Written by Christopher Kelly
Oct. 8, 2015
Christopher: Hello and welcome to the Nourish Balance Thrive Podcast. My name is Christopher Kelly and today I'm joined by the legendary coach Joe Friel. Hi, Joe.
Joe: Hi, Chris. Thanks for having me.
Christopher: No problem. It's my pleasure. I think everybody is going to know who Joe Friel is. But nevertheless, for those that don't know who Joe is, Joe has been around for an awful long time doing what he does. He's a legendary coach. He's been training athletes since 1980, most of them are amateur and professional road cyclists, mountain bikers, triathletes. They come from all around the world. He's the author of ten books for training endurance athletes including the bestselling Training Bible series.
Joe has a Masters degree in Exercise Science and is a USA triathlon and USA cycling certified elite level coach. I could go on here. You're also the founder of the TrainingPeaks, the popular website that a lot of athletes use. It's a fantastic took actually, TrainingPeaks. And the author of the new book Fast After 50, which I've just been reading for the second time. It's a fantastic book.
Joe: Thank you.
Christopher: Let me start. There's one thing that's kind of slightly off topic, before we get into the book, I wanted to ask you about. Yours was the very first book I read on the paleo diet. And I probably came to that book for the wrong reasons. I wanted to get faster and it ended up helping me in all kinds of other ways. But you said something to me on email that I found quite astonishing. I'll ask the question again: How long have you been eating a paleo type diet?
Joe: Let's see. I started that diet, I think, about 1994. So, a little over 20 years.
Christopher: That's pretty amazing. I think of it as kind of being almost like a fad or trendy diet. And there's all these things in the popular press, the straw man arguments made against the paleo diet. So, you've known about -- I just can't believe it. So, you co-authored the book with Loren Cordain. Have you known Loren for a while?
Joe: I have. We both lived in Fort Collins, Colorado back in '70s, '80s and '90s. And he was a runner as was I. We met one day on a run up in the mountains just outside on the outskirts of Colorado, outskirts of Fort Collins. And we got to chat and one thing led to another and we became friends and over the years we discussed a lot of things. Number one was diet back in the early '90s. We were actually debating, arguing about that. And long story short, he basically convinced me to give it a try and I did and I'd been eating that way ever since.
Christopher: That's awesome. And have you ever said anything to any of your clients about the paleo diet?
Joe: Oh, yeah. I've introduced a number of clients to paleo. They've done very well with it. So I'd been doing that since the late '90s. I did it for several years myself before I began to tell other people about it, other people especially my clients. They've done it also, so it worked out well for everybody I've tried it with actually.
Christopher: Wow. I wish I'd found about it sooner. Like that was the turning point for me, was reading your book. I mean, my goal, I came at it to try and get faster, but I was a wreck of a human being before I started on that diet so, yeah, thank you for writing that. I'm really grateful.
Joe: Thank you. Appreciate it.
Christopher: So, the book Fast After 50, I have to say the first time I read it, I was a little bit depressed. You kind of burst my bubble. So just to give you a tiny bit of back story, I didn't start bike racing -- I mean, I've ridden my bike my whole life but I didn't really start racing until I was 35. And I turned pro last year. I'm now 39. I kind of was excited. I thought, wow, I finally made it. I'm a pro athlete. Although I'm never going to be doing this for a living. I have the US, the UCI pro license now.
When I first read your book, I thought, "Oh yeah, I guess, this is kind of the end of the career, not the beginning." And I've just read the book for a second time and I found it a lot more uplifting. I realize that at some point my bubble was going to get burst and really the inspiring message for me is that I want to be like Ned Overend. I want to be one of those guys that keeps up with the younger guys and doesn't succumb to this inevitable decline. But tell me, how did you -- What inspired you to start the book? I know that you've hit your 70th birthday now. Was there something special about your 70th birthday that inspired you to write the book?
Joe: Yeah. Number 70 is very inspiring in a lot of ways. I've written a book back in the '90s called Cycling Past 50. At that time when I wrote it, there wasn't very much research on aging athletes. In fact, there was practically none. But there were a couple of studies that indicated that as you became older there was a gradual decline in performance which your body can accept.
But that the decline became steeper after the age of 70. And so, at 69 years, as I'm approaching six months out from my 70th birthday, I'm thinking about this, what the research says, I decided to go give myself a present, birthday present if you will, early, and go back and start reading all the research that I could find on the subject of aging athletes. I discovered that it had grown tremendously since I wrote that first book on Cycling Past 50 back in the 1997, I wrote that book.
And so I started reading all the research. And basically, it took me six months of reading research to get through all of it. There's been a tremendous amount of research done on this topic. And so I started writing about what I was learning on my blog and people began to ask questions and essentially tell me they were learning an awful lot from what they're reading and suggested maybe I should write a book on it. So I finally did that and that's how Fast After 50 came to be.
