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Dr. Phil Maffetone Interview about Heart Rate Training, Nutrition and Recovery

By February 14, 2015April 14th, 202222 Comments

Dr. Phil Maffetone is a researcher and author in the field of nutrition, exercise, sports medicine, and biofeedback. He has written over 20 books including my favorite one The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing.

I got the opportunity to interview Dr. Phil Maffetone. In this episode of The Extramilest Show we cover the fundamentals of his approach to training, nutrition and recovery.

We also dive into very specific subjects, like learning how to listen to different signals from your body, why many doctors and the media recommend food that’s not good for you and how incredibly important rest and sleep is for a healthy athlete. I learned a lot of new things in this Extramilest Show and I hope you will as well, enjoy!

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QUESTION OF THE WEEK: What’s the best running tip you’ve ever received or learned? Please let me know in the comments.

Selected links from the show
• 180 formula
• Maximum Aerobic Function (MAF) test
• What is junk food?
• The 5 Minute Power Break
• The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing
• The Big Book of Health and Fitness
• 1:59: The Sub-Two-Hour Marathon Is Within Reach
• www.philmaffetone.com
• Floris Gierman on Strava

Show notes

  • Improvements after training with a Heart Rate Monitor [3:30]
  • Why the 180 formula is preferred over the Lactate Threshold test [7:25]
  • Adjusting your MAF training HR based on current fitness and health [10:52]
  • Benefits of walking to build your aerobic system [13:48]
  • Floris Gierman’s progress after training with HRM [15:55]
  • The importance of listening to your body [18:08]
  • Why many people feel the need to do intervals and speedwork [19:00]
  • Training aerobically only and run a PR [21:08]
  • Everyone’s training schedule is very individual [22:48]
  • Why Dr. Phil Maffetone prefers time over miles [25:00]
  • Avoiding processed cards and refined sugars [28:06]
  • Bad recommendations from doctors and the media [31:55]
  • Eating real food [34:50]
  • Making your body and brain work together [37:25]
  • The Five Minute Break [43:45]
  • The importance of sleep for recovery [46:00]
  • Dr. Phil Maffetone’s own daily routine [49:00]
  • The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing [52:35]
  • Articles on Dr. Phil Maffetone’s website [55:45]

Floris Gierman: Hello, my name is Floris Gierman located here in OC Cali, and today we have a very exciting interview coming up with Doctor Phil Maffetone. He’s an internationally recognized researcher, educator, and author, in many different fields including nutrition, exercise and sports medicine, and biofeedback. For more than 35 years he’s worked with athletes around the world, both on a professional and amateur level, and he’s written more than 20 different books; including one of my favorite ones over here, called “the big book of endurance training and racing”, and over here is one of his latest books, called “1:59, the sub 2 hour marathon is within reach” Today we’re going to discuss a variety of different subjects, including heart rate monitor training, nutrition, and also recovery. Some of the basic fundamental s will be discussed here, but we’ll also quickly dive in and looking at more specific details. Without further Adieu, here is Dr. Phil Maffetone.

Dr. Maffetone: Good morning.

FG: Good morning.

PM: Is Floris the way to pronounce your name?

FG: That is the correct way.

PM: And where is your name from?

FG: I’m from Holland. I’m from Amsterdam, I moved here about ten years ago, and where are you living at this point?

PM: I’m currently living in Arizona, I spend 1/2 the year here, and half in the Catskill Mountains of New York, my kids and grandkids are all there kind of in the area, so that’s a good reason to go there and get away from the warmer weather here, I’m in the mountains here, so it’s not that hot in the summer, but it’s warm enough.

FG: We’ll kind of dive right in here, I’ve been following your work for about 2 years now, after hearing about your work on the Trail Runner Nation Podcast for the first time with Don Freeman and Scott Warr.

PM: That’s always a fun one.

FG: Yeah it seems like you guys always have a blast on that one, and your podcast and articles and book made a really big impact on a lot of athletes, including myself. I’m sure you hear it all the time, but I want to start off with a big thank you for all your work that you put out there, it’s been a big help.

PM: Well thank you, your discipline and dedication is impressive to say the least, so keep up the good work.

FG: Thank you! I want to record this video today to share your knowledge with some of the people that are reading my blog, and my website, but I also want to explain to people the experience that I’ve had with your different approach to running, nutrition, and biofeedback. So there are three areas that I’d like to jump into today, the first one is the Heart Rate Monitor training to become a faster and healthier athlete, [The second] is the processed carbs, refined sugar and different healthy alternatives, and the third is the importance of rest, recovery, and training your brain. Does that sound ok to you?

PM: Sounds perfect.

FG: Let’s jump right in, so, your training approach is based upon building an aerobic bas first by using heart rate monitors, and by doing most of your runs at a relatively low heart rate. After you experimented with athletes, you came up with the 180 Formula to calculate and athletes maximum aerobic heart rate. Can you explain what you noticed when athletes first started training this way, and the improvements that they made over a long period of time?

