Dr. Phil Maffetone has written over 20 books and 200 articles on the topics of endurance training, racing, nutrition, health and fitness. He has made a huge impact on me, my family and my friends. My journey with low heart rate training, improving nutrition and taking a holistic approach to overall health was inspired by Dr. Phil Maffetone.
In 2015 I interviewed him on my Extramilest show about the fundamentals of his approach to training, nutrition and recovery.
In today’s follow up interview, we dive deep into contradicting views in nutrition, healthy vs unhealthy meats, ketosis, intermittent fasting, experimenting with nutrition during training and how to overcome frustrations with low HR training, best type of interval training and much more.
I learned a lot of new things during this conversation and hope you will as well. Enjoy!
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QUESTION OF THE WEEK: What is your favorite takeaway from this conversation? Please let me know in the comments.
Scroll below for links, show notes and full transcript…
Select links from the show
• Overfat Pandemic
• Overfat and Underfat: New Terms and Definitions Long Overdue
• 2 Week Test
• Recipes by Dr. Phil Maffetone
• Fasting without starving
• Overcoming Frustrations with MAF Low Heart Rate Training
• Fasting without Starving
• The music of Phil Maffetone
• MAF app
• MAF improvements Floris
• Mark Allen MAF Performance
• The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing
• The Big Book of Health and Fitness
• Floris Gierman on Strava
- Improvements after training with a Heart Rate Monitor [3:30]
- More awareness about health, but more unhealthy people than ever, huge disconnect [4:58]
- Why so many people are addicted to sugars without realizing it and what you can do about this [10:45]
- Why weening off Junk Food does not work. [14:12]
- How the 2-week Test can help identify Carbohydrate Intolerance [14:12]
- Dr. Maffetone’s thoughts about the strong need for specific nutrients that come from animals [15.55]
- Chicken is the worse meat you can eat but highest selling [18:33]
- Healthy meat vs unhealthy meat [19:25]
- Listening to your body, to how you really feel [22.45]
- Dr. Maffetone’s thoughts on ketosis and fasting [24.48]
- Training your fat burning abilities [33.20]
- Importance of experimenting with nutrition during training for race day [34:50]
- Benefits of low heart training [42:20]
- Why many athletes struggle with low heart rate training and what to do about this [46:00]
- The social component of running apps like Strava [48.30]
- How to create your own training schedule with self health management [50:15]
- The type of speedwork and intervals Maffetone likes [54:25]
- Importance of having fun during training and racing [58:10]
- Listening to your body instead of to music [1:00:03]
- Setting aside time to be disconnected and think [1:01:00]
- Becoming aware of different types of stress and ways to lower your stress [1:03:20]
- Dr. Maffetone’s books about Training, Racing, Health and Fitness [1:06:40]
- Improvements with MAF and marathon times by Floris [1:11:30]
Phil Maffetone: Hey, Floris.
Floris: Hello, Dr. Maffetone. How are you?
Phil: I’m good. How are you?
Floris: I’m doing good. It’s been a few years since we spoke last.
Phil: Has it been that long? Time flies, as Einstein would say.
Floris: [laughs] Yes, right. It was early 2015 when I was looking back at our last conversation.
Phil: Wow. That’s too long.
Floris: Yes, that definitely has been a while. In the meantime, you have moved to Florida. Is that correct or are you in the middle of moving?
Phil: I have, yes. Just moved in this summer and still unpacking.
Floris: Nice. Are things coming along?
Phil: Things are good, yes.
Floris: Good. Well, yes.
Phil: What have you been up to? You’ve been doing podcasts and things?
Floris: Yes, I’ve been doing podcast. Last time we spoke I had one little one, had one daughter and right now I have another one, so a five-year-old- [crosstalk]
Floris: -and a two-year-old. Thank you. We’ve been busy with the family. We’ve been doing a lot of things. We’re walking her to kindergarten every morning. Yes, that’s been a lot of fun.
Floris: That’s good. Last time we spoke you had 12 grandchildren and you were spending quite a bit of time with them as well.
Phil: I have 13 now.
Floris: The troop is expanding.
Phil: I have to think about it and sometimes I have to count, but I think that’s where I’m at.
Floris: Good. I think it’s interesting because in the last three years, a lot more has happened in the health and nutritional space. I think it is so awesome to see how much more awareness is coming into– I did a little heart rate training to cutting out the sugars, the refined carbs. That must be quite exciting for you to follow that as well along.
Phil: Well, the carb thing has had a lot of attempted starts over my career. Looking back at some of the books and some of the research, it had a lot of starts that failed well back into the ’40s and ’50s. For me to see it hang on like it is, is refreshing. Are we recording?
Floris: Yes. I’m sorry. From the beginning on, I already recorded it.
Phil: I was just reading something about George Martin and the Beatles and when they decided that they were going to turn the tape on as soon as these guys started showing up in the studio. Some of the things that they had captured over the years, was just phenomenal.
Phil: You know it just– but anyway.
Floris: That’s usually where the magic happens anyways, before or after or during the appointment.
Phil: Yes. I was going to say two things. One is in relation to the Sugar. When I published my paper on “The prevalence of overfed adults and children in the US”, which I think was the end of last year. When I was going through the review process way- I don’t know if you’re familiar with that, but you would send your study to the Journal and the Editors comb through it. If they think it’s okay then they send it out to reviewers, which are usually academics at the University, usually well-known people or people of status.
Well, I’ll say just some of them are good, but sometimes they really are blunt about things. In the original article, I was talking about added sugars and refined carbohydrates as being a big factor associated with the over-fat pandemic that has increased since the levels of sugar and carbohydrates, in terms of the consumption increase. I was referencing a lot of studies about this. You have to convince everybody that you know what you are talking about. I get I get the review back and this woman, I didn’t know she was a woman, but this reviewer from Europe- I think she was in Sweden. She said, “Why are you referencing all this stuff? Why are you making the argument? Everyone knows that sugar is the cause of the over-fed pandemic.” I just thought, “Are we here now?”
