Written by Christopher Kelly
Oct. 13, 2017
Tommy: Hello and welcome to the Nourish Balance Thrive podcast. My name is Tommy Wood. And today, I am joined by Dr. Andy Galpin. Hi, Andy.
Andy: Hey. How are you doing, man?
Tommy: Oh, thanks for joining us. For those who don’t know, Andy is a tenured professor at the Center for Sport Performance at California State University Fullerton and director of the biochemistry and molecular exercise physiology laboratory. Having previously been a competitive football player, weightlifter, and martial artist, Andy now uses what he learns in his research to help amateur and elite or Olympic athletes in multiple sports from UFC to the NFL, which is a very impressive, but short biography. So, Andy, maybe you could tell us a little bit about what you do, what your day looks like in research because you have to forgive me, but any time I think of the phrase “molecular exercise”, I just imagine a small molecule of creatine doing pushups or something. So, maybe you can tell us what it is, how you’re doing it on lab.
Andy: Well, actually, you’re not too far off from it. So yeah, I teach in the areas of human performance, nutrition, strength and conditioning, and then of course, my laboratory that you mentioned there. So really, what we do is research at the single cell level for the most part. And so, we take biopsies of people and we try to analyze why they’re performing the way they’re performing. So, we study the other end of the continuum or the spectrum, which is to say we don’t study disease treatment, prevention, or management. Anything like that. We study the other end of the spectrum, which is human performance optimization, although I truly hate that word. We study performance. So, we ask questions like why is it this training style compared to this training style, how does it actually result in performance differences? So, a lot of people will look at that from the practical perspective. So, in other words, you know, why did this weightlifting training program or this powerlifting program make me— Did it, first of all, make me stronger? The other one or not. But then we add another layer to that question, which is “Well, let’s take biopsies. Let’s see if we can identify some molecular or mechanisms behind those training-induced adaptations. So, why is it muscle growth drinks and diets prepare us the way it does and then what can we do training wise?” So, the best model for that in our mind is to look at the people who have been enrolled at those things, which tend to be anaerobic athletes. So, that’s mostly what we do.
Tommy: So, the first question that comes to mind is the way that most sports science research is done is by convincing some local undergrads to do some stuff and, you know, you mentor them for 4, 8, or 12 weeks and see what happens. So, there’s some like pitfalls associated with that and that’s why you’ve sort of gone out to find high level athletes to figure out what’s going on there like what’s the best way to approach that.
Andy: Yeah. That’s a really nice question actually. There’s pitfalls to both sides of that equation. So, what I would say is rather than saying my approach is better, it’s just simply I realize that no one was asking the question that I was asking. So, I think we need to look at it on both sides of the equation to balance it out.
Andy: There’s certainly drawbacks to my approach. I mean, the obvious one is, well, like how many people does this really matter to because the elites are the elites? You know, finding out something in an elite athlete, does that really help the average person? And the answer maybe not, but I actually use the exact same argument for why we need to study the athletes because if you do work with a professional athlete, you can’t take the findings from, like you said, your local undergrad and think that’s gonna transfer over to a professional athlete. That’s probably just about as far off as it can be. So, I feel like we can balance it. The other thing I felt like is most important is we’re all playing the same game, which is we wanna live as long and as well as we can. Not just live long, but that’s gotta live well. And in my mind and when we start to look at the things that are the most significant predictors of mortality, you search back on things up and those start to look like an NFL combine. And so, I was like “Well, if leg strength is one of the most significant predictors of how long I’m going to live, we should probably start studying the people who are the best in the world that are developing leg strength, not just people who squat 200 pounds.” So, that’s why I just wanna say like, well, we need to start studying the people who were— We don’t really know what the gold standard is. We know what the silver and bronze standard is, but we haven’t really put a pin in the gold standard yet so we understand where we’re even trying to get to.
Tommy: Yeah. Absolutely. And when you talk about leg strength, it makes me think— Like I mentioned before, we work with a lot of people who are endurance athletes. That’s the main sport that they work in. And your work looks at a lot of muscle fiber types and how those change with training, how they might change with aerobic training, how that might be different from what you would need to when you are older prevent yourself falling and breaking your hip because you need more type 2 fibers that are gonna be faster twitch, keep you upright. So then, one of the questions that always comes to mind is if you’re somebody who is more of an endurance-based athlete, how can you either prevent the loss of some of those type 2 muscle fibers?
