December 5, 2020
[00:01:05] Podcast Sponsors
[00:03:10] Guest Introduction
[00:05:25] How a Beer Study Jumpstarted Christie's Book
[00:18:26] Why Tests on Human Physiology Need to be Viewed with a Grain of Salt
[00:28:14] Why Studies of Sports Drinks Are Oftentimes Problematic
[00:33:38] Podcast Sponsors
[00:35:53] cont. Why Studies of Sports Drinks Are Oftentimes Problematic
[00:36:55] Why Cold Therapy Actually Hinders Exercise Recovery
[00:47:25] The Importance of Placebos for Exercise Recovery
[00:55:08] Expensive Sports Bars vs. Utilizing Wisdom in the Food We Eat
[01:03:07] Whether or Not Massage Actually Assists with Exercise Recovery
[01:06:03] The Most Potent (And Overlooked) Recovery Tool Known to Science
[01:08:28] Final Comments
[01:10:34] End of Podcast
Ben: On this episode of the Ben Greenfield Fitness Podcast.
Christie: I really did want to believe it. We sort of got really excited, but I really had a hard time believing the results, and let me explain to you why.
Ben: The long story short is that for most people, real food does just as good as a lot of these food that we're led to believe a lot of elite athletes are consuming when in fact they're just paid to be a poster boy.
Christie: The most important skill that any athlete can develop is an ability to read their own body.
Ben: If not used properly, it may actually impair recovery.
Health, performance, nutrition, longevity, ancestral living, biohacking, and much more. My name is Ben Greenfield. Welcome to the show.
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Alright, so if you've been listening to the show for a while, you know I talk about all sorts of crazy recovery modalities, everything from acupuncture to PEMF, to hyperbaric oxygen, and beyond. And so, my head swiveled when I saw that this gal named Christie Aschwanden–I don't even know. Am I pronouncing your name right, Christie?
Christie: It's Christie Aschwanden.
Ben: Well, I got Christie, right? Christie Aschwanden.
Christie: Yeah. Not bad. I've heard worse.
Ben: So, anyways, you guys, Christie wrote this book, and the book is called “Good to Go.” I don't know who sent it to me or how I got my hands on it, but I wound up on my book shelf and I was sitting there for a while and I finally got around to cracking open the pages and reading it, and it's actually pretty entertaining. She goes through drinking Gatorade versus beer after training, Tom Brady's infrared pajamas, pneumatic compression boots, cupping, all the stuff that you see a lot of pro-athletes and celebrities doing, and biohackers, like cryo-chambers, and float tanks, and infrared saunas. She just did like this immersive journalistic exploration of whether or not these things actually work for goals like recovery or for performance.
And what's cool is Christie is not just like sitting in a basement tapping away in a typewriter. She's an athlete, too. She's raced in Europe and North America on the Team Rossignol Nordic ski racing squad and lives in Colorado, which is a highly active area. She does trail running, bicycling, skiing. And so, she gets out there and does stuff. So, she was probably the perfect person to write this book, try out all this stuff on herself, and then report back on what works and what doesn't. So, we're going to get into a little bit of an enlightening discussion today, I think, for any of you who are skeptical about some of these things, and rightly so. So, all the shownotes for everything we talk about, including a link to Christie's new book called “Good to Go” you can find at BenGreenfieldFitness.com/goodtogo. That's BenGreenfieldFitness.com/goodtogo.
Christie, welcome to the show.
Christie: Thanks so much for inviting me on. Pleasure to be here.
Ben: Yeah. I actually was pretty intrigued in it. I think it was the first chapter in the book because you talked about a beer study and kind of a surprising result of a beer study. It sounds like that's what got you interested a little bit in writing the rest of the book. So, let's start there. What was this whole beer study that got you interested in recovery, and biohacking, and all this jazz?
Christie: Yeah. Sure. The decision to begin the book with the spear study was very deliberate. And the reason for this is I really wanted people to understand this sort of bigger problem or this bigger issue, and that is that science is really hard. Look, I'm a science journalist by vocation. That's my day job is writing about science. I've been writing a lot about COVID right now. But answering even simple questions with science is a really painstaking process. We don't get instant answers, and I think we have a tendency to put too much faith in single studies. And so, the beer study started with this very simple question that I have. I mean, I live in Colorado, so I am a beer drinker. We have a pretty big craft beer industry here. I will admit that I'm a bit of a beer snob.
Ben: I actually know this because I own a supplements company called Kion and it's based on the Boulder. Well, I should say this. When I was at Boulder, there's microbreweries and beer everywhere. But I also live in Spokane, Washington, which is, I have described it in the past, is like a poor man's Boulder because it's extremely outdoorsy community with tons of breweries, a little bit more backwoods and redneck [00:07:04] _____ Boulder. But anyways, I get it, there's lots of beer down there.
Christie: Yeah. So, a lot of my running buddies and–I do a lot of things. I like to mountain bike. It's usually mountain biking and running, trail running though that–yeah, we like to finish up a workout with an ice-cold beer. And you just got to thinking, “Is this really such a great idea? Is it possible that I'm wrecking my recovery with this?” Even though I know that having that post-workout beer can be really enjoyable. And sometimes it's enjoyable not just because of, yeah, the beer itself, but this whole ritual of–it's something that you're drinking to sort of say, “Hey, we're relaxing now. The hard stuff is over. This is the time to let loose and relax.”
But I was really curious about the science here. And so, I went to the scientific literature, which is where I usually start when I'm going to write about something, and I found that there wasn't a lot of good research on this. Most of the research that has been done on alcohol and exercise had actually been done. This is kind of funny to me, but a lot of it was done looking at exercise performance while drinking or post-drinking, which was definitely not the scenario I was looking for, right? I'm looking for like whether it's bad to go to the–
Ben: Right. That's pretty much something relegated to the realm of the golf course in most cases.
Christie: Yeah. Exactly. So, there was some research on this, but it turns out for reasons I'm not sure of, it seems that most of this research was done on rugby players, who I have to sort of hats off to them. These guys can drink. I mean, these studies were like six or seven or eight beers after a bout of exercise, which is absolutely not what I'm curious about. I mean, I don't need a study to tell me that, yeah, getting drunk after a hard workout is probably not good for me. Probably not good for me, whether I've been working out or not, right? And it certainly wasn't the scenario I was interested in. And so, I thought, well, I actually started off–before I was a journalist, I was a scientist and I thought I'm still sort of a researcher, sort of an experimentalist at heart. And so, I thought, “Why don't we do a study?” It just so happened that a buddy of mine, a running buddy who was at the time the cross country coach at our local college, also ran the exercise lab and was a homebrewer. So, what could be more perfect, right? Like, it took me about two seconds to convince him.
Ben: Oh, easy.
Christie: Yeah. That we should do this study. And so, we started off with this seemingly extremely simple question, which was, does drinking beer after a hard run impair recovery? That seems pretty straightforward, right? It shouldn't be that hard to answer. But it turns out that it was incredibly hard to do this. And the first problem that we ran into, the first issue was, okay, well, what do we mean by recovery? Because if you're going to study something scientifically, it's not enough to just ask the question. You need to have some sort of measure and some way that you're going to tally your results. And so, we had to think about this a little bit. What do we mean by recovery? How are we going to measure it? And how is that meaningful to us? And for me, it really meant–I'm sort of a recreational athlete now. I was elite and pretty serious back in my day, but I'm more of a master blaster and doing this stuff for fun.
But I want to know, if I'm having that beer after a race or after a hard run, am I going to feel wrecked the next day? Is it going to feel like the next run isn't going to feel very possible? Am I going to feel extra sore, all of these things? Would I not sleep well? But we ended up having to figure out ways to quantify this. And at the time, in retrospect, I wish we would have gone and taken a little bit more time to think this through. But what we ended up doing was using just some very standard markers that are used in these kinds of exercise tests. And one of the most commonly used tests to measure things in these sorts of studies is something called the run to exhaustion. This can also be done on a bike, but it seems to be more often done running, and this is something where they just–yeah, before starting all of the studies, they'll put all of the participants through this whole battery of tests to figure out their VO2 max and all of that.
