Introduction: In this podcast episode: whether hormones are suppressed from endurance training, what to do about fat legs, question from a 430lb man, how many repetitions of a weightlifting exercise gives you the best results, two bonus videos and a bonus audio.
Ben: Hey podcast listeners, this is Ben Greenfield. I have a lot of Listener Q and As today, but our featured topic for this week has been turned into a few bonus items that I’ve put out there for you. So here’s what they are. The first is a bonus video that I shot in my office that shows you exactly how you can take three different exercises, put them together and do a very short, very effective office-based workout without really breaking a sweat and hopefully without your secretary or your boss taking much notice, but allowing you to boost the metabolism, to bump up those fat burning enzymes a little bit and burn a few calories when you’re at the office, because it actually increases productivity. You can tell that to your boss if he catches you in the middle of a workout. When you’re able to stop every now and then just throw down a little bit of exercise during your workday. The second video that I’ve posted – and both these bonus videos are on the Shownotes to this podcast – podcast number 69. Second bonus video is me in my kitchen showing you exactly how I make what I call a green super smoothie. I show you the ingredients. Show you how to make it. And that is a snack that I use usually in the afternoon or evening when I need to satiate my appetite but I don’t want to bump up my insulin levels or my blood glucose levels and so it’s more kind of a protein-based snack with a lot of vegetables in it, but doesn’t taste like vegetables. Okay, and the final free download that I have for you in the Shownotes, again, of podcast number 69 is a bonus audio. Last week, those of you who are interested in triathlon may have gotten a newsletter that I did an interview with a coach down in Florida last week where he was asking me about some of my principles that I use when training my half Ironman and my Ironman triathletes and training myself. So we had an hour long interview. I put the link to that up in the Shownotes as well. So you got two bonus videos and one bonus audio and I gave all that to you because we actually don’t have an interview this week. I have literally this week five interviews lined up so we’re going to have some fantastic content coming down the pipeline for everything from holiday exercise to an interesting interview on electric stimulation devices. Believe it or not, an interview on a mouthpiece. A mouthpiece that can make you a better athlete. I was kind of interested in this. It’s an intriguing interview. Anyways, I’ll have all that coming to you over the next few weeks so you really want to stay tuned in. For this week, we’ve got a few special announcements. We’ve got Q and A, and you should surf over and check out those bonuses that I’ve put into this week’s podcast Shownotes.
Before we address our first Listener question, as many of you know, about every month or so I bring you some of the latest findings from the Journal of Strength and Conditioning Research, and sometimes those findings are really long and sometimes they’re just a couple of articles that I go over. Well today I’m sitting here holding the journal in my hands and there’s really not that much in here that is going to be incredibly interesting for you. To give you an example, a comparison of hamstring and gluteus muscles, electromyographic activity while performing the razor curl versus the traditional prone hamstring curl. That might be kind of interesting but probably not. However there’s one study on page 2179, I’m going to flip to it here and it was really interesting. Because what the researchers did in this study was they wanted to look at what happened to the expression of skeletal muscle genes after exercise. In other words, what type of exercise, more specifically, how many repetitions of a weightlifting exercise resulted in the greatest expression of those genes. Because when you actually get the skeletal muscle genes being expressed in response to exercise, it means that you actually developed more lean muscle when you exercised or you got more benefit out of that exercise session because lean muscle is health, it’s youth, it’s metabolism. It’s protection, it’s strength it’s force, it’s everything that you need to move well. And to perform well. So what they did was they looked at one group that completed four sets of 18 to 20 reps. A little bit lighter weight, about 60 to 65% and they compared the response of that group to the response of a group that performed four sets of 8 to 10 repetitions with 80 to 85% intensity. Now what they found was that both groups experienced a significant skeletal muscle gene response to exercise, meaning that when you go to the gym, you might hear from a lot of personal trainers that you’re going to waste your time doing 18 reps or 20 reps and you got to do 8 reps or 9 reps or 10 reps to really get a response. But this study actually showed a response with both levels of repetitions. Now I can tell you that I personally in my own routine will bounce around throughout the training year doing different numbers of repetitions. But with the clients that I work with, we’ll have some workouts where we’ll do 50 reps and some workouts where we’ll do 10 reps. So it really spans the gamut. What’s most important is that you never let your body get into the same routine over and over again, that you throw some curve balls in it and especially if you are in this for maximum fitness that you bounce around between doing different sets, different reps and know that doing a little bit higher number of reps isn’t going to hurt you. So I’m going to move on to this week’s first Listener question.
Greg asks: Especially interesting was this last podcast as it is a topic near to me these days. I live in Canada and am what you call a serious hobby endurance athlete. I am 31, I’ve been doing endurance sport for 18 years. The first 12 years I competed as an elite cyclist. At 25 I quit this and started running marathons. I do it as a hobby, but a 2:36 marathon is my PR. In the past 5 months I had my blood tested 4 times and each time has shown low testosterone and also low LH. (That’ san interesting hormone. I’m assuming you’re referring to luteinizing hormone, Greg, which is sometimes often tested in females. But you can test that as one of the hormones that is present in males as well.) I live in Canada so things move slow, I see the endocrinologist next week, where I expect him to schedule an MRI as I understand this could be pituitary related. My question is, I know our hormonal system can be suppressed with endurance training. Can there be long term effects? I’ve taken this year the easiest in years due to nagging injuries so have not pushed it at all. Could the non-recovering injuries be related as well to the low testosterone?