Is that gonna be detrimental to your sport? Can we get them back later if we spend a lifetime sitting on a bike or running? Can we then develop those back? Like how can we work our way through all of that?
Andy: So, again, you asked actually about 3 to 4 really good questions, so if I can remember.
Tommy: Yes. Sorry.
Andy: That’s okay. So, feel free to make me come back and directly answer one of them. I’m not trying to dodge any of those questions. I just may not get to ‘em. So, the first thing I understand is I’ll actually just sit here to tell you a fun story about a paper that we’re maybe days away from submitting at this point. So, it’s very close, but we had a very extreme fortune of studying a pair of monozygotic twins. So, for you non-science-y folks out there, what that means is, you know, monozygotic twins are identical twins. They’re clones of each other. They have the exact same DNA. So, what happened is, you know, the egg was fertilized by a single sperm and that whole thing split in half and turned into two humans, which is different than you having twins that are not identical, but just happen to be two sperm implanted to two eggs at the same time, brother and sister sort of thing or brother and brother. And so, I say that to say like we had this perfect model of two identical twins. It means we can control for DNA since their inheritance is identical. But when we got them in the lab, they were in their early 50s and one of ‘em had been doing— I can’t remember the numbers, but something crazy. The biology had done for his life was amazing. I can’t remember, but [0:06:24][Inaudible] number. What he had done for 35 years, he’s been competing in marathons, half-marathons, Ironmans, triathlons, and things like that. So, he’s a straight endurance athlete. He doesn’t lift. He doesn’t do sprint or power. No speed training. Nothing like that. And his identical twin brother had not exercised since they were in high school. So, we had a perfect model for what are the adaptations that occur control and for genetics after 35 years of straight endurance training. And so, we were able to look at a whole host of phenomenon. And as predicted— I mean, you’re a physician, so you would know all these things. Blood panels were far superior in the endurance athlete. Blood pressure, cholesterol. Like this is all standard stuff. Right? VO2 max was far higher in the endurance athlete like all predicted. But what was a bit more surprising was the markers of leg strength and the markers of leg mass, and power, and leg quality either were not different at all or favored the untrained person. The fiber type profile was completely different. So, the endurance athlete was 90% or more slow twitch and the nontrained guy was more like 50/50. And so, I think this is a really nice example of the best way I can answer your question by saying, “Look, there’s no doubt endurance training is generally good for your health.” VO2 max is one of the most significant predictors of mortality. All those other markers like cholesterol levels— Like this is a very good thing for your health. There’s no question. So, before I go any further, I wanna make sure it’s abundantly clear I am acknowledged of that fact. This is good for you.
Andy: But I think what it also highlight is I think that anytime you take a single mode of exercise or nutrition and that’s all you do, I think you’re compromising your potential health. And I would say the same thing about somebody who only is a weightlifter or a power lifter their entire life. I would think that your VO2 max is gonna poor at the end of the spectrum. So, to me, what these data really highlighted was “Well, that stuff is really good for you.” We need to at least have a reasonable compromise between anaerobic, and speed, and agility, and VO2 max, heart rate interval training. Like all these things need to be a component of somebody who is really trying to maximize wellness or longevity. If you’re trying to maximize competition in sport, now that’s a little bit different question. So, that I think answered the question about fiber type in part. So, will your training affect your fiber type? No doubt. Can you change that? Absolutely. But let’s be real here. If you do something for 35 years, it’s gonna take more than 5 or 6 weeks to change that fiber type all the way back. I mean, that’s a real problem. So, I don’t know what that means, but I generally also say the data we do have from endurance athletes suggest that having fast twitch fibers is actually beneficial. I’ve not seen any papers that showed adding power or strength training for endurance athlete actually makes it worse. In fact, most of the paper suggests it improves endurance performance. So, I would say, you know, for any of the endurance folks, the endurance stuff is good. But even for health or performance perspective, it’s important that you add some power training, some strength training in, if not for your own race performance, but also for the fiber type maintenance as well as the preservation of strength and muscle mass. These are really important things.
Tommy: Fantastic. That’s exactly the answer I wanted you to give. Thanks.
Tommy: One quick question.