PM: The first thing I noticed is that, in many cases, the training that they were doing and the training that I was doing, coming from track and field, was not a healthy form of training. There were high injury rates, fatigue, many athletes would drift into overtraining, which would lead to depression and one health problem after another. Essentially, what was happening was that their heart rates were creating fit athletes who were unhealthy, and who eventually fell apart. I was in healthcare to help people, my goal was to improve health, and so I thought that there had to be a better way. One of the first things that I noticed was that the 220 formula, which has been around for decades, was not a very good way to train, because it resulted in a higher heart rate.

FG: It would have you train at a way higher heart rate than you needed?

PM: I’ve seen 10, 15, even 20 beats per minute higher depending on how the individual figures out what their heart rate should be, based upon quite often nothing. And then I noticed that athletes who were running with a lower HR were running with a better gait. They looked better running. I got to the point where, if I was out for a run and if I saw some other runners, or if I was driving down the road and I saw runners, which unfortunately even today people are running on the road with lots of traffic, you could almost tell what their HR was. I applied that idea to the track, where I was starting to go every week with runners, and I’d look at runners, and I’d say, “well that runner looks like she’s running at a 145 pace,” and suddenly I was accurate when I stopped and looked at what their HRs were. The first thing that I noticed was gait, and I noticed the whole biomechanical issue was the main factor when a runner changed from being a lower HR aerobic to a higher HR anaerobic. That’s a significant finding, and when you look at the big picture of body mechanics when they start to falter, it’s a problem within a race, it’s a problem within the course of the season as your body becomes more stressed from training, and from health in some cases. Things start breaking down, and the end result is that runners are slower at the same HR, which is the opposite of what we want to do.

FG: There are a lot of different training techniques out there, even regarding HR monitors, you just touched base on the 220 max HR formula, and then another way to calculate the HR you should be running at, or at least the different zones, would be to go to a lab and they’ll do a Lactate Threshhold test, but even there, some of the outcomes are pretty different than with your 180 formula. I did for myself for example, I went to the lab, and actually the HR number 148 came out, and I did your 180 test, and the exact number 148 came out as well, so it was very similar, however, Paul, one of my friends, who’s 46 years old, and doesn’t have any medical conditions, he gets the number 134 [with the 180 formula]. When he goes to the lab he gets a zone from 136 to 154, so then my question is why is yours so much lower than the results given by the test, and why do you feel that the 180 formula makes more sense in that case?

PM: Well I spent a long time evaluating runners, mostly runners, back in the 70s into the 80s. the running boom had exploded, and most of the athletes that I saw were runners. I was looking at runners, looking at gait, evaluating health in various ways, what I did was calculate an HR based upon my evaluation. It really took 3, 4 years, to realize that this lengthy evaluation, which could take two hours on top of going to the track to evaluate gait and look at the HR in relation to that gait, it took a while to realize that there was probably a simple formula to come up with that would determine the same thing that I could determine in my clinic. That became known as the 180 formula, because you subtract the age from 180. What’s unique about it that we don’t rely upon the max HR to obtain that formula, instead I relied upon the health of the athlete, those who are healthier ended up with higher HR, and those who weren’t as healthy ended up with lower numbers. It relied upon fitness levels, it relied upon gait changes, but in the end the 180 formula always gave you a good gait, although gait was not so much involved in the process of determining the HR. It didn’t involve max HR, which has severe limitations in terms of accuracy, and I think most formulas out there rely on that max HR. What was most important for me was to look at that individual and come up with an individual number and base it on their level of health and their level of fitness.

FG: With the 180 formal you also take into account whether you’ve had two or more colds per year, you have to adjust you aerobic pace. For example, I have a two year old daughter, and regardless of me trying to live as healthy as I can, I’ve noticed that sometimes I’ll end up a bit sick just from her catching a cold and me being around her, as much as I try to avoid getting sick it can still happen in cases like this. I do notice that if I change my training zones a bit lower that my body is more in line.

PM: That’s a good observation, you know, even though you’re exposed to more viruses and bacteria and more potential infections the bottom line is still that your immune system is taking the brunt of it. As minor as you might consider them, they are still significant factors from a health standpoint. If on top of that, you put some running at a heart rate that’s a little bit higher than your body wants is that it’s an additional stress, and the issue with stress, be it mental, physical, emotional stress is that it’s cumulative. So, if you have a stress here, and a stress there, and you go for a run, even if it’s supposed to be a low stress thing and to help counter that stress, if the HR is too high, it’s actually adding another stressful even into your day, which isn’t a healthy thing to do.

FG: One other question, to do with the 180 formula as well, when people are a little bit older, for example are 50 or 60 years old like my parents, and they run somewhat irregularly, or don’t at least have that base of two years of consistent training, would they really have to be training at 180-60-5, which is an HR of almost 115, for them it’s often basically walking, with part of it as slow running. Do you still see improvements with this type of training?