Christopher: It's awesome. Thank you so much for that. Thank you so much for putting the references in the text. So the references are in line in the text. They're not neatly tucked away in the back where you can try and -- Sometimes you get a book where they just put all the references in the back but there's no in line citations so there's no way of knowing which statement refers to which scientific study. It just turns up being a real -- So, yeah, thank you for doing that.
That's one of the first questions I had for you. I mean, clearly, with so many scientific references in Fast After 50, you are an evidence-driven person, but you make a really interesting point in the book which is that coaches and maybe doctors too have known about things that work that the science doesn't yet know about and nobody has actually proven that this works. How do you go about reconciling that when you know something works, but there's no evidence to prove it?
Joe: Well, in that case, the first thing I always do is experiment with myself and see does it work for me? That doesn't mean it's going to work for everybody. And then I often have my clients give it a try, whatever it may be. It could be a way of training, it could be dietary, it could mental, there are all kinds of possibilities. And if it works for them then I begin to expand the market and include it in my blog where other people can try it and they comment on it. So after a while, it begins to get feedback from fairly large numbers of people on how whatever it is I'm thinking about at that time maybe working for a large population. And sometimes I found out that things don't work and sometimes I find that they do work quite well also. It's just a matter of experience.
Christopher: That's awesome. It's kind of grass root citizen science. I love it. So you're not waiting for somebody with some money to come along to prove that something works. You can actually do that and know it for sure by yourself just with the power of the internet and your blog. It's a fantastic thing.
Joe: Yeah, thank you.
Christopher: Awesome. So I want to get into like the differences between regular people and athletes. So, do you think there's a problem with the science that you've reviewed in terms of they're not accounting for the differences. So we clearly know that athletes are different from regular people. Do you think that some of the studies that had been done on aging that they're not appropriate for people that are listening to this podcast?
Joe: Yeah, I agree. First of all, people who are very athletic essentially train seriously, are not really what we might call normal people. They're abnormal in some way. It doesn't mean it's bad. It just means that quite honestly they're more like our ancient ancestors were. Whereas people who become very accustomed to not exercising, not moving, eating really crummy diets, those folks are the normal people. They're diabetic. They're way overweight, maybe even obese. They've got a number of problems as they get older that relate to their lifestyle such as arthritis, a number of other things that maybe going on with their health also.
So to use those people, to use those two groups in studies can be very misleading in terms of what the outcome of the study is. If you're trying to find out what is the best thing for athletes to do, you want to use athletes as subjects, not normal population. But unfortunately, not all the studies that, in areas where we have questions about what should we do as athletes, as we get older, what should we do about whatever this topic may be, the answer isn't always found on studies that use athletes as subjects. So consequently, you're kind of stuck with using studies that really aren't appropriate but we're trying to draw conclusions and it may not always be the best thing but sometimes that's the only thing we have to go on.
Christopher: But you still find, you'd still been able to tease out some useful information, obviously, out of these studies.
Joe: Yeah, I think so, or at least partial answers to questions. Partial answer maybe, well. Well, this appears to work for non-athletic subjects. Will it also work for athletes? And here's why I believe it will or here's why I believe it won't. So now we're coming down to opinion. And really that's all we can do at this point.
Christopher: I think it's easy to underestimate the power of your opinion there. When you've coached so many successful athletes and when you have access to so much data through TrainingPeaks and wherever else you have this information, it's like I think your opinion is incredibly valuable.
Joe: Thank you. Opinion certainly is built on experience and by the time you're 70 some years old, you've had a lot of experience. So it's the things you can look back at and say, "This is what I've seen happened over the years." But it's still clouded by biases. Everybody has biases, we all do no matter how old you are, how long you've been involved and whatever your profession. There are still biases. I try to keep that in the back of my mind always that I'm being influenced by biases that I have now or I've had in the past and so I can't really say things that are absolute when I start talking about what people should do. I can only say this is what I found works or doesn't work for myself or for other people in the case where there's no research.
Christopher: I think it's that level of modesty though, that trait is very appealing to me. I think it makes you more likely to be correct. And the book is written the same way. It's extremely modest. It's not dogmatic. You're not saying, "You must do this or else this is going to happen." I think it's a really nice thing.
Joe: Thank you.
Christopher: Okay. So, what can we expect? I'm a 40-year old mountain biker. At the moment, I'm competing at a high level. And the outlook, the prognosis for me is not good, is it? Maybe we can cover some of the things that are likely to change? In the book, I think there's three things -- the declining aerobic capacity, and then increased body fat and loss of muscle mass. Maybe we can start with the first one and maybe talk a bit about why and how much you can expect the aerobic capacity to decline.
Joe: Yeah. You kind of nailed down those three topics that I talk about most in the book and what a person can do about those three things, an athlete can do about those three things in terms of lifestyle and training. And the first one is really kind of where I began the book also. I go back to the study done in the 1930s on endurance athletes, national level endurance runners, and what's shown from that study and then follow up studies over the decade since the 1930s, they're essentially showing exactly the same thing.