Ben answers: Well most of the time when we’re looking at chemical markers in endurance athletes, Greg, and we’re looking at whether or not someone’s at risk for overtraining or someone actually has a hormonal problem that could be putting them at risk of subpar performance, one of the markers that’s probably most important and most popular is ratio. A hormonal ratio called the testosterone cortisol ratio. And if that is excessively low, meaning low amounts of testosterone, high amounts of cortisol, yeah that could indicate overtraining and is going to result in inadequate response to training. But as far as endurance sports actually suppressing hormone formation, well exercise in general is going to slightly increase hormone formation. There’s going to be a good cortisol response to exercise and the small amount of cortisol release that you get from exercise is actually beneficial to the body. Now when you talk about some of your pituitary hormones, these are… they include that luteinizing hormone, that LH that you talked about, as well as another hormone called FSH or follicle stimulating hormone. And in females, when you see suppressed levels of LH and FSH that are lower than you would expect them to be at any given cycle in a female, that can lead to lower estrogen levels and is also associated with something that we call the female athletic triad which is a drop in bone density and typically inability to bounce back properly from exercise. It’s a big problem, especially in female endurance athletes. Now you can get some similar changes in males in the LH and FSH levels. But usually in a male the more significant and more worrying drop is that testosterone level. As far as whether that could be suppressed from endurance exercise, yes if you’re not recovering properly. If you’re not refueling properly, then you could have an effect on your testosterone levels. Now if there’s a problem with your pituitary, that’s where you’d be looking at that suppressed level of the LH. I’ve never actually seen LH as being one of the hormones that’s associated with the depressed hormonal status that occurs with overtraining, but it’s possible. Endurance training’s effect on hormones is good to a limited extent when you’re exercising in moderation. But it can suppress things like testosterone production as well as interestingly serotonin production and dopamine production. And that’s because if you have excessive production of adrenaline which is epinephrine, you increase your heart rate all the time and you’re always shunting blood to working muscles and releasing glucose in the blood stream, what happens is you can suppress serotonin and dopamine and those are hormones that have a calming effect on your body. That’s why a lot of people who over train or who train too much get irritable, they get moody. They’re emotionally unstable. They get anxious. They get heart palpitations. So that’s another symptom. That’s one of the reasons that one of the ways to see if you’re overtraining, if you’re not motivated at all to exercise – one of the things that happens is a lot of times you wake up at night and your heart will be beating really fast or you wake up in the morning and your resting heart rate is much higher than you think it should be. So, a lot of different thing going on hormonally when it comes to overtraining in endurance exercise but as far as actual suppression of LH levels, that’s something you’re going to need to talk to your endocrinologist about. Because that’s something I haven’t seen and something I’m usually looking at in females who are just concerned about proper hormone levels. Not male endurance athletes. So, write back to me or leave a comment in the Shownotes to this podcast when you talk to your endocrinologist because I would be interested at what you guys find and what happens with your pituitary.
Miguel asks: I am a student in University and I am also a triathlete. As you know triathlon training requires much of my body and I have to eat a lot of carbohydrates, proteins and fat. However, to perform better in future races I would like to lose some body fat percentage. It happens that I am skinny on my chest and abdominal area but fat on legs and butt so when I cut some calories I lose only fat on the abdominal area and not on legs and sometimes when I do that performance in training is worse. I weight 61kgs and measure 177cm. (Ah, metric guys, you kill me.) What would you recommend me to do?
Ben answers: Spot reduction Miguel is doable. You can target an area that tends to have a higher amount of fat and if you can increase the muscle temperature in that area, there’s anecdotal evidence that you might improve the activity of the fat burning enzymes in that area. It sounds to me like part of what you’re fighting is the uphill battle against the genetics of having a skinny upper body and a larger lower body. But what you can do – when I say spot reduction – is you can actually do activities that only involve your lower legs or your lower body and do not really ask much of your upper body so you’re really triggering a lot of blood flow to the lower body doing a lot of spot reduction and muscle temperature increasing in the legs or in the areas where you tend to have trouble. The gym can help you out with a little bit of that, meaning things like leg extensions, leg curls, adductor, abductor – that’s even what we would call a open chain exercise, like a machine might actually help you out a little bit being able to target a specific muscle group. Cycling as well can help especially if you’re doing it in a little bit more of an aerobic sense, not really trying to stimulate too much of the fast twitch muscle fibers but just doing some aerobic exercise that puts you in that fat burning mode, preferably for example in the morning right when you get up, when your liver is depleted of its carbohydrate stores and you can jumpstart the activity of the fat burning enzymes. I haven’t seen your diet, I don’t know how you are eating. If you’re just cutting calories but you’re not paying attention to the actual carbohydrate, protein, fat ratio and if you for example are having a high starch intake, sugar intake, trans fat intake, saturated fat intake, any of those things that would cause you to either convert sugar into fat or to form large levels of circulating fatty acids… then you’re going to put that fat where genetically it wants to go and for you that might be your legs. So you’re saying that you’re eating a lot. I would consider looking into, for example, I have a book… Holistic Fueling For Ironman Triathletes. That book is written for people who need to eat thousands and thousands of calories but want to make sure that they’re coming from healthy sources. I would make sure that you’re not just dumping fuel into the chamber and then exercising, that you’re making sure that fuel is not something that’s actually causing you to form fat.
