Author of the New York Times Bestseller Beyond Training: Mastering Endurance, Health & Life, Ben Greenfield’s balanced approach to fitness, nutrition and health comes from his extensive experience in the fitness and wellness industry as one of the country’s leading personal trainers and wellness consultants. In 2008, Ben was nominated by the NSCA as America’s top personal trainer, and in 2013, Ben was voted as one of the top 100 most influential individuals in health and fitness.
A frequent contributor to health and wellness publications and a highly sought after speaker, Ben’s understanding of functional exercise, nutrition, and the delicate balance between performance and health has helped thousands of people around the world achieve their goals and improve their quality of life.
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Ben Greenfield Fitness: https://bengreenfieldfitness.com/
01:14 Ben’s Journey: Ben got into fitness to look good for the opposite sex and have a good tennis game. When he decide to pursue colligate and professional tennis, he delved deep into the research on the human body, starting with kinesiology. He fell in love with exercise physiology and biomechanics. He prepared to go to medical school, taking pre-med courses. He was warned off medical school by physicians who did not like the trajectory of today’s medicine. He then opened a number of personal training studios and gyms. In 2008, he was named America’s Top Trainer. When his kids were born, he sold everything and went back to his first love, reading and writing. Today he does a great deal of freelance writing and studying.
05:01 Blood Testing: Ben and other athletes do a comprehensive blood panel 2 to 4 times each year. This includes liver and kidney markers, a complete blood count, and basic metabolic panel of lipids and thyroid. He also looks at the triglyceride/HDL ratio, lipoproteins, testosterone, DHEA, and basic nutrients like red blood cell magnesium, and vitamin D. These are things that effect recovery, illness or the ability to absorb the workout.
06:17 Gut Panel: For triathletes and other athletes who go all out and are exposed to toxins from the environment and travel, he likes to run a gut panel. He looks at parasitology, bacterial imbalances, fatty acid balance, and pancreatic enzyme production.
07:21 Daily Quantification: Ben recommends that we use a pulse oximeter. Take a quick pulse oximeter reading in the morning to see what your oxygen saturation levels are. Heartrate variability measurements show sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous system strength, as well as the status of the vagus nerve, showing the robustness of the nervous system.
08:44 Markers of Overtraining: Individuals who are overtraining will have very high TSH, low T4 to T3 conversion due to hypercortisolism, high levels of sex hormone binding globulins. Cortisol will either be very high or inadequate. Vitamin D is typically low because it is a precursor to cortisol. Sometimes, inflammation is high. Ironically, when athletes overtrain, they are not able to push themselves to a level to create high interleukins, high hs-CRP or other inflammatory markers. Athletes tend to use fish oil and curcumin, so inflammation is not so high. Since so many athletes are committed to a paleo or low carb diet, insulin resistance is not generally an issue. When athletes are in a persistent catabolic state, they have been experiencing hypocaloric intake (starving themselves). Insulin-like growth factor will be low. There may not be enough glucose for thyroid conversion. Very high levels of circulating fatty acids can inhibit thyroid cell receptor sensitivity.
11:43 Ketogenic Diet: Ketogenic diets have a great many benefits and Ben is a fan. However, when Iron Man or Triathlon athletes eat a ketogenic diet, it is detrimental. Keto adapted athletes who will not ingest carbs after demanding workouts need to take desiccated thyroid and eat a lot of organ meats.
12:30 Dietary Strategies: It is not as much about carb restriction as it is from keeping chronic blood glucose levels from being elevated. Chronic circulating blood glucose can pull you out of fatty acid oxidation and create vascular and nervous system inflammation, along with neurofibrillary tangles and oxidation issues on the brain level. Carbohydrate timing is important. Ben eats a high fat, moderate protein (no more than about 30% protein intake), and in the evening he consumes 100 to 200 grams of carbohydrates. He works out between 4 and 7 pm. He might have white rice, sweet potatoes, dark chocolate, a glass of wine or sour dough bread. He can be back in ketosis by the next morning. High intensity interval training and weight training upregulate non-insulin dependent glucose transporter pathways. You don’t want to do a 2 hour aerobic workout, for example, and then eat a lot of carbohydrates. It will result in chronically elevated blood sugar levels.
15:34 High Intensity Interval Training: HIIT is one of Ben’s time hacks. You get more done in less time and you make yourself more insulin sensitive. Even if you work out in the morning, shift carbohydrate intake to the evening. Eating carbs in the evening fits better with social activities as well. If you want to eat carbs in the evening, but you haven’t exercised, prior to consuming carbs try 2 teaspoons of cinnamon or a few shots of apple cider vinegar or bitter melon extract.
18:03 Cold Thermogenesis: A nice long cold shower or cold soak increases activation of brown adipose tissue and causes a greater conversion of calories into heat, rather than into ATP.
19:00 Carb Intake for the Rest of Us: We can get away with fewer carbohydrates. There will be less glycolysis. Ben recommends starting with 20 minute weight training sessions and high intensity interval training each week. When we are first starting, we can go as high as 70% to 80% fat, while restricting carbohydrates. Include protein. Eat a lot of vegetables and drench the vegetables in grass fed butter, MCT oil, coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil. That should be the staple of your diet. Eat some wild caught fish, some pastured eggs and some grass fed beef here and there. Occasionally, eat a few carbs. No matter what your level, get some exercise. The Body By Science book by Doug McGuff outlines a simple but impactful 12 to 18 minute training program. It includes 5 full body exercises. It increases peripheral blood pressure in your arms and legs without the increase in central blood pressure. You get a good cardio vascular training response, nice building of strength, protection of the joints and it can be done by people who are new to strength training.