So we pretty well know that as you get older, your aerobic capacity, your VO2 max, another term for the very same phenomenon, declines and that's not news to anybody. I mean, everybody knows that. The issue is how can we slow the decline? We're not going to stop it entirely. We're not going to reverse that long term. We can probably reverse it short term. We're not going to reverse it long term. In other words, ten years from now, if you're 39 years old, we can expect your VO2 max is probably going to be a little bit less than what it is right now given your current lifestyle and age.
And so the question becomes what can we do about that issue? And the answer is from all this research, the answer is we need to do things that stimulate aerobic capacity, stimulate your body to use more oxygen to produce energy. And that basically means doing high intensity training. The tendency as we get older, and I've seen in athletes for years and years and years, and including myself before I start reading the research again when I was 69 years old, what we see is that we begin to gravitate toward long slow distance training.
In other words, we start cutting back on intensity and start doing more easy miles. They're comfortable. They're fun to do. They're not painful. And so consequently, we began to make that change in our life, in our training styles over the course of time. And the research tells us when that happens our VO2 max begins decline rather rapidly. But you can stop the decline, perhaps even reverse it short term, by doing high intensity interval training, which means doing things that are very, very intense up around your aerobic capacity as far as how much oxygen is being used, which means there's some slate going very fast no matter what your sport may be.
Doing intervals, short intervals, maybe 30 seconds long, as much as three or four minutes long that are high intensity with fairly equal recovery. So if you do, let's say, two minutes of high intensity aerobic, two minutes of recovery afterwards, and doing perhaps something like somewhere between maybe five minutes and 15 or 20 minutes of that type of training once a week. Some athletes may be able to handle some combination of those things twice a week, perhaps even three times a week for a younger aging athlete, around 50 or so. So that's the first thing we have to do, is decide we're going to start doing high intensity again rather than just doing long slow distance all the time.
Christopher: I'm really interested to know how you came to the conclusion that most of the aging athletes were resorting to this long slow distance thing. I have to admit that this does actually fit the bill for me. In my younger years, even though I was 35, not really that young, I was super naïve and I thought that all I needed to do was just ride my bike as fast as I possibly could all of the time. And so that's what I did. My heart rate was 170 beats all of the time I was on the bike.
And now more recently, that's not what I do. I tend to ride with my buddies especially on the mountain bike on a Sunday, we'll ride for three or four hours and probably not raise our heart rate much above 140 or 150. Yeah, I mean, anecdotally, that's been true for me. But how did you decide that that's what most people were doing?
Joe: Well, it's just basically experience again. I talk to an awful lot of athletes. I do seminars for athletes around the world, camps for athletes. So I get to talk to just a heck of a lot of people of various ages. And the most common thing I found is that as we get older we tend to move away from high intensity and start doing more long slow distance. And again, I saw it happen to myself. I hadn't really planned on it. It's not something I was planning to do, is do more long slow distance. It just kind of did it. It just kind of happened to me that I realized as I look to my own training with the past several years that there's been a shift in the type of workouts I was doing. I think it's just something that is very easy to find by looking around talking to people.
Christopher: And, I guess, something else that I'd been persuaded by, I'm not sure if you're aware of Dr. Phil Maffetone.
Christopher: And his MAF method, where he seems to be a big fan of exactly what you've just been talking about, the long slow distance. I hope I'm not misrepresenting him here. So the idea is you do this MAF test, which is kind of time trial, steady aerobic pace. I believe that once you start to plateau -- So you keep doing this long slow distance and then once you plateau then you start adding in the speed work and that's probably going to be your peak when you're ready to race. Do you think that what you're describing in Fast After 50 is in direct conflict with what Maffetone is describing?
Joe: Phil and I agree on a lot of things, amazing how similar we are right down the line as far as training. The only thing I ever do differently, that I would suggest differently is that aging athletes really can't do that so much. You can't go through a long period of time as in several weeks where you're only doing what I would call zone two or aerobic threshold workouts which is what basically Phil is prescribing. Those are great. In fact, I talked about that in my book that you need to do a lot of that.
In fact, I suggest that athletes should probably be spending 70% to 80% of their total training time seasonally in that one and two zones, aerobic threshold, right around aerobic threshold or less. So that's the biggest part of the entire season is to spend that intensity. However, there needs to be some higher intensity mixed in with that for serious athletes along the way. It's just a matter of how much do we do and when do we do it.
So basically, what Phil is describing is a periodization scheme that you just described it, starting up by doing basically zone two or aerobic threshold training for long period of time and then once you've kind of plateau, as far as what you're going to achieve by doing that then they start throwing in more high intensity. And that works fine probably with younger athletes. My concern is for the older athlete that we're always experiencing a loss of performance because of the changes that are taking place in our physiology as we age.