Floris: That, I think, even in the last three years- I’ve followed your work for six years now, but I’ve seen an acceleration of acceptance and more awareness with the general public, with different athletes, even with doctors or with media, that across the board, it seems to be more accepted at this point.
Phil: Yes. I started- I want to say in the ’90s, but I was still being beat-up in the ’90s over this. In the ’90s, especially in the later ’90s, there was a little bit of a revolution from a research standpoint in nutrition. I would often say there is a consensus about this issue. There’s a consensus that junk food is not healthy for anybody and I still got people questioning me and I still got negative comments from people like, “Did you ask everybody in the world if junk food was a bad–” I think today we could say with confidence that there is a consensus that junk food is bad. There’s no scientists except for the ones that work for the junk food companies. There’s no scientist that says, “Yes, junk food is okay as long as you take your vitamins.”
Floris: The consensus is there, yet 90% of the population in the U.S. is overweight and a very high percentage international as well. Why is it that so many people have unhealthy lifestyle habits and how can some of these people change that? Because obviously, there’s a big disconnect there?
Phil: There’s a huge disconnect. The paper I wrote on the over-fat problem in the U.S. was the most up to date published research which the CDC put out. Those levels had jumped up significantly from the previous data release. I don’t remember if it was five years earlier or four years earlier maybe. The obesity levels significantly increased, children and adults. It’s still increasing and I think one of the reasons is that people are addicted to sugar and refined carbohydrates, which is really sugar.
When we talk about sugar we should include refined carbohydrates because as soon as we eat that roll or that cereal, that refined carbohydrate, the food quickly turns to sugar as if we ate sugar. Having a little cup of yogurt that has six or seven or more teaspoons of sugar, is basically the same as eating pure sugar.
Floris: Yes. Let’s talk about that for a little bit because I think that addiction part, doesn’t necessarily get talked about too much. A lot of people would want to change, yet it’s so easy to just fall back into the habits that you just keep eating what you’ve been eating. This is why, I think, even going back a few steps of– When you go to a grocery store, that’s where it all starts, right?
Floris: If you end up doing the right shopping and you end up buying the right foods, it is virtually impossible to start eating bad if you come home you don’t have it laying around. Sometimes it might not even be that you buy the stuff or maybe your partner or someone else in the household buys it and you end up consuming it just because it is around.
Phil: Yes. Well, the junk food companies many years ago, started to do something that was very important for their model to make a lot of money, to sell a lot of junk food. Number one, they made junk food accessible and so it was everywhere. Of course your restaurants, not just your fast food restaurants, but all the others even the fancy ones. You sit down at a fancy candlelit dinner table and there they come with these white rolls. You see that, and then they also made junk food cheap. Who can’t afford it?
We could even afford to send it to countries that are starving to death and have for 50 years or longer. When we look at some of the things, like the study we did in India, where we showed that up to 80% of adults in India were over fat. That was very good research that we had. We had good data. It’s astounding. How could that be? You can’t go just back to the last 10, 20 years when all the junk food restaurants went into India. You have to go back to the days when they got aid from all over the world. That aid was junk food that began the process.
If you’re going to help people get off junk food, you’ve got to resolve the issue of accessibility and cost. I should add that addiction technically, may not be the correct word but I’ve been through it, you may have been through it. You can’t you can’t tell someone who can’t stop eating cookies or drinking coke, that they’re not addicted. It was painful. It was very painful. We can call it technically anything we want but it’s really an addiction.
Floris: The good news is, as soon as you cut it out and it gets out of your guts, which typically is within 24 or 48 hours I believe, you start to already feel significantly different. Yes, at the beginning there’s sometimes for people who have been eating a lot of sugar, yes, there might be that croggy feeling or that hungry growling or any of that. I’m always surprised how quickly you can transition out of that truly, by making that choice or making that constant switch as well. It’s just getting over that initial hump I think.
Phil: Yes. That’s the step. Earlier on in practice when I was trying to help people wean off junk food, the mistake I made was I was trying to help them wean off junk food and that doesn’t work. You’re either going to do it or you’re not. I developed the chewy test and the chewy test quickly moves someone from eating junk food to not eating junk food. They usually feel the benefits fairly quick.
Not that they don’t miss their junk food, they don’t- It haunts you for a while and looking back- of course, I always say that I had my first junk food as soon as I was born because I got sugar water and a glucose solution. I have to say that it probably was 10 to 15 years for me after giving up bad stuff, that I was able to go to a banquet or walk down the street in Paris without being drawn by the smells-
Floris: By the craving.
Phil: –or the sights of– Of course in France, you’ve got some of the best stuff. That stuff is always going to be around and it’s something that you have to deal with.
Floris: Let’s talk- let’s switch over for a little bit about the good foods then, because obviously there are a lot of good food options and you have a lot of different ideas and recipes on your website. Because nutrition really is everything. You are what you eat and your energy levels are completely impacted by it throughout the day.
One topic I wanted to dive into a little bit more is meat, because there are different thoughts and different approaches over there on eating meat or a vegetarian or vegan. Can you talk a little bit more over there, because both you and I eat meat and I’m just curious to hear your thoughts about the need for animal fats and proteins or if there’s alternatives that can replace it?
Phil: Well, there is a very strong need for nutrition, specific nutrients that come from animals only. This is science. I’m not saying anything bad about it. I was a vegetarian for a while and I know what it was like to have to eat in a way that was healthy, without eating animal products and it was not easy. It’s certainly not easy. Vitamin A, for example, there’s no vitamin A in fruits and vegetables. That’s a freshman nutrition trick question.