21:31 Body Builders and Cardio: Cardio is catabolic to a certain extent. Weight training can make your heart very strong, especially when lifting like a body builder. If you want to get big, lift heavy stuff. If you want cardio vascular in the mix, lift to failure.
22:58 Optimal Body Builder: Ben recommends cold thermogenesis in a fasted state with green tea, caffeine and a little bitter melon extract. You would do heavy weight training in the evening or two a day. This would not include cardio. Cold is a useful hack. Cold showers or hot/cold contrast showers, which gives you more of a nitric oxide release. The contrast shower is 20 seconds cold and 10 seconds hot anywhere from 10 to 20 times through for 5 to 10 minutes. This can be done a few times a day.
24:25 Post Work Out: If you eat to appetite after a workout, research shows that glycogen restoration occurs just fine. If you are doing two workouts a day, then post work out high or low glycemic carbohydrate and protein consumption within the post workout window makes sense. Spiking insulin levels can have an anabolic effect, but the amount of spiking is minute. There may be a benefit to spiking glucose if working out in a fasted state. If you are still burping up your pre-work out meal, there is no reason to eat a post work out meal.
26:42 Pre and During Work out Nutrition: Iron Man or marathon athletes use about 100 to 150 calories of carbohydrates per hour. Ben also includes a medium chain triglyceride, an MCT, coconut oil or liquid ketones mixed with a high molecular weight starch. Also included are 5 to 10 grams of essential amino acids per hour. This blend helps you to get away with less fermentable carbohydrates with less oxidation and advanced glycation end product and less free radical formation that occurs when you consume fermentable carbohydrates. For obstacle racing, Ben uses nut butter called PocketFuel, which is more like real food.
31:13 Electrolytes: There is little evidence that there is a drop in blood sodium levels or a drop in sweat sodium concentration during most exercise, unless you are doing workouts more than once a day. Our kidneys retain sodium well. Higher levels of sodium intake drives sodium excretion. Cramping is generally not due to electrolyte deficiency. Cramping is usually from poor biomechanics, asking the body to do something that is not well trained. Another cause of cramping is poor connective tissue health. The taste of a very salty substance inhibits motor neuron activity and releases a protective spasm for a short period of time. It is an alpha motor neuron reflex.
33:56 Sudden Cardiac Death in Athletes: This is not a cramp, so would not be an electrolyte issue. It is an SA node issue or a pacemaker cell issue. That is typically more related to a magnesium imbalance combined with an over-activation of the sympathetic nervous system from cortisol and stress, sometimes combined with hypoxia.
34:58 Essential Amino Acids: Whey protein powders need to be digested and have a calorie base, so Ben is a fan of essential amino acids powders or capsules instead. Some athletes bring a blender or magic bullet to the race. They put their amino acids, fats, and high molecular weight starch in the blender and pour it into their water bottle for the race.
36:08 Fascia: It takes 1 to 1 ½ years for connective tissue to be changed or take on new shape from mechanical reformation and pressure. If you have been stooped over a computer or using poor biomechanics while running, or lifting, you have been creating scar tissue from muscle fiber tearing that you have not realigning that cross linking for mechanical manipulation. It is a long term commitment, just as increasing fats and lowering carbohydrate intake can take 6 months to a few years to increase mitochondrial density so you are feeling good and oxidizing fat during exercise. Fascial integrity is the same.
37:19 Foam Rolling: Foam rolling works out cross linking and fascial adhesions that cause immobility, which predispose you to injury. The tension of the adhesions keeps the sympathetic nervous system active and elevates cortisol during the day. If you decide to start foam rolling, trigger point therapy or picking up a book like Becoming a Supple Leopard by Kelly Starrett, it should not be something you try for two weeks and give up. Every Tuesday and Friday, Ben has a calendar reminder to foam roll. He has a 20 to 25 minute full body foam roller session using a rumble roller. He travels with a lacrosse ball and a golf ball to use on his hips, under arms, and some of the areas that the foam roller cannot reach. Before an ironman or marathon, Ben has his athletes foam roll for 7 days prior. This makes them supple machines with good connective tissue integrity.
38:52 From the Fascia Guru: Ben’s friend and fascia ninja, Herb Akers of Sacramento, has done research on the relationship between fascia work and neurotransmitter production. You may elevate serotonin and dopamine and allow better production when you have good fascial integrity. Deep tissue massage is also effective, but it is a big time commitment. Ben sticks to the foam rolling, a lacrosse ball and golf ball and he listens to audio books while he works his fascia. For people who sit for long periods of time, there is evidence their GI tract starts to adhere to itself and can cause peristalsis issues, dysbiosis, intestinal permeability and GI dysfunction.
Mike Mutzel: Hello everyone. This is Mike Mutzel with High Intensity Health radio, the best of fitness, nutrition, and functional medicine. I’m very excited about today’s guest. We have with us Ben Greenfield, the author of “Beyond Training: Mastering Endurance, Health & Life.” I’ll tell you a little bit about Ben. Ben has both an undergraduate and master’s degree in exercise physiology. He’s a certified strength and conditioning specialist, former bodybuilder. He’s done multiple Ironmans and triathlons. What is really unique about Ben is he could normally walk the walk, but he talks the talk. So, I’m super excited to have you here, Ben. Hopefully, you can hear me okay. Let’s kick this off.
