically what my day before race would be now, or generally any kind of training. Basically, I've also adopted the whole patterns of less eating, less number of times a day is better for you, so generally I eat two meals a day. So my general training week or training days, like you said the mountain run, the day before I will have done maybe a bike ride or a run the day before, and I don't eat breakfast. So I don't eat until lunch time, so it's my first meal of the day, and that would be a high-fat, low-carbohydrate diet meals, so usually it would be an omelet-type dish with either fish or meat. And then the evening would be my dinner, and that would be vegetables with either fish or meat again. That's how I've been living for the last kind of two years with my training, and I'm training usually six, seven days a week. So I'm eating twice a day, pretty much every day. The only time I would change that would be for a raise of only three meals, so I do something easy in the morning like half an hour or an hour kind of a run, and then I'll eat breakfast. Breakfast might be an egg dish. I'll have lunch, it'll be salad and fish, and then in the evening, it might be meats with avocado and vegetables, and that's essentially what I've been doing for these big races, pretty much under a hundred grams of carbohydrate, if not less the day before my race. This goes against every possible kind of text that I've ever read about preparing for a race, but that's what the level I've gotten to, but it's taken me a long time to get there.
Ben: Interesting, so what exactly, and of course I'll warn you I want to definitely ask you about what you've noticed with your blood and your biomarkers and things like that, you know only eating that very, very small amount of carbohydrate before going out and doing these monster training sessions, but what have you got to say as far as educating people on the mechanism and the function behind what's going on inside the body when you train in a fasted state versus when you go out and you train in the stereotypical, kind of having that pre-workout meal type of state?
Barry: Yeah, you know I've had to explain this a lot because I find, especially with experienced athletes and professional athletes. It's if you've been doing something for a very, very long time and somebody comes in and tells you that you should flip this on its head and do it in the opposite way, it's very difficult for them to change or to do that. So usually explaining to people why it works and why it's better for you is usually the best thing to do, so I usually keep it kind of simple. I usually always try to explain the mechanisms so that people understand. I start off with the simple case of just explaining the insulin theory to them, and I simply explain that when you eat any kind of form of carbohydrate for breakfast in the morning, you're going to get an insulin response and then I explain how insulin inhibits several of the fat burning mechanisms, and I explain how hormones sense the lipase, which is what obviously stimulates lipolysis is inhibited by insulin. I then explain how CPT-1 which is the carnitine enzyme, which transfers fatty acids into your mitochondria when insulin is released. That is suppressed as well.
Ben: And we're going to get insulin released with just about any protein or carbohydrate containing meal in relatively significant amounts, right?
Barry: Yeah, I think it's kind of like anything over 10 grams of carbohydrate is going to cause an insulin response, so that's not very much. And obviously branched chain amino acids and whey protein powders and a lot of dairy is going to cause an insulin response as well. So generally, it's very hard to eat just a 100% fat meal 'cause if you eat eggs in the morning that obviously contains branched chain amino acids as well. So there is the Bulletproof coffee today that people are using, and that is going to have a very, very minimal instant release, but generally I always swear and kind of tell people that the best fasted state training that you can do is to not put anything other than liquid, you know water or tea or coffee down you, and you will get more adapted. It will cause the most stress, but you will get the biggest adaptations from that.
Ben: Okay, gotcha. So we've got basically an up-regulation of lipase and a up-regulation or carnosine which is responsible for driving fatty acids in the muscle tissue when we avoid that insulin spike in the day, leading up also to the day of the event, and you do so by limiting your meal frequency and by essentially, as much as possible, limiting any amount of carbohydrate in most proteins out of amino acids?
Barry: Yeah exactly, pretty much.
Ben: So you did this for five years, and I'm curious about the steps to becoming fat adapted because you're one of the few people that I've spoken with who has stuck with this for long enough to kind of experience the full gambit of starting off from being a carbohydrate-consuming endurance athlete to going through the initial stages of fat adaptation to going up to kind of like this, you're at the five-year mark. The reason I find that interesting is because, for example, when I had Jack Kruse on the podcast when we talked about how to live like a polar bear and eat like a great white shark, it was the name of that episode. And by the way folks, for those of you listening in, I'll put a link to all the previous episodes we've done on fasting and ketosis and stuff like that in the show notes, but what he said was that he's under the impression that it takes anywhere from one to two years to even build up the mitochondrial density to be able to burn the amount of fatty acids necessary as a fuel to produce enough ATP or energy currency to support high levels of training or even life with fat adaptation or limited meal frequency. I'm curious what your thoughts are on adaptation and what you personally experienced?