And so we really can't go for weeks at a time without ever challenging our aerobic capacities. We need to do that fairly frequently. Again, this doesn't mean doing it every day and it doesn't mean doing a lot of it especially early in the season. But there needs to be some of it. You need to be doing it year round. It's just a matter of how much do we do when. So that's the only thing we're different on, I think, in that regard.
And it's worth pointing out that there's some really detailed plans and explanation on how to structure a season which I thought was impressive. It's a big book.
Joe: Thank you.
Christopher: Okay. So let's move on to the next point, which is increasing body fat. Why do you think this happens?
Joe: Well, it happens because of hormones essentially. We got a hormone our body call the lipoprotein lipase and its purpose, the reason it's there, is to store fat that's necessary for our bodies to have a reserve of this fuel type on hand in case we have a period of starvation. That's something we can call on to stay alive for a while. And so LPL is there. When we're younger, LPL is kept in check somewhat by insulin. I'm sorry, not by insulin, but by testosterone.
When testosterone is present, which is even in males and in females, it's the case when we're younger in a fairly large amount, much more so in males than in females, when we got testosterone floating around the system, it helps to prevent LPL from doing its thing. In other words, it stops or slows down the accumulation of body fat that LPL is trying to always do. Testosterone is kind of keeping that in check if we're young.
When you're young, you can basically do anything you want, if you're active enough, and your body weight, body fat is going to stay fairly low just because of testosterone. But as you get older, our body produces less testosterone. Unfortunately, LPL doesn't decrease. It stays right there. And so because of decrease in testosterone, LPL has less restriction and begins to store more and more body fat. And so we put on a belly and hips and so forth as we get older because the LPL is simply just doing its thing and we don't have testosterone available in the same amount to prevent that from happening. So it's a hormonal situation that's going on with our bodies as we age.
Christopher: The thing I always wonder about though about stuff like this is: Is this really inevitable or is this just the consequence of something else? I know that when people are under a lot of stress, then they tend to produce less of these anabolic hormones that are designed to help us reproduce and get stronger. And I wonder whether this is really a natural decline or whether we've just seen the direct consequence of people that are accumulating more stress, maybe someone like me.
So five years ago, I wasn't married, I was single, I had a job as a computer programmer that was zero stress. And now I've got a baby and I've started a business. And so I think people tend to accumulate stress as they get older. And I wonder what's the cause and what's the effect here do you think?
Joe: You're right on. This, as with almost anything we're going to talk about in the area of health comes down to two broad categories. One is lifestyle, which you are just describing. And the other is genetics. We don't know what your genetics are nor mine nor anybody else is right now. We really can't look at somebody and say, well, genetically, they're not inclined to put on body fat. Or they are inclined to put on body fat. We really can't draw that conclusion because we've got all this lifestyle stuff that also affects what happens with our fat accumulation as we get older.
Some people, just because of genetics, don't have any issue with it at all. They stay lean their entire lives. My father was like that. He never exercised a minute in his life. But when he died in his mid-80s, he was starting to put on a belly. But when he was in his 60s, he had no belly at all. He was still a skinny guy. But he ate normally, no exercise, but it was just genetics. He was able to stay like that until close to the end of his life when he started gaining weight around his belly.
So it wasn't lifestyle in his case so much as I suspect it was genetics. I have no way of proving that but that's just my feelings about what probably happened to him. So we've got both of those things. Life isn't fair. Some of us are blessed with the genetics that allow us to keep body weight, boy fat low and others of us don't have that same blessing, if you will. We've got a different situation, different genetic and consequently we've got to be more concerned about accumulation of body fat by doing things that have to do with our lifestyle.
So we can't change genetics, therefore, we've got to be very concerned with the lifestyle. It's kind of a sticky mess to get into but there's certainly things that can be done to help change that situation where somebody is gaining body fat at a rather rapid rate.
Christopher: Right. And have you found the paleo diet as being helpful for people that you work with for keeping the body fat off?
Joe: Yeah, I think it does.
Because basically, it's a real basic diet. It cuts back on the processed foods which are, I think, most people agree that eating them, lots of processed foods is a poor way to maintain your body fat versus body lean or composition. So that's a poor way to do it. So if we start cutting back on those foods, which is the first thing you do in a paleo diet is you start cutting out processed foods, you begin to learn that your body fat begins to decrease just because of doing that.
So you've cut out sugars, you've cut out vegetable fats and you've cut out a lot of things that had been shown to be unhealthy force that cause our bodies to react negatively by storing body fat, for example. So it's just a matter of adjusting things and our lifestyle to accommodate what's going on with our genetics.
Christopher: And then, yeah, so absolutely agree. I've interviewed a couple of experts for this podcast. One is Stephen Guyenet. He talks about hyperpalatable foods and how that might be a deciding factor and how much we eat. With this processed foods that are like completely irresistible that had been designed by a food engineer, a food scientist, to be completely irresistible. And then there's another hypothesis which is probably not mutually exclusive with that idea which is kind of the insulin and eating too many carbohydrates make us fat. Do you have any opinion on that? Do you tell people how many carbs to eat or how many carbs do you eat right now?