And so, you're put at this high rate of your max heart rate basically to see how long you can go and say you're going. And I think for this, it was something like 80% or 85% of your max, and so people would go, and that was our measure of recovery. Now, we also looked at some other things. We ask people to report during this run to exhaustion, how they were feeling, how their sort of qualitative feelings of effort. We also looked at a few metabolic measures because one hypothesis that we had is that alcohol might affect how you're utilizing fuel. So, whether you're using carbohydrates or fat preferentially. And we didn't end up finding much difference there. We also thought that there was a possibility that we could find a gender difference in the way that things were metabolized.
Ben: And to clarify that this runtime to exhaustion that you were still studying the alcohol consumption after, or was this alcohol consumption before?
Christie: Yeah. I'll give you a little rundown on the methodology. So, basically, what we did is we had people come into the lab. They were put on a treadmill and ran at like 75% maybe of the max. I can't remember. But basically, I think it was about 45 minutes, about a 45-minute run on the treadmill. And basically, this run was designed to deplete glycogen because one of the hypothesis that we wanted to test is that there seemed to be some hints in a literature. It wasn't definitive, but there seemed to be some hints that alcohol might impair glycogen reuptake. So, it might impair your body's ability to replenish those glycogen stores, and that would be something that would impair your recovery. So, we wanted to specifically look at that. It's pretty invasive to do actual glycogen testing of the muscles. So, we didn't do that, but we did this run to exhaustion.
Ben: Yeah. It hurts like hell, those muscle punch biopsies. I was part of a study where we had to do before and after a three-hour treadmill run. It was a ketosis study at UConn called the faster study. And yeah, I just remember running for three hours on the treadmill, post-muscle biopsy. It felt like someone is just digging knives into my thighs with every step. So, yeah. Not a fun way to measure the glycogen amount in muscle. So, what'd you say you guys did instead?
Christie: Okay. So, we did the run to exhaustion. We took the RPE, the–what is it? Rating of perceived exertion.
Ben: Rating of perceived exertion, yeah.
Christie: Which is basically asking you how do you feel on a scale to 1 to 10. There are different scales that you can use. We had people wear these masks so we could tell what kind of metabolism they were using, if it was carbs or fat, and all of that. So, those were measures. And so, people came in for the first run and ran for about 45 minutes. I believe it was at this pretty hard run, but not so hard that you're completely crushed afterwards, but just hard enough that you need to feel like you're going to recover for the next one, right? And then, right after the run, what we did is we fed everyone a pasta dinner along with a beer, which we had titrated to get. So, basically, the level of alcohol that we were going forward is just slightly below the legal limit for driving in Colorado.
And so, this wasn't enough to be knocked down drunk or anything like that. You wanted to be just below where it was still legal for you to drive, but is enough beer. For me, 130-pound woman, it was one beer. This was Fat Tire Amber Ale. So, we weren't drinking Bud Lights. It's one hardy beer. It may have been one and a half, but it wasn't a lot and it was over a little bit of a time course. Anyway, but we did this. And then, the next morning, everyone came back and did the run to exhaustion. So, you get on the treadmill and you have to go at this pretty hard pace, and so you can go no longer. And then, we repeated the whole experiment and here was sort of the trick was that everyone did this two-day series under two different conditions. We had the Fat Tire beer, and then we had–we were calling it the placebo beer. It is a non-alcoholic beer who's really only redeeming quality was that in the little cups, it looked a lot like Fat Tire. And so, yeah, we did that and that's because–
Ben: Disappointingly tasteless in my experience with non-alcoholic drink.
Christie: Yeah, yeah, it is. But you know, there are other things in beer, too, and there is also–beer has a lot of water in it, too.
Ben: Yeah. Water, electrolytes, carbohydrates, things in addition to the ethanol that will have an impact.
Christie: Yeah. So, we were definitely trying to sort of preferentially look at the alcohol. Anyway, so we did the study and we got the results back. There were 10 people in the study, 5 women, 5 men. And I'll just add that I was one of the participants. And I'm really glad that I was because I learned some things and I'll get into that in a second. But the results came back and what we found was that women performed better on that run to exhaustion the morning after they'd had the post-run beer. Whereas men, their performance was that that beer was detrimental to their performance by about the same percentage. It was about 20% difference was what we found. And so, that sounds really exciting and I can just tell you that as a woman who's married to a man, this was awesome because it's like, “Okay. Sorry, sweetie. You're the designated driver, I'm the drinker.” This is all of our performance, right?
Ben: Right. Exactly.
Christie: But it turned out like–
Ben: Studies have shown.
Christie: Right. So, I was totally primed to want to believe this. I mean, I really did want to believe it and we sort of got really excited, but I really had a hard time believing the results. And let me explain to you why. First of all, there were 10 people and we had a really large variety of results between us. So, we had one guy, Marty, who's an ultra-runner, who ended up getting the placebo beer the first time and he ran like some ridiculous amount. It was like over an hour on this run to exhaustion, which you're not supposed to do, but he's just a really fit ultra-runner. He was in his prime right then. And so, we did the second go round, very close to the first one. And so, chances are who's pretty wrecked on the second one, and that difference skews the averages, right? And then, we had some people who were pretty similar on both of them, but what you end up having is that this variety can skew those averages. And these statistical analyses are supposed to count for that, some, but they can't completely eliminate this–
Ben: Especially with an end with a sample size of that that low. And you see this a lot. For example, one of the journals that I subscribe to is the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, and it's got a lot of interesting studies in there. But compared to a lot of these larger medical journals, the end is like often 10 to 80 folks. And so, you don't get a very strong strength of the statistical analysis in a scenario like that, and a lot of people aren't aware that when you're looking at like 8 to 10 people who come from a wide variety of backgrounds in a study like the one you're describing, the takeaway always needs to be taken away with a pretty big grain of salt.
Christie: Absolutely, absolutely. This is a fundamental problem in performance research, and it's something people who are interested in this should look at my work at 538. I've written a ton about P values and statistics, and I've written several stories about problems in sports science in particular, and that's probably beyond the scope of this interview today. But I'll just say that you have to really think about something called sampling error, and that is when you have a really small study like this, you have to wonder like, are these people really representative of the population you want to be studying? And more importantly, when it comes to all of us, is this indicative of me?
In this case, I can tell you, I was in the study, so I know my results and I did do a little bit better the morning after beer than I did the morning when I had the placebo beer. But I also found the run to exhaustion really weird and strange. It did not feel to me at all like a good measure of recovery. At some point, you're on this treadmill running at a pace that's uncomfortable, but not all out, and it becomes this mental game of like, “Okay. How uncomfortable do I want to be? How much incentive do I have to keep going?” We had a few interesting things that happen. We had a meeting with everyone before the study to just explain what was going to happen, run everyone through the protocol. We also in that first meeting served everyone some beer and brought a cup in with a breathalyzer because we wanted to be sure that we could titrate the alcohol to the right level. So, that was kind of fun.
But in that meeting, one of the people asked, “How long will this run to exhaustion? Give us a ballpark, how long do you expect that this will last? Is it just going to be something that's five minutes or five hours?” And the lead researcher said, “Oh, most people last about 20 minutes.” Well, guess what, pretty much everyone and I talked to everyone afterwards about this. I interrogated them after the study was done, and all of us felt like, okay, we had to make it 20 minutes. That was sort of the benchmark. And after that, then you could sort of decide. And it was very telling to me that there were two people who missed that meeting. And so, they got privately briefed, and they didn't get that little bit of information, and neither of them went 20 minutes. By all of those sort of accounts, there's not a good reason to think that they were less talented or weren't going to be able to go as far. I mean, really, at some point, all of us felt like this test was sort of an artificial measure of how dedicated we were to this study.