There’s no vitamin A in fruits and vegetables. There’s a lot of beta-carotene and we can convert some of that beta-carotene into vitamin A but not a whole lot. Vitamin B12, EPA from fish oil. EPA, sure it’s an omega three fat and if we consume flax seed we get omega three fats but the conversion of flax seed to EPA has to happen in order to benefit from that flax seed. That doesn’t happen very effectively either.
There’s a number of nutrients that are very, very important. I can go on and on but the bottom line is, that if you’re eating natural meats, healthy meats, I think that’s a very important part of a healthy diet. It isn’t just the meats but it’s the eggs which are such an ideal food. I eat six or seven a day.
Floris: That’s quite a few. Definitely.
Phil: It’s quite a few. I begin in the morning with one in my fat burning coffee recipe and then I have four as part of my breakfast and then one or two in a smoothie later on, typically.
What really astounds me is the emotion of red meat as a thing, is still so prevalent. Chicken is the worst meat we could eat. Why don’t people get upset with chicken? Well, it’s because the chicken campaign back in the- I don’t know when. Maybe in the late ’60s or ’70s, which was, chicken has less fat and it’s not red meat. Well gee, it must be the best meat. It’s still the top-selling meat out there, yet from a nutrition standpoint, it’s the worst meat available. It has the highest amount of arachidonic acid, which is the fatty acid that is essential but too much of it will convert in the body to inflammatory chemicals. We can promote our inflammatory mechanism with too much chicken.
We need to look at, again, like with the world cuisine, we have junk food and healthy food. In the world of meat, we have healthy meat and unhealthy meat. The healthy meat is the real healthy food. The unhealthy meat and where meat has gotten its bad name has been from the junk food meat. Cold cuts, for example. First of all, why should a piece of meat have an ingredient list? Look at the ingredient list on these packages of cold cuts and you wonder why do they put sugar in that, why are they putting starch or why do they have–
The studies that many people still relate to are old studies that never really were valuable because they incorporated the use of junk food meats, basically. Junk food meats, when you eat a lot of them, you’re not going to be healthy.
Floris: Those are all the processed meats. When you’re talking about the good meats, you’re talking about the organic, the beef, like the red meats.
Phil: Yes. Certified organic is what I go for. The other option I have is to find a local farm who- A place where I can go and visit and literally inspect the place and see how the animals are raised, how they’re slaughtered, whether they’re certified organic or not. That’s more important for me. Those options are available to almost everyone today, especially in the Western world. A greater way to buy those healthy meats, whether it’s beef- beef is particularly good because we can- and you can do this with other meat as well, but beef, when it’s rare or medium rare, you’re going to have a lot of amino acids like glutamine. Glutamine is a very important nutrient for the gut. You can’t get that from vegetables and fruits or other foods.
The different meats are perfectly acceptable. Pork and duck is one of my favorites. Whatever you enjoy eating and not be turned off emotionally. If you’re not attracted to beef but you’re attracted to pork, then eat pork. When I became a meat eater after I was a vegetarian, I was craving meat for almost a year. In particular, I was craving duck and so one day I had some duck and I felt like, “Well, this is the best thing I’ve done in a long time.” [laughs] Then I started craving beef, and I ate beef for a while and felt even better. Then I gradually branched out.
Use the brain, the intuitive components that we’re all born with, our instincts. What does our body need? “I’m feeling like I want to do this.” Don’t say you’re feeling like you want to eat junk food because that’s your reptilian brain that’s been beat up by the junk food companies. You have to get over that.
Floris: That’s the bio-feedback of truly listening to your body. Not just during a workout but even being able to truly feel how your body feels when you wake up in the morning, or your energy levels in the afternoon, or in whatever way, shape or form, your nutrients impact your body. It’s a very important one. Up until probably about six years ago,
I was just eating a lot of different things. I wouldn’t necessarily think about the impact that it would have on how you feel until I started diving into it much more, and until I started combining it with heart rate training and other bio-mechanic measurements, bio-feedback of resting heart rates and all sorts of other things. It really opened my eyes that way.
Phil: Yes. People need to focus on, “How do I feel after I eat this meal? How do I feel in between meals? If I had breakfast at seven o’clock, am I going to be able to make it to 12 o’clock lunchtime without being really hungry, craving sweets.” Hunger is a very good symptom because we really shouldn’t be hungry. We shouldn’t. Some people need to eat more frequently to avoid that. If we’re genuinely hungry for something, that’s one thing, but if two hours after we have breakfast or lunch, we’re ravenous then– We used to make fun of going to a Chinese restaurant because you’d be hungry an hour later. There’s a lot of sugar and starch and pretty much, not much else and that’s the reason.
If we’re getting that hunger effect an hour or two after our meal or right away, then what we ate is not working for us and we’ve got to figure out why.
Floris: Yes. I’m always experimenting with different things to see what works and what doesn’t work for me. I’ve recently been experimenting for 15 to 30 days with ketosis to see if I’m at different levels of ketosis. How that impact my energy levels, my concentration, my focus. One other thing I’ve been experimenting with is intermittent fasting and actual fasting. I was just listening to some of your other podcasts and it sounds like when you went through medical school many, many years ago, you were experimenting with even several days of fasting where you, I believe only drank water just to see how your body impacted. Is that correct?
Phil: Yes. I didn’t go to medical school, but it was before I went– I was in undergraduate school. I think it might have been the summer but I had studied about fasting and I decided to do a fast. I think I intended to do a week or 10 days and ended up doing two weeks and just water. True fasting. It was the first time I experienced ketosis. I didn’t know what it was. I just thought, “Man, this is wonderful.” I mean, after the first two days, things were really good for two days. I felt pretty horrible and that’s what the material that I had read said.
I wrote something, an article that’s on the website about fasting. Fasting is one of those things that has come and gone since I can remember. People jump on the bandwagon, and then the fad goes away, and I’m seeing the same thing now. Sometimes it’s called something different. Intermittent fasting is one of the buzzwords. When I first started treating patients in 1977, I would give them dietary recommendations. I would do a diet analysis and a good history, and then I’d give them specific recommendations.