Joe: I don't count but basically, I eat very little carbohydrates, very little. I have a little bit of fruit. Beyond that, very little. Again, I've not done any kind of analysis on my own diet for years and years. But I suspect my carbohydrate intake is probably on the order of 10%, maybe 20% at the very most on a daily basis. Whereas, my fat is extremely high. Probably the neighborhood of, I don't know, 60%, 70% of my diet is probably fat and the remainder is protein.
So that's kind of where I am. That doesn't mean that's what everybody should do by any means. It's just what seems to work for me and I've learned that over the course of 20 some years that I need to be very cautious with carbohydrate in my diet.
Christopher: I absolutely agree. Everybody needs to do their own experiment. I've interviewed recently Tim Noakes and Mark Allen and now you. I'm starting to sense a theme here. Everybody gives the same answer to this question, which is interesting in itself. We just talked about these high intensity intervals are necessary to maintain our aerobic performance. But do you think if you're going to like restrict your carbohydrates that then somehow -- I'm thinking the high intensity exercise is more glycolytic perhaps require more carbohydrate. Do you think it's going to be more difficult to do this high intensity intervals with the lower carbohydrate approach?
Joe: No, I don't. First of all, we're only talking about perhaps 15 minutes in a workout that last maybe two or three times a week. Three is probably really extreme for an aging athlete. So at least once or twice a week, an athlete is doing a high intensity workout and so we're talking about total of 30 minute of exercise. You've got plenty of carbohydrates stored away in your body to get you through 15 minutes within a single bout of exercise plenty and lots leftover. Even if you don't eat hardly any carbohydrate at all you'll have plenty of carbohydrate to go on.
So it's really not an issue at all. I'd been doing this for many years. I do two high intensities every week. And so it's really not an issue, if you're eating a diet which is low in carbohydrate. Now, if you're eating a diet very high in carbohydrate, your body is going to rely on carbohydrate when you go out to exercise. Even when you're exercising in low intensity, your body will use a tremendous amount of carbohydrate with that low intensity.
And that can be tested. You can find out what your body does as far as burning carbohydrate versus fat, for example, by going to a laboratory and having a gas -- It's called a gas analysis test done and they put a mask on your face and basically tell you how much fat you're burning at various intensities heart rates, for example. And so you can find that out and then you can do things to change that by essentially adjusting your training and your diet. You can eventually get to the point where you use less carbohydrate as fuel and more fat for fuel, which is what really all endurance athletes have been trying to do, is get more fat burned as opposed to carbohydrate.
So, no, there's not an issue. It could be an issue if you're doing something like a grand tour, cycling grand tour, three weeks Tour de France, Vuelta, Giro, doing something like that, now you've got a real problem because now we're talking about doing workouts, races on a daily basis which are maybe four hours long.
And within that four hours, there's going to be a tremendous amount of extremely high intensity going on with climbing and breaks into the wind or trying to be pulled back and all this kind of stuff that's going on. So athletes are going extremely anaerobic for great periods of time. They've got a unique problem. I suspect what the answer here is, number one, they're very young. So number two is they don't have to worry about their ratio of carbohydrate to fat nearly as much as older athletes do.
They're not going to become fat over the course of the next several days because they're eating carbohydrates. They've got lots of testosterone. So it's not an issue. I think we'd also find that for that type of event, that there's some mix of carbohydrate and fat which is probably favors them eating more carbohydrate or as if you're doing let's say an Ironman triathlon where you're not going to go anaerobic at all. It's going to be a low intensity for ten, 11, 12, 14 hours. You really don't need carbohydrates. You need lots and lots of fats, is what you need.
Your body is extremely good at burning fats and sparing carbohydrate. And so in that case, little bit different situation. So we've got two ends of the spectrum and we would both endurance events. And so I would say there's probably a difference in how the athlete eats for each of those situations.
Christopher: And then if I can throw a spanner in the works here, so my thing at the moment is cyclo-cross. I remain in ketosis. I'm measuring blood ketones. And so I'm eating a very low carbohydrate diet. I'm wondering, the elite race is 60 minutes of absolute all out effort. And on paper, it kind of -- I mean, you know cyclo-cross probably better than anyone but on paper it looks like a time trial. But in practice it's really a series of short sprints. They throw in so many tight corners. You have to sprint over and over again.
And so I'm wondering, do you think -- 60 minutes is quite a long time. Do you think that's long enough to deplete glycogen? Do you think I would benefit from adding back in some carbs before a race like that?
Joe: Well, again, it comes down to the individual. It's hard to say what your genetics are and what your goal is. If your goal is strictly performance, then certainly you may want to be looking at what do I need to be doing as far as carbohydrate is concerned? For example, there's research on this very topic, not for cyclo-cross but for this type of situation where the athletes were eating a high fat diet for several weeks and then right before the event they carbohydrate load.