I’m super impressed with your book. It’s really amazing that – if you say C-reactive protein in a bike race or a triathlon, people would look at you like you’re crazy. But you really bridge the best of integrative medicine and fitness, so let’s talk about how you got into that and your unique approach to enhancing exercise performance.
Ben Greenfield: Yeah, it’s kind of funny you should say “my unique approach.” I’m here in my car right now, and I call it my traveling gym because right now, the temperature inside my car is just a touch above 100. And I’ve got my grip strengthening device that’s about 60 pounds. I’ve got my tower-long breath-training device here, so I’m basically getting heat acclimation, breath training, and grip training simultaneously while driving home from yoga. So, I’m all about these unique fitness methods, and I’m drenched in sweat right now.
Anyways, as far as how I got into this, it’s like – initially, the reason I think a lot of folks get into physical fitness or sports and that’s just to look a lot better for the opposite sex, and that’s kind of my story back in high school. You know how they wanted a nice body when I took my shirt off in the beach. I ran with girls, and I wanted to have good tennis games, so I could not only have another notch in my belt, but again, kind of impress the ladies. And then from there, once I started defatting, I wanted to kind of go after collegiate tennis and maybe even professional tennis. I really started to delve more into the human body. Up until that point, my primary interests were computer programming and basically reading big fantasy novels called “Knights and Dragons.” So, I really began to delve more deeply into the human body. I started studying kinesiology on my first year of college where I play tennis, and then I began to delve into ton of other sports from water polo to bodybuilding to triathlon. During that time, I really fell in love with exercise physiology and biomechanics. At the same time, I thought I wanted to go to medical school, so I also not top on my pre-med courses and then did a stint working on a private sector in the company’s surgical sales straight out of getting a master’s degree in physiology and biomechanics. I realized during that time working in medicine that I didn’t actually want that life for myself. I had a lot of bullish friends basically warn me against going in medical school; they stopped the direction and they kind of felt medicine was traveling, and I really didn’t see them during my life too much. So, I basically quit that job and opened up a series of personal training studios and gyms across Spokane, Washington and back in 2008, I was named as “America’s Top Personal Trainer.” My kids were born six years ago, and I quit my job, sold all my equipment, sold all my studios, fired all my clients, moved back in the house and started doing what was kind of my first love back when I was 10 years old, and that’s reading and writing. That’s what I do to this day; it’s basically a lot of freelance writing, a lot of studying, and pretty much live at home in my boxers or driving in my car half-naked and sweating.
Mike Mutzel: That’s awesome. That’s an amazing story. You’ve really been successful. Your bookis doing really well. I see it on Amazon; so many people are talking about it. You’re impacting many people’s lives and your unique approach where you discuss laboratory testing. Many athletes just think that all they have to do is go to gym and then eat healthy, and that’s okay. But you dive in a lot deeper. You talk about advanced biomarkers, stool test, and adrenal test. For someone that maybe is just getting into athletics and so forth, where would you guide them in terms of testing and what to look at – how to improve their performance and maybe even cognition, and so on?
Ben Greenfield: Sure. For most of the athletes that I’ve worked with, as well as myself, we do a comprehensive blood panel two to four times a year, and what that means is we look at liver and kidney markers and the complete blood count, and then a basic metabolic panel comprising of lipids and thyroids and some of the basic hormones, but then we also delve into… I typically either use like ThorneFX or WellnessFX, sometimes Direct Labs for testing panel, and make sure to look at some of the little things that tend to fall off of the radar like triglycerides/HDL ratio, the very low-density lipoproteins. I like to see testosterone and THCA, as well as some of the basic nutrients like red blood cell, magnesium and vitamin D, and just a lot of the things that tend to affect either recovery, illness or the ability to absorb the workout. So, that’s typically two to four times a year depending on what an athlete can afford. Most wholesale lab testing companies are online companies, out of pocket you’re paying from 700 to 1,000 bucks for a test like that, so it kind of depends on the budget of the athlete. And then I like to, especially for the athletes that are racing and doing everything from running in modern races and triathlons and then fresh water, a lot of times drenched in water (and those types of things – think about nature), as well as subjecting themselves to quite a bit of exposure to a higher number of pollutants. I like the gut panel to be able to look at everything from parasitology to bacterial balances to fatty acid balance, pancreatic and gut production. I kind of like the basic MetaMatrix panel, the MetaMatrix with the parasitology. I think that rather than just paying attention to soreness and sleep levels and whether or not they’re going to meet or going to exceed the previous day’s performance, some of those things are pretty important to kind of keep your finger on the pulse. And then of course, there’s kind of like the daily quantification that you do, and by daily quantification, what I mean is I recommend that folks, for example, use a pulse oximeter, which is very, very easy to get your hands on these days, your fingers on, no pun intended, and basically just take a quick pulse ox in the morning to see where your oxygen saturation levels were at. Unlike heart rate variability measurements, most of my athletes, as well as myself, do this in the morning is to look at sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems strength, and the robustness of their nervous system as far as how the vagus nerve is beating into the heart and the feedback that you get from that. Those are couple of the biggies. There are ways to track quantified markers like that. For example, there’s an online system that I like to use called “RestWise,” and that will allow you to feed in everything from sleep to stress to mood to some of the more advanced parameters like pulse ox and heart rate variability. When you combine that with using, for example, like WellnessFX allows you to keep track of all your lab tests online and kind of see your running score were at; it allows for pretty easy quantification and you go to kind of look at things at a quick glance.