I heard you talking about that same study on Joe Rogan, which is one of the reasons I reached out to you. So, I’ve listened to you speaking on the Barbell Shrugged podcast years ago when I was back doing Crossfit and sort of getting into all this stuff and then you came back up with your book, which we’ll talk about, and then on the Joe Rogan podcast. But one thing that you mentioned was the muscle quality. So, in this guy who’d been running for 35 years, he had a high level of intramuscular triglycerides. So, he basically had a lot of fat in his muscle I think is what you were saying. And my question was if you were an endurance athlete, is that a potentially beneficial adaption because you’re gonna be running more on fatty acids when you were doing your exercise and then if you have them nearer to the muscle tissue doing the work, then it’s almost like the fat version of a glycogen storage or is it truly just that all those years of running, information associated with that has resulted in poor quality and that fat doesn’t really have any use? Do you have any thoughts on that?
Andy: So, that’s a very good question. I’m gonna have to defer to somebody who maybe has an expertise in IMTGs, so those intramuscular triglycerides, because if you look at what we’re taught in the undergraduate exercises book, I would agree with your conclusion there. I mean, logically it makes sense having more fat in the muscle itself is gonna [0:11:17][Inaudible] And sadly, it looks like endurance athletes do have more IMTGs in the muscle. But if you look at the data on it, it’s ultra-confusing. So, for whatever reason, IMTGs are just really tough buggers to get a grip on and no one seems to really agree on exactly what’s going on with them. There’s another concept called marbling, which is generally thought to be not good. This is the same marbling that you actually look for in a good piece of meat and you’re buying it like at the grocery store. Well, obviously, not good for a human. You know, the point I’m saying is like I’m not exactly sure the whole muscle quality thing is something that is difficult for people to really agree upon and I’m not a world renown expert in that specific area. And I’m quite sure when I submit this that if somebody is that and they happen to be in my review, I’ gonna get kind of grilled on that. So, I have to be calm, but we treaded on that just very lightly. It’s just like “Hey, we measured it. We had the industry standard for muscle quality. You know, we’re not making too many amazing conclusions about it.” And the rest of the data lined up with it. So, it seems to be here. But yeah, I mean, it’s a very valid point. As far as I know, having more triglycerides in the muscle seems to be good for athletes, but bad for aging and bad for health. So, it’s a kin to having a lot of blood volume actually. I remember going through physiology class in med school. We did one of our semester— I have a PhD, not an MD like your or— Well, not both like you. Geez. Showing me up here.
Andy: But we went through one semester of med school and we went through that and I remember just being so confused the first couple of weeks because we went through things like, you know, “Hey, what happens within a large left ventricular artery or left ventricle of the heart?” And my mind is like “Oh, this is great. Must be super athlete.” And all the people in class were like “Oh, he’s gonna die. Enlarged heart.” “What?” And they’re like “You have a patient with 6.5 L of blood.” I’m like “Oh sweet. Super athlete.” They’re like “No, heart attack.” “What?” So, obviously, it’s the same thing like we just don’t really have a grasp on IMTGs that well. It seems to be good for athletes, but bad for aging maybe.
Tommy: And maybe potentially an adaption that is useful while you’re an athlete. But then when you give up your marathons at the age of 65 and then just start sitting around, then it may become not adaptive potentially.
Andy: Yeah. Maybe. You know, here’s the thing that I always say is I’ve never in my life and I still haven’t been convinced that any exercise-induced adaption is bad for your health. Now, that is to say like that doesn’t mean all exercise is good. We know that if you’re running 100 miles a week for your life, that’s maybe at some point gonna be deleterious to joint health and things like that. But any exercise-induced adaption I have just not found any evidence to suggest that’s actually bad for your health. And any time that’s happened, it takes a few years and then the data comes out. Oh, actually, no, it’s not that bad for you. So, I think the way that— The second of that sentence you said the important part is if you just do that and sit around, I think that’s going to be a problem not because of what the adaption you cause, but just simply because you’re now sitting around and being sedentary. I don’t think that, you know, being an endurance athlete for 30 years is gonna be bad for you as soon as you stop exercising relative to somebody who didn’t exercise for those 30 years. I think the exercise is gonna be in a far better place.