So for the last two days, basically, is what most studies have had them do, they start increasing their carbohydrate intake. And what they find is that their -- and they tested that wherever it maybe, which in your case would be cyclo-cross race. What they find is the athletes continued to use a high fat fuel source during the race. But during those times when there's spike in intensities they've got plenty of carbohydrate on hand to take care of it. So it's kind of like a marriage of both worlds, the high fat diet chronically with an acute dose of carbohydrate right before the event.
Christopher: I think that approach actually makes sense for health and longevity as well as performance. Because when I look at the biochemistry and the physiology of ketosis and, I mean, really what is a hack, isn't it? It's something that helps us survive starvation. That surely, is that really a message that you want to be sending to your body week after week, month after month, year after year without ever having an interruption of carbohydrates. I think maybe the answer is no. Perhaps you should sometimes eat some carbs.
Joe: Yeah. It just comes down again what's the source of the carbohydrate. The best sources are fruits and vegetables. Those are high carbohydrate foods and we've been eating them for several million years as humans. But we're designed to eat potato chips and French fries and all the stuff we're eating that's also carbohydrate that we come to believe as somehow necessary for life that you got to have these foods in your diet. And there's actually nothing that supports that notation. So it's not carbohydrate. It's the source of the carbohydrate, which is what most people need to be thinking about, I believe.
Christopher: And then so do you recommend against people consuming carbohydrate during the training outright or runs or swim or whatever it is, the Maltodextrin gels and the Gatorades and all those types of sources of fuel?
Joe: Well, again, that comes down to what their chronic diet is like. So if an athlete is eating a chronic diet which is high in carbohydrate, they are most definitely going to have to take in carbohydrate during workouts and races that last more than two hours or so. No way they can avoid it. They've got to have it. However, if they're eating high fat diet with very little carbohydrate as you were saying you're doing, then they can get by with almost no carbohydrate at all for several hours.
It's not a problem especially if it's a low intensity event such as, again, a long race like an Ironman triathlon, for example, or something like that. That's an ultra endurance type of event. That person could get by for several hours without anything whatsoever because you've got fats stored away in our bodies that are gigantic amount and all we've got to do is train our bodies to use it. That's the problem with the high carbohydrate diet, is we don't train the body to use fat. We train the body to use carbohydrate and, therefore, we just store fat, is all we do. And it doesn't go away. It really comes down to what the diet is like.
Christopher: Awesome. It's a great advice, thank you. I guess, the final part is losing muscle mass. How does that happen? Why does that happen? How do we stop it?
Joe: Muscle mass basically is lost because of lifestyle changes, as we can tell. We don't know genetic inclination to lose muscle mass. There'd be no evolutionary reason for that. So it just comes down to lifestyle. We get lazy as we get older. We don't tend to do things that require use of muscle. When we're young, for example, I recall when I was young, I didn't even have push button window raisers and lowerers in my car. I had to manually do it with a handle.
Christopher: I remember those.
Joe: Yeah, that was a long time ago. But that was just the way life was in those days. Now, I've got a button I can push. I don't know what the difference in calories. It's not gigantic. But once you start putting dozens and dozens of things like that in your lifestyle, you begin to cut back in how many calories you're being extended and also on how much muscle is being used to open a window or close a window, pushing a button versus turning a crane. And the list goes on.
We could talk about all these things. I've got a house that has doors, sliding doors throughout it and it's got devices built in to help close the doors. So I pull it open, the device closes the door all by itself. That wasn't there on my other house, before this current house, I had to actually push the door shut. So we just start adding in all these things in our lives as we get older that because we have the money we can afford to do and we start taking away use of muscle.
And so what I would encourage athletes to do, aging athletes, is to include strength training of some sort in their lifestyle on a regular basis. It could be very, very standard weight lifting, just going to the gym and lifting weights using the big muscles especially, especially muscles that are related to the sport. So, I think, that would be one of the best things they could do. But beyond that, things could be done with body weight.
You don't have to have a fancy weight room with all kinds of cost built into it. You can do things with your own body weight. You can search online for various types of exercises one can do to help build muscle that don't require a health club membership. And so this could be done quite easily. And this will maintain muscle mass and maybe even in the short term reverse the loss of muscle mass and begin to gain muscle mass.
Now there's some limit on how much muscle mass an endurance athlete wants but you can also get to a point where you've lost too much muscle mass and so consequently you just have no -- You have hard time with hills, you have a hard time accelerating, you have a hard time going fast just because there's been so much muscle mass lost. And so you become slower and slower and slower because of loss of muscle mass. So I would highly encourage athletes to include strength training of some sort in their training on a regular basis.