Barry: Yeah, well definitely the time component of this strategy is fundamental. I mean if you are an athlete of any description, and you think that you can go out and suddenly start working out without any food or without anything, it's just not going to work for you, certainly within the first few days, few weeks, and you're not going to get to the kind of goal line until you've been doing it for months. As Jack Kruse has said, I think everything has to be put in context. I think if you're a general average person who's just training to be generally failed in doing, going to the gym three times a week or whatever, I think it's going to take that person to be fully fat adapted, probably a longer time it's going to take full-time athlete who's been training all their lives. They will have a lot of the adaptations already before they even start doing any of this kind of fat adaptation, fasted state training stuff.
So everything always depends on the context of the person and the individual, but I do definitely think, in terms of my context and in terms of anyone who's kind of an experienced athlete or has a regular training regime, I think you're looking at a year minimum, eighteen months, and I just think the longer you do it, the better it is. Because definitely it's about mitochondrial biogenesis, I think it’s about mitochondrial efficiency as well. I think it's about up-regulating. I mean beta-oxidation is where fatty acids get converted to acetyl coenzyme which is the starting block then for the whole Kreb's cycle, but if you look at beta-oxidation, the burning of fatty acids, either there's something that I go over 20 enzymes involved in that process of converting a fatty acid into acetyl coenzyme. So there's 20 enzymes, I think there's like 15 transporter proteins also involved. So there's a lot of efficiency that you have to, first of all, build, and then you have to make them work efficiently. So to think people don't understand the complexity of the metabolic shift and the physiological shift that you are making the body do, and all of the shoulders and the machinery that you have to put in place and that you have to make work efficiently takes a long time.
So the adaptations are really complex, and they relate to everything from up-regulating enzymes, up-regulating transporter proteins, up-regulating cell signaling, and up-regulating mitochondrial efficiency. I mean there's a huge amount of physiological mechanisms that you need to build and actually create before everything starts working for you, and that's why it takes a lot of time, and it has to be done in an incremental pattern as well. So you don't just start going out and doing five-hour rides on empty and expect things to happen, you need to give the body acute kind of stresses over this long period, and then you'll start seeing things happen. So that's what's happened with me, and it's happened with a few of my other kind of close athletes and friends that I worked with as well.
Ben: So you've worked with cyclists, you've worked with triathletes and with distance runners. Talk to me a little bit about the context, in terms of the types of athletes and the sports that this works for because we have crossfitters and tennis players and bodybuilders and explosive power and strength athletes that listen to this show who are going to be curious about whether or not they could benefit from something like fasting or ketosis when it comes to more explosive type of efforts? Or even the people who are really dipping into glycolysis and higher intensity carbohydrate utilization for something like five Ks and sprint triathlons and things of that nature? So who does this work for?
Barry: Okay, I think primarily who this works for, I'm kind of working backwards here. I'll answer the first part of the question. I think primarily who it works for are the long distance, ultra-endurance athletes. So cyclists and triathletes, Ironman in particular, and long distance runners. When I say long distance, I kind of mean marathon and longer. So the reason being is because this whole fat adaptation thing and up-regulating your whole fat oxidative pathway. It works for these kind of people, or these kind of athletes, 'cause these kind of sports are determined by how efficient and how economical you are. They're not necessarily about how fast you can go or how strong you can lift. It's not determined by your power or your speed, basically. It's determined by you're running economy or your cycling efficiency. And also I think a crucial component of it is that your sport is pretty much a steady state sport, and this is why it probably works best with ultra-marathon runners in general because we're running for a very long time. Our pace doesn't fluctuate hugely. Our pace might, but our efforts doesn't fluctuate hugely. I mean if you look at our heart rate stuff or whatever, it's not going to fluctuate massively. So being in that kind of steady state and energy production means that you can kind of get into the zone, and when you're in the zone, you're in a constant state of energy production and in the fat burning zone.
So I think that the best type of athletes that this is suited to be the long distance athletes, particularly the long distance athletes that are performing at that, more or less, a steady state. The reason why I said that is because I've done a lot of work with professional cyclists, and while fat adaptation and fasted state training is something that is very good for them, they still require to be glycolytic. In other words, they still need carbohydrates to function because there are higher variations in the speeds at which they work at. So if you look at two different cyclists, they're doing long 200 K rides, but there might be breakaways, there might be hill climbs. There are sprints, you know? So there's a lot of variation in the power which they'll be using in the speed and intensity which they'll be at.