Mike Mutzel: That’s really nice. So, what are some common things that you’ll see in the blood work or laboratory panels of individuals that are overtraining?
Ben Greenfield: Typically, very high TSH with pretty low T4 to T3 conversion, to a hypercortisolism, usually because of that same reason pretty high levels of sex hormone-binding globulin, so in guys even if total P is adequate, T3 is pretty low depending on the stage of overtraining, cortisol that are going to be regrouped or else, it’s going to be inadequate. Vitamin D is typically low just because so much of the vitamin D and hormone precursor is going towards cortisol. Sometimes, you’ll tend to see that inflammation is high. Ironically, when athletes get into an overtrained state, sometimes, they are unable to even push themselves to the level to grace high interleukin or high hs-CRP and other inflammatory markers, so sometimes those will stay pretty low just because an athlete has kind of gotten himself and pushed them enough to be consolidated very much because the adrenals are kind of so tanked. Vitamin D, some of the reproductive hormones, thyroid – those are some of the babies that I occasionally see high levels of inflammation, but we find a lot of athletes – really, they’re using curcumin, fish oil, and a lot of these things these days. I don’t find that inflammation as a bigger deal as a lot of the hormonal and thyroid imbalances.
Mike Mutzel: I know when I was overtraining doing a lot of elite cycling and stuff, my blood sugar is… it looked like I was prediabetic. I mean, fasting glucose was like 98 and hemoglobin A1c was over 6, and I was training 20 hours a week. So, are you pricing that a lot, too – the insulin resistance going on?
Ben Greenfield: You know what? Not as much as I wouldn’t expect it because I think that so many of the people whose lab test I’m looking at, they’re either paleo or low carb or they’re kind of adapted in one of those methods of eating that the problem with them is, more often than not, is carbohydrate restriction and hypocaloric intake, basically starving themselves especially women, funny enough they’re improving. So, a lot of times, in those folks, hemoglobin A1C and glucose, I find, sometimes, actually numbers like 50s and 70s, hemoglobin A1C’s frequently, consistently bullet 5.5, and then what tends to be low is insulin and insulin-like growth factor just because they’re in a consistent catabolic state. I see that way more often than I see glucose involved in these days. These are in sedentary folks more often that I see the glucose and the hemoglobin A1C issues. And the athletes, I tend to see a need for higher carb intake. I mentioned the thyroid, and that’s a huge contributing factor to that as well; it’s simply not enough glucose for thyroid conversion and then the fact that very, very high levels of circulating fatty acids can also inhibit a little bit of thyroid cell receptors sensitivity. So, you get some of this folks eating ketogenic diet, which I’m a huge fan of, for the general population and for a number of healthy reasons, but if combined with like Ironman and training, ketogenic diets can kind of be bad. I mean, in many cases, you have to use an unnatural mean to attain a natural end, and add in carbohydrate or kind of big doses of carbohydrate when you’ve got a lot of non-insulin dependent glucose transporter pathways active like after a workout. If you’re not willing to do that, then you better be willing to take a desiccated thyroid and eat a lot of organic meat, and kind of do what the Eskimos do who are unable to get enough carbohydrates at all.
Mike Mutzel: Interesting. So, let’s expand on that. For a lot of people – I’m grain-free, so I do yams and sweet potatoes, and sometimes, black forbidden rice and such. But what’s a good dietary strategy for individuals that are trying to adhere to more of a paleo grain-free type diet, and yet keep the carbs down?
Ben Greenfield: It’s not about keeping the carbs down; it’s about keeping the chronic blood glucose levels from being elevated. Keeping the carbohydrates down is really not the goal at all. It’s high level of circulating blood glucose chronically that can rip the fatty acid oxidation and create vascular and nervous system inflammation along with some of the neurofibrillary tangles and oxidation issues even on the brain level. But it’s not carbohydrate that’s the issue; it’s when the carbohydrates are present in the amount of time that glucose spends in the bloodstream and the amount of chance that it has to form advanced glycation end-products, and their cholesterols or proteins. So, that’s what you have to count off things from. That is simple as carbohydrate timing. I mean, I eat a very high fat, moderate proteins (typically not more than about 30% protein intake; I’ve never seen yet the evidence that you get any added benefit from loading about 30% protein intake even for hypertrophy), and then in the evening, I’ll pick anywhere from 100 to 200 grams of carbohydrates because I work out when my body’s temperature is high as when post-workouts, protein synthesis peaks, and when where action time peaks; that’s typically between about 4 or 7 p.m. in the afternoon or in the evening. And then following that workout, that’s when I’ll have my glass of wine, my dark chocolates, my sweet potatoes, yams, white rice, the awesome sourdough bread that my wife makes – any of those things. And I’ll pretty much eat carbohydrates to my heart’s content. When I was training for Ironman last year, I would be in ketosis by the next morning; I’d say ketosis all day long. I’d simply use ketone breath monitors to monitor ketone levels. When I first started off an on, meaning in ketosis on those breath ketone monitors correlated pretty consistently using the Precision Xtra blood ketone monitors, the ketone values are about 1-3 millimolar. So, what that means is that I can go all day long in ketosis, have a great carb refeed after my workout, but depending on the workouts where they would not knock me out of ketosis, but I’d be straight back in the fatty acid oxidation by the next morning. Hemoglobin A1C and fasting glucose, and everything will check out fine. So, that’s kind of the strategy is about carbohydrate timing, and the two things that are going to really upregulate those non-insulin dependent glucose transporter pathways are high-intensity interval trainings and weight training. So, you can’t go out on a two-hour aerobic bike ride, come back and set your bowl full of carbohydrates because typically, that is going to result in chronically elevated blood sugar levels. High-intensity training, which I recommend, is in my book anyways; it’s a very good way to kind of kill two birds with one stone – you get more at a less time, and you keep yourself much more insulin-sensitive.
