Published on February 23, 2013
In case you didn't read my post last Saturday, I am writing a book.
It's called “Beyond Training: Mastering Endurance, Health & Life.”
At the end of that post, I told you that there are 3 ways you can join me in this journey:
1) Give your permission for me to release rough draft chapters of this book at BenGreenfieldFitness.com as I write it, even if that means that every Saturday you gotta get a mega-post from me.
2) Hold me accountable, call me out, and get in my face via Twitter or Facebook if I ever miss a weekly chapter, because this book is scheduled to launch during Ironman Hawaii, which means I must finish it by September.
3) Comment on any of the book posts (including this one) if you feel I’m missing crucial information, leaving something important out, or saying something that’s hard to understand.
Anyways, I don't think I necessarily need to qualify every book post with those three things, but figured I'd at least repeat it for the first post until you get the feel for what we're accomplishing together…
…so you ready to jump in?
The following introduction will come after The Preface I released last week, so as a reader, you'll already be familiar that you're reading a book about enhancing your endurance performance, and not a book about teenagers eating fast food…
Deep breath, and here we go with “The Beginning” – in which you learn how I went from overtraining and eating 39 cent bags of hamburgers to detoxing my body and doing my first Ironman triathlon in under 10 hours…
Part 1, Intro: The Beginning
“4 hamburgers, 2 cheeseburgers!”
Piled into the back seat of the family suburban, my two brothers and I shouted orders to our mom as we idled at the drive-through window of McDonald's. 39 Cent Hamburger, 49 Cent Cheeseburger Day only rolled around once a week, and when it did, boy were we ever prepared.
We'd typically drive away with not just a meal for the evening, but 8-10 extra grease-stained bags of burgers that we could keep in the fridge and dig into during the remainder of the week when hunger struck.
Of course, we never skipped the vegetables. As we devoured our burgers at the kitchen table, there would always be a salad bowl vat of iceberg lettuce and shredded carrots, drenched in a salty, creamy ocean of Ranch dressing. Mmm…veggies.
When we weren't devouring our burgers, the three of us boys plowed through take-n-bake pizzas, giant sub sandwiches, and bathtub sized bowls of peanut butter Captain Crunch cereal. And milk. Lots and lots of healthy cow milk for our growing bodies.
By the time I was 13 years old, I personally guzzled nearly a gallon of 2% milk each day from the big plastic Albertsons jugs – after all, I had to support my new-found joy of hoisting 10 lb dumbbells and swinging at tennis balls for several hours a day.
And when I'd drink that final glass of milk, go to bed every night with gas and bloating, wake up every morning with more new oily acne spots and have painful bouts of stomach upset several times each month, I simply chalked it all up to normal growing pains, and not the fact that I was dumping undigestible dairy sludge into my body every day.
Things didn't change much from high school to university, where I played collegiate tennis. Nearly every day before our 3 hour afternoon practice, I'd pull into the familiar McDonald's drive through window and order my pre-practice ritual:
Big Mac. Fries. Root Beer. Supersize Me.
I was fast, I was strong, I was about to go punish my body for 3 hours, and this food was high-octane fuel for my active lifestyle. Sure, I'd get a sprain or a strain every few weeks, have frequent bouts of brain fog during tennis matches, lose focus or take naps during classes, and still had weird gut issues, but this was all normal stuff, right? All my teammates seemed to struggle with the same kind of things.
Aside from the pre-practice fast food bouts, which I really didn't feel guilty at all about since I was exercising like a fiend afterwards, the rest of my college diet was by my measure pretty healthy, including:
-Peanut butter slathered on bananas (especially after tennis practice)…
-Sauteed steak or chicken and vegetables (a nearly nightly ritual)…
-Big sandwiches with deli meat and lettuce (served on whole wheat of course)…
-Yogurt with the fruit on the bottom and crunchy cereal (I graduated from Captain Crunch to Kashi)…
–Lots and lots of trail mix (or in a pinch, handfuls of peanuts and craisins)…
Since I was an exercise science major, I'd already started launching into my physiology and nutrition classes, and this was the kind of stuff we were taught to use for fueling performance. But I'd only tapped the surface of diet science, because I was about to take a deep dive into one of the most geeked-out training and eating sports on the planet – bodybuilding.
When I began bodybuilding, I switched to a high-protein diet combined with 2 hours of daily, very hard weight training. No day was considered complete unless it included significant soreness and masochistic-like fatigue, and my diet consisted of 3-4 canned protein shakes a day, along with low-fat, low-carb meals like:
-2-3 cans of tuna over mixed greens…
-Fistfuls of 400 calorie high protein bars…
-8-10 egg omelets with sausage…
-Gallons of cow's milk…
-Bags of cheap beef jerky…
With this diet, I measured my food on scales, counted calories with laser precision, and molded my body into an impressive 210 pounds of muscle at 3% body fat. Granted – most days, I had zero sex drive, felt like I was crapping out of a straw, had frequent bouts of sickness and sore joints, and experienced many signs and symptoms of protein toxicity, but I sure looked damn good.