I also found this with professional triathletes where lots of surge, whether it's on the bike, particularly in the bike where their surges are run where they're racing, and it's half a breakaway, whatever. So this is a kind of a key point to make is that it definitely works for long distance athletes, but if you are in a sport like professional cycling or any type of cycling that involves huge power fluctuations, then that's where the glycolytic component comes in. Does it work for tennis players, football players, crossfit type people, etcetera and etcetera? Yes, I'd think anyone, no matter what your sport is, I think anyone can train in the glycogen depleted or the fasted state. It depends again, like you said the context and in terms of if you're somebody who's doing two crossfit sessions in a day, five or six days a week, you know? There's some people doing crazy kind of workouts, and because they're constantly in a much higher intensity or state of energy production, whatever you want to call it, and they're going to run into trouble because they're not going to be able to keep up with their glycolytic demands. So I think that anyone from any type of sport can get up in the morning and go out and do. Play tennis or play a match or go to the gym or do even a crossfit session. The amount of times you do depends on your situation and turns out how often you’re training, so yeah. It works for everyone. It works best for ultra-endurance athletes.
Ben: Now a lot of people get concerned with the potential for playing with fire here, in terms of the amount of fatty acids circulating in the bloodstream, potentially interfering with the thyroid receptor sensitivity to thyroid hormones, or lack of glucose availability inhibiting like 2-4 to 2-3 conversion. Are you concerned about any of those issues, and as a follow-up to that, do you test your own blood or have you found there to be anything that you're concerned about, whether people should be aware of if they’re combining and fasting and ketosis which the extreme levels of endurance that you're doing?
Barry: Yeah, I mean like everything, I mean you can have too much of the good thing, and so certainly with something like glycogen. Doing bog workouts, doing long runs or long cycles or long swims. If you're someone who trains regularly, doing too much of this is going to cut your opportunity. I think what is predominantly effects is an adrenal. So it causes a lot of adrenal stress. So this is something you want to really watch out for. If you've gone into this too deep, if you've got into the deep end too quickly. You might be able to do your own fasted, whether it's a two or three or even longer hour run or lung cycle.
You might feel okay at the time, but the adrenal stress that you're recreating really backfires on you, and I can't give you an example. Two weeks ago, it was a mountain. One kilometer in the ultra-marathon was like 45 K long, so it's not very long for me, but I ran it kind of flat out and I did it five hours. I did it fast, and I ate very little during. I went to bed, and I woke up in the middle of the night with a pounding heart rate. My resting heart rate's is normally in the low forties, kind of forty-three, and forty-four. I checked it, and it'd gone up to sixty-six, so that's when I knew that what I did probably wasn't very good for me. So I think the number one thing you have to watch out for is the adrenal stress and the cortisol response, and the cortisol response, as you know, is related to a lot of other things, so that's certainly one thing to look out for. In terms of the low glucose and lower carbohydrate ES, I mean that's going to potentially affect things obviously like thyroid. Have I looked at markers, biomarkers myself? Not a huge amount because I'm just a big believer in going on the feel, I think. The most sophisticated monitoring system that you have, if you're a healthy person, is yourself, so I kind of intuitively know whether I'm feeling a bit over trained, whether my cortisol is high. I'm intuitively aware of what my carbohydrate requirements are, even my fat requirements are, etcetera, etcetera.
So I tend to listen to the body a lot, and I'm kind of very in tune with it. I've used testing on athletes quite a lot, and I see so many conflicting messages where an athlete might be shown low levels of free testosterone, and then that same athlete will go win a huge race. So there's so many conflicting things I've seen with testing and then testing results that don't reflect how the actual person is feeling, so when you're a healthy person. My analysis now of athletes when I work with them is like I speak to them and I ask them how they're feeling. You know when I see low Vitamin-D, low testosterone, I'm not usually in a hurry to change things unless their performance and health really suffers, so yeah.
Ben: Okay. Alright, so as far as qualitative variables, I mean, do you ever notice like low drive, feeling more cold, anything that suggests to you that, in addition to some of the adrenal type of issues that you hinted at, need to be careful with. Have you noticed any change in the way you feel when you're doing this fat adapted faced stuff versus the carbohydrate-based performance?