Mike Mutzel: That’s great. Like you just said, it’s a timing. So, if individuals are exercising, let’s say, for example, they can’t work out in the evening, would you suggest that they would load up on the carbs post-workout in say, the morning if that is a possibility? What do you suggest there?
Ben Greenfield: That’s what I suggested about six months ago, and then I had discussion with a couple of fellas, Dr. Rocky Patel and John Kiefer, (Link to The Carb Nite Solution: The Physicist's Guide to Power Dieting) who alerted me the research that shows that even though you are naturally a little bit more insulin-sensitive in the morning, you still have, if you work out in the morning and do high-intensity interval training or weight training, you still do that pretty decent activation of some of those glucose transport pathways in the evening unless dysregulation of blood glucose and insulin by still shifting your carbohydrate intake to the evening. So, up until about six months ago, I would say, if you’re going to work out in the morning, have your carbs in breakfast – put your fruit or smoothie or do it with some eggs or something like that.” And now, I’m saying, “Hey, stick with the greens smoothie with some fats and nut butter and coconut oil, and so forth.” Like that, and then again, save the carbohydrates in the evening. Actually, I like that scenario anyways because it blends a little bit better with the social life of a typical person anyways, but they’re going to be having carbs, a glass of wine, going outside their comfort zone, going to a party, going out with friends – those types of things. It’s usually not at 7:00 in the morning. So, it just kind of makes sense to save your carbohydrates later on in the day anyways.
Mike Mutzel: That’s a good point.
Ben Greenfield: And then probably the last thing I would say is just from a bio-acting perspective. I’ve experimented with a few things, and blood glucose monitors and postprandial glucose, and I have found that if I haven’t exercised and I haven’t eaten carbohydrates, there are some insulin-sensitizing herbs and supplements that I’ve found to help out. Truly, the biggest ones are cinnamon (like about two teaspoons of cinnamon); a couple shots of apple cider vinegar can also help, and this could be prior to carbohydrate-containing meal that’s taking place in a non-post-workout scenario; and then also bitter melon extract is another one that I’ve used. Any of those can help out as can thermogenesis, basically a nice one cold shower or cold soak to increase activation of brown adipose tissue and cause a greater conversion of the calories in the heat rather than into ATP, so that’s another strategy that I use sometimes. If it’s a recovery day and it’s pre-dinner, I’ll go like soak in the river for a half hour and do a little bit of hypoxic training, a little bit of cold thermogenesis, and still be able to get away with not much of fluctuation of blood sugar from dinner.
Mike Mutzel: That’s awesome. Now, we’d love to talk more about brown fat in a second, but we’ve been talking up to now really about competitive athletes, and high-level people are training, but what about for more the sedentary individuals that maybe, they’re getting back into exercise doing walking, maybe some Pilates or yoga, what would you suggest for them about the carbohydrate intake and the timing throughout the day?
Ben Greenfield: For those folks, they can get away definitely with less carbohydrates because there could be a lot less glycolysis going on that’s why I some folks aren’t doing much high-intensity interval training at all and not much weight training at all. Even though I don’t recommend that approach, I think at some point, you need to certainly introduce at least the 20-minute weight training session each week and a little bit of high-intensity intervals here and there. But if you’re just, just getting started off, you can shift to a higher fat intake; I mean, you can go as high as 70 to 80% fat and just restrict carbohydrates to anything from 10 to 20%, get a little bit of protein, and then that would be a better scenario for you. It’s simple as it sounds, like the simplest thing that I’ve found for folks in that scenario is I tell them, “Eat a lot of vegetables and drench the vegetables in grass-fed butter, MCT oil, coconut oil or extra virgin olive oil, and that’s basically the staple of your diet, and then on top of that, you do a little bit of wild-caught fish and some pastured eggs, and maybe some grass-fed beef here and there, and then occasionally, a little bit of carbs.” Even when I’m working with somebody who is sedentary, who’s not trying to race or something like that, I’m still enlisting them a couple of times a week that they get in the gym and do something like a super slow weight training regime where they’re using like Doug McGuff as a trainer, author of the book called “Body By Science,” and it’s a very simple 12 to 18 minutes training program where you just get in and do five basic full-body exercises about 10 seconds down, 10 seconds up, you get a really, really nice increase in peripheral blood pressure in arms and the legs without the increase in central blood pressure, so you get this nice drive of blood pass the heart and good cardiovascular training response, nice building and strength, protection of the joints, and it is doable for folks that are just getting into strength training. When you combine that with some morning walks and if you’re able to, every once in a while, hop on the bike and pump in your heart rate up, or hop on a multiple trainer to help pump in your heart rate up. That’s a pretty good scenario.
Mike Mutzel: Yeah, I love that. Now, let’s talk about, say, bodybuilders who are afraid to do cardio. We hear that a lot like, “Oh, cardio’s catabolic and you don’t want to get your heart rate up.” What’s the science there?