Christopher: And then so, even -- In the past, I've worked with someone that had this opinion that it was best to do strength training in the early part of the season and then to cut it out completely once you got into race season because it made you kind of too tired or maybe too much fatigued. Is that the kind of strategy you go for? Do you think we should be training, strength training all the time?
Joe: Yeah, we should be strength -- For aging athletes, we should be strength training all the time. It's just like high intensity interval training to maintain aerobic capacity. If we go through a period of time for several weeks that we're doing it anymore we begin to experience the decline. It speeds up again because of aging. It just catches up with us. So we need to keep stimulating it throughout the season. That doesn't mean we do the same workouts the same number of times per week year round.
I would have an athlete start out early in the season, perhaps what we call our base season, by doing strength training in the weight room setting, for example, two times a week perhaps even three times a week depending on the athlete. And it becomes one of the main things we're doing in training.
Then as we progress through the season, the periodization changes and the athlete begins to cut back on strength training so by the time we get into what I call the build which is like the last 11, 12 weeks before the race, at that time they're doing much less strength training, we're on a maintenance mode now. So maybe we're doing once a week and we're only doing three exercises in the gym once a week. So we're in a maintenance mode. Now, we're just trying to maintain what we achieve early in the season. And then once we get through that race and we go back to a basic period of training again, we go back and start doing heavier more sessions of strength training to rebuild again. And this process just continues on endless loop throughout the year.
Christopher: Okay. So I understand that body weight might be helpful but if I was a high performance athlete, what would be your choice of strength training? Would it be going to the gym and doing dead lifts and squats or something else?
Joe: Yeah. It depends on who the athlete is I'm working with. Some athletes need to work a lot on functional strength. I guess, we have two categories in strength training. One is functional, which we typically refer to as like core strength. And the other is performance related strength training. In other words, the muscles that are primary movers in sport for cyclists, for example, quadriceps and glutes and runners will be calves and swimmers should be shoulders and lats and so forth.
So we got two categories. Some athletes need to do a lot of functional strength training because they just have very poor core strength. They can't maintain body posture very well, for example, when they're running. Their hips move up and down a lot and they tend to collapse as they strike the ground because of this poor functional strength or core strength. So they need to make sure they're doing lots of that kind of training.
And the athletes who don't have that problem, other athletes have no core problems whatsoever, they've got extremely good core strength, they can focus on performance related strength training which is more like things that have to do with their particular sport for doing squats, example for cyclists. So it just kind of depends. Both athletes, some athletes have both things that need to be focused on in which it just simply means they needed to find, figure out a way to include both types of training in their program so that nothing is left out over time. Life isn't fair. It's just the way it is. And consequently, we just have to change out lifestyle to adapt to it.
Christopher: Interesting. I wanted to ask you about the safety of endurance exercise. There's been some stuff in the press recently about the potential for endurance athletes to develop maybe an irregular heart rhythm and we know that some of the changes that take place in the heart as a result of endurance exercise might actually be a pathology. And I'm wondering should we be giving it up? Maybe I've had my dose of racing and perhaps I should be giving it up for safety reasons. Is that something you agree with or have you any thoughts on that stuff?
Joe: Yeah. We really don't know a lot. Right now, we know very little about this topic. I've talked with a couple of cardiologists who are also athletes about this very issue of trying to handle on it. And that one of the first things he'll tell you is you're much better off exercising for endurance events even though you may wind up contracting this situation, mostly atrial fibrillation, high heart rates or basically uneven heart rates, even though you're not exercising at high intensity.
You're better off exercising than you are not exercising. If you decide, okay, I'm going to quit doing endurance exercise because it's going to cause me to become, to have a fib, well now, you're likely to have rhythm problems that are far worse than a fib such as heart disease, clogged arteries and so forth. So there's a mix. What I tell athletes is you need to make sure you're doing low intensity exercise. That's why I say like 70% to 80% of your training should be around aerobic threshold or easier, which means zones one and two. It's extremely low.
Gigantic amount of training should be done at that intensity that will have the least likelihood to cause what cardiologist call remodeling of your heart. High intensity exercise has been shown to cause some remodeling. In other words, a heart grows larger. And as it grows larger, spacing between nervous, nerve end outputs or nerve endings in your heart changes, the space in between them, because the heart has gotten bigger like a balloon. If you blew up a balloon, you have two dots drawn on your balloon, you blow it up, two dots get farther apart. And that sort of thing has probably contributed to some people coming, experiencing atrial fibrillation who are also athletes.
But we don't really know if there's a cause and effect exactly. That's just a theory right now. We really don't know what if -- We know that perhaps 5% of people over the age of 60 will have atrial fibrillation at some point in their lives even if they don't exercise. So if they do exercise and we still have 5%, what's the difference? The person was probably just likely to have atrial fibrillation without exercise as they are with exercising. So we really don't know the answers to all these questions yet. All we have is theories and things needed to be studied.