Ben: Right. Plus, there's always the variable, and this occurs very often in studies where when you've done the protocol a second time and you're more accustomed to the protocol, you are going to see an improvement in performance. I mean, I guarantee that if you give me a time to exhaustion treadmill test the first time, it's actually going to be a little bit more difficult because you just know what to expect the second time around, which means anything that you consume, there could be a pretty big impact on whether it's that thing that's actually improving performance versus the fact that you're just familiarized with the test.
Christie: Oh, absolutely. And this is a known phenomenon. It's something that people try to account for. But here, ideally, you have a really large sample and we did randomize who got the beer first versus second. But when you only have 10 people, even if you randomize that, you're not going to eliminate that problem. And when you looked at it, it was definitely clear that we were seeing some issues like that. We also, because of lab space constraints and things like this, we did all of these runs sort of back to back. So, by the time you were on the second run to exhaustion, there was a pretty good chance you were feeling fatigued. Anyway, I certainly felt that and I had the placebo beer. We went back, and so I could see that it was the placebo beer the second time.
Now, the other thing is that most of us were quite able to determine whether we had had the real beer or not and it was really funny. One of the guys in the study actually was able to guess the exact brand of the non-alcoholic beer because he had actually done his own experiment a few years back. He was trying to qualify for Boston. And so, he gave up beer and he started drinking this non-alcoholic beer. And it turned out that that didn't help him. So, he went back to drinking, and then I think he qualified for Boston later anyway. But that's a little bit of an aside. But there are all these issues that could really have a huge impact on what results you have, what you get. And so, really, this experience of being a participant in the study, but also having been in on the study to begin with, I mean, this wasn't something–we weren't setting this up, like this wasn't made by big beer to try and create this result or something. I mean, we genuinely wanted to get the correct result, we were doing our best, and yet we ended up getting results that I felt where you're not entirely reliable. And it wasn't that they weren't interesting, but they were just sort of a first step.
And so, we could have published this and made headlines and gotten some attention, and I will say it was presented. Some of the people involved were grad students, and one of them are actually an undergrad, I believe, presented the study at a meeting. So, it is out in the literature. We didn't hide it in a closet or anything, or the file drawer. But it's just a small study and it's just one little piece of evidence. And if you ask me, does beer after a workout impair recovery? This is just one little snippet of evidence, and you have to take the bigger pile of evidence that we have. And when you look at that, basically, what you see is that in moderation, beer probably doesn't make a big difference either way. And I think one thing I like to keep in mind is that if something has a big effect on something, you probably don't need a big study to find out. If beer really wrecked my recovery, I would have probably already noticed that on my own, right?
Christie: And so, if it has an effect, which it still may, it's probably pretty subtle though. And particularly, again we're talking about moderate alcohol intake care. We're not talking about going and getting completely slashed like those rugby players. I mean, by the way, they did find that that was not good.
Ben: Yeah. That's something important, too, is you'll see headlines such as the ones that came out after that rugby player study that says, “The evidence is in alcohol intake post-exercise impairs recovery.” People who see those headlines often don't read the actual article in which they indicate, as you alluded to, that those subjects drink a lot of alcohol, like seven drinks. When in fact, the small amounts of water, and carbohydrate, and electrolytes in one beer after exercise may arguably even allow for better recovery. So, there's that dose-effect part. And then, the other part is even just–I think you mentioned this in the book, just the type of test used, like for example, and I know this from–I have a background, I don't know if you knew this, in exercise physiology and biomechanics and spent about a decade in just labs, doing tests on athletes and–a time trial, saying, “Okay. You're going to do a 10k time trial on the treadmill.” We note that has better reliability, and validity, and sensitivity compared to a run to exhaustion. And so, even just the method via which the fitness is assessed is pretty important, too, but unfortunately, especially when people are looking at–I know we're kind of talking a little bit more about performance in that context then recovery, but you have to actually look at what's being used in this study, the dose, et cetera. And so many people just don't pay attention to those factors.
Christie: Absolutely. And I have to just say, when you're looking at these studies, you really have to ask, what are they measuring? What's the difference that they found? Is this something that's relevant to me? This run to exhaustion is probably not that relevant for the question that I had or that most of us had because most of us aren't going out and doing a run to–I mean, unless you're being chased by a bear or something, and that probably is not going to last 20 minutes, let's be honest. But that's not really a good way of measuring an answer to the question that I'm asking.
Christie: And so, one thing that happens, again and again, is it's very easy to set up studies where you take a bunch of measures and you sort of measure a bunch of things until you find some difference, and then you can attribute that whatever it is that you're looking at, so in this case, beer, to that difference and you make a big deal out of it. But it may or may not be something that's important and you have to sort of ask, too, is this measure something that's reliable? There are a lot of physiological measures that we can take that have a lot of natural variability. Meaning that if you took that on two different days, they might be different, not because all these other things were so different, but just because naturally, I mean, blood pressure, heart rate is a good one, right? Your heart rate can go up and down in different circumstances. You really have to replicate the exact same circumstances to get that.
So, you really have to be very careful about asking what it is they were doing and whether it's relevant. So, in this beer study, we also looked at ratings of perceived exertion, which I think is actually a much better measure here because it's asking you how do you feel. And that's actually what I wanted to know is, am I going to feel crappy if I've drank some beer the night before? And with that measure, we didn't find a difference. So, if you're using that measure to answer the question, the answer is no, beer doesn't impair recovery.
Ben: Right, right. Yeah. And sports drinks of course are far more commonly studied than alcohol. And there's some issues with a lot of these sports drink studies. I mean, I interviewed Tim Noakes way back in the day about all the issues with a lot of these Gatorade studies and some of the concerns that he had about that.
But you looked into sports drinks a little bit. And I remember one part in the book, I think you described a study where they compared a group that was given a sports drink, and then the other group got water. And I forget–do you remember the findings of that study? What was going on with that study? Which is kind of funky. It was like, well, of course, it's going to indicate that this sports drink is better than water. But what was happening in that one?
Christie: Yeah. I mean, you'll see these studies where they have–yeah, they have athletes who are fasted. So, they haven't eaten. They haven't had any calories since the day before. And then, you're bringing them into the lab and you're giving them some sports drink versus water. Well, of course it may or may not be the sports drink. It probably has nothing to do with the hydration. They're getting these calories. They've been fasted. So, this goes back to like what is the question you're asking, and is this protocol a good way of answering it? And Gatorade has created an entire research empire around this idea that hydration is a super essential part of performance. And they've set the research agenda, which is premised on this idea.
And when you go and look into the physiological literature here, we just don't actually have a lot of good evidence that hydration is nearly as fundamental or crucial as they say. Now, don't get me wrong. I am absolutely not saying that hydration isn't important and that athletes shouldn't drink and all of this. But this idea that there's this sort of absolute optimum level of hydration that you need to attain and that's going to have this huge impact on your performance is just a load of crap. Our bodies are extremely, extremely capable of functioning under different conditions. And if you think about it, I mean, our ancestors–I don't like to look at evolutionary examples to sort of say caveman can explain everything. But even my grandparents who were farmers, they didn't bring huge water bottles with them out in the fields all the time. Like, our bodies are capable of dealing with a little bit of dehydration.
Ben: Oh, absolutely. But if you take a subject, as you just alluded to, who wakes up after an overnight fast, goes into a lab in an overnight fasted state and does–let's say it's not a runtime to exhaustion test, let's say it's a test like the one I did where it's a set distance. In this case, three hours on a treadmill. And then, you find out that lo and behold, a sports drink appears to help in that scenario. Well, I mean, it's an unrealistic scenario for many folks to wake up in an overnight fasted state and go run for three hours, yet the headline will simply say, “Newsflash: [00:30:54] _____ sports drinks dramatically improve running performance.” The same is said of the post-exercises, anabolic feeding window. A lot of those studies, I think you talk about this in your book.