Ben Greenfield: Cardio is catabolic to a certain extent. I used to be a bodybuilder, and I was about 30 to 35 pounds heavier that I am right now. You could certainly watch your weight decline significantly as soon as you started to head out and do some road work or hop on the bike or anything like that. So, weight training can make you pretty cardiovascularly strong, especially like bodybuilding style training, where you’re generating huge amount of black acid doing high reps, low weights, your heart rates getting up; I mean, you have to do a lot other than lift a lot, and you can stay pretty cardiovascularly fit. I mean, just look at bodybuilders’ vascularity. Those guys aren’t running eight miles a week like that or anything like that, but there’s a huge amount of endothelium nitric oxide production and vascular integrity going on, and very, very strong hearts in these folks. So, I would say if you want to get big, the key is to lift heavy stuff. If you want to try some cardiovascular training in the mix, you also lift to failure using kind of more of a higher rep, lower weight type of approach, and kind of stay away from the treadmill and the bike and stuff like that.
Mike Mutzel: But for cutting fat, I know a lot of fitness models and bodybuilders are doing cardio on an empty stomach for 20 to 30 minutes in the morning and then hit the weights later in the afternoon. Would that be…
Ben Greenfield: If I could go back and do it all over again, I would simply be doing cold thermogenesis in the morning at an fasted state, with green tea, caffeine, probably a little bit of bitter melon extract, and then doing the heavy weight training in the afternoon and in the evening or the two a day depending on what kind of body split are we doing, and I really would not be messing around with the cardio in for the cutting phase. There are better ways to cut that are going to be less catabolic, and I think cold is one of the better ones. I use cold the time that my athletes are in their taper period, as well when I need my athletes to stay lean for Ironman or cycling race or run, and their activity levels are going down, their appetite is still up, so I’ll just keep them cold. We use everything from the cool contrast bath to the 110% compression pants where you can pack ice into; it’s a pretty useful act really.
Mike Mutzel: Now, for people that don’t have the tools, cold showers – is that going to do it?
Ben Greenfield: Yeah, cold showers and preferably hot-cold compress showers, so to get a little bit bigger nitric oxide release from those, which is nice for somebody who wants vascularity and kind of look good naked – 20 seconds cold, 10 seconds hot, anywhere from 10 to 20 times through for a total of five to 10 minutes, and you can do that three times a day.
Mike Mutzel: I find that to be the easiest because just jumping in cold is kind of tough, but when you know warm water is coming is a little bit easier.
Ben Greenfield: Yeah.
Mike Mutzel: Brown fat is really unique. Let’s talk about post-workout. I’m kind of old school, spike insulin, whey protein, berries, and then eat a little bit afterwards. What are your thoughts in the post-workout if you are doing high-intense training?
Ben Greenfield: Only if you’re going to be training again within eight hours; otherwise, if you eat, what the research has shown is that glycogen restoration occurs just fine. So, unless your goal is to – or let’s say you’ve got a bodybuilding show and you’re posing in the morning for the judges, and then doing your routine in the evening or you’re doing a two a day, let’s say, core in the morning, chest, back and thighs in the evening – those are all scenarios where post-workouts – high glycemic or low glycemic (it actually doesn’t matter that much either) – carbohydrate consumption and proteins consumption make a lot of sense from trying to hit it as close as possible to that post-workout window makes a lot of sense. Any other time, though, low glycemic restoration occurs within eight hours.
Mike Mutzel: So basically, what I’m hearing you saying is no need to spike insulin post workout unless you’re going to be training very shortly after?
Ben Greenfield: Yep, exactly. So, you get a little bit of an insulin spike from a pre-workout or during workout supplements. It’s really interesting. I think there’s pretty good article about this. There is some truth to the fact that spiking insulin levels can have an anabolic effect, but the amount of spiking is very, very mild like you go way, way above and beyond what you need for an insulin spike by eating a very high bolus of fructose, glucose, and proteins, and stuff like that after a workout, especially if you have any type of pre-workout or during workout meal. There may be a little bit of a benefit to that approach if you’re working out with a fasted state. I haven’t actually seen the research, but if you’re good at a pretty damaging workout in a fasted state, like in the morning, it’s possible that you get a more intensive anabolic effect in the insulin spike, but I don’t see any research showing that.
Mike Mutzel: Got you. So, it’s more of an old school, not a lot of science base surrounding it? It what it sounds like.
Ben Greenfield: Yes, exactly. It’s kind of those deals where you’re still burping up your pre-workout meal. There’s absolutely zero to eat a post-workout meal.
Mike Mutzel: Alright. Let’s talk about pre- or during workouts. Hammer Nutrition is big and the endurance immunity, which is just GMO, maltodextrin and dextrose – what are some natural ways that people that are competing and training in long duration, what can they do during the workout that’s not going to be little healthier than just GMO corn solids?