One of them was almost always, have dinner relatively early. Try not to eat anything after 6 or 7 PM, and, of course, that means probably that you’re going to be fasting for 12 hours before your breakfast the next morning. That was a fast and if we want to call it intermittent fasting, okay, let’s call it intermittent fasting, but why? It’s fasting. It’s natural fasting.
I’ve talked to people about this and they often say, “I’m told that you have to fast for 14 hours. It can’t be 12 or it has to be 16. It can’t be 14 or–” I said, “What happens after 12 hours?” “I don’t feel good. I get shaky, I’m disoriented, I can’t work. I have to drink more coffee.” I said, “Wait a minute. Intuition, instincts, what is your body telling you? You shouldn’t fast for 16 hours, for 14 hours.” When people have stabilized their metabolism by getting rid of junk food, especially sugar, they’re able to fast longer than they were before. A lot of people get–[crosstalk]
Floris: Because they don’t have the cravings.
Phil: Their blood sugar’s not stable, and they may have a snack at 8:30 in the evening, and then as soon as they get up at 5:30, they have to go eat something because they’re weak and they’re hungry. It just shouldn’t work that way. I’m all for natural fasting but let’s just call it natural fasting otherwise they start writing books and they start selling tapes. I’m okay with that but–
Floris: Yes. Personally, my last experiment with ketosis was, I pretty much cut out all sugar, and I even went really minimal on the fruits, and I increased my fats significantly to probably 70, 75%. I started noticing after probably three days that I had gotten into a ketogenic state, and I have these strips that I can just be on them and see what the levels are. At that point, it was from trays and too small, and I started getting into moderate levels.
At the beginning, the energy levels were going all over the place. All over the place and some moments, you have the clarity and the focus, and some other moments I definitely was very tired and could go to bed very early. For me, I do think at some point, after about 10 days, it started stabilizing a bit more, but that was not right for me when I combined that with my actual training of 30, 40, 50 miles a week. For me personally, it felt better when I started adding some more natural sugars again, free fruits or some more carbs, whether that was through beans or through additional nuts or in whatever way, shape or form.
I think that is where every athlete is different and a lot of body types are different between people as well. That’s why I think the whole experimenting it’s so important that what works for one person might not necessarily work for another. While some of these things like being vegetarian might work really well for some people, for other people it might really not in that standpoint as well.
Phil: Yes, in my case it worked really well in the beginning and then after a while, it didn’t. You transitioned into ketosis and it took you a couple of weeks. It could take three weeks, it could take four weeks, it could take six or eight weeks, it just depends on the person. It depends on how strict you are. I think with every individual. Clearly, while you’re going through that adaptation period of lowering your carbohydrates, you will not perform as well physically, biochemically, or mental emotionally. People need to understand that.
It may not be that noticeable for some people and in others, it could be very noticeable and it’s hard to predict. I just tell people, don’t plan on running any big races or if you’re a student taking final exams when you’re going through that period of adaptation because it’s not going to be a great thing for you.
Floris: Yes, I personally noticed my resting heart rate was quite a bit higher as well. I believe it was six or eight beats higher. Although I know there’s light at the end of the tunnel and you have to go through it, it’s not easy and you have to be patient with that part as well.
Phil: Yes, I think in sports research, they did these studies a while back where they just flipped some group of athletes into a low carbohydrate diet and then they compared them with athletes who didn’t make changes and they said, “Well look, look how bad these athletes perform with a low carbohydrate diet. Therefore, low carbohydrate diets are bad.” We knew decades ago- I knew when I gave up sugar that adaptation was a very important thing and you could see it in patients.
You explain the two-week test, they’re eating a diet that’s 75% carbohydrate, almost all of it is refined with a lot of sugar. Now they’re going to go home and they’re going to start eating different. Of course, they say, “Well gee, what do I eat?” Lots of good options, of course. I used to say, “Call me if you have any trouble”, which was always a mistake because they would always call. Sometimes it was a day later. I had a guy call me from the supermarket. This was before cell phones. He went to the counter and borrowed the phone and called me, “I can’t find anything.” Be aware that the adaptation process is sometimes a significant one.
Floris: Yes, I have seen quite a few people in running an ultra running actually. I think there was two different types. The one person goes on a run even if they go for an hour and they’ve taken an energy bar and they start right away taking it or before they go or during, while others are trying to run and just use that body fat as they go through these runs. Obviously there as well, you can train your fat burning ability by– [crosstalk]
Phil: Exactly, that’s the key. Even the leanest of us, have enough energy to take us hundreds of miles on a run. We want to tap into that incredible source of energy. If we drink some junk food sports drink before we work out, that’s going to turn off or tone down quite a bit the fat burning mechanism. Now we’re going to be dependent on glucose more than fat and we’re going to start tapping into our glycogen stores, which are quite limited and the result is not going to be a good one.
That fat max component of us, “What’s the most amount of fat we can burn during this run?” That’s your fat max. The more you encourage your metabolism to do that, the more you’ll be able to tap into that fat storage depot and get more energy and your fat max will get higher and higher and that means cutting out the sugar from your regular food and snack. In cases of competition, there’s nothing wrong with consuming a carbohydrate beverage, for example to get your energy.
We don’t make much if any, insulin when we’re competing or even training, so we don’t have the same mechanisms going on when we consume a carbohydrate liquid for example, during a marathon. That’s separate. That doesn’t count as part of your carbohydrate intake, but in your meals and snacks, having a junk food bar and a so-called energy bar, which zaps your energy or a liquid version of that, is just not a sensible thing.
Floris: For athletes out there training for a marathon, whether it’s just finishing a marathon or whether there is a specific goal time or like a sub-3-hour marathon or a Boston qualifier, what do you think are some good things to take in during the actual race? Would it be the actual drinks on the aid stations or would you say, take some gels with you or take some other items with you along for the run?