Barry: I mean the only thing, the physical thing that I noticed that it has disrupted on a few occasion is it's definitely my sleep and it's definitely related to the adrenal stress. So you know after big races or big training sessions, and when I mean big, I mean kind of crazy, like ten-hour, eleven-hour run kind of thing. My heart rate will be really high, and I'll wake up with a pounding heart rate. So I think the adrenal stress is huge, I don’t suffer from cold or any other kind of health issues. I think it has a certain, kind of psychological. When you're doing this or for a long time, it certainly has kind of psychological effects. It certainly kind of puts you more, it makes you connected more with yourself. Depending on where you're training, it makes you kind of connected more with the environment and with nature, then it's kind of knock on effects.
So if you're going out, Ben, if you're going out this weekend, I know you don't train as long distance as I would, but if you went out for a four or five-hour bike ride at the weekend, fasted and you didn't really eat much during, the reward theory mechanism is kind or kicking after, even though you haven't eaten it before or you've run or cycled for a long time, it kind of steers you off. It can kind of make you either overeat or reward yourself with high carbohydrate-type food or whatever, so you know there's always kind of knock on effects of this. I think particularly in psychological or emotional, so that would be the only kind of thing that when you really get into it that it starts playing around with it.
Ben: Right, gotcha. Okay, cool, so let's talk about, in terms of elite and world class athletes because you've worked with some professional people. I don't know if you can give names or if you're able to get into any details, but I guess the first part of the question I want to ask you is are there even a significant number of elite or world class athletes doing this? And if so, how are they doing it from like a practical standpoint? Like if I'm a Tour de France cyclist. Am I going out with something different than sports drink in my water bottles? What exactly is going on, and how is it being used on an elite or world class level?
Barry: It's very, very difficult if you're a professional athlete of any kind, but singularly if you're a professional cyclist, it's a very difficult thing to basically do. It's a very difficult thing to start doing for a variety of reasons. One, it's very difficult to go against the norm, When you're in a sport such as professional cycling, you know it's got a very defined way of doing things, and when you're trying to flip things on its head. Basically, it's very hard to do that, and it's very hard for it to be accepted. So professional cyclists in the professional cycling world, I know of a few, but I would rather call them more cyclical low-carb, high-fat kind of diets, and the fasted state stuff would obviously be done during training. You see the thing about it is a lot of kind of elite, world class athletes will have a lot of the adaptations that things like low-carb, high-fat diets can bring or even fasted state can bring. So they would have already had mitochondrial biogenesis. They would already have upregulated fat oxidation enzymes. They would already have intramuscular triglyceride storage in the muscles. This is the thing where it kind of makes it not only hard, but sometimes, they don't see the benefits of it. And like we discussed moments ago, to really see the benefits of it, it does take time, even for these elite athletes. For them to see marginal improvements, you minimum your take in kind of a year, and for professional athlete or professional cyclists who go okay, I'm going to low-carb, high-fat for the next year, and I'm going to do my long rides fasted. It's very hard for them to take a year out to do that because it's a way. It's their living that is their work, it's their job, so that's the first thing.
The second point I'll make is that there's a huge amount of practical issues associated with this. If you're an elite athlete and you're travelling for training camps and you're travelling for races, there's practical aspects if you're sitting with your team. You're on a professional cycling team, and everyone's eating cereal and breads and there's no coconut oil in the table and there's no avocados and organ meats and etcetera, etcetera. Your diet has to change in accordance with practicality, unfortunately. So a lot of it comes down to simple practicality as to why people cannot, or particularly why elite athletes, why professional athletes can't stick to this kind of regime.
Ben: Now are you aware, like Durango? Like are people using, for example, I don't know if you heard my interview with Dominic D'Agostino where we talked about liquid ketones into potential for using things like beta hydroxybutyrate and acetyl acetate and ketone capsules or ketone liquids as fuel, are you aware of anyone actually doing something like that at an elite level?
Barry: Yeah, I am actually. I ironically say that, hopefully I'm allowed to say this, but so ketoesters, is that right? Is that what he's doing?
Ben: Yeah, like ketoesters, exactly.
Barry: Yeah, I know it has been used in professional cycling over the last year or two, and a lot of the teams are going to start using it now.
Ben: So you've actually seen that utilized, it's not like hearsay?