PM: Sure, you do still see improvements, what a lot of people don’t understand is that most of the studies that show that exercise is healthy are done on people that are walking. Just going out for 20-30 minutes 3 or 4 days a week, which doesn’t sound like much to those of us who are working out a lot, tremendous benefits can be gained from that. Sure, they wouldn’t be able to run a marathon in under three hours, but that wouldn’t be their goal. When someone says, well I want to run a 10k, or a 5k, and build up my aerobic system, that relatively lo HR becomes a starting point, because that’s the level of their aerobic fitness. Unless they start at that level where their body can handle the workout, then building their aerobic system will never take place. The problem with a lot of runners, especially those coming into the sport later, at 30, 40, 50 years of age, but really, even a young person, they’ll start to progress, developing their body and then they’ll kinda jump or skip ahead. You know, it’s like being in first grade, second grade, third grade, and then saying, you know, I’ll jump ahead into high school, I don’t like these. It doesn’t work, because your brain and your body won’t envelop efficiently, and it puts your aerobic system at a deficit that it can never recover from. Then, when you start hitting 30, 40 years of age, your body makes some changes, one of the most evident ones being that we become more insulin resistant, and we start relying more on fat as a source of energy, or at least we should, but if we’re not able to at least produce that energy from fat, then we just stay in that slow category and that’s a reflection of the dietary component of the aerobic system.

FG: That’s a really good point, and just to go back on what you’re just saying that a lot of people are training at too high of an HR relative to what they should be training at, I’ve experienced this same thing myself while training for my first marathon a few years back. I was often training at an HR that was very high, even though I didn’t run with an HR monitor, I could notice that the signals from my body were indicating that I was very low on energy, when I was finished with a run, I would feel very tired and very hungry, in the afternoons I would have the hard energy dip and everything. When I first heard about your training method, it was pretty controversial compared to some of the things that were out there, but I thought to give it a try. One of the tests I did that you describe to measure your progress is the MAF test, where essentially you warm up for 15 minutes, and then on the track you run for 5 miles and you calculate once you’ve run it, your maximum aerobic HR, based on what your pace is. I did this about 18 moths ago, and at that point, my average MAF pace was about 8:21 per mile, and then, as I only started running aerobically, I was able to drop that pace in 1 month time by 38 seconds. So the next month, I ran the same MAF test at 7:43, and over time, by a combination of things, including increases in mileage and improving my nutrition, as well as steady training within the correct zones, I was able to shave off time almost every month, although sometimes after a race I noticed that progress stopped or went backwards a little bit, just because the body had more stress. It was crazy to see, this last weekend I did an aerobic test at an HR of 148, and I was able to hit 6:31 per mile.

PM: Wow, that’s great. You know, you’re very observant, and that’s a problem that many runners have is that they’re unaware of their body. For too many athletes it’s all about the workout, and there’s a big social component, and they don’t realize that their body is hurting, or maybe they do, but they won’t admit it. Being aware of your body, this is why I don’t like to see athletes listening to music or podcasts while they work out, there’s plenty of time to do that in the car or at home instead of turning on the TV. Listen to your body, and you’ve done that very well which is a very important thing.

FG: Some of your athletes have won races without doing any interval training or speed work, they trained only aerobically. To run fast, like in the half or full [marathon], or even a 50 miler, how important is the role of interval and speedwork? Why do so any people feel the need to do it?

PM: We have a “no pain no gain” society, and everyone thinks that more is better and that speed is important, you know what happened in the 60s and 70s when the running boom hit, there were very few coaches, and the need for coaches evolved from track and field, a lot of coaches came over from T&F, and started coaching 5/10k runners, marathoners, and eventually ultramarathoners, and with that they brought their approach to training which was intervals. How big of a role does it play, it plays a minor role, when you look at the marathon or other endurance sports, in the marathon its 98% aerobic system. If 98% of your effort is going to be generated by the aerobic system, why would you spend so much time doing anaerobic training, then it plays a relatively minor role? I’ve seen so manny athletes in all the endurance sports from 5k to ultras and the double ironman, and other longer events I’ve seen many many [athletes] who only did aerobic training and avoided speed work altogether, and they performed their best. In the early 80s I did a study where I had 223 runners that spent 3-6 months building aerobic base, with no lifting or anaerobic training whatsoever, and 76% ran a PR. These are experienced runners.

FG: So they already had the base going into it, not the aerobic base, but they already had the high volume of mileage.

PM: They had been training yeah, but many of them haven’t run a PR in years. Just ask around at a race, the thing is in the ultra scene it’s hard to relate to a PR, but in a 10k or a marathon, start asking people when the last time they ran a PR, the new runners will be running them more often, but with the experienced runners, many of them will say that it’s been years since they ran a PR 10k, 5k or marathon. That’s unfortunate, since the aerobic system doesn’t really peak until our 40s, and after that peak it doesn’t just drop off, it can stay pretty high, as we all know there are some great 45, 55, 65 year old endurance athletes who are beating a lot of 20 year olds.

FG: There’s a question about training volume that I want to dive into. Let’s say that someone is training for a marathon, an ultra, even a half marathon, and they want to peak at around 60-70 mpw, with your approach it’s mostly aerobic miles. Is there anything that you can say with regards to how you would diidid those 60-70 miles, I understand that you don’t recommend going much over 2 hours, since you don’t see much added benefit relative to the risks that you’re going to be having. Can you explain a little bit? Would you say to run 6-7 days a week, or would you say to combine long and short runs, or even 2 runs per day?