Phil: Well, when working with professional athletes it’s easier because they have their own products that will be- usually not always- available at certain aid stations. We can plan really well and amateurs can do this too. We spend a lot of time experimenting. “Do I need to consume something an hour into my training or two hours into my training? Do I need to consume something an hour into a race? Say a marathon.” That’s experimentation that you do before your big race.
You’ll get to feel- the game is how long can I go and burn my own body fat and feel good. If you’re an hour and a half into your long run and you see your heart rate going up too much, which means you have to slow down more, too much and you’re feeling weak or you’re not feeling your gait is quite what it used to be, then you know you’ve gone over the line and you should have had some carbohydrate drink, I don’t know when 15 minutes before then.
Next time on your long run, that’s what you do. Then you just keep experimenting and the more you’re able to burn fat, the longer you can go. I think with the right strategy, a great runner, for example, somebody seeking to break a two-hour marathon, is not going to need a sports drink. I don’t think he’s going to need shoes either but that’s another topic because I think when you put something in your gut, even water- I don’t think they’ll need water either- they’re going to dehydrate.
They’re not going to get so dehydrated that is going to affect their performance but they’re going to get dehydrated enough to lose some weight, which will actually help their running economy. But when you put something in your gut, like a sports drink- sure, if you need the glucose, it can help you, but now your gut is going to be a little stressed. The last thing your gut wants when you’re in the middle of a marathon is to have food to deal with, liquid or solid.
It’s a give and take, sure you’re getting the glucose but what are you doing to your gut which then affects your muscles and your gait and potentially gives you some indigestion and that’s not going to help your race. It’s this game, you have to play and it’s called experimentation and I’ve gone through that process with many athletes and it’s not hard to do. You just have to go through it and prepare a strategy based on logic, based on instincts and taking your time.
Floris: For me, that was always at least three to five long marathon training runs like usually 20 miles that’s like two and a half hours or two hours 15 minutes. Those were always good training runs purely to pretend it was a marathon. You go through everything the same evening routine what do you eat the night before? What do you drink the night before? What time do you get up in the morning?
Everything can have basically simulating to the same time in the morning you run and all of this kind of things. I’ve had some horrific bumps and I’ve had some really good experiences that have taught me what works well during the long races.
Phil: Yes, I’m amazed especially when I see it in a professional athlete especially a runner before a big run. You don’t get to run a lot of marathons in the course of a year. When it’s marathon day, this is a big event. I’m amazed at how many people at the last minute oh maybe I’ll do that or oh maybe I’ll have breakfast they usually don’t. Or maybe I’ll drink the stuff I’ve never drunk it before but my friend does and it’s supposed to be really, really great. Man, plan, plan your race, life is too short and you don’t want the race to be an unhealthy bad experience and there’s not enough of them.
Floris: Then if you have gone through the motions that many times, it almost becomes- Race Day comes around it reduces the stress levels because you’ve gone through it all before everything is already preplanned and it’s just execution on race day. Yes, that definitely brings some calm over there as well.
Phil: Yes, I mean it’s a brain thing and it’s nothing more it’s just like learning a song or learning a piano part or a guitar part that is beyond your level of difficulty and now you’ve got to connect your brain and your fingers. Once you practice it, now you’ve got it. It’s no different in this topic. We need to practice. Nixon Brady said, practice is not perfect, perfect practice is perfect.
We should get it down in training and then when we go to the race, our brain knows what’s going on. There’s no stress over what are we going to eat? What are we going to have at mile 10? Or maybe I should wait or maybe I should have it early.
Floris: Absolutely and I think a lot of different people do it. I think the astronauts for a long period of time before they fly up, they’ve gone through the routines. I think several successful business people, they wear the same outfit every day. They don’t have to think about it anymore. Whatever we can copy from some of these other–
Phil: Yes, well the brain likes to do that. The brain likes to rehearse. It’s a very important part of what training is all about.
Floris: Yes, absolutely. Talking about training, I do want to dive into the math of low heart rate training approach a little bit further. What I like about it a lot is that it can really work for athletes of all levels from absolute beginner to like a pro level like the Mark Allen, Larisa Dannis, etc. Before we dive into this, maybe not all listeners are very familiar, but can you briefly summarize the benefits of low heart rate training before we dive deeper.
Phil: There are many benefits one is that it builds the aerobic system. The aerobic system for years and this is another topic that comes up recently and seems to be staying more than it did 10, 15 years ago, but in the 80s- in the 70s, you mentioned the aerobic system to a group of runners. I remember talking to a group of runners in New York City. In the 70s, runners were, give me information, I want information and the aerobic system was something that was foreign to them.
Even though Dr. Cooper had coined the word aerobics and wrote a book about it in 1968 and it was a big part of the running boom. It was one of the early running boom explosions that kept the momentum of the running boom. Except he wasn’t talking about the aerobics system he was talking about the anaerobic system. He had a cooper test where you run as hard as you can for 12 minutes and let’s measure how far you can run. That’s just not aerobic function.
The aerobic system involves the slow twitch muscle fibers which were endowed with much more than the fast-twitch anaerobic muscles. The aerobic system is slow twitch, they’re red muscle fibers that are iron-dependent good reason to eat meat. They’re muscle fibers that are associated with endurance. They not only allow us to run farther but they allow us to sit at our desk without hurting our back where they support our joints and other muscles and ligaments and tendons and cartilage and everything else in a way that the anaerobic fast which the muscle fibers cannot do.
In fact, the aerobic muscle fibers support the anaerobic fibers and they feed the anaerobic fibers because the anaerobic fibers which are called white are void of circulation. They really depend on the aerobic fibers which are next door to bring in blood and take away waste products through the lymph system and the vascular system. That aerobic system is a very important thing and what I was finding was that people were not developing it very well.