My last question is from Listener John who wrote to me and told me that he weighed 430 lbs and then he went on and said…
Jon asks: I got out of the Navy in 1998, I weighed 205 lbs at 5 foot 10. I have a large frame for my size. I had a problem adjusting to civilian life and developed depression. Since I was a little kid, I have had Sleep Apnea. It never manifested itself until I got bigger. I am not sure when I went so far down hill but I got there. I used to be a gym rat, loved to run and have fun but now I can barely walk. I don’t want to do the lap band thing. (A lap band thing by the way, that’s a surgery where you close off the gastric tube.) In 2007 I almost died and wound up in the hospital, I also developed cellulitis or lymphedema depending on which doctor you ask. So when I get sick my leg gets infected and blows up requiring a 3 day stay in the hospital requiring a lot of meds. I have figured out what medication and just ask for a running prescription so if I do feel sick I take some to keep the leg under control. Anyway I am telling you all this because I have 3 kids and a wife, I would like to be here to see them grow up. I need help. I have a total gym. I don’t even think about going to an actual gym because people look at me like a freak because of my leg enough just walking around. Lately my back has started to bother me and so has my left knee. Luckily, my work has a very relaxed dress code so I can wear shorts to work and since I’m in Arizona, the weather is also good for it. Anyway, I mentioned earlier that I had gone into the hospital. They hollowed out my throat taking out the uvula and tonsils, since then I do not have trouble sleeping. Before my blood oxygen count going to my brain was around a 35 now it’s like a 95 or better, so that I am awake and more alert, I can concentrate on other things. I want to get off my ass and get moving, but I have been dormant so long it is really difficult. Long story short, I downloaded your e-book and now am writing to ask for any advice.
Ben answers: Well John as you probably know, you are in a place where it’s going to take a journey to get you out of where you’re at right now. When you turn on the TV and you watch a show like the Biggest Loser where there are a lot of males over 400 lbs or females over 300 lbs, that would be the kind of boat that you’re in right now, needing to take some type of drastic lifestyle measure to turn yourself around. Now, unfortunately again, when you turn on the TV and you look at the Biggest Loser, those people are put into a situation that’s not realistic for most of us where they quit their job and they’re able to exercise all day long. I mean literally, those people are moving and exercising for over four hours a day. And that’s tough for a lot of us. We need to take sometimes baby steps and with some of my clients who have come to me, there are some people who can’t do a pushup and can’t walk a quarter mile and we literally start from square one. Just walking for 10 minute and then doing that again at night and adding 30 seconds a day. Just trying to eliminate 200 calories from the diet, and then the next week 300 calories from the diet and gradually get the body down to where it gets used to moving and it gets used to beginning to restrict calories. The problem is if you just start exercising three hours a day and quit all food intake cold turkey, it’s very, very difficult and that’s what results typically in yo-yo up and down weight gain and weight loss. If you walked into my office and you told me your story and we were going to start working together, the very first thing that we would do is start moving. Just start moving as much as possible. When you wake up in the morning, if you have 15 minutes, a brisk walk. If you are going to bed at night and you look at the clock and you have an extra 20 minutes, get down on a stationary bike especially if your knee is bothering you and I don’t know if it’s bothering you when you’re walking but it’s likely, and do some non-weight bearing exercise. But move, move, move. It’s going to be one of the most important things. You do have the advantage that as much as you weigh, you are burning a lot of calories even when you do something as simple as walking. From a nutrition perspective, the primary thing that you need to do and you didn’t really mention much about nutrition at all through here, but the primary thing that you need to do is begin being aware. So don’t start on some special diet. Don’t think that you have to have a certain percentage of carb, protein and fat; that you have to get a bunch of magic supplements. What I’d recommend is that you just start writing down what you eat every single day, write it down. Okay so it’s a very simple start. Move, and write down what you eat. But just doing those two steps will start you on the long journey that you have ahead of you and if you want to write to me as you go or you would like to leave a couple of comments on the blog or the podcast as you go, feel free. But I would encourage you to just start. Just begin. Start today as you listen to this podcast. So great questions this week. Now if you have a question again, email email@example.com or you can call 8772099439.
For personal nutrition, fitness or triathlon consulting, supplements, books or DVD’s from Ben Greenfield, please visit Pacific Elite Fitness at http://www.pacificfit.net