Barry: Yeah, no. They've utilized it. I don't know if you know, but there's actually a researcher there in Oxford University in England who's been working on formulating a drink for the last few years. It's basically ready to launch, it's a ketoester-type drink. Before she got the rights basically to launch it, one of the professional cycling teams kind of took the stuff on board and basically has been using it for the last couple of years. So that's one thing that is being used, and I think it's going to be gone, more widespread over the next couple of years.
Ben: I'm curious because I've seen you write about how today's primal diet or Paleo diet recommendations can mislead athletes, what exactly do you mean by that? For people who are exercising a lot or are engaging in sports, what do you mean when you say that primal and Paleo recommendations could mislead them?
Barry: Yeah, I just think you're talking about two very different sets of machines. I mean you're basically talking about an average sedentary, or just an average everyday individual who's just working out to be basically healthy versus a full-time athlete. A lot of the physiological mechanisms that a full time athlete has don't need a lot of the recommendations that don't even need to follow a lot of the recommendations that come from today's Paleo, kind of Paleo-sphere, whatever you want to call it.
I mean, to put it very simply, you're kind of comparing a Toyota Corolla with a Ferrari. If you upgrade the engine in the Toyota Corolla, it's going to go faster. You put a new set of wheels on it or you put in a new gear box in it, it's probably going to go a lot faster, but you can't really upgrade the engine of a Ferrari that much. It doesn't need a new set of wheels, so it doesn't get much faster. So a lot of the things that athletes need to do or don't need to do are because their physiology is different. For instance, I mean there's a lot of talk about say, for instance, fructose being bad for the liver and causing non-alcoholic fatty liver disease. If you eat over 30 or 40 grams of fructose, you know it's going to be bad for you. I'm working with professional cyclists who are probably eating a hundred and fifty grams of fructose a day and they've got no liver problems, so everything as you know has to be put in context. And I think when it comes to just full-time athletes, the way they work is just very different to what an obese or even a sedentary or somebody who's insulin resistant or has any kind of ailments or is not physiologically healthy.
Athletes can get very concerned when they see things like don't eat fructose, and it doesn't actually affect them, or even the recommendation of if you eat over 50 grams of carbohydrate, you'll lose out on. Ketosis, you can cycle out, in and out, as you know of ketosis on a daily basis, and I even think that if you're a full time athlete and you're pretty well fat adapted already, I think you can eat more carbohydrate and still get into ketosis. I think you can eat 50 grams and still be in ketosis. I mean is very hard for the general health world of the Paleo-sphere to give specific recommendation, but there's a lot of very intelligent, convincing health groups today. When you read something that's posted up in the internet, listen to some of it. If it sounds credible and the interior is good, I'll believe it and I'll listen to it, but I find is that a lot of these things don't really work or don't need to be done if you're already, you know? Instant you'll get sensitive, physiologically healthy, already kind of fat adapted, low inflammation, sleep patterns. Like I said, you don't need to give the flurry that make that much more changes to it to make it go faster.
Ben: Yeah, it's interesting because that's one of the things that I've noticed is like you'll see, I think I just saw this. It was like on Facebook where some girl had gone out and destroyed herself with seven miles of running and some MetCon gym session and all this activity during the day, and she rewarded herself at the end of the day with half a sweet potato and just that whole mentality of some of these things being evil or knocking you out of ketosis or out of the benefits of fat burning, or even if you're not in the state of ketosis per say, just like making you fat because of some of these primal and Paleo teachings. Yeah, I agree. Sometimes, it's kind of dangerous.
So I got a few other questions that I wanted to ask you in the time that we have left. You have kind of an opinion on the central governor effect and the way that the athletes feel during the exercise and specifically a recent study that was done on pro-cycling. You mentioned to me that you wanted to bring up or something that you recently came across. Can you talk about that?
Barry: Sure, I mean like I said this whole thing about becoming a better athlete, it's certainly related to diet, it's certainly related to training. I think fasted training is a big component of it, but you know I've started to realize that there's a lot of other factors that work or that are probably more important, lifestyle factors. You know I used to say you are what you eat, I'm kind of now say you are how you live. One of the things that I realized through working with professional athletes and just my own kind of performances is that sometimes you can do everything. Everything that you think is optimal for you, and you might have then a poor performance and it's not because you have your two spins of coconut oil or take your beach root juice shots or whatever it is. It's because of the state of mind that you're in and the central governor effect. An example of that, I was just trying to point out to you and I sent you a paper which was done in 2011 at the Giro d'Italia which is the equivalent of the Tour de France here in Italy, and it was done one by the Liquid Gas Canon team, I think. Basically what they did was they were trying to assess oxidative stress and antioxidants. Nine cyclists, nine riders in the team, and they had two doctors, I think, for the whole duration of the event, it's three weeks long, and what they did was they monitored their total on antioxidant capacity, I think it was, and they were monitoring their oxidative stress and reactive oxygen species and retrieving those riders with antioxidants based on the results that they were getting.