Ben Greenfield: If it’s GMO that is concerned, it’s pretty found in a lot basic products out there. A lot of my athletes are using U.K. SuperStarch; their orange flavor and their plain flavor are both using stevia as a sweetener, and then it’s a non-GMO corn-based high-molecular-weight starch, so you can eat about half and many, perhaps as many calories of the actual carbohydrates, just because it’s releasing very, very slow into the bloodstream resulting in pretty stable energy levels. For the folks that are working for like Ironman and marathon and stuff like that, I typically use about 100 to a maximum about 150 calories of that per hour, to roughly half of what you do recommend as far as carbohydrate per-hour intake recommendations for those athletes. And then, to fill in the gaps, I’ll add in medium-chain triglycerides typically from just like a MCT oil or occasionally, a coconut oil source if you want to really track things to really get straight to liquid ketone, but there’s a product called “KetoForce,” where eating in half just leads the triglyceride get into the Krebs cycle to generate ketone; you can just basically drink liquid ketones. They’re not tolerable, though. Anyways, so you got fat mixed with a high-molecular-weight starch; you add in about five to 10 grams of amino acids per hour preferably not just the branched amino acid, which is essentially luecine, isoleucine, and valine, which is kind of feeding into the Krebs cycle, but more than essential amino acids source that’s going to keep blood levels of amino acids high enough to where the central governor reaction in the brain that can kind of cause you to lower your exertion level is a little bit colored, which high levels of amino acids can do. So, you’re looking at high-molecular-weight starch, some fats, some amino acids, and that blend works really well unless you get away with a lot less of the fermentable carbohydrates that are also maltodextrin, fructose to glucose, a lot less of the oxidation, advanced glycation end-product, and free-radical formation that occurs when you do a lot of those carbohydrate stem hatch. Like for me, if I’m going to an Ironman triathlon back in the day, I eat 40 Hammer gels on the course of the day, and now as described, I can pretty much stay away from any type of simple sugars until I go completely glycolate, which won’t happen until about the last anywhere from 10 to 20 days of the marathon during the day. The average is only point is to do unnatural means to achieve an unnatural end, and that’s going to start damping sugars down the hatch like glucose gels. But from that point, fats, amino acids, and high-molecular-weight starch, and then for me, I just use nut butter; I like the taste of it; it doesn’t seem to kind of cause much of the blood sugar spike. I’m using a stuff called “PocketFuel” right now; that’s basically just almond butter, a little bit of goji berry, a little bit of chia seed in there; it’s a little bit more like real food. There are certainly great books out there like Allen Lim, who’s the physiologist for a pretty much professional cycling team; he’s got all these recipes like rice cakes, egg and bacon that you cook up with rice and a little bit of gluten-free rice palms in the real food. My problem with that is if you’re using it in a competitive scenario, like for a race, for example, say a marathon or an Ironman or something like that, it is not very aerodynamic versus taking like a super starch amino acid, fat-based mix in a super aerodynamic bottle and just having something like that or having something like a jersey full of foil packets.
Mike Mutzel: And it could be dangerous if you’re not bikers.
Ben Greenfield: Yeah, that’s true. In an actual bike race, you really need to be careful with that.
Mike Mutzel: What about electrolytes during competition?
Ben Greenfield: There’s not a lot of evidence that there’s a drop in blood sodium levels or a drop in sweat sodium concentration during most exercise until you’re getting up to a multi-day exercise routine. And so, there’s not really as a much of a need for electrolytes as we’ve been led to believe in. The last couple of years, I understand why I didn’t take a single electrolyte.
Mike Mutzel: Interesting.
Ben Greenfield: I did use some salt on my food during the day just to make sure I wasn’t mineral-depleted going in, but most of the research that’s been done by South African exercise physiologist, Timothy Noakes, points out that the kidneys do a pretty darn good job at maintaining sodium levels and retaining sodium, and that sodium intake drives sodium excretion, so higher levels of sodium intake simply increase the concentration sodium and the specific gravity of urine and the amount of sodium that’s in your urine, but they’re not necessarily stating off cramping because cramping is typically not due to electrolyte deficiencies. Usually, cramping is a result of poor biomechanics, poor bike fit, for example, in triathletes, trusting the body to do something in racing that it hadn’t experienced in training, which is also protective muscle reflex in a cramp or very, very poor fascial integrity – connective tissue and trigger points. So, if you have an athlete doing on a foam rolling and trigger point release going into an event, you have them go as hard in training as they’re going to experience in the racing; I even think like high-intensity intervals can make sure your biomechanics are solid. Cramping usually becomes a non-issue. Now, electrolyte becomes in handy if a cramp does occur, what happens is the consumption or the taste of a very salty substance inhibits alpha motor and neuron activity and releases that protective spasm, but it happens in such a short period of time in the research, that it’s literally impossible that it’s caused by the actual electrolyte absorption and some kind of a change in the electrochemical gradient of the cell based on the electrolyte consumption. It’s really just an alpha motor neuron reflex from these things and things very salty, just kind of the whole pickle juice thing. So, cramping is really not caused by electrolyte deficiencies.
Mike Mutzel: Very interesting. You feel that about sudden cardiac death in the young athlete and they point to deficiencies and so forth. What’s your take on that?
Ben Greenfield: Yeah, but a sudden cardiac death isn’t a cramping necessarily. That’s a pacemaker cell issue and that’s typically more related to like a magnesium imbalance or typically, it’s magnesium combined with overactivation of the sympathetic nervous system from cortisol and stress, sometimes combined with hypoxia if it’s happened in an athlete who, say, in a sort of triathlon or in a marathon, but that’s not cramping. And certainly, there is a possibility that in an athlete, in that scenario, electrolyte intake may actually help out with cardiac proponents and heart contractility. But it’s kind of a band-aid for overall magnesium imbalance, high levels of stress, and inadequate training – those types of things.
Mike Mutzel: Okay, I would love to talk about the fascia, but I forgot to ask you when you talked about the natural amino acids, is this a whey protein? You talked about the blend above and beyond just BCAAs (Branched Chain Amino Acids). What’s the source of the amino acids?
Ben Greenfield: Because whey protein needs to be digested and have calorie base on a bigger bin of just essentially amino acid powders or capsules, so like using a Thorne FX amino powder, like a master amino powder and capsule. I even got some athletes who will like take out of VitaMix or a blender, who are like a magic bull that they take into the race with their marathoning flax with their water bottle, and they’ll like put their amino acid, they’ll put their fat, they’ll put there high-molecular-weight starch, and take all of that, put it in the blender, blend it, pour it into the water bottle. And just kind of just mix when they take it. But the actual amino acid is a pretty digestable amino acid comprised of usually an essentially amino acid powder.