Christopher: I was first introduced to the website of Dr. John Mandrola through, I think, your blog. I'm pretty sure it was your blog I first saw this website. And have you been following his post recently?
Joe: Not recently. I just got back from a two-week vacation so I'd been out of touch with the world, so no.
Christopher: I should link to this in the show notes. There's some fantastic information on here. Just recently, he's posted an update saying that he's doing less A-fib ablations. He's been talking about how maybe the solution to this problem is not surgery but to look at other diet and lifestyle factors. So maybe someone like me who's charging just a little bit too hard, perhaps they've started their own business, drinking a lot of coffee, not getting enough sleep. All of these things play into this disease and maybe we need to look at those things rather than just going straight in with the surgery.
Joe: Exactly. What he's talking about basically it sounds like is lifestyle. We can adjust lifestyle to accommodate what maybe happening to our hearts over time. Again, even though I recommend athletes do high intensity interval training, it doesn't mean they do that every day. They do it on a very limited basis, as I said, maybe 30 minutes total in an entire week spread out over two or perhaps even three workouts. And the rest of the training is very low intensity. So we're probably -- Again, we don't know, but probably more likely to result, have a result with atrial fibrillation if we do lots and lots of high intensity training and never do easy stuff. That's the key, I think, for lifestyle for athletes.
Christopher: Awesome. Thank you. Okay, so the final thing I wanted to ask you about was what you thought about -- So, there's a book I've read recently. In fact, I've read it twice recently, by Vinnie Tortorich and it's called Fitness Confidential. It's a fantastically funny book. I think you'd really enjoy it actually. In it, he talks about someone, a trainer, who he calls the Friel expert, which is a term that he coined, and it is someone that's read one of your books and then basically copy and paste these workouts into somebody's calendar and then charges an athlete $200 a month or something and then maybe a little bit extra if you actually want to talk to them.
He pointed out that for that kind of money you could probably get the authentic Joe Friel experience. I'm just wondering, did you -- I mean, you've basically created a cottage industry of these people and I just wonder what you thought about it.
Joe: Yeah, it's interesting I haven't heard of that. I've done an interview with him before so I know who he is. Nice guy. I enjoyed talking with him. I've not come across that. I really am not in this for -- I'm in this because I'm curious. That's why I do this stuff and that's the way it's always been for me. I don't do this to try to -- I'm not trying to sell something. I hope my book sells. And so far they have. But I don't think that's because I go out and try to promote books. All I would try to do is learn the answers to questions that interest me and then tell people what I've learned over the course of my studies.
And so that's kind of where I'm coming from. And if that benefits some other folks such as a coach who gets some ideas from something they've read in mine perhaps, I'm quite all right with that. Everybody has got to make a buck somehow and if that's how the person does it, all the more power to him, I guess.
Christopher: Awesome. That's kind of fun. What is the best place then? What do you tell people now? Do you still take on clients one or one or do you send them to someone else? How does that work?
Joe: No, I quit coaching athletes probably four years ago or so. I'm, I guess, you would say retired from coaching. That's always hard for me to say because I still think of myself as a coach. But basically, what I do, somebody is looking for coaching is I've got a coaching company with coaches who I've helped to train and they are certainly able to step in and do things much the same as I would. And beyond that, what I really do is I train coaches mostly. I travel around the world doing what we call TrainingPeaks universities, which is coaches educational system, how to do best practices for coaching athletes.
And that, for me, is a lot of fun. I enjoy working with athletes also, so I do camps for athletes and clinics with athletes also. But what I do primarily now is train coaches.
Christopher: That makes a lot of sense. There's not enough Joe Friels to go around and so it makes sense for you to be coaching coaches rather than coaching people one at a time.
Joe: Thank you.
Christopher: Okay. So maybe you didn't actually name the -- So, where do I go then? Is there anything that you, any links or anything that you want people to know about?
Joe: Well, my blog is where I usually send people. It's just Joefrielsblog.com. And that goes back to 2007, so there are hundreds and hundreds of things I've posted there on training and things I've learned over the years like, for example, when I wrote the piece on aging athletes, all the pieces. By the way, it was a long series over several months. It was all summarized in the book. You can just go read the book and you've got what the blogs found or reported. So anyway, yeah, that's probably the best place to go for stuff that's related to what I've discovered in training.
Christopher: Okay. And the best place to find a coach, what was the name of the coaching company that you talked about?
Joe: It's called TrainingBible Coaching.
Christopher: Excellent. Okay. I've got it here. I will link to that in the notes. Well, this has been fantastic. I'm so grateful. I know you're an incredibly busy guy. You've told me about your schedule and it's just absolutely insane. I'm extremely grateful for you giving me this time to talk about the book. It's called Fast After 50. I will, of course, link to that in the show notes. It's a great read. I'd highly recommend it.
Joe: Thank you, Chris. Appreciate it.
Christopher: Okay. Cheers then, Joe.
[0:51:45] End of Audio