I learned early on that you can buy energy.
As a bodybuilder who practically lived at the gym, it made sense for me to get a moonlight college job as a personal trainer, and during a rigorous 5am to 9pm day jam-packed with studying, classes and putting myself and my clients through workouts, I could easily guzzle three to four Red Bull, Monster or Rock Star energy drinks – jam packed with amino acids like taurine, Vitamin B mega-doses, and of course ample amounts of caffeine. My energy was flying high. And low. And high. And low…
But I figured energy roller-coasters were normal when you're training hard.
As if my body wasn't getting thrown enough fastballs, I began to inject cardio into the weight training mix for an extra challenge. I bought a mountain bike and started riding my bike to school, picked up teaching several spin classes per week, taught myself how to swim so I could join the water polo team, and even started running the football stadium stairs.
I was an exercise machine – and better yet, at this point with the added cardio, I could easily eat every calorie in sight, maintain incredibly low body fat and shrug off my random episodes of moodiness, constant urges to sleep, rapid heart rate fluctuations, and legs that seemed to instantly burn even when I climbed a flight of stairs. It was the necessary price to pay for looking good.
And of course, the logical next step was the most exercise-crazed sport I could find: triathlon.
My switch to endurance sports began with the local university sprint triathlon on the backroads of Moscow, Idaho, and I began drinking the endurance athlete Kool-aid almost immediately after crossing the finish line.
By this time, I had married Jessa, a lean, fast 1500m runner from University of Idaho. I had my undergraduate degree in exercise science, and was pursuing a master's degree in exercise physiology and biomechanics. I was on the University triathlon club. I had gone from a 210 pound, 3 percent body fat bodybuilder to a 175 pound skinny triathlete, and as a newly baptized endurance zealot, I was now eating up every piece of endurance training and nutrition literature I could find.
I learned early on that carbs are the life-blood of any good endurance athlete, and I already knew that with my level of activity I could eat as many as I wanted, so I switched to a traditional triathlete diet of 55-75% carbohydrate intake, primarily comprised of:
-Sports drinks, energy gels, energy chews, recovery shakes and recovery bars…
-Huge bowls of oatmeal and whole grain cereal, drowned in my newfound healthy milk alternatives: soy and rice milk…
-Whole wheat sandwiches, whole wheat wraps, whole wheat pasta and any whole wheat derivative I could hunt down…
-Any low-fat, whole-grain derived baked good, including biscotti, scones, muffins, cookies, cakes…
-Copious amounts of fruit, fruity yogurt, fruit roll-ups, fruit smoothies and fruit juice…
While this was a near-complete 180 degree shift from my low-carbohydrate bodybuilding diet, I was now heading out the door for daily hour-long runs, spending weekend mornings on an indoor bike trainer, and swimming until I was blue in the face. I'd committed to my first Ironman triathlon, and I was completely convinced that I needed as much starch and sugar as I could get to fuel my long bouts of cardio and insane amounts of exercise.
My first Ironman triathlon was an apparent success. Without really knowing what I was getting into, I crossed the finish line in 9:59, and just like my first sprint triathlon, was immediately hooked on the sport. Over the next few years I became a true long-distance triathlon junkie.
Between Ironman training, local sprint, Olympic and Half-Ironman triathlons, 5K's, 10K's and half-marathons, and my new job as an exercise physiologist for a local sports medicine facility, I spent nearly every weekend of the spring, summer and fall training hard or traveling to races.
I completed three more Ironman triathlons.
Training was my life.
And then, in the throes of training for my first Ironman World Championships in Hawaii, we had twin baby boys.
Suddenly life changed.
Time became a precious commodity. I began to experience a deep urge to not only provide for my growing family, but to advance my career and to spend time with my children. But I simultaneously had the pressure to be ready for Kona, and as I knew from reading triathlon magazines and websites like Ironman.com:
“Triathletes train an average of seven months for the Ford Ironman World Championship. The average hours per week devoted to training for the World Championship generally fall between 18 and 22. Average training distances for the three events:
Miles per week swimming: 7 (11.3 km)
Miles per week biking: 232 (373.3 km)
Miles per week running: 48 (77.2 km)”
Things got tough.
I was feeling physically and emotionally drained from sitting in a bike saddle for 5 hours and running for 3 hours each weekend, swimming 20,000 meters every week and still desperately trying to carve out time for my wife, my babies, my career, and my hobbies while still having some semblance of a social life.
To make matters worse, my body just felt run down. Chalk it up to years of physical overuse, 12 hour workdays followed by marathon-esque training sessions, or the stress of a new family and a busy career, but it seemed like every few months some new health issue would rear its ugly head. IT band friction syndrome on the side of my knee. Rotator cuff pain on the front of my shoulder. Low back pain on the bike. Sniffles. Sore throat. Low libido.