So they did a review then at the end of the Giro d'Italia on the nine individual riders, and it turns out that the two riders that had the best results during the race were the two riders with the lowest antioxidants store or capacity, and the highest amount of oxidative stress, and they’re on words in the conclusion to their paper was sometimes it doesn't down around to the physiology, it's down to willpower, and I think when you start really looking into sports, you'll find that there's lots of guys, and I know guys that top word class athletes, top world class cyclists that are living on three bowls of pasta a day. They don't know anything about ketosis, and they don't know anything about the low-carb, higher fat way of eating our fasted state training, but these are the people that are winning the Tour de France. So there's got to be something else going on, and there are a lot of things going in, and I think the biggest components of how you get more out of yourself is your mental approach to whatever it is that you're doing.
Ben: Yeah, but doesn't this stuff have an effect on health, too? I mean isn't there a difference as far as like long term health effects of eating three bowls of pasta a day versus say engaging in more of like a higher fat or reduced meal frequency type of approach that you have?
Barry: Definitely, I'm not saying three bowls of pasta are good for you. What I'm saying is that there are people that are doing that, and they are people that are winning some of the biggest sports events in the world. I mean I'm living here in Italy, I know there are people here in their 80s and their 90s, and they've been eating a croissant in the morning and pasta in the evening and pizza. So sometimes, there's certainly not one way of eating, I don't think, and I think there's obviously a huge amount of other factors that govern it.
Ben: Yeah, even like genetics. Like those folks you're talking about, their parents and their grandparents and their great grandparents and their great, great grandparents probably ate a similar diet too, right? So they've got different levels of amylases and enzymes and things of that nature?
Barry: Yeah, definitely, and as you know, it comes into another lifestyle factors in terms of like their environment and EMFs and all those other kind of things. But I think specifically related to sports, I think you're going to find this over the next couple of years. I think we've done a lot obviously on physiology and supplements and foods that are for the body and for athletes. I think certainly over the next year or two, I think a lot of it is going to be down to how you can hack the brain and how you can improve mental focus and cognition. So I think they've only started doing some research into that in endurance athletes actually, and I think we're going to find if you want to win Ironman Kona, I think one of the first things or one of the most important things is your state of mind or your central governor and how you can increase the amount of suffering you can do and all the rest of it, would you not agree?
Ben: Yeah, exactly. I do agree, and you know we've just got a few minutes left, Barry, but I want to tile this together for folks 'cause we've gone over ton of information. What I want to do is kind of give people an idea of if they want to combine fasting and exercise and train in a fasted state without doing damage to their bodies, how they can get started and what are some of your practical recommendations as far as how folks can do this and do it safely?
Barry: Yeah, sure. It's always important to kind of keep things practical and keep things simple. That's the problem with these podcasts is like I'm trying to kind of summarize what I've learned in the last kind of five, ten years. So yeah, I'll give you a very easy beginner's manual, so to speak. Again it depends on the individual and the person and what states they are at the moment, in terms of their diet and everything else, but if they want to improve their endurance capacity and if they want to become more fat adapted, and it depends on who they are, but what I would tell them to do is to first get into doing the carb back-loading approach. So where they're generally eating their biggest carbohydrate meal or their only carbohydrate meal after their workout, and then it depends on the time and the work at when they are training. I would say then if you're training in the morning, I would choose one, if not two workouts, whether that be run or cycle or swim or gym or crossfit or tennis whatever it may be.