Christie: I do, yeah.
Ben: A lot of those studies, you'll take someone who again has fasted overnight, does a glycogen depleting weight training workout to absolute exhaustion. And then, when you compare that to someone who didn't hit that post-exercise anabolic feeding window of, depending on the study, anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours, that person does see an impact in terms of better muscle hypertrophy or better recovery. But it's again pretty few and far between that you are actually going to be waking up completely fasted in training to complete exhaustion for a couple hours in the gym. And sure, that's a scenario in which may be optimizing some type of carbohydrate and protein blend post-workout could give you benefit. But in the absence of that scenario, if you're still burping up whatever energy bar breakfast that you had before you went to the gym, you don't have to like drop the bar and go dig the protein shake out of your duffel bag like a lot of people are doing based on their flawed perception of the research.
Christie: Yeah. Absolutely. And it's not just them. I mean, there are other sports drink companies as well, but they've really created this situation now. I mean, when I was researching the book, I tried to find an example of someone dying of dehydration during a sporting event. I have yet to find one. People die of heat exhaustion, heat stroke, which are not the same thing, by the way. And in fact, there's some pretty good research showing that dehydration may be associated with those, but they don't seem to be the most important factor and it's not the same thing. That's an important thing. But now we have people who are literally dying in marathons because they're drinking too much, because they've been told that they have to drink on some sort of schedule. I mean, drinking is actually quite easy. Drink to thirst. That's how our bodies have evolved. We're quite good at dealing with that. Thirst is your body's way of telling you that it needs some hydration.
And so, yes, so much I think of what I found while researching this book is that the most important skill that any athlete can develop is an ability to read their own body and to be able to read those signs. And this sounds really simple, and a lot of people say, “Oh, just drink when you're thirsty.” But yeah, we've gotten to a point where so many people now don't even know what thirst is like because they've been drinking a litter an hour or whatever it is that the hydration folks want you to do. And so, it takes paying attention, and not just paying attention, but paying attention to the correct things. And I think that can be trickier than a lot of people realize.
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I think there was almost 20 different reported, and probably more underreported or non-reported hyperhydration and in hyponatremia related deaths during these incidents. Gatorade, to their credit, they changed their stance. I think it was like 2015 where they officially came out and said, “You don't have to drink X number of ounces of water/Gatorade per hour.” I think they used to say like at least 40 ounces of fluid an hour during endurance exercise. They instead said–
Christie: Which is dangerous.
Ben: Yeah. They said as you alluded to, after the work of folks like Tim Noakes, to call him out on this, that you just need to drink to thirst. Unfortunately, a lot of people died in the years before they actually came right out and said that while–the winners of a lot of these marathons, triathlons, et cetera, would finish the race 3% to 5% dehydrated. Like, the faster folks are actually dehydrated and they're not dropping dead right and left, as you just noted.
Christie: That's right. Yeah.
Ben: Yeah. So, the other thing that I want to get into, it goes beyond some of the things regarding like eating and drinking, and you cover some other things in the book as well. For example, cold therapy, cryotherapy, cold thermogenesis, a lot of people are interested in this topic, and I know you have some thoughts on that, or at least you went out and did some research on that. So, what do you find out about cold therapy and cold thermogenesis?
Christie: This was probably one of the more surprising things I learned during my research. I sort of came up icing and doing ice baths and cold baths and all that. When I was a bike racer during stage races, we used to fill our hotel bathtubs with ice and sitting there. It was super painful, which is how we knew it was working, right? There's that whole thing where placebos are more powerful and potent if they feel uncomfortable or unpleasant. But anyway, but I really thought that icing worked. I thought that it helped. Have you also been an icer? I'm curious.
Ben: I have, yup. I have like a cold tub outside of my office. I've got an above ground pool that I keep kind of cold. I don't do a lot of direct topical ice, even though I used to use–back when I worked at a physical therapy clinic, I would jump into their game ready after some long runs, which is kind of like pneumatic compression combined with cold. And so, yeah. I've certainly utilized it.
Christie: Yeah. And I mean, it can feel really good, like on a really hot day, I think it can be useful for helping to reduce your core body temperature and cool down and all of that. And there is something icing cold definitely can have a numbing effect. So, when you're in pain, that can be helpful. But it turns out that cold and icing is not helpful for recovery, and in fact, it seems to–in fact, if anything, it may slow down and hinder recovery. It's not something that's going to prevent you from recovering, but it's going to slow it down. And I think the best way to explain this is just throw a little thought experiment, and that is like, what is the purpose of icing? Why do you do it? And I'm curious what your thoughts are on this. I mean, what have you been told, or what do you perceive as the theory behind icing?
Ben: It's kind of a tricky question.
Ben: You look at inflammation and the release of a lot of these pro-inflammatory biomarkers in response to exercise can induce satellite cell response that is followed by mitochondrial biogenesis and an increase in muscle hypertrophy, and a host of factors that dictate that particularly for the fitness response to properly occur to exercise that if inflammation is completely blunted, that's not going to occur to as great an extent as it would if you just allowed a lot of those immune factors, and cytokines, and other elements responsible for inducing that repair response to simply occur naturally. And from what I understand, the argument is that cold exposure or cryotherapy, intensive icing post-workout shuts down the inflammatory response to the extent to where you're allowing mTOR to be, in this case, it would be inhibited, and shutting down the anabolic response if you ice post-workout. That's the general argument.
Christie: Yeah. And I mean, that's way more detailed answer than I was expecting, although I shouldn't be surprised because I know you're trained on this stuff. But I mean, we could even be more basic than that, right? Like, would you make your muscles cold like that? Like if I put my legs into the ice bath, I'm basically reducing circulation there, right? Like, my body is going to shut all the blood to my core. And so, all these things that you want to happen just with circulation, like just getting blood in and out of there to get rid of metabolic byproducts to get new stuff in all of this, like you're slowing that down. And so, whatever you're doing, you're not really speeding anything up. And once you get out of the cold, your body is going to start recirculating again and all that stuff is going to happen.
So, best case, you're just slowing down this process that's going to happen. And as you just described, inflammation, we so often are told that this is a bad thing that we want to get rid of, or we need to address inflammation. And there are conditions and situations in which that's correct. And there are also different types of inflammation, and that's another discussion. But I think in this case, the reasons that most athletes are going into the ice bath and doing this icing is they think that it's going to speed their recovery. And the evidence that we have just shows that that doesn't seem to be the case. You want those inflammatory agents to get in there and repair that damage. I mean, that's part of your body's healing process, and that healing process is what makes you fitter, faster, stronger.
Ben: I think there are some subtle nuances, like we were talking about the subtle nuances in terms of whether it's a fasted study versus a fed study, or whether it's a time to exhaustion versus a set distance, et cetera. And for example, every single study that shows up a blunting of a hypertrophic response when someone does something like an intense cold bout–and it does have to actually be pretty intense. I mean, we're talking like a–I think it's like a 5- to 8-degree Fahrenheit drop in the actual muscle tissue. It's significant. It requires a pretty intense–we're not talking about like a cold shower at the gym. We're talking about literally jumping in an ice bath or maybe like a couple rounds of a cryotherapy chamber to actually get the core or the muscle belly cold enough to an extent to where it's significantly blunting inflammation, which a lot of people aren't doing anyways.