PM: It depends on the person, it really makes a difference if we’re talking about a professional runner who doesn’t have to work 5 days/week, if we’re talking about someone with a family, if they have a house that they need to take care of, if there are other social obligations. These things all should be looked at as part of your schedule, because they are part of your life and they influence your training, and they potentially create stress whether it’s good stress or bad stress, and usually it’s a combination. It depends on the individual, but you’re’ right, I’m not keen on going much over 2 hours, maybe 2.5 hours. If people need to better understand what it’s going to be like for say a 50 miler, or something that’s going to be a lot longer than 2.5 hours, they can add a half an hour of walking as a warmup and another half an hour of walking as a cool down. Now they’re up to 3-3.5 hours, and that should give them a much better sense of the time factor, because controlling time is just as important a factor in the longer races especially. I like to use time instead of miles because the brain relates to time better, and most people can run in a race about 3x what they normally perform in training, so if you can run for 2 hours in training, 6-7 hours in a race shouldn’t be a problem physiologically and mentally either. So, I think changing to time in your log, rather than mile sis a very important thing to do.

FG: So, even for an ultra, a 50 miler, you wouldn’t go any longer runs than 2.5 hours. You think that the walking for 30 mites before and afterwards would get you in a good enough preparation?

PM: For the average person yes, however, there have been situations. For example, I worked with Stu Middleman for many years, Stu had many american and world records in various ultra distances, and many of his races were on the track, so it was not unusual for Stu to do a 6 day race, where the whole race took place on a 400 meter track, or a 200 meter track. The world championships, I don’t know if they’re still in [France], which was an amazing event that I’ve been to a few times, full of spectators and the best runners in the world, but it’s on a 200 meter track. If you’re not used to running on a track for that long it an really get to you, so what Stu did, I recommended that he spend more time on the track running one direction for a while, and then reversing and running in the other direction. those workouts could be 2, 3, 4 hours or longer. He’d always begin with a long walk, and then the walk would speed up, he’d start jogging faster, and at the end, the reverse would take place. In that situation, there’s an exception to the rule, one could benefit by doing longer track workouts like that. If you aren’t used to trails and you’re going to be doing a trail run, you could benefit by spending some time out on the trail, getting used to how your body works.

FG: Moving on to the nutritional side of things, because you really opened my eyes, as well as the eyes of many athletes around the world with your views on nutrition, and one thing that stood out to me the most was the dangers of processed carbs and refined sugars for your long term and short term health. Many people eat a significant amount of processed carbs and refined sugars, some of them don’t even know that they are processed carbs. Can you explain why processed carbs are so bad for you, and what health benefits you can gain by avoiding these things?

PM: That’s a huge topic, the trend in having pasta before the race, and having sweet cereal in the morning, most of that came from the companies that make those products. It was “here’s some sugar, sugar equals energy” and there isn’t anything recent about those ads. They began in the 50s, and people were told that sugar, white flour, are healthy, and those are where our energy comes from. Hardly anybody talked about fat, even though the first book I saw on fat on and fat burning was called “eat fat to get slim”, and it was a best seller in 1958 I think. When I became interested in nutrition, which was in the 60s, it was clear from a scientific standpoint that refined flour and sugar, which were very popular, were unhealthy. People didn’t react well when they ate it, the studies were showing that it could be a problem. So, for a runner today, the dietary component, in particular refined carbs, is as important if not more important than building up the aerobic system. There are many reasons for it, but one of the big ones is that when people consume refined carbs, we make insulin, and what insulin does is reduce fat burning and increase sugar burning. Sugar burning is a very limited fuel, and fat burning is our long term energy. Then we’ve been noticing this for the last 10-15 years, for the first time, many athletes in all sports are becoming overfat. The fat burning is low and the sugar burning is high, so the fat stays stored up in the body, and that’s a serious problem. Number one, for the sport, because your endurance is going to be diminished, and number two it’s a serious health problem. They’ve associated excessive carb consumption with everything from cancer, to cataracts, heart disease, and hair loss, diabetes of course. There are health issues, and also the lack of aerobic development will impair performance.

FG: It’s so crazy to me hearing what you are saying, and at the same time, hearing the mixed messages coming the media, and even from some doctors who would recommend these foods as part of a healthy diet.

PM: It wasn’t that long ago, and I have some ads on my website, that doctors recommended the smoking of cigarettes. So you have to ask yourself, who controls the media, and that’s an easy answer, it’s the advertisers that control the media. I’ve had this happen many times at a running magazine editorial meeting, I‘ve had someone say “I want to talk about burning fat and how sugar can impair that process”, and the top editors will say “we can’t run that because we have three regular advertisers who won’t allow that”. You have to look at who controls the media, and it’s a big problem, because people follow the media, people follow running magazines. I used to say to runners, partly as a funny comment, partly serious because I saw it in practice, that invariably during lecture in front of runners, someone would ask why there are so many knee problems, and I’d say it’s from reading runners world magazine. A few years ago, I had three runners who all had knee problems, and they all had the same story. They are following a program from a magazine, and that’s when they first hurt their knee. We have to think as individuals, we have to think about what every run is doing for us. Is it beneficial, is it hurting us, are we or our coach individualizing our programs? If that’s being done, you will find success. The idea of one size fits all programs or diets is very unhealthy.

FG: So what are some alternative things that people could eat that are more healthy and beneficial?