Floris: The aerobic system is more the basic foundation fundamental system that when I first came across your work that was one of the biggest things that I noticed. That is I had always been training at heart rate that was much higher than my current fitness level. I had to slow down significantly after 100, 180 for MLI even know your website and we’ll link into that. But eventually, after you slow down your pace significantly, over time, your fat burning improves and your aerobic grazing improves and you become much faster at the same heart rate.
What I’ve noticed over the last several years because I’ve had a good experience with it myself I’ve talked about it on a different podcast I’ve written about it on my website. That a lot of people are experiencing success with it yet a lot of people are also experiencing significant frustrations with it because it’s so hard for them to start at the beginning. Or they realize normally I’m always training at eight or nine-minute miles and I have to walk part of the time or almost all of the time.
I want to talk about that a little bit more I’m sure that you’ve experienced that as well. What would you say to someone experiencing that at the beginning and how can they overcome that?
Phil: This issue it’s very common. People sometimes say, oh you’re the slow training guy. Well, six minutes a mile is that slow? 530 seven minutes a mile oh really. I think this issue is connected with the carbohydrate issue very much. A lot of runners believes that because they run, they burn more calories and then the diet, therefore, is not so important because they’re burning whatever they take in.
Well, when that topic comes up, I say calories of what? Then they get confused. Well, calories. There’s fat calories and there’s sugar calories and if you’re burning a lot of sugar calories, you’re not burning fat calories. Man, go to any marathon today any 10k any 5k and look at how many older fat runners there are. That has gone up in the last 40 years that I have witnessed and coincidentally what has also happened is that runners have gotten slower over that time for a period and the population has become old and fat. Back to your question, there’s a lot of ego in slowing down. I would try to get into that with an athlete what do you mean you’re running slower and you don’t feel good? Is your gait bad? Do your knees hurt?
No, no I just what they really mean is that people are watching me run slow. That’s why I came up with the line run at night when nobody can see or wear a ski mask. So no, well who is that runner that is running so slow. I sit on the couch all day but I’m looking at them running slow, it’s terrible.
Floris: I can totally relate to the social component there as well though and I think it has accelerated with social media and now more and more. I would ever want posting their runs on Strava, Nike Plus, or wherever they post it. Yes, they used to post certain times and now they’re posting 11-minute miles or 13 or 15 minutes. It is funny but through all of this people are being programmed in a certain way that everyone is watching each other always and being so careful of being judged.
This is why I think that the short-term thinking versus long-term thinking. Yes, the short term you might sacrifice something or you might have to leave your ego at the door, but in the long term when you can run two minutes faster than what you’re actually training at a low heart rate, it’s so worth it.
Phil: What a deal. I can’t help saying to people if you’re racing really well, if you’re running some PR’s, if your health is really good, if you’re not injured, then keep doing what you’re doing. But most people don’t fall into that group, most people have injuries, they haven’t won a PR in a long time, the runners who’ve been at it for quite a while. People have health issues, back pain, decide that you’re going to be healthy and fit and then go about doing whatever you need to do to become healthier and more fit.
It’s really as simple as that. The information is there. There is no people get into- well, scientists don’t really know what we should be eating or how we should be training well, we do. The bottom line is it’s up to you and for me, I’m not going to give you the information because I don’t really know. I want you to learn how to individualize your health and individualize your training.
I want you to learn how best to train. I want you to learn how best to meet for your particular needs. I’ll help you with understanding the signs and symptoms. I’ll help you with an app, with a heart monitor, with whatever but I’ve always been about self-health management self-care. How do I take care of myself? I don’t know somewhere along the way we lost track. Humans were able to do that for a long, long time and now we’re sort of like we have to read the newspaper to find out about nutrition research.
Floris: It’s so true. One of the most common questions I’m getting on the website and on our Facebook group is okay you’ve had success with the MAFF approach and low heart rate on all of these. What is your training schedule or can you make me a training schedule for a marathon? I want to run on the sub-three, Boston Qualifier or Marathon PR, what is the training schedule?
I always answer some with the line with people what you’re saying I think as well that it’s all super individualized and it’s all based on everyone’s circumstances but that being said, I would like to go through a few of the fundamentals that are taking place over there. For example, one of the answers that I gave is first start out with at least three months of aerobic running. Very low heart rate don’t do any speed work and I think that’s exactly what you have mentioned there as well all right.
Phil: Yes, that’s a good- it’s a good place to start. Over that three month period, if you’ve chosen the right training heart rate, and if you’re doing what you should do warming up and cooling down, and if your diet is pretty good, then in three months in the first three weeks, you should see changes. Changes being you’re able to run faster at the same training heart rate.
When you do an IF test once every month or so where you go to the track and warm up and then you run whatever three miles and you clock each mile. Or with a GPS monitor you have a relatively flat course you go out because it doesn’t have to be the mile markers, but you say, oh when I’m passing this big oak tree, I’m getting here a lot sooner than I was a week ago.
When you start seeing that, you realize that oh, gee, I’m also feeling better, my energy during the day is better and I’m sleeping better and my aches and pains are not what they used to be or whatever. After three months then, people will always have in the back of their minds so to speak this idea of doing intervals. They three weeks into it oh, I’m going I’m getting faster. I wonder when I’ll be able to start intervals. Two months later and I’m much faster now.
Three months later wow I’m a minute and a half a mile faster than I was three months ago, when can I start doing intervals? I say well, anytime you want but understand that when you start doing intervals, you may lose your ability to progress. You may just hit a plateau. It depends on the person. It varies a little bit but intervals are great. High-intensity interval training is a very, very important part of training.
The question is do you have time for it? Can you recover from it? Have you built a really good aerobic system in which to put that high-Intensity Training on top of? If all that works out then I encourage you to do that.