But when you look, at least from what I've seen, at a lot of the studies that are utilizing whole body cryotherapy or cold thermogenesis, the blunting always occurs in every single study when it's acute. When you finish your workout, in this case, strength training, and get straight into an ice bath without allowing inflammation to build–in the same way that we know like, whatever, high dose of antioxidants, like vitamin C and vitamin E can blunt the inflammatory response very similarly. But yeah. I mean, there are other studies that show that when you do cryotherapy about one to two hours after a strength session, you actually see the direct opposite. You see an improvement in recovery, an improvement in power, an improvement in hypertrophy, indicating there's kind of like a timing window. Meaning that if you allow inflammation to build for one to two hours and then blunt it later on, decreased core temperature, get like the norepinephrine response and all the positive benefits that you get from something like cold therapy, you could have your cake and eat it too when it comes to strength training.
And so, again, I think it's important to dig into and look at the studies. And it appears that timing, and also the dose, and the temperature is important. Meaning that if you finish a strength training session and you got to go to work, and you take a quick cold shower so you're not pitting out the entire day at work, that's not going to blunt anything at all. But if you're jumping in a super cold ice bath for 10 minutes right after your strength training workout, yeah, I mean, it is going to blunt that inflammatory response. Whereas if you were to maybe take that ice bath at 5:00 p.m., you've worked out at, say, 9:00 a.m., arguably, it's actually going to improve some of your recovery parameters and might give you some of the other–like the building mitochondria, and uncoupling protein, and white adipose to brown fat conversion, and all the other side benefits of cold.
So, I think timing is important. And then, the modality is also important. Like, I know they've looked at strength versus endurance. For example, cold is well-known to increase your mitochondrial biogenesis, like you activate PGC-1alpha. That makes more mitochondria in the muscle, and that's kind of like the holy grail for endurance athletes. You want increased mitochondrial biogenesis in response to jogging or running, or swimming, or cycling, or anything that's going to require a greater deal of mitochondria as opposed to like a strength or power athlete for whom that's less important. Well, when you look at the studies done in especially like elite runners and elite endurance athletes, all of them who did, even that acute whole body cryotherapy after they've done endurance exercise, they all saw a massive increase in mitochondrial biogenesis. And because they weren't training for hypertrophy, and for power, and for strength, it did negate any performance parameters and actually improve things like post-exercise, muscle recovery, and mitochondrial biogenesis.
So, you could say like, well, if you're an endurance athlete and you go out on a three-hour run, yeah, getting the ice bath afterwards because you're actually going to increase mitochondrial biogenesis. But if you're training for strength or hypertrophy, don't do that. Wait. And so, I think a big part of it, too, is what you're training for, like the modality of training. And these are just things that again, like media will just say, because I've seen this before, it's like, “Oh, cold is old news. It's going to destroy your gains pro when there's a lot more to it than that.
Christie: Yeah. I mean, I would love to see some of those studies. I know at the time I did write this book. It came out spring, February of 2019, and of course finished writing months and months, nine months before that. But at that time, I wasn't seeing studies that were showing this. I mean, it's interesting. Cryotherapy, these cryochambers have become really popular, but it's interesting, yeah, and they feel really cold. But you actually don't get as cold in those as you would an ice bath. And this is just basic physics, right? Like, water is a much better conductor of cold than air is. And so, although it might feel really cold and [00:46:43] _____, I do think this sort of gets into another thing that I think is really important.
There's a reason there's a whole chapter in my book about placebos and the placebo effect, and I come down in saying that the placebo effect can be useful, like it is something that you can sort of harness for good. But I think I tried cryotherapy. I did all this research that was basically telling me that it wasn't worth much at all, but I went ahead and tried it anyway and I'm glad that I did because what I found is that there are other things that it does that people might find useful. I got out of that cryotherapy chamber feeling like a total rush. Like, there's definitely an adrenaline rush that you get, and I understand why.
The guy at the place that I went to, the local NFL team would like to come in and do this before game sometimes, and I can see why they would do that. You really feel like ready to go and sort of ready to kick some ass. So, there are other things that people can get out of some of these modalities. And I think sometimes we focus on certain things when the benefit may be something else, and it may be something that's more squishy. It might be something that's harder to measure scientifically, which doesn't mean that it's not useful in some way. And I think one of the big takeaways for me was that anything, when it comes to recovery, anything that helps you feel better or faster is useful. And a very basic level, like, you can measure all these really fancy physiological things, but a lot of those don't actually matter that much, but your subjective feeling of well-being is actually really important, and that's something that you need to be tuning into anyway. But at the end of the day, that's actually much more important and relevant than some of these other things that you can measure in the studies.
And so, when people ask me if something works, I have to ask, “Well, what do you mean by working?” And if you're doing this thing that's making you feel better, and so many things that are geared towards recovery are really about helping people relax, which I think it says something really important about life today and where we're at that people have to work at relaxing. But obviously, it's true, and so many of these things are really about helping people to relax and giving them some sort of ritual or some sort of reason to actually do that relaxation that they need to recover. And then, there's one other thing that I want to mention. And so, I talk about this in the book. There was this case of an airport. I believe it was Houston where people were complaining that it was taking way too long to get their bags at baggage claim. And so, they did a bunch of things to try and speed things up and they reduced the time by a little bit, but people were still complaining. And so, what they ended up doing was they re-routed people. So, they had to walk further from the gate to the baggage claim. But they did this in a way so that you basically arrive and your bags are there, and the complaints totally stopped.
But I think the takeaway here is that we really hate waiting. And so many of these things are just things for us to do to feel proactive, to feel some sort of sense of agency while we're just waiting for our bodies to naturally recover on their own. And so, I think this idea that we need to optimize everything and we need to really be pushing all the time and doing everything is sort of the antithesis of this, like sometimes the best thing you can do is just kick back and relax and wait, and know that that's okay. Forcing it is not always the right call.
Ben: Right. Essentially, those 20 minutes that you spent closing your eyes with your $2,000 pair of graded compression boots, 80% of what you felt from that could have just been the fact that you took some time to relax after your workout.
Christie: Absolutely. I mean, I love compression boots because they feel good and you're lying there, you're sitting up with your legs up for 20 minutes, 30 minutes relaxing. Like, it's not some magic thing that it's doing physiologically, except that you're relaxing, I think. But that's okay. I think that that's legit. And I think we've really gotten to this point where we feel like these scientific explanations that are based on these very highly measured things are more legitimate than these qualitative measures. But I think that so often, that really sets us up to fall for snake oil because you have all of this marketing around things that are just–they can go and measure all this stuff until they find something and they can really play that up. And it goes back to the beer study, like, is the run to exhaustion really the thing that we care about? And so often, it's not.
Ben: Yeah. And part of it, too, does come down to the training modality when you're looking at elite athletes, or, for example, we're just talking about pneumatic compression. And it has been shown to actually do things, like for example, reduce skeletal muscle oxidative stress or proteolysis markers during recovery. But many of the studies that have shown that to be the case are in elite male weight lifters, who are just destroying themselves on squat day. That doesn't mean that if, whatever, you're going for a 30-minute lunchtime jog that you got to prioritize everything and drop your entire lunch hour to go slip into your pneumatic compression recovery boots because you're not training at the level that is reported in a lot of these studies.
But it goes the other way, too. I mean, some of the studies I've seen on cold, for example, that we were just talking about, they're showing no effect on cold or of cold on recovery in people who are doing like a 30-minute bike ride three times a week, not an Ironman triathlon creating mass oxidative stress from training three to four hours a day. So, I think part of it does depend on the modality of training, too. I would argue that for the folks who are really out there crushing it hard like elite athletes, et cetera, those people probably do benefit a little bit more from using some of these overpriced modalities that really aren't going to do as much good.
Christie: I'm not convinced. I mean, I hate to be a total naysayer, but go back to the thought experiment with the cold. What are you doing? You are slowing inflammation for however long you're in that cold bath. I'm not convinced that that's the best use of your time and the best use of your efforts.