PM: Real food, when I had my clinic, I would give the runner a report after doing a diet analysis to look at their nutrients. I’d be able to say, 3 of your vitamins are below minimum levels, and 8 of your nutrients are below minimum levels, and so I don’t want you to eat pasta, bread, potatoes, etc. and they’d stop me in the middle of this list and say “that’s all I eat”, and I’d say, “that’s why you’re here”. People don’t know what real food is quite often, and they’ve been brainwashed by the media until they don’t know the difference between junk food and healthy food. And those are the two options that you have, junk food and healthy food. Junk ofd includes processed, packaged things, that are somehow interfered with. White flour for example, they’ll take a wheat kernel that most people have never seen, and they’ll process it, getting rid of the bran, the nutrients, and the healthy oils, and they’ll put synthetic vitamins into it and they’ll call it healthy. And things like that are the foundation of the diets of most athletes. And of course, there’s the sugar issue, sugar is found in so many packaged foods, that many people will tell me “I don’t eat sugar, I take my coffee without sugar, I don’t eat desserts”. Yet they’re eating a lot of packaged foods that if you read the label, you’ll find sugar high on the list. Being aware of healthy food, and separating it from the junk food is a very important plea to start for people.

FG: I wanted to move on to the last subject that I want to discuss, that is rest, recovery, and training your brain. The other day I went for a run, and after 5 miles into the run I just realized that I’d run for 5 miles, but it was as if the 5 miles didn’t happen. I was on the other side of the lake, and I thought “wow, that’s really crazy”. So my brain had switched really early on from the beta waves to the alpha waves, and I was able to maintain that for a very long time. I analyzed my HR afterwards, and it was 5 bpm lower than it would have been in a normal run where I was more conscious. So can you explain why sometimes when you run, you can’t remember several parts of your run, while other times this doesn’t happen, and what can be done to make your body and brain work better together.

PM: That’s a great question, I’ve been encouraging athletes to use their brain from the very beginning, because that’s where it all begins. The brain says “let’s move this arm forward, this leg forward” the brain dictates all movement, quality and quantity of movement, the brain is continuously getting information from the body about how much energy exists, how much wear and tear we have, how well the muscles are working, all this information from moment to moment is being fed into the brain, like a supercomputer. The brain is able to respond to this information, if fat burning starts to diminish it may make some adjustments, if blood sugar is lowering it may convert some glycogen to blood glucose to maintain a stable blood sugar during training. Having a healthy brain is a big part of it, and the diet influences the brain considerably, because the brain is 60-70% fat, it means that all the fats in our diet have a chance to potentially get into the brain, and the good fats make the brain function better, for example EPA and DHA, two very important fats in fish or in fish oil, help the brain, but trans fats, hydrogenated fats, or the vegetable oil omega 6 fasts can be unhealthy for the brain because they can create chemical imbalances which are a problem for the brain. States of consciousness are very important, and you mentioned that, you went 5 miles without realizing it, and it’s not unusual for people in sports to get lost into their world, especially with running because we tend to go out for a long period of time. I’ve been lost more than once on my bike, which is why I got rid of my road bike, because I’d go out for a 2 hour ride, and after 3 hours I wouldn’t know where I was anymore. That’s going into an alpha state and runners for many years have hear about the runners high, and I think what it is in part is that we develop a certain state of consciousness when we’re out there. We can do it at home, at work if we want to take a 5 minute break we can just close our eyes and go into this runners high, if you want to call it that, but all sports have this type of thing. It has to do with the state of consciousness where you brain is making alpha waves, like a meditative state, it also has to do with brain chemistry. There are opioid receptors in the brain that are similar to receptors for cannabis, and those get triggered off, and we get this wonderful feeling of runners high. You might get it on the bike, and that’s fine, you might get on a long hike, it’s a wonderful thing to experience. If you’re running with a group of people, or even one other person and talking, or if you’re listening to a podcast or music, you’re not going to get that runners high. Again, I’d like people to focus on their brain which is focusing on the body. What is your body doing, how is your muscle functioning, how do the shoes fit, how is your hydration, do you need the water, or are you just drinking it because you think that you are thirsty, do you need extra energy or is your fat-burning doing ok? This is a critical part of training, and using the brain for it is really the way to go.

FG: You mentioned earlier, a 5 minute break, can you say a little bit more about that?

PM: Yeah, the alpha waves that we’ve been talking about, meditative state is a great way to describe it, is a very healthy state. One of the things that it does is reduce high stress hormones. While we’re at work we tend to have high stress hormones, and if we could reduce those hormones that would be terrific. What alpha waves also do is correct muscle imbalance. Injury rates are unfortunately extremely high, with some studies showing 60%, and higher in some of the anaerobic crossfit type activities, with 74% in one study. The problem with inures is that they’re always preceded by some sort of muscle imbalance. Runners may go out for a run, and have some sort of muscle imbalance that’s causing wear and tear, and the process of recovery should try to correct that. If you can sit down or lie down, close your eyes, and go into this alpha state for five minutes, you can have a little mini therapy session for your brain and body by going into alpha. You can reduce stress, reduce muscle imbalance, balance blood sugar, improve fat burning, do a lot of very healthy things for both fitness and health.

FG: The good thing is that you can do it anywhere.