Tommy: Of course. And just going quickly back while we’re talking about PhDs. Mine is in the brains of babies. So, when we’re talking about this stuff, you’re definitely the more qualified person. So, one thing that I really wanted to talk to you about, which was really interesting that came— again came up on the Joe Rogan podcast, you’re talking about UFC fighters ‘cause obviously that’s something that you and him have in common in terms of interest.
You’re talking about the specificity of training. And I think, you know, he was asking about whether you like a VersaClimber versus an Airdyne versus something else in terms of like aerobic or piece of equipment. And you said something like worrying about that isn’t really the point and the stress of worrying about it doesn’t really— You know, it’s probably not worth it. So, I was wondering if you could maybe talk about that kind of specificity like the approach of trying to achieve something in a given session, but how you achieve that maybe being less important.
Andy: Yeah. That’s something that, you know, I preach a lot where I think it’s really important for an athlete and coaches even, you know, just exercising people to step back and have a little bit of a plan. And you know, this rings true I think in multiple areas of our lives and this is one good example, but I don’t necessarily believe in prescribing the exact details all the time all the way down to specific exercise choice. What I try to prescribe more importantly is the outcome you’re trying to get. So, in other words, like what is today? Is today a speed day? Is today a repeated interval day? Is today a heavy repeated interval day? Is today a maximal strength day? Is it a maintaining of power over time day? Like what is today’s goal? And once you identify that outcome for the day, then it’s very easy to select the exercise in which you choose to get that. I said, “Okay. Today’s goal is we’re gonna work on your ability to get to a maximum heart, recover as quickly as possible, and then get back up to a heart rate and the focus is on just trying to improve your heart rate recovery. And I want those intervals to be no more than 2 minutes long. So, I don’t want you going for 45 minutes. So, 2 minutes to get your heart rate up as high as you can and then focus on getting it back down and then let’s repeat that for as many sessions as we can until you do those exercise techniques or whatever.”
Andy: Okay. Now, I have a clear outcome goal. I don’t necessarily care if it takes you 3 sets, or 4 sets, or 7 sets, or whether you push the sled that had weights on it, VersaClimber, Airdyne, you did sprints or burpees. It doesn’t really matter because while those are not irrelevant, they are relevant, but those are second order considerations. The primary consideration is what are you trying to get out of the exercise session today. After you’ve identified that, then we go on and think about “Okay. Well, let’s see. You did a bunch of running yesterday. And the day before that, you did a bunch of squatting and deadlifting. So, maybe today we need to do an exercise choice that takes a little bit off the legs because maybe they’re getting hammered. So now, we’ll pick something that’s more equally split between body parts and not a leg only exercise like we’re not gonna go do more running.” But those are secondary consideration. So yes, you do pay attention and there is extreme thought that should go into the exercise choice itself, but the outcome of the session should be of primary order and that should help to determine the exercise choice.
Tommy: Okay. And where that leads me is a question on the specificity of a given session. And I’ll give you an example, which is when we work with people, we often take them— Obviously, depending on their previous history and their current health, and goals, and all that kind of stuff— but we often take them from more of a traditional type endurance approach and move them towards more of a polarized training model. So, lots of lower intensity aerobic and then some higher intensity stuff, which often works very well in people who have that training history background. But some people would say— So, say you’re an Ironman distance triathlete and you’re training for future Ironman. Some people would still say that you need to spend time doing long interval sessions around threshold. So, where you’re really pushing hard for 45 minutes to an hour either on a run or bike or you do intervals of 20 minutes and you do multiples of those, you know, so you’re accumulating over an hour of sort of higher intensity work. And my question has always been whether that matters because the muscle doesn’t know what session you’ve done. It only knows the metabolic stress that you put it under. It only knows the adaptations that you ask for. So, can you achieve the same thing by doing much shorter periods of higher intensity? Then you get the same adaptation. And this makes me think of Brian MacKenzie who you have worked with a lot especially recently on your book. And he previously did Crossfit endurance, which had that kind of idea, didn’t it, that you could do these endurance events. But in training, you could spend shorter periods of time doing higher intensity stuff and get the same adaptation. So, is that possible? Does it depend on the person? You’re probably gonna say it depends, which is fine. But you know, can you achieve the same adaptation with those shorter higher intensity sessions?