Ben: Yeah. Well, I should send it to you. I have it somewhere. I have like a two-hour presentation I recently gave where I dig into the research. And there's a ton of subtle nuances in terms of timing, in terms of temperature, in terms of how difficult the training session actually was. It's difficult to paint with a broad brush. But I think the important takeaway point is if something is reported to be an anti-inflammatory or anti-oxidant that's going to help you be healthier, that does not mean that it's going to assist with your recovery. And in some cases, if not used properly, timed properly, or dosed properly, it may actually impair recovery.
Christie: Yeah. And I mean, I think this gets to a broader point, which is that we're really, we have so much marketing that we're being bombarded with that tells us that there is this absolutely optimal state that you can attain if only you buy our products and do all of these things. When really our bodies are very, very adaptable, we are able to handle. I mean, this goes back to the hydration thing. Our kidneys are designed. They are adapted being able to function under a lot of different circumstances with different levels of hydration. When you've been losing fluids, they hold on to water. When you're over hydrated, you pee more. So, we're adaptable. And this idea that we need to optimize every little thing, I think it's really a distraction and it's a marketing ploy to sell products. I think the best thing that people can do is focus on the basics, which it turns out can be really hard to master for a lot of people. And so, this isn't just saying don't worry about anything, but pay attention to the correct things. Let your rivals worry about all this complicated stuff that best-case scenario might give you a tiny sliver of a percentage of an edge, whereas the important fundamental basics will give you much greater advantage.
Ben: That kind of reminds me of something else I think you wrote about in the book where you compare what would arguably be a very expensive recovery tactic, like designer sports bars and fancy sports powders and things like that with just food. Do you remember the anecdote about that?
Christie: Yeah. There was a clever study where they brought people in, and basically, they match the food. I don't want to compare it to our beer study, but it was something similar where they brought people in and they have them do a hard workout. And then, they had them take these recovery products, and then they measured their recovery. And I can't recall now what they were using for their recovery measures. It was different. I don't believe it was a run to exhaustion. But anyway, what they found, it may have been glycogen reuptake. This is in the book and it's referenced there. So, you can go back and look.
Ben: I think it was like insulin, blood glucose levels, and glycogen reuptake with–it was like food compared to sports bars.
Christie: Yeah. They were looking very specifically at metabolism. Yeah. And what they did is they matched the post-workout meals that people got for calories, and carbs, and fats, and things like that. But one group got McDonald's, and that was because there was a McDonald's across the lab. They could have chosen a different fast-food chain, but it was McDonald's versus the other group got these designer sports bars and all of this, and they found no difference. And I think that the takeaway here is not that, “Yeah. Everyone, go eat all your food at McDonald's. It's great.” But I think that we put too much emphasis on the specifics of nutrition. Nutrition is absolutely important, but every single meal does not have to be perfect. I think that we've gotten to this point, too, where we demonize food. There's good food and there's bad food.
But to your body, particularly if you're a high-performance athlete who's training a lot, you're burning through a lot of calories. Your body just needs those nutrients. And so, as long as you're getting those nutrients, it doesn't matter so much where they're coming from. And if you're eating a lot of calories, you're probably getting enough vitamins and all of this. You want to be eating a variety in your diet and all of that in moderation, all these sort of simple things. So, I'm not saying that junk food is good for you, but I'm also saying that a little junk food isn't going to hurt you. And we've paid too much attention to nutrition. I want to be careful about the way that I say this because it's not that nutrition isn't important, but it's just that the minutiae is really probably less important than we give it credit for.
Again, this goes back to marketing. We have all these vested interests who have a stake in convincing us that our nutrition is not what it could be. So, therefore, we need their products in order to have a healthy diet or to make up for nutritional deficiencies. I mean, if you are an endurance athlete who's training a lot, you're eating a ton of calories, the chances of you being vitamin deficient are almost nil, particularly if you're eating something like breakfast cereals or all enriched with vitamins and things like this. I mean, this is not the problem that we need to be solving here.
Ben: Yeah. The way I look at it is basically, if I am traveling, if I've finished a really tough workout, and I actually do know that I need glycogen repletion, and mineral, and vitamin repletion, and I have the convenience of a packaged sports bar or a powder or something like that to allow me to do that, especially if I'm, for example, traveling and just outside my normal access to food, then I'll choose something like that for conveniences sake. But anytime I have the option to eat real food, preferably not McDonald's, but just something real recognizable, organic, just like a real meal. Like, if I can finish, let's say, an 11:00 a.m. workout and I have an entire pantry stocked with the fanciest designer, sports powders, and supplements in the optimized macronutrient ratios, and then I'll have like mixed greens, a can of sardines, a handful of macadamia nuts and some olive oil, I'll choose the latter every single time, and yet might not look as cool and might not be as slick in terms of the packaging.
But really, if you actually look at the macros, and even the research that you just alluded to, my example was imperfect because my salad isn't necessarily a glycogen replenishing salad, the one I just described. But you get the same amount of glycogen replenishment. I mean, I even remember one study that I saw that showed that if an athlete or an exercise enthusiast finishes a workout and simply eats ad libitum according to appetite within like eight hours, their glycogen levels are restored just as much as the person who just dropped everything to go suck down their perfectly proportioned maltodextrin, and fructose infused carbohydrate and whey protein shake.
Christie: Right, but there is a difference because the person who just went and ate the normal meal, whatever, didn't go through all the stress, wasn't experiencing this. “Oh my god, I need to go get this thing and it has to be now.” I mean, I think that putting too much reliance on this stuff can actually be–it's not just that it's not helping, but I think when we start to stress out and we start to pay attention to the wrong things, it really distracts us and it takes our attention and our energy away from things that could really be much more meaningful. And so, so much of it is finding out, I'm not at all opposed to bars and shakes and things like that, but these should be things that you're using because they're convenient or they work for you, or whatever, but not because they're the thing that you have to do. You can be a very high-performance athlete and never take any of those things. It's fine. Like regular food is fine. And the reason to do those things is because–yeah, there's some other reason like they're more accessible. You don't have access at that time when you're hungry to some other meal, but we shouldn't think of them as essential.
Ben: Right. Exactly. And I think to play devil's advocate, there are some people that take that too far. Like, when I used to race Ironman triathlon, a lot of the paleo people, the eat as close to nature as possible folks would see me eating like this little, like a carbohydrate-containing energy bar for my race, for like five hours during an Ironman triathlon, having a few of those slipped into my Jersey pocket, and they'll be like, “Why aren't you doing sweet potatoes and bananas?” Like, the water weight, the aerodynamics. There are times when the convenience of a packaged food actually assists with performance from a direct biomechanical standpoint. It's like if you put me in a wind tunnel with three power bars in the back of my cycling Jersey versus like eight bananas and four sweet potatoes, I guarantee, I'm going to be more aerodynamic with the “fake” packaged foods.
So, there's a time and a place where especially for elite performers, that stuff does come in handy. And then, the only other thing I should mention is I'm not like a total if it fits your macros guy. I'm not saying that, well, you just go out and eat whatever it is that's going to replenish your glycogen stores. You still have to consider things like rancid seed oils and pressured and oxidized vegetable oils. Other issues that might have long-term health implications, but I think the long story short is that for most people, real food does just as good as a lot of these fancy sexy package food that we're led to believe a lot of elite athletes are consuming when in fact, they're just paid to be a poster boy or poster girl for [01:02:18] _____.
Christie: Well, I was going to say there's so much marketing in all of these companies with the supplements and the bars and all these things. I mean, the reason that your favorite athletes are using these products is because they're getting paid to do it, and these companies have invested a huge amount in the sports. And yeah, it makes it very confusing.
Ben: Yeah. I personally know several athletes who rep companies and don't eat barely any of that company's products because they don't like them, but they're getting paid to smile and hold them up. So, yeah, you have to be aware of that stuff. Now, you covered so much–I mean, you covered, like we talked about, cold water immersions, sports drinks, alcohol, but then you also looked into things like massage. And I think you looked into those compression boots. Did you have a section on acupuncture in there?