PM: It can be done in five minutes, people can go to my website, it’s called the five minute power break. People who know how to do it know what I’m talking about, but a lot of people are just so caught up with stressful things that they never go into an alpha state, and that’s a really sad thing because it can really help with your sport.

FG: Now, rest and sleep is a very important part of training, but many athletes don’t sleep and rest enough. I’ve read an article online that a big part of recovery happens in the third and fourth 90 minute sleep cycle. Why is rest and sleep so important, and what is the minimum number of hours of sleep for optimal performance.

PM: We usually talk about healthy sleep bing about seven to nine hours of solid, uninterrupted sleep. For someone who’s running 50-60 miles per week, 7 hours probably won’t do it, and for a triathlete, for example, who’s working out 25 hours a week you’ll need to be closer to 9 hours to get that recovery. The recovery process is really where it’s at, we get more of our training benefits from the recovery phase than from actually training. If we don’t get that recovery, we aren’t going to allow our body to naturally progress. Humans should naturally get faster over time, if we aren’t, something is blocking that. It’s like people starting an HR training program using the 180 formula and they have to run slow and a month later they’re still running slow, and they say that this doesn’t work. Well, it doesn’t work because something’s blocking that progress, you’re eating too much sugar, your stress levels are too high, or you’re not sleeping enough, recovering enough, of course you won’t make progress. Sleep is a very important thing, and interestingly enough, one of the things that wakes people up in the middle of the night, other than kids, is stress hormones. If your stress hormone levels are high, one of the things that happens is that in the middle of the night, your stress hormone levels start to elevate, and it wakes you up. A lot of people are tired during the day, and they wake up at 2 AM, and they have all this energy, and they wonder why they don’t have this type of energy during the day. Well, that’s what stress hormone does to you, that’s an indication that there’s some very serious problems. So the 5 minute power break, eating right, training in a balanced way, those will all lower the hormones and help you be a healthier, more fit athlete.

FG: I’m curious to hear, since you’ve talked about the different healthy ways of living, training right, and eating right, what is your morning routine look like? Do you do meditation, do you do the 5 minute power break, what do you eat for breakfast?

PM: I get so many questions about that, here’s one I got the other day, “how often do you cheat?” and they were talking about food. I don’t cheat, I practice what I preach. Some people call me a fanatic for doing that, but I want to be healthy. I’ve got 12 grandchildren, I want to see my great grandchildren graduate college, and I want to see their children graduating from college, and we control a lot of that. As far as genetics, we actually control a lot of the genetics with the foods that we eat. I grow most of my own food, and the meats and things are either raised here on the farm, or their from a nearby farm that we barter with. I’m very strict, I’ve spent my entire adult life trying to figure out the best way to be healthier, and it seems like every year I make an adjustment, because I’m finding that I can’t eat as much of that, I need to eat more of this and so forth. So what I’m eating today may not be what I’m eating a year from now. I’ve learned to reduce my caloric intake significantly, and I’ve done that by increasing my fat burning ability, and so today I eat about 300 calories in the morning, I have some heavy cream and coconut oil in my coffee, along with an egg yolk in the coffee, and that’s technically my breakfast. I had that around 6 this morning, and then about 9:30, just before this broadcast, I had 3 eggs and vegetables. That was my first real meal in terms of solid food. My day will go like that and I’ll probably end up having 5 meals per day, and everything is healthy. My workouts vary with where I am, what I’m doing, the weather, and I could run, swim, although we’ve gotten rid of our pool, so no more swimming until next summer, bike, hike, occasionally, I do some weights if I’m not working on the farm lifting rocks and cutting would and that sort of stuff.

FG: Last question, [the Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing] made some of the biggest impact in my life, and I’m very serious about that. It goes with great detail into the subjects that we’ve discussed. Where can people find out more about you, and where can people buy your books?

PM: They should be able to buy the book anywhere, amazon, Barnes and Noble for people who still use bookstores. They can also go to my website, there are 100s of articles, some of which have not appeared in books, that they can read on the site. For the first time, I’m announcing that there will be an addendum to the Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing, that will be called Endurance, or Endurance Addendum, it’s all the things that I’ve ben writing about and a lot of new things that I’ve been writing for that book since the Big Book came out, and I believe, although I haven’t been given a date yet, but I’m thinking that that’s going to be coming out in mid to late spring some time.

FG: Is there a specific color for that book, because this is the big yellow book, and the other one is the big red book (laughing).

PM: I don’t know, the publisher is Sky horse, the same publisher, and I’m waiting to hear back, I’ll be expecting the manuscript any day now, and I’ll probably be sent some cover ideas. I suspect it’ll be a smaller yellow book. The Big Book is maybe too big, I haven’t gotten any complaints other than that it’s too big. The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing was as big as it was, likewise for “Health and Fitness” because it spent a lot of time explaining things, how did I come up with the 180 formula, how did I come up with the 2 week test? There’s a lot of stories about why this and why that, and more scientific and varied explanations of things, that can be helpful for very many people. I’ve done 20 books now, and maybe that’s enough, but I keep writing them, and I keep writing articles on a regular basis. The articles appear on the website because it’s easier for me to not have to deal with an editor, and not have article go back and forth, and “what do you mean by this word?”. I’d rather do it unedited, my writing has gotten a lot better, though I’m not a great writer, but I like to put the information down, and say here’s how you do this, and here’s how you can figure out the best way to do that. I do write for some of the online publications, IronMan Online has some of my articles, and the Natural Running Center, but I do most of my own writing and they go on my own website PhilMaffetone.com.