Floris: What’s client let’s say someone has truly built solid aerobic base and they’re ready for intervals after three four or five months. What kind of speed work do you like there?
Phil: Two ton, I was going to ramble through a workout as if here’s the magic high-intensity interval training work. There is none. What I found over the years is that I would ask athletes what they enjoyed the most. If you didn’t like going to the track, don’t go to the track. If you can’t comprehend the idea of a fartlek workout, don’t do fartlek workouts which happen to be my favorite because then you really train your brain.
But what I found was whether it’s a short interval 100 meters, 400 meters, hill repeats, fartlek workouts, telephone poles to telephone pole, it’s all the same, you end up with the same place at the air. The benefits you’re going to get from high-intensity training are going to be there at the end. I haven’t seen that a particular precise workout is magical for any particular person.
Again, experiment, figure out what works for you but begin by saying what do I want to do? Just because all your training friends are out on the track doing these crazy workouts and competing I might add, doesn’t mean you should be doing the same thing. For an amateur athlete who’s got a full-time job and a family and a house maybe or whatever where in the world are you going to find time to do a couple or three high-intensity workouts in the course of the week?
It always brings me back to the study I did in my clinic in the early 80s where I took 229 runners, experienced runners. Changed their diet and they agreed to do a three to six-month aerobic period no hard training at all. Virtually all of them got faster, some of them a lot more than others and then at the end of their base period, they were going to run a local 5k and 76% of them ran a personal best.
Floris: Without speed work?
Phil: Without any speed work. I’ve seen that and I’ve seen it in professionals, I’ve seen it in in amateurs who have been racing for a long time and are well experienced. You just have to weigh all these things and break that traditional emotion that we’ve gotten from we’ve really gotten a lot of that from track coaches that came into the running boom in the 70s because there were a lot of– There was a big need for coaches and track coaches didn’t have anything to do after they stopped being track coaches and all of a sudden there was this great market and there’s some really good ones out there.
The idea that we need speed to run our best races, it’s just not true. Recently, I heard of a coach who was telling his team– This is a high school team. When you’ve finished the race you should be vomiting, you should be ready to pass out. Man, this is supposed to be fun.
Phil: Yes, we all want to do our best and we can, but it should also be fun. If you take the fun out of it, stay home and watch TV.
Floris: Once again I think the whole like looking at all the different elements and the whole holistic approach of keeping the energy levels high, keeping the stress levels low. I think if you’re not having fun, you’re doing it not the right way. For the longevity of the sport as well.
Phil: Well, that’s a good point because we have seen the times in marathons. I know if that study was done on– And now I can’t remember was it. Do you know what study I’m talking about?
Floris: Yes, I’m trying to think which–
Phil: Was done on marathons only? Maybe marathons and half marathons. But basically–
Floris: I don’t know the specifics of it.
Phil: The mass of runners that are around the world it’s a very successful sport. We’re talking about millions and millions of people have been running 5k, 10k, 20k, half-marathons, marathons for decades. The times are getting worse and worse with the few exceptions, of course, a new runner will often run a PR for the first year. Except for the lead pack pros who were breaking World Records, everyone else as a whole as a group the times are getting slower. What are we–
Floris: What the disconnect?
Phil: Why aren’t we paying attention to that? The over fact pandemic has, of course, affected marathoners as well as 5k and 10k runners. Why aren’t we paying attention to that? Why doesn’t– Why don’t writers write about this?
Floris: I think one other factor in the last five, ten, five years has been the increase in cell phone usage. I listened to an interesting podcast with you that you had with Scott and Don from Trail Runner Nation, a few weeks ago and it was all about daydreaming. I thought it was so interesting about now that everyone is on their phone like they’re much less daydreaming and I can see that as well. That the importance of letting your mind wander and getting to that alpha state which then reduces the stress in your body again which–
Phil: Very much, yes.
Floris: Like it’s a vicious cycle, right?
Phil: We’re talking about balancing muscles, improving the gait, taking the stress off your joints. Wouldn’t you want to do that if you were a runner? If all you had to do was train better and eat better and not be on your cell phone when you’re running is that– If you can’t do that, I don’t know what to say. That’s a big issue. I often say I’d rather you not listen to my music when you run because a lot of people do that, I’d rather you listened to your body which is really what it’s all about.
Floris: Yes, absolutely. One interesting one that I’ve noticed is everyone or a lot of people put a calendar full with different activities. They jump from one to the other and one item that I started adding recently into my calendar is actually just a block of time for myself that I actually have time to think. It is interesting when you have a block of one or two hours where you actually get deeper thoughts and you don’t get interrupted. To just turn off your wifi you turn off your cell phone and all of a sudden, you can get to that state where everything kind of falls into place and your mind is reorganized itself. It really brings some more calm and structure to your to your mind as well.
Phil: Yes, I think that was the idea of this runner’s high. This unique thing that only runners experienced. Of course, that was way back before cell phones and you wouldn’t see a person listening on headphones to anything back in those days. It was a time where we can go out for me I lived in the country which I’ve always done and for me it was a time I could go out, go for a run and just be away from the entire world.
I did that on my bike. In fact, I had to get rid of my road bike because I would get into this alpha state and I would end up out there for three hours instead of two. Which was not good because I would only have two hours break from my– when I was working in my clinic and people weren’t happy. That idea of getting lost in your thoughts and maybe even lost on the trails is a wonderful idea and people are just not doing that.
You’re right. They’re too busy with all the things in their lives that quite often are stressful. Important things to think about planning and understanding your life is important but you’ve got to have that time wherever you can put it whether it’s every morning on your run or whenever is a very important trigger for your health and fitness.
Floris: Absolutely. Just wrapping it up over there and like a few last questions since I have you on the podcast anyways. Do you have any suggestions for lowering stress any additional things? I know you have talked previously about the five-minute power break, where you briefly breathe in and out. Are there any other things that work well for you? I know that you’re very much into music.