Christie: I didn't look specifically at acupuncture, but I'll tell you, I love massage. I just got a massage. My husband's a great massage therapist. He and I trade massage about once a week, and I think it's great. Do I think that there's good scientific evidence that it's doing a lot in terms of like–there's all these explanations that are given. It's flushing out lactic acid. I mean, I'll just give you a tip. Anything that's making claims about lactic acid is probably a load of crap because–
Ben: Lactic acid is [01:03:36] _____.
Christie: I'm sure you've covered this before, so I won't rehash that, but there's all this stuff. But if I tell you this thing is flushing your lactic acid, that sounds really scientific and bona fide, right? But if I tell you massage is a way for you to take an hour to just totally relax–and not that massage is always relaxing, sometimes it hurts, right? But it's a way for you to totally exist in your body and feel completely present in your body and check in on your body. It's how you see, “Oh, my right calf is a little bit more sore than I knew that it was, and I'm going to work on that, or I'm going to baby it a little, or whatever it is that it needs.” But it's a really powerful way, I think, of working on this thing that I mentioned earlier, which is just paying attention to your body and checking in with it.
And so, I think massage is great. It also helps you relax, it helps you feel good, and that's enough. I think that we should really be careful about how we measure whether something is working. And when it comes to recovery, if something is helping you relax, it's helping you feel good, that's bona fide enough, like you should do it then. That's fine. You don't need a more scientific reason. And I wasn't finding any good, really scientifically verified reasons that massage is helpful, but I can tell you that every athlete I know swears by it. I personally swear by it. And so, I don't need a study showing me that it does something my blood marker is because it's doing this other thing that's really important, and we can measure those things. I think that there's just this tendency for us to sort of put more faith into these things that we can measure with the number. And I think that again, this just sets us up for being sold snake oil because sometimes it's not the number that matters, it's that thing that you have to quantify with more of a qualitative measure, and that's okay.
Ben: Yeah. And I mean, as you know, in the book, there's these theories that massaging might change immune cell markers or might increase protein synthesis via the mechanical signal that the massage gives, but very little that's been studied. Even fascia, research is in its infancy. So, I have a feeling we'll probably find out more about massage. But yeah, it's shocking how many people get massages and how little it's actually researched. And I'm a massage fanatic. I get a massage every week. But you're right, there's not a lot that shows that's actually doing things like flushing the lactic acid out of the tissue or causing some kind of a magical response.
I wanted to ask you based on having written this book, and also the fact that you're an exercise enthusiast yourself, what has stuck with you? Like, are there a few things that you do for your own performance or recovery that an outsider looking in might observe to be some kind of a–might classify as a modality? Is there anything that you do that aside from massage, which you already named, actually did stick with you after writing the book?
Christie: I have a whole chapter on sleep, which is the most potent recovery tool known to science. I mean, really, it is number 1 through 20. Nothing else comes close. And I've always been pretty good on sleep. Working from home helps because I have a little more autonomy over my time. But one thing that I have done since researching the book is really prioritize it in a way where it's just non-negotiable. In before times, I had stopped taking early morning flights because I knew that they were disruptive to my sleep. I'm not a morning person, and yeah, if I have to get up at 4:30 in the morning to go catch a flight, my sleep is disrupted for multiple days and that's no good. And so, just totally prioritizing sleep has been one.
I also have really prioritized having some period some time in my day that's just set aside for relaxation, and this is a time when I have absolutely no expectation of being productive. I think we have this cult of productivity in our culture right now that's really toxic, not just to recovery, but to our whole psychology and our whole being. And so, really just taking some time to have downtime where you're just relaxing. It can be spending time with friends. It can just be lying on the couch reading a book. My husband's a winemaker. I like to have a glass of wine at the end of the day oftentimes, but just something where you're just taking time to relax and checking in on your body, too, and feeling how you're feeling, if that makes sense.
Ben: Yup. No, I have it. That's after lunch for me for about 30 minutes. I duck away. You're probably going to laugh, but I have a hyperbaric chamber and it's like my sensory deprivation. I climb in there, I'm dead to the world, and I put on a sleep mask and just either meditate or breathe or snooze for about a half hour and it's incredible. It gives me two days, and it's almost like the world can't touch me for these 30 minutes, and it's amazing.
Christie: I mean, I think that's great. And for people who don't have the means to have that kind of chamber, you can take a nap. It can be something simple like that. Yeah. I like it.
Ben: Yeah. Well, this book is really fantastic. I think it's very thought-provoking, especially for a lot of my listeners who I often find are interested in every last biohack and recovery modality that comes out. But sometimes, maybe without enough skepticism, or at least without raising the eyebrow, or maybe digging into the studies to see if the folks who were studied to say whether or not this stuff actually works are similar to the people who are purchasing it, or whether they were exercising in a similar way, or whether it was being used in the way that that is used on a consumer level. There's just so many considerations, and I would hope that folks might grab this book and get a little bit more educated on how the science is working behind the scenes and just approach things with a healthy degree of skepticism.
Christie: Yeah. I mean, my ambition for the book was that I really wanted readers to walk away with an understanding of how science works. It looks like a fitness book, but it's really a science book. It's about the process of science, how we know things, how we determine what to believe, things like that. But I really wanted readers to walk away with the skills and understanding to be able to look at these research studies and say, “Is this any good? Should I believe it? What are sort of the pros and cons here? What are the strengths and weaknesses?” So, if people read my book and come away with that, I'll be extremely happy.
Ben: Yeah, yeah. Well, I dig it. It's called “Good to Go.” And if you guys are listening in, I'll link to everything that we discussed, research studies, and complementary articles, Christie's websites, which is a blog, “Last Word on Nothing” is the name for blog. And we'll link to all that if you go to BenGreenfieldFitness.com/goodtogo. It's BenGreenfieldFitness.com/goodtogo. The book is “Good to Go” where the athlete and all of us can learn from the strange science of recovery.
Christie, thanks for coming on the show.
Christie: Oh, thanks so much for having me.
Well, thanks for listening to today's show. You can grab all the shownotes, the resources, pretty much everything that I mentioned over at BenGreenfieldFitness.com, along with plenty of other goodies from me, including the highly helpful “Ben Recommends” page, which is a list of pretty much everything that I've ever recommended for hormone, sleep, digestion, fat loss, performance, and plenty more. Please, also, know that all the links, all the promo codes, that I mentioned during this and every episode, helped to make this podcast happen and to generate income that enables me to keep bringing you this content every single week. When you listen in, be sure to use the links in the shownotes, use the promo codes that I generate, because that helps to float this thing and keep it coming to you each and every week.
In recent years, recovery has become a sports and fitness buzzword. If you work out, or compete at any level, you know what it's like to be bombarded with the latest recovery products and services—from drinks and shakes to compression sleeves, foam rollers, electrical muscle stimulators, and sleep trackers.
My guest on today's podcast, science writer and author of the new book Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery is named Christie Aschwanden.
In her book, and on this podcast, she takes you on an entertaining and enlightening tour through this strange world. She investigates whether drinking Gatorade or beer after training helps or hinders performance; she examines the latest trends among athletes, from NFL star Tom Brady’s infrared pajamas to gymnast Simone Biles’ pneumatic compression boots to swimmer Michael Phelps’ “cupping” ritual; and she tests some of the most controversial methods herself, including cryochambers, float tanks, and infrared saunas.
At a time when the latest recovery products and services promise so much, Christie seeks answers to the fundamental question: Do any of these things actually help the body recover and achieve peak performance? Christie is an Ideas columnist at Wired and writes the Test Gym column at Elemental. She is the former lead science writer at FiveThirtyEight and was previously a health columnist for The Washington Post. Christie is a frequent contributor to The New York Times. She’s also been a contributing editor for Runner’s World and a contributing writer for Bicycling. Her work appears in dozens of publications, including Discover, Slate, Consumer Reports, New Scientist, More, Men’s Journal, Mother Jones, NPR.org, Scientific American, Science News, Smithsonian, and O—the Oprah Magazine.