FG: I’ll link to some of these articles in the show notes as well. Thank you so much for your time, and hopefully at some point down the line we can connect again.

PM: Thank you, it’s been fun. These are fun venues to do, and it’s a great way to educate people out there who are looking for information.

Related and Recommended Posts:
• How to become a faster runner by slowing down?
• Running a sub 3 hour marathon with a Go Pro
• How I trained to run a sub 3 hour marathon
• How I trained for my first 100 mile run from Long Beach to San Diego


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  • Sandeep Krishna says:

    Excellent interview, Floris!
    Very interesting. I really enjoyed the bits about track-n-field coaches bringing in their track repeats to marathon coaching and the alpha waves discussion. And the RunnersWorld – knee injury was just awesome!
    You were good, man!! 🙂

  • Mark B says:

    Great work Floiris!
    I’m such a fan of the good Dr’s work and you have really highlighted to me again how effective it is. You’re doing an excellent job. I loved your 100mile and marathon videos, you’ve inspired me. Keep it up!

  • Ramon says:

    Brilliant interview. Thank you Floris and Dr. Phil, I found this very insightful so thank you for setting this up and sharing.

    I have just embarked on a MAF training schedule. will let you know how it goes!

    All the best

  • Ed says:

    I’m quite looking forward to watching this. Dr Phil doesn’t half look like Brent Spiner.

  • Nathan says:

    Thanks for the interview. I got into HRM after finding your site. To hear you and Dr. Phil talk was awesome. Good stuff.

  • Van says:

    Amazing, great interview!
    I think you just about covered all the big key points in Maffetone’s health and training philosophy.
    Been training this way for over a year now and have seen good progress. Yet most peoples’ will still dismiss it when you tell them they need to slow down, because their ego can’t take it.

  • floris says:

    Hi Sandeep, that was indeed an eye opener for me as well about the track and field coaches moving onto marathon coaching and bringing that mentality over. Glad to hear you enjoyed the interview.

    Thanks and cheers!

  • floris says:

    Hi Mark,

    You and I are both big fans of Dr. Phil Maffetone then! I’ve been following his work for almost 2 years now and it has been really eye opening.

    Thank you for your nice message, I’m very stoked to hear that!

    Have a good one!


  • floris says:

    Hi Ramon,

    Glad you found it very insightful! I wanted to find out for myself but at the same time knew others could get a lot out of it as well. Yes, please do keep me posted on your MAF progress. If any questions come up at all, just let me know!



  • floris says:

    Haha, cheers Ed! Hope you enjoy it!

  • floris says:

    Nice Nathan, always stokes me out to hear more people getting into HRM training. I really feel it can bring a lot of joy and some guidelines to your running. Thanks for letting me know!


  • floris says:

    You make a great point right there Van, the ego thing is one of the biggest reasons most people can’t stick to slowing down. That’s rad you’ve been training this way for over a year now, I’m almost at 21 months myself. Thank you for letting me know you enjoyed the interview! Keep up your MAF training!!



  • Ramon says:

    Hi Floris, congratulations on your Boston performance! Your training and racing remains an inspiration to me.

    I have been doing MAF for the last one month (I did actually do it for two months prior to that but realized I was training at a heart rate that was about 5 beats too high). Today is Day 30 and I have already cut 48 seconds per mile off MAF test, although my original test was very slow….I am sticking with the program for the next 3-4 months at least and will update you on progress. I have also finished reading Dr Phil’s Big Yellow Book, which is full of interesting information! I have made a few dietary changes and now take my HRV daily.

    Thanks again for the blog, which I always read with great interest.

    All the best,

  • Ciaran says:

    Hi Floris

    Fantastic interview, really informative.
    I stumbled upon your site when i was researching about Heart rate training, and then of course i found Dr. Phil Maffetone..

    If i can ask your opinion on something. I have currently 2 marathons under my belt and i 3rd coming up in 3 weeks. My first time i can in at 4:24 and then my second was 3:52.. the end goal is sub 3

    My next marathon as i said is in 3 weeks, after that i have a 3 months before my next one. Is that to soon to adopt heart rate training and still be able to preform and complete that race? also how do you work heart rate training into your running plans, how many times a week do you run and how many miles/hours per week.

    id love t hear your thought if you have the time.

  • floris says:

    Thanks Ramon! Wow, that’s great you already cut 48 seconds per mile off MAF test in 30 days. Can’t wait to see your progress the next 3 – 4 months. Please do keep me posted, most probably your progress will slow down somewhat these coming months, every second you shave off the MAF test will save you minutes during a long run! I love that Big Yellow Book, so much good info. I appreciate your update, keep up the good work!



  • floris says:

    Hi Ciaran,

    It’s good to hear from you, stoked you stumbled upon my site. Great job on going from a 4:24 to a 3:52 already, I’m very curious how your 3rd one will go next week! For your next race in 3 months you definitely have enough time to adopt HR training. Look at Ramon’s comment above, he shaved off 48 seconds per mile at same HR in just 30 days! Imagine you can run 48 seconds faster per mile with same effort. Over a marathon that would be a difference of more than 20 minutes!