Phil: Yes, the five-minute power break is a way to- it’s basically a meditation. It’s a way to get into that alpha state and there’s a link or there’s an article about it on my website. Listening to music is a really good way to get into the alpha state. Instead of watching TV or listening to the news, you might just when you get home from work or when you have time you just put some headphones on or some earbuds and listen to A, music that you like which is the best music for your body and B, music you’ve never heard before good music, well recorded that you’ve never heard before. Because the brain loves new stuff.
You can go to my music site and hear a lot of music that many people have never heard and so that’s another way. I think the big issue with stress is awareness. If we’re not aware that sitting all day is a stress on the body or if we’re not aware that what we’re doing in our career or part of our day is spent doing this and we really hate it, if we’re not aware of that, it’s like hitting ourselves with a hammer in the head. It’s not a good thing and so we need to be aware of our physical stresses our shoes our sitting position we should be aware of our biochemical stresses diet is the main one. If we’re on medications, do we really need to be on those medications? Do we really need to be on that dosage? Many times, the answer is we can be taken off we can really do quite well without them, you have to talk to your doctor about that.
Nobody is aware of these potential stresses and then, of course, the mental-emotional stresses that we’re all aware of, we’re working with these people, God, I really hate those people every day I have to see them–
Floris: Yes, that that negative energy that drains you. Absolutely.
Phil: Yes. I’m not saying quit your job although I’ve talked to people about this and that’s exactly what they did, but I’m saying make a plan to get out of that bad stress, whatever that involves. The awareness of stress- then, of course, we’re always going to be exposed to stress. Humans have always been exposed to stress. Humans have developed an adaptation mechanism whereby they can cope with stress really, really well.
It’s the brain affecting the body, the hypothalamic pituitary adrenal axis, it’s called. If we’re healthy, that mechanism works much, much better than if we’re not healthy. In other words, when we’re healthy, we adapt to stress much better than when we’re unhealthy. Those are the things that are very important in relation to stress.
Floris: Very well said. There are so many different factors and that’s what I really like about your approach and I want to re-equate it to two of your books over here. This is one of my favorites, The big book of health and fitness and then this one as well, The big book of endurance training and racing.
Phil: Luckily, they’re color-coded yellow one is for athletes that the red one is also for athletes, but a more for a general audience and has a lot more about food and lifestyle stress and that kind of stuff.
Floris: Yes and that’s the good part that it really talks about all these different aspects you can– James, all the nutrition in the world, but if you’re training at a really high heart rate are you still stressed out of your mind at work, it’s not all put together.
Phil: That’s the thing we have a society that thinks a pill for every ill, a food for every symptom. There’s a hierarchy. Our brain and body, there’s a hierarchy that we have to follow. If we do something down the list and that hierarchy, if we say, “Well, I’m going to train slow, but I’m still going to eat sugar,” then you’re distorting things and things are not going to work. You have to start on the important things and sugar is one of the more important things and stress is one as well.
If you go to have talk therapy and you talk to somebody about how bad the people at work are and you talk about how bad the people at work are for six months, you’re not going to accomplish anything. Sorry, but that’s not therapeutic. I think we need to start higher up. We need to make the brain healthy before we can make things like talk therapy valuable, which they can be.
Floris: Yes. I do want to say one last one over here in closing is now that I’m a father, a parent myself with two young kids, I picked up this book a little while ago, Healthy brains, healthy children that you have also written and I can absolutely highly recommend that one and both my wife and I have read it and just talks about the development of children and also there and the importance of nutrition and sleep and any of these things.
Phil: Yes, this is our future, the children and it’s sad to see kids out there with the shoes they wear, with the cell phones they’re using, with the snacks they’re eating and it makes it difficult to be out there and see this, but yes, the children are such– They’re just so valuable.
Floris: Yes, it really is. My daughter is super getting into running now as well. It’s fun. I think we’ve run 1500 miles together in the stroller already in her first few years and now she can run on her own. She can work me through the trail sometimes, it’s nice.
Phil: That’s great.
Floris: Where can people find more about you and where can they find your books?
Phil: Well, Maffetone.com is my website. I write an article every week, a new article. There are hundreds of articles on there that’s all free. There’s an app on there as well. That’s free the app. Basically, what I was trying to do was mimic what I did when I was in my clinic talking with a person one on one and you answer the same questions I would ask and then the, your answers are driven to other questions and it’s a very interesting thing. There’s a lot there for everyone. You can get the books on Amazon.
Floris: I saw them I Barnes and Nobles as well and a lot of other bookstores.
Phil: Yes, a lot of the bookstores have depending on if they get an order from somebody, then they stock a few and if they get more people buy, they and they stock more. My music website is different. That’s Maffetonemusic.com and you’ll be able to play and download all of my six albums plus all of my singles for free and so that’s–
Floris: You have created so much content over the years. I’m so impressed between 20 books, your six albums and all of these hundreds of articles. I think the newsletter is a really good one to sign up for. I can highly recommend it. You come out with a new newsletter every week, you said and always look forward to that, seeing the latest and greatest updates.
Phil: Yes, thanks.
Floris: Absolutely. Thank you so much for the follow-up interview. I really enjoyed it.
Phil: Thanks for having me, Floris. It’s always fun to talk to you. Let’s do it again. By the way, one of the articles I wrote was about your progression in your training, comparing the MAF tests and the improvement of those tests with your marathon times and it was a two year period and you only had three marathons only, but you had three marathons and just to see the improvement in the MAF test and the corresponding improvement in marathon mile paces is great in that nice graph that we have there check that out.
Floris: Absolutely awesome. I will and that’s why I absolutely wanted to get you back on and just spread all the excitement. That’s great. Definitely. All right. Thank you has a good rest of your day.
Phil: Thanks, Floris, you too.
Floris: All right. Bye now.