Christie is the recipient of a 2014/2015 Santa Fe Institute Journalism Fellowship In Complexity Science and was a 2013/2014 Carter Center Fellow. Christie received a grant from the Pulitzer Center for Crisis Reporting in 2007 to travel to Vietnam and report on the legacy of Agent Orange. Her television report on Agent Orange, created in collaboration with producer George Lerner, appeared on the PBS program Foreign Exchange with Fareed Zakaria in June 2007. Her New York Times article about an Agent Orange remediation project in Vietnam’s central highlands was awarded the 2008 Arlene Award for articles that make a difference.
Other honors she’s received include:
- National Magazine Award finalist
- Best Article Award
- Outstanding Essay Award from the American Society of Journalists and Authors
- Honorable Mention for print journalism from the American Institute of Biological Sciences
- Science in Society Award for Commentary/Opinion from the National Association of Science Writers
- Sigma Delta Chi Award for Public Service in Magazine Journalism from the Society for Professional Journalists
- AAAS/Kavli Science Journalism Award
- Information is Beautiful Award
- Two-time finalist for the NIHCM Foundation Health Care Digital Media Award
- Finalist for the 2020 Colorado Book Award for Good To Go
A frequent speaker at writer’s workshops and journalism conferences, Christie is the founder of the Creative Convergence freelance writing workshops, which she developed with funding from the National Association of Science Writers. She has taught at the Santa Fe ScienceWriting Workshop, the Boulder Magazine Writer’s Conference, the Telluride Writer’s Guild, and the Northern California Science Writers Association professional workshop series.
A lifetime athlete, Christie has raced in Europe and North America on the Team Rossignol Nordic ski racing squad. She lives with her husband and numerous animals on a small winery and farm in western Colorado. (Read more about how she found her place in this Oprah Magazine essay.) In her spare time, she enjoys trail running, bicycling, skiing, reading novels, digging in the garden, and raising heritage poultry. Christie blogs about science at Last Word On Nothing. Find her on Twitter @CragCrest.
During this discussion, you'll discover:
-How a beer study jumpstarted Christie's book…05:55
- Scientific problems cannot be solved or answered easily
- The beer flows freely in Western Colorado
- The little research done on the effects of alcohol on human physiology is on rugby players, who are typically heavy drinkers
- Thesis: Does drinking beer after a hard workout affect recovery?
- Defining and measuring “recovery” was a challenge
- Run to exhaustion test
- Deplete glycogen
- Rating of perceived exhaustion (RPE)
- Pasta dinner and a beer immediately after the workout
- Repeat run to exhaustion test the next morning
- Two different conditions: Fat Tire beer(heavy alcohol vol.) and a “placebo” beer
- Ten people in the study: 5 men, 5 women
- The results were ultimately unreliable due to the low sample size, varying conditions, small timeframe, etc.
- Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research
- Alcohol: impact on sports performance and recovery in male athletes
- The Do's and Don’ts of Drinking After Exercise
-Why tests on human physiology need to be viewed with a grain of salt…18:20
- Sports Science Is Finally Talking About Its Methodology Problems
- Sampling error: Small studies may not be representative of the population you're studying
- Beer study participants were given an arbitrary “time to beat”; affected when they would report feeling exhaustion
- Familiarity with the protocol affects performance
- Beer study is one snippet of evidence; need a comprehensive approach to determine causation, correlation, etc.
- The conditions of a study may not be relevant to the mainstream
- Perceived exertion vs exhaustion in the beer study
-Why studies of sports drinks are oftentimes problematic…28:25
- Podcasts with Tim Noakes
- Athletes in a fasted state will of course respond to calories in a sports drink differently than water
- Big corporations set the research agenda to skew their objectives
- Hydration is not as important as sports drink companies tell us
- No examples of death by dehydration during athletic competition
- Causes are heat exhaustion, heatstroke; dehydration may be associated with these causes but it is not the most important factor
- Some die during marathons because they drink too much, on a schedule, etc.
- The most important skill an athlete can develop is knowing how to read their own body
-Why cold therapy actually hinders exercise recovery…37:30
- Placebos are more potent if they're more unpleasant
- Cold and icing slows down the recovery process
- Purpose of icing for recovery (in theory): Blunt inflammation induced by exercise
- Blood circulation is slowed down in the cold
- Inflammation isn't always to be avoided; can help repair damage that occurs during training
- The time of the cold therapy in relation to the workout plays a factor in its efficacy toward recovery
- Timing is important
- Modality is important
- Cryotherapy isn't as cold as an ice bath(use code BENFORGE to save $150)
-The importance of placebos for exercise recovery…47:25
- Cryotherapy gives an adrenaline rush
- Anything that can make you feel better can be useful
- Sometimes we focus on certain things when the benefit may be something else
- Subjective nature of the efficacy of a treatment
- Anything that can make you feel better can be useful
- Compression recovery boots
- Many recovery methods are focused on relaxing
- Houston airport rerouted people to get their bags; took longer to get there and thus eliminated a lot of the complaints about waiting for luggage
- Marketing and profit-seeking exaggerates the efficacy of certain modalities
- Our bodies are more adaptable than we give them credit for
- A need to “optimize” our bodies may be more of a distraction than a legitimate recovery method
-Expensive sports bars vs. utilizing wisdom in the food we eat…55:20
- Study similar to the beer study involving food
- No difference in recovery when eating McDonald's vs. designer sports bars
- Too much emphasis on the specifics of nutrition
- The source of nutrients isn't as important as simply getting them
- Added stress of worrying about getting the “proper” nutrition
- Convenience factor with packaged foods vs. “real” food
-Whether or not massage actually assists with exercise recovery…1:03:20
- Beware of claims of reducing lactic acid
- If it works for you, do it
- Relying solely on numbers, data, etc. opens up the possibility of being sold snake oil
-The most potent (and overlooked) recovery tool known to science…1:06:35
- Prioritizing sleep
- Set aside some time of the day for relaxation
-And much more!
Resources from this episode:
- Good to Go: What the Athlete in All of Us Can Learn from the Strange Science of Recovery
- Last Word on Nothing
- Test Gym
– Podcasts and articles:
- The Death of Gatorade – Should You Stop Using Electrolytes During Exercise? with Tim Noakes.
- How You’re Being Manipulated By The Sports Drink Industry And What You Can Do About It with Tim Noakes.
- Alcohol: impact on sports performance and recovery in male athletes
- The Do’s and Don’ts of Drinking After Exercise
- Sports Science Is Finally Talking About Its Methodology Problems
– Other resources:
- Morozko Forge(use code BENFORGE to save $150)
- Normatec Compression Recovery Boots
- HBOT(mention BEN to save $250)
- Ben Recommends Page
–Kion Aminos: Building blocks for muscle recovery, reduced cravings, better cognition, immunity, and more. BGF listeners save 10% off your first order at Kion with code BEN10.
–Organifi Glow: A plant-based beverage that helps support the body’s natural ability to produce collagen, smooth fine lines and wrinkles, and protect the skin from sun exposure and toxins. Receive a 20% discount on your entire order when you use discount code BENG20.
–Paleo Valley Beef Sticks: 100% grass-fed AND grass-finished. Keto friendly and higher levels of Omega-3 Fatty Acids. Receive a 15% discount off your order when you use my link.
–Clearlight Saunas: You can be sure that I researched all the saunas before I bought mine and Clearlight was the one that stood out from all the rest because of their EMF and ELF Shielding and their Lifetime Warranty. Mention BEN GREENFIELD and you’ll receive an extra discount on your purchase.