Andy: Well, so what I would say is, first of all, you know, whatever Brian MacKenzie says, I’m against no matter what.
No. So, here’s what I’ll say ‘cause you know the answer. So, instead of saying that again, I’ll give you maybe 2 examples. It depends, again, on what’s the adaptation you’re trying to get. Are you trying to simply get a muscular adaptation? That’s different than trying to induce a cardiovascular adaptation. That’s different than trying to induce a neurological adaptation. And that’s different from maybe even a psychological adaption or psychological challenge. And that’s also different than what we’ll just simply call like a bone adaptation. So, for example, if you took somebody who said “okay, you know, I used to run cross-country in high school, I’m 32 years old now, I haven’t ran in 10 years, and I wanna do a marathon” and if you put them through that type of training you’re describing and they never run more than 5 miles say, they’re not going to have the stamina in their feet, in their ankles to probably be able to run for 26 straight miles. They’re gonna get to mile 10, 12, 15 and their feet are gonna be bruised, and smashed, and broken to bits. Probably. And so, I would say muscularly they might be fine. They might have plenty of energy, but they don’t have the body conditioning or whatever you wanna call it in that particular case. And so, in that person, I would say, “Well, you need to do those things to get them fit enough.” And I would agree with Brian’s approach. That’s going to improve their fitness on a much faster and more sustainable rate than the traditional approaches of running 5 miles this week and 7 miles next week then 8 miles next week. You know, like that’s silliness.
Andy: You would not necessarily be ready to handle the pounding that it might take. Similar thing would be if you wanted to do a 100-mile bike ride or something. If you’re not used to sitting in that position like your body is gonna get really sore after 3 hours and you’re not gonna be able to handle that. So, we have to be clear about what we’re talking about, what type of adaptation are we needing to get. And sometimes you do need to have the adaptation of being I need to be able to sit my butt in that hard seat for 3 straight hours. That’s the primary thing that I need to get. And there is some error I think to that. Now, that doesn’t mean we go entirely away from Brian’s method. I think we stay with Brian’s method. In fact, his actual method is start with the 5K then go to the next one and go to half and work your way up over like a year. But since people don’t do that, I would say if you’re gonna go from big jump, then, yes, that’s the more metabolic and muscular and probably cardiovascularly efficient approach, but we do need to condition the body for the demand at least a little bit especially if you’re taking somebody who doesn’t have that— like you mentioned, that long background in the sport. If they do, if their technique is very sustainable over time, so the other key is if you’re implementing those drills like the specific interval you mentioned, you’ve gotta make sure you’re doing that, but you’re having a coach there making sure that you don’t all of a sudden get a couple of intervals in and then your foot strike pattern changes. That’s the key to those things. So, those things have to be sustained over time so that when you go to move in the race, you’re actually absorbing the right positions and you’re not getting those broken toes or ripped off toenails or whatever happens to be.
Tommy: So then one of the main things with those sort of longer sessions being that you have the skillset to maintain correct position. So, you’re not just going out and crushing yourself. You’re still mindful of how you’re moving throughout that entire period.
Andy: Yeah. Exactly. And then, you know, again, getting used to doing things. And we’ve achieved those in some of the athletes I’ve worked with ‘cause I’ve worked with a little bit— Actually, I shouldn’t even say worked with. I’ve consulted a tiny bit with this girl who won— or she didn’t win— she placed I think second in Badwater. Second or third. She was like 21 years old. 7th overall or something like that. And she originally did those traditional approaches and I convinced her to do basically Brian MacKenzie’s method and she just started crushing it. And she was like I feel so much better and I’m not just like getting hammered in training. But she had those long backgrounds of being able to handle it and she had done halfs and did marathons and eventually did 50Ks and stuff. And so, I was confident that she can just walk out and finish 50 miles. She’s gonna handle it. So, we don’t need to work on that with her. But somebody who’s never done something like that, you’re gonna have to work on that body conditioning a little bit.
Tommy: Okay. Makes perfect sense. Speaking of Brian MacKenzie, you recently coauthored a book with him called Unplugged: Evolve from Technology to Upgrade Your Fitness, Performance, & Consciousness, which sounds like something that we’re very much in favor of. And so, I guess the major theme of the book is some of the pitfalls of modern technology, and tracking, and all those things. So, maybe we could switch a little bit and talk about what you see as some of the downsides of data and tracking and how we’re maybe using that incorrectly or to our detriment in our health, and fitness, and performance.