Mike Mutzel: Alright. Let’s finish up and talk about fascia and how important that is for both athletes and non-athletes, and what they can do about it.
Ben Greenfield: Sure. When it comes to fascia, usually, based off the research that I’ve seen, it’s a good one to one and a half years for connective tissue to basically be changed or to take on new shape from mechanical reformation and pressure, whether that be massage for trigger point, cross ball, etc. So, the first thing to realize is that if you’ve been living your life on computer, engaging in full biomechanics lifting and running, or simply creating lots of scar tissue or muscle fiber tearing without realizing the crosslinking that occurs during mechanical manipulation. You’re looking at it as being in it for the long haul. That’s the same thing that help people with a high-fat diet and lowering their carbohydrate intake is that the amount of mitochondrial density necessary for really feeling good performing at high levels oxidizing fat can take six plus months, sometimes a couple of years to really turn yourself into paleo fat-burning machine bearing exercise. The same is true in fascial integrity. So first of all, it’s important that if you decide you’re going to start in doing some trigger point therapy, maybe even taking a book like Kelly Starrett's book, “Becoming a Supple Leopard: The Ultimate Guide to Resolving Pain, Preventing Injury, and Optimizing Athletic Performance,” that it’s not something you thrive for two weeks because you’re not feeling any better, then stop. Every Tuesday and every Friday, I have a reminder that pops on my computer to foam roll, and I have 20 to 25-minute foam roller session that I do full body and I use this foam roller called the “rumble roller,” and basically hit every body part. When I’m traveling, I travel with the cross ball and a golf ball, and since I know my foam roller is too big to travel with, I use my traveling time to work on the little spots, like my hips and kind of underneath my armpits and some of the areas that the foam rollers are getting. So, twice a week, year round, I’m constantly gaining soft tissue and working on a lot of crosslinking and the fascial locations that cause immobility that predispose you to injury that create tension, that can even keep your sympathetic nervous system active and elevate cortisol during the day. And then before big events, that is going to require high amounts of chronic repetitive motion like an Ironman or a marathon. I have my athletes foam roll for seven days rolling in, so that they’re literally just like these mobile supple machines with really, really good connective tissue integrity going in. The last thing I should mention on fascia is I had some interesting discussion with one of my friends, who’s kind of a fascial ninja; he’s did a lot of deep connective tissue work. His name is Herb Akers, and he works in Sacramento. I go and see him every time I’m down there just to see his way around the human body like no animal I’ve ever met. He’s got some research that he’s got a look on the relationship between fascia work and neurotransmitter production, and basically, this idea that you may elevate things like serotonin and dopamine and an alliance of better neurotransmitter production when you could have good fascial integrity. So yeah, it’s a really, really important part of training that a lot of people neglect, but it is pretty darn important.
Mike Mutzel: That’s amazing. I didn’t know that research until I got it in your books. So, what about things like deep tissue massage and some of this is really good with body work, is that going to do the same things if someone’s really not into the foam roller? What do you suggest there?
Ben Greenfield: Yeah, that’s better, but my issue is I’ve got kids, I’m working, I like to listen to podcasts and audiobooks, and I got massages once a week for long time and it was good two-hour commitment to drive and do a massage, and shower and drive home. Now, when I came with the foam roller before the kids waking up on the bed in the morning and just get it all worked in. I find that I can get between that and a cross ball and a golf ball. It’s just about everything the massage therapist can do and frankly, if I can listen to an audiobook, I do it. I’m pretty happy with that. The other cool thing is like when you’re really are like pumping a foam roller rolling around in the ground like sideways and backwards, you’re kind of increasing mobility in a different way than you do when you’re just kind of caught down on the massage table.
Mike Mutzel: That’s great. Have you looked at the research on GI adhesions in the GI tract in the intestines and so forth?
Ben Greenfield: No, I’ve heard about it.
Mike Mutzel: Oh, there’s a large body of evidence in the published research in Crohn’s and colitis in individuals that are stagnant sitting all day long, their GI tract starts to twitch to itself and can cause peristalsis issues and gastrointestinal dysfunction and dysbiosis, maybe even intestinal permeability. So, it’s interesting learning about this from the musculoskeletal standpoint, but also, we know that this adhesion, almost like a fascial dysfunction is occurring in the GI tract as well.
Ben Greenfield: Wow. Maybe that’s why I usually have some kind of a different bowel movement when my kids jump up and down my stomach at times.
Mike Mutzel: That might have something to do with it. That’s funny. That’s awesome, Ben. Well, thank you so much for joining us. Again, Ben Greenfield’s book here is “Beyond Training: Mastering Endurance, Health and Life.” It’s on Amazon.com, Barnes and Nobles, and all electronic versions as well. So Ben, for people that want to follow your work, what are some websites and how can they catch up with you?
Ben Greenfield: Just go to bengreenfieldfitness.com. I’ve got a podcast over there. I’ve got some articles, which I do a couple of articles a week. Just subscribe in the newsletter and subscribe in the podcasts, and that’s the perfect way to kind of keep in touch. I try and put out as much really helpful information as I can.
Mike Mutzel: Alright Ben, have a great evening, and thanks again for joining us.
Ben Greenfield: Thanks Mike.
Mike Mutzel: Take care.