If it's in the morning, it's always kind of important to do it when you're within one to two hours kind of off getting up. So if you get up 7 a.m., it's kind of good to be doing your exercise by 9 a.m. if you're starting out because I think it's related to the cortisol levels that happen if you get up and you're not eating soon. So what I would recommend is one or two hours a week or one or two sessions a week that they start doing, whatever training session that it is, and choose an easier, lower volume, lower intensity-type training session at the beginning. So that might be if somebody's going over for a one-hour easy run or a two-hour moderate cycle. Just get up, I would say have a coffee 'cause I think coffee improves fat oxidation. I also think it improves gluconeogenesis, so it's the making of glucose. So get up and have a coffee, and go and ride on your own or whatever it is you do, and do that for a period of kind of six months. Don't really do it anymore, maybe do it for a bit longer in terms of your maybe it's a longer ride or a longer run that you're doing.
Ben: That's really interesting that you say that because like so many people thrust themselves into this hardcore, right?
Barry: Exactly, and that's where I think people really fail when it comes to all the recommendations that are out there, and there's so much information now online that you can get and that people just want to do it all at once. I would say the best advice I would have for somebody is look at the models of training, depleted and fasted state, and do it the easy way first because if you learn how to swim in the shallow end really well, when it get into the deep end, you have to keep going, and you won't sink and drown basically. So build one or two sessions, I would say that a lower glycemic index carbs if you are a carbohydrate eater, get onto low GI carbs and carb back-load. It's very simple, just whatever it is you're doing, if you train in the morning, have your carbs at lunch. If you train in the evening, have your carbs at dinner, and do that for once or twice a week for six months, and then build it. As in do a longer session, or maybe try it for three times a week. You really have to go on feeling. You have to listen to the body and go on what you think is working for you, but I will say do it in a gradual manner.
Do two things, model your diet in order to fit with the training, in order to do the carb back-loading thing, and switch the low GI log legs that index carbohydrates. Don't do big volume high intensity sessions first to start out with, do lower intensity and lower volume stuff and do that for over a few months. Then incorporate maybe something higher intensity and longer after several months, and build it from there.
Ben: Gotcha, really good advice. This is a lot of information, I know, and for folks who want the show notes, they're going to be over at bengreenfieldfitness.com, and in addition to the interview with Barry and the resources that Barry and I have talked about, I'm also going to put a link to my interview with Peter Attia, my interview with Dominic D'Agostino, my own notes on my ketogenic Ironman experiment and my interview with Dr. Jack Kruse. And of course if you have questions, Barry's great at communicating as far as this stuff goes. I'll be there to help you out in the comments section, so if you have comments, questions, thoughts, feedback, leave them in the comments for the show notes for this episode which are going to be over at bengreenfieldfitness.com, and we'll be sure to help you out. So Barry, thanks so much for coming on the call today, and sharing this stuff with us.
Barry: Yeah sure, Ben, it was good to chat. I could probably keep on talking for another few hours, but hopefully we covered the main points.
Ben: Yeah, I think this is going to be a really good primer for folks. Alright folks, well this is Ben Greenfield and Barry Murray signing out from bengreenfieldfitness.com.
Barry Murray is a guy I have had my eye on for awhile.
Every once in a while he mysteriously pops up on a forum or Facebook thread I'm following, and talks about just having killed some ultra-race out in the middle of nowhere, or completed an epic mountain run…
…on nothing but a bit of butter or coconut oil the day before.
He's doing some crazy workouts in a fasted state, and yet managing to pull off amazing feats of physical performance.
And furthermore, he's not a diet hack – the dude actually knows his stuff – with a degree in Chemistry (BSc) and a Masters (MSc) in Sports Nutrition. He works with professional cyclists, triathletes, distance runners and last year worked as Sports Nutritionist to the BMC Professional Cycling Team. Yes, that BMC Professional Cycling Team.
Like I mentioned, Barry is also a competitive endurance athlete himself and races in ultramarathon events. He represented his country at the 2011 World Ultra Trail Championships, and has won several ultra trail marathons, placed 2nd at one of the UK’s toughest 100mile ultras, and has also set national records for trail routes over the Dublin mountains.
So how does Barry (pictured right) do it?
You find out in today's audio interview, in which Barry and I talk about:
-How Barry got into fasted workouts…
-An overview of the mechanism, function and exactly what happens inside your body when you combine fasting and exercise…
-The steps to becoming fat-adapted, and how long it takes…
-What types of workouts, athletes and sports fasting and exercise is good for, not not good for…
-Whether elite or world class athletes combine fasting and exercising or racing…
-What happens when fasting and exercise go wrong…
-How today's Primal and Paleo recommendations can mislead people…
-How to get started with fasted exercise, where it can take you, and how far you can go…
-Barry's website: www.OptimumNutrition4Sport.com