Andy: Yeah. I mean, we’re not anti-technology. We’re a proponent of it. It’s good. Any time you try to fight technology, you lose.
I know you’re gonna have your trackers, and your GPS, and your heart rate monitors. I mean, I can’t be [0:25:04][Inaudible] I just— Before we got on the phone here this morning, I was down in the lab. I had a couple of VO2 max test to run and things like that. So, I’m gonna continue to use technology as you should, but what we wanna be careful or help people recognize is a couple of things. Number 1, some of this technology is not nearly as smart as you think. And while it might be excellent technology, it doesn’t necessarily have good training advice. We just want people to be in a point where let’s make sure we’re not over interpreting the data that we’re getting from any of these tracking technologies because they can be useful, but a lot of people— Brian particularly found— were misusing them. And what they’re doing is outsourcing their own intelligence and their own physiology to some arbitrary algorithm that some dude who’s running in Silicon Valley who has never exercised in his life is writing. And that’s a reality. I’ve worked for a lot of these companies and that’s exactly what’s happening there. Team of super smart software engineers from MIT and they don’t have a clue what running is. They don’t have any idea what a heart rate max is, but they write these incredible algorithms and develop really cool technologies. And then you determine all of your training based on that. And it's pretty crazy and it’s pretty silly. So, we just wanna make people remember like “Hey, let's make sure we're thinking about this and we're looking at our heart rate.” And the classic example I can give you is— I mean, the reason the book came about was Brian MacKenzie was working with— I think he was a runner. And they're out going for a run. The guy was looking at his watch and Brian was trying to get him to focus on some drill or something. He taught him some technique thing and like every 2 seconds he’s looking at his watch. And Brian is like “What the hell are you so worried about your watch for?” And he's like “Well, you know, like my heart rates are 165. And if I go over 167, I blow up.” And he's like “What the hell are you talking about?” He’s like “We're talking right now. We're having a conversation. If you go up 2 beats per minute, you're not gonna blow up.” And he’s like “Yeah, but the watch says—” He’s just like “God dammit.” So like then he just blew up and he’s like “Man, people have to understand that even these big companies, these billion-dollar heart rate monitor companies, if you look at the data on them, half the studies show that they're really good and half the studies show that they are not accurate particularly at high heart rates.” So, #1, you just have accuracy problems like these things are not necessarily accurate even the big, big huge companies. And #2, and more importantly though, like let’s just given ‘em— Let's say they are totally accurate. The context of what you do with that information as a coach though, that actually takes someone thinking through. That takes a human mind. Think about it because the technology doesn't understand “Hey, your heart rate was a little high today.” Well, maybe that's because it was a little bit hotter today, or there was a wind in my face today, or I took a different trail, or I wasn't trying to optimize heart rate today. I was just out chatting with a friend, or had a lot on my mind, or I was sick today and I don't—” The watch never understands any context like that. And so, if you're basing all your training on whatever the technology tell you, it's gonna be foolish. So, those are some of the main reasons why we wrote the book.
Tommy: And that makes obviously a huge amount of sense when you put it like that. And one thing that we encourage a lot is becoming mindful about your training and that involves like how you feel when you're out there, how you feel in response to the other things that are going on in your life. But equally, there are a lot of people who feel like they need the data or they want the data. So, do you have a useful way to kind of find the line between useful data, maybe being mindful of your training, but also avoiding the kind of— the potential downside of stressing about all these data like you wake up in my morning and your heart rate variability is low. You’re like “Oh my God, why is my heart rate variability low? What did I do? What did I eat?” Or if you wake up and something tells you that your sleep quality was bad and you’re like stressing about why your sleep quality is bad or you’re stressed during the night because you’re not sleeping and then you’re gonna wake up in the morning. The thing that tells you that you— Your sleep quality is gonna tell you that your sleep quality was bad. So, how do you balance all those things?