    For your next marathon, I’d use Maffetone’s 180 formula to calculate your max aerobic HR and run all your runs at that HR, up to 10 beats below this HR is ok. So if your MAF HR is 140, you’d train in the zone 130 – 140. Don’t do any speedwork or runs with a HR higher than your MAF HR, just build a solid aerobic base and you should see great improvements.

    For my peak weeks for a big race I run 80 miles per week, however I’ve ran for 24 months to build up to that. I’d slowly increase your miles to whatever works with your schedule. Don’t increase more than 10% per week and take a stepback week every 4th week (30 – 40% less volume). If you can run 30 or 40 miles per week great, if 50 is possible, do that. Consistency is more important than putting in some high mile weeks here, and then very low mile weeks there.

    Hope that helps. If any other questions come up, just let me know.



  • Ciaran says:

    Hello again Floris.

    Id like to come back to you to pick your brains for a minute. last time i commented i was thinking of adopting HR training. I Didn’t cause I had my plan set out for the rest of the year and the other marathons I was doing and i didn’t want to mess with that. For my final marathon in 2015 I ran a 3:37, a new best for me which is down from the 5:57 I had when I messaged you before.

    However, In November I decided to jump into HR training. My first MAF test came in at an average of 9 minutes, i did the test on the running track. But i noticed my normal training runs were up on 10 minutesa mile. but that came down quickly and was hovering around the 9 minute mark and sometime around 8:30 min/mile. .

    I’ve took some time off over christmas and new year and my progress seems to have gone backwards. an 8 mile run this morning was 9:26 min mile and average 149 HR.

    Would you think this is because i took time off? Even before christmas I really didn’t see the progress I had hoped for and its so frustrating running slow in the crappy Irish weather…

    Another Question I had was about the 180 Method, As of this year I’ve been running for 2 Years. and i would say I’ve had good progression and no major injury that stopped me running for long periods of time. So would now be a good time to add 5 to my HR?

    Anyway, any tips you can give me with this HR training would be really appreciated,

  • floris says:

    Hi Ciaran, that’s some amazing progress from a 5:57 marathon to a 3:37 marathon, way to go!!

    Here is one thing you wrote that concerns me about your training: You ran a run that was at 9:26 min / mile pace and average 149 HR. If you run 1/2 your run at 100 HR and 1/2 run at 198 HR, then you average 149 bpm, however you haven’t properly trained in your best aerobic HR zone of 139 – 149. I’m not sure what your max aerobic HR is, just using these numbers as an example, since I see a lot of runners look at average HR instead of running in best aerobic HR zone.

    Going back aerobicly can be caused by many things, like a gap in training, lack of sleep, not eating proper, increased stress, etc. Although it might feel very frustrating to slow down your pace, try to enjoy it and know you’ll become a faster runner because of it over time.

    I’d not add the 5 beats extra. Yes you’ve made good progress, but you’ve regressed significantly in your training from 8:30 / 9 min miles to 9:26 min mile. Training at a higher heart rate when you’re regressing is not something I’d recommend. Better to train at a lower HR than higher.

    Hope that helps. If you have any other questions, let me know.

  • Chupacabras says:

    How big of a deal is it for my HR during training to momentarily drift above 130? I have the alarm set several beats below 130, but sometimes it will either go up quick enough that the alarm doesn t sound until its already 130+ or it just keeps going to about 133 for a moment at which time a go to a very slow walk.

  • floris says:

    Hi Chupacabras, don’t worry about it going a few beats over. My MAF zone is 137 – 147 and my alarm is set for 147. When it goes off and I look, it’s sometimes up to 148 – 150. I slow down my pace a bit, until HR is back in my zone, then continue. 3 – 5 beats over momentarily won’t hold you back. Cheers! Flo

  • Anonymous says:

    Probably the best advice/comment I’ve heard was from Dr. Phil. He said, “The problem is you read Runners World Magazine.” I’ve been running all my training runs exclusively at MAF. Following a LCHF diet(Keto). Trying my best to get enough sleep at night. Through all of this, I have lost weight, feel more alive, and feel really good after 10 mile runs. I am new to running, started three years ago, to get control of my weight gain. After researching about 50K training, I cam across the MAF method three months ago. What I quickly realized was that for the last three years I have been training anaerobically. So needless to say I am seeing improvements in my runs these days at MAF. Mine is 142 by the way.
    So maybe a question I would have for you Floris is; At what pace/HR should I run at when doing a race? I have a ten miler in October, and my first 50k in December. Through all of my searching, I have not found any definitive advice regarding race paces/HR’s.

    Thanks for everything you do for the running community,

  • Nathan Armstrong says:

    Thank you for the interview! MAF has changed my life! Literally it has been the most humbling and rewarding process. I could go on and on but to answer your question. I would say slow down to go fast. I have learned over the years that time on your feet with walks and hikes on days off or even on easy days has really helped. Listen to your body. Mix it up and have fun. I normally want to go hard all the time but this is a great way to get more miles on your feet without overtraining.

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