I was only 27 years old but was already feeling like an old man.
There had to be a better way.
So I delved into the dozens of exercise physiology manuals littering the floor of my office, reams of training literature and research on periodization, intensity and volume, and thick, heavy textbooks on the biochemistry of muscular and cardiovascular adaptations, and slowly began to make some serious changes as I realized that with anaerobic training and intervals the human body could still respond with significant aerobic adaptations.
I had always been aware of the benefits of interval training, but had simply been enamored with the traditional endurance athlete approach for so long that I had to make a significant paradigm shift.
I quit riding my bike for 4 to 6 hours on the weekends, started doing short, interval based sessions on the indoor bike trainer, and found that my power on the bike began to skyrocket.
I realized that running more than 3 times a week didn't make me any faster and long runs kept getting me injured, so I cut my running to two short weekly sessions and one 60-90 minute weekend run, and began setting PR's in my triathlon run splits.
I discovered that swimming long and slow makes you a time-crunched, slow swimmer, so I began doing short but frequent swim sessions of 20-30 minutes, and suddenly had way more time on my hands.
I found that my traditional “make-it-burn” old-school, bodybuilding style of weight lifting didn't make me as fast or strong as simply lifting heavy weights for just a few reps with good form, and that just a few short lifts made me incredibly stronger.
And boy-oh-boy, did I discover that nutrition makes a difference.
For the first time in my life, I seriously attempted to discover to the root cause of my long history of gas, bloating, stomach-aches, diarrhea, and frequent bouts of cold, flu and seemingly susceptible immune system.
I subscribed to every diet, nutrition, health and longevity journal and website I could find, and began to devour half a dozen books every month, while roaming the blogosphere and reading about ancestral health, natural living and a more primal approach to fueling and life.
I did poop tests, blood tests, urine tests, saliva tests and every form of natural and alternative medicine poking, prodding and self-quantification I could find. And I discovered some serious issues with my body and my diet:
-I had low testosterone, hormone imbalances, and bad cholesterol from my high-carb, low-fat diet…
–I was 100% lactose intolerant and had an “immunoglobulin” allergic reaction to most dairy proteins…
–The gluten from my bread, pasta and baked goods was literally tearing holes in my already-aggravated intestinal wall…
–My fasting blood sugar was skyrocketing, placing me at a huge risk for developing Type II diabetes…
–My amino acids and neurotransmitters were depleted from overtraining and a poor diet, which was severely affecting my focus, my sleep, my productivity and my mood…
The list went on and on, and as I continued to dig, I slowly began to change my diet. I got rid of digestive irritants and enzyme inhibitors. I cut out rancid vegetable oils and low-fat foods. I started paying attention to the origin of my food. I drastically lowered my sugary carbohydrate intake, and learned not only how to cook properly, but how to soak, how to sprout, how to ferment, how to make my food digestible, and how to eat real, recognizable fuel that was not always coming out of a wrapper, package, bottle, or tub.
All of these training and nutrition switches were brand new concepts for me, but my body quickly began to morph as I formed my understanding of the crucial links between heath, performance and longevity.
The real lightbulb moment came when in 2011, I crossed the Ironman finish line in Hawaii in 9:36, after incorporating my newfound health, exercise and nutrition tactics while training just 8-10 hours a week.
I realized that it turns out the human body is naturally quite good at “going long”, and if you can just keep it healthy, is capable of enormous endurance feats that don't eat up your precious time or require you to feel like a training mouse on a wheel every day.
After all, for thousands of years, we have hunted, gathered, and roamed the fields and plains, and in the process, have developed an innate ability to engage in long periods of sustained movement. As long as we don't hold ourselves back from our natural talents with copious amounts of overtraining, sugar, fake foods, stress, lack of sleep, and a hectic lifestyle, our natural endurance can shine through in a surprisingly strong way.
It took me years of destroying my body to realize that you can't just eat 39 cent hamburgers and train yourself fit.
Instead, you have to leave behind the exhausting pursuit of exercise for the sake of exercise, and discover the beautiful balance between health and performance.
When you do, life becomes magically simple.
I wish this crucial information had existed within the pages of one single book when I first began my endurance journey, and I'm glad to bring it to you now. You're about to delve into everything that you need to know to train right, eat right and unlock your true endurance potential. You're going to get exact training protocols, nutrition blueprints, supplementation details, detoxing instructions, blood testing walk-throughs, lifestyle, travel and time management strategies, self-quantification knowledge, practical anti-aging secrets, and more.You're going to find that mastering endurance goes way beyond training.
Are you ready to learn how? Let's begin with a tale of two triathletes…
I hope you enjoyed this intro, and I'll be back next Saturday with Part 1, continued: A Tale of Two Triathletes.
In the meantime, leave your feedback, comments and questions below. I'll take as much constructiveness and criticism as you want to dish out!