Andy: Yeah. The mind is a fickle thing. I mean, again, you could speak directly to this. I know you’re not a psychologist, but, you know, psychosomatic is real, right? Like you just said, you can wake up feeling great and all of a sudden “Oh my God, I guess I got crappy sleep last night.” Like what? And all of a sudden you’re like “Well, I'm tired today and I am— I did forget that word.” You’re like “What? No. Like you’re fine.” So, #1, yes, that would be a major concern, is a false sense of feeling and again outsourcing our own feeling. Now, the other thing is I think it can disempower people to where it says, “Okay. You know what? I guess my HRV says I'm gonna tank today. Oh, I am. I guess I'm gonna have a crappy day.” Like no. Like you choose that. You get to change. Yes, your heart rate says your crappy today or whatever your metric is. But what makes you think you don't have the power to change that? You are in complete control.
I mean, we have seen clearly now even the autonomic nervous system can be directly influenced and altered by your cognition. Like you can physically change how even the subconscious works. So, something like your resting heart rate can be altered. Maybe you go do a cold shower, maybe some meditation, maybe some breathing drills. Maybe you go for workout. Maybe you just cognitively—If you're this type of person, you go “You know what? I’ll suck it up today and I'm gonna deliver. I'm gonna crush today. I don't care what it says.” Like all these things can change and we've seen this. It changes heart rate variability within minutes and all of a sudden your score is great. You’re like “Woah. I woke up. The HRV said I was on the tanks, but then I did this cold shower, I did a 5-minute stretch and had warm-up and all of a sudden my heart rate variability says I’m in a green zone.” Like what makes you think you can’t change these things? So, I mean those are the things were saying like we can't outsource our entire intelligence to these devices because they don't understand— like they're very fickle and we have a lot more power over those things and they're only just little gadgets. So, the first part of your question though like what advice would I give to somebody who wants something like this. Well, in the end of the book, Tim Ferriss, a guy most people have heard of by now, you know, he's a colleague of Brian and I. And he kind of got wind of the book and he volunteered to be a part of it. At the end of book, he wrote I think his top 8 recommendations for if you're gonna collect data here's how to do it. And so, I'm not gonna give you all eight, but I'll give you one or two.
Andy: So, I think one of the more enchanting pieces or insightful pieces I can say of advice he said was collects the minimal amount of data possible. So, most people do the exact opposite, which is collect everything. And he said, I think, specifically like the biggest training mistakes he's made or the most wrong conclusions he's ever come to is when he over collected data.
Andy: So, if you have a hypothesis, “hey, I think this is going on, I'm concerned about this”, go collect those specific data. Then maybe it's true. Maybe it's not true, but you have a problem. But if you just collect data for the sake of data collection, you're gonna see stuff that isn't necessarily there and that leads you down a whole bunch of rabbit holes and you're gonna end up just circling yourself along for infinity because that will never change. So, that was a really, I think, important piece of information and I'll give you another one which was when you make that decision, you use the least amount of technology possible, not the most. So, don't use any less than you need. So, don't under use it, but identify what you need and use the least amount of technology possible to get that information, not the most.
Tommy: I think that makes perfect sense and it’s also that's the cheapest approach, is what that’s gonna give you the most for what you invest.
Andy: You can spend in this realm if you want to.
Tommy: Oh, definitely, which kind of brings me on to something that I've been increasingly interested in, which is the use of tracking subjective measures, so how a person feels and all these other things about the quality of life. And we do a lot of that and we've actually— Chris has built some machine learning algorithms that can basically predict some of what we’d see on biochemical test based purely on how you rate your sleep, and your sex life, and your digestion. All this kind of stuff. So, we know that the subjective stuff can— Like you said, it can directly affect physiology, but can also predict physiology. So, I was wondering if you had—And there are some papers that have compared said questionnaires on quality of life in athletes to things like heart rate variability, or heart rate, or black tape in terms of training stress and risk of overtraining. And actually, the subjective measures, the questionnaire seem to do better. So, it's not something that you've looked out that you know about, that you use in some of your athletes.
Andy: I would actually say the best piece of evidence I've seen for this is from a guy named Shawn Arent. And Shawn is the new president of the International Society of Sports Nutrition and just won the National Strength Conditioning Association’s Scientist of the Year award. He's out of Rutgers. And he does a lot of this stuff, but he draws blood and takes physiological markers, uses GPS trackers on a lot of the sports team inside Rutgers, which is a division on the university. I believe I think he also noticed was the biochemical markers showed up a little bit sooner.
Andy: So, I think this is a fantastic like use of technology. This is exactly what we're supposed to use. Let’s not turn a blind eye and just assume “Hey, you can ask questions about how you felt and that's all of a sudden better any [0:34:28][Inaudible] ever.” Like that's pretty silly. But I think this is now a good marriage of saying like if you have access to blood markers or something, perhaps those will start showing up. Not a couple of days later all of a sudden. Hey, by the way, I'm in a crappy mood. Interesting. 3 days later, you're hurt. Oh okay, like now we're starting to get information. So, I think we to just keep waiting a little bit and let people like John keep doing these amazing studies and giving us more information. But what I would counter with would be it depends on the person. So, I know some people who you can simply ask, “Hey, how you feeling today? What’s your energy levels?” Etcetera. Etcetera.
And I think you could base their entire training program for their entire life often with those questionnaires. Some of the athletes I worked with I know I can. In fact, that's all I do anymore. But there's actually a lot of professional athletes I’ve worked with where that would be the worst metric you've ever used in your life because they're professional UFC fighters and every single day when asked them how are you feel today, good, feeling great, but Thursday not feeling good. Oh okay. Like that’s the answer you get every single time. They’re gonna lie to me. They’re gonna lie to themselves. And they have more ability issues and stuff. And that the same athlete when I say like “okay, how are feeling”, “great.” “You know, how’s your sleep?” “Oh, fantastic.” “Your legs feeling heavy?” “No.” “How’s your elbow feeling?” “Oh, it’s really good.” “Oh really? Okay. Well, I noticed that you didn't do this drill.” “Oh yeah, ‘cause my knee is killing me.” “Oh, interesting.” “How come your numbers are down?” “Oh yeah, ‘cause I’m sore as hell.” “Oh, weird. You didn’t answer that 5 seconds ago when I asked you how your legs are.” “Oh yeah. I guess they’re a little tight today.” Jesus. And so, people can lie. People can gamify the system up or down. So, those that wanna take a day off will tell you “oh, I’m super tired today” or the opposite can happen. So, we have to be careful of just being like “Oh, I don't use any technology ever. All you need to do is ask these questionnaires. That's the only answer.” We have to understand something very, very different. And so, what we would say in the book is like I wanna encourage you to use every option possible, but make sure you're being selective and, like you said earlier, mindful of when you're using, and what you're using, how you're using it. That's the only comment I really wanna make with the book and even here today is just be mindful and think through like, well, maybe this is right, maybe it's not right and let's see what it looks like.
Tommy: Yeah. I mean, absolutely. And the use all these different things are mutually exclusive, right, because you use some subjective stuff. It doesn't mean that you can't use the technology at the same time and, you know, maybe you talked about that UFC athlete. And if you started to have them become more mindful and he wasn't sort of just willing to push through maybe, all of a sudden the wheels come off because you completely changed the way he approached this sport and then he no longer performs at the level that he does. So, you have to sort of tailor that to the individual as well. Right?
Andy: Those are two really good points actually. We’re just saying that going further than the last one, which is— You know, ideally, I get him to a place of understanding why it's important that he breaks down that veil of vulnerability a little bit. Okay. So, in this case, hey, this is why when I give you this questionnaire it’s important that you fill them out truthfully. And if you explain that process to him and you can maybe use the technology and go “okay, so you gave me a 10 out of 10 on your mood and energy today, but your heart rate at rest is 90 today and it's normally 38”, “oh yeah, I guess I’m tired.” So, one thing could be happening probably not with professional athletes, but with nonprofessional athletes ‘cause a lot of times people are so desensitized and so unaware of their own body. And so, they might be feeling like a 10 out of 10 and they don't even realize you're actually really tired today or you’re crappy today, but they don't realize it because they’ve never actually spent time trying to understand and pay attention to how they feel and that's a really big point that we try to make in the book, is “okay, maybe this is a person who was actually helpful first.” We’re gonna have you wear this monitor at night and we're gonna look at your heart rate variability. And I want you to pay attention to what the score is in the morning, what the score is in the night or whatever and see if you start to notice any signs or symptoms these days, words “poor” or words “good”, and can you start to get calibrated a little bit to what a bad day feels like? Now, again, like it's a bit of, you know, fine line there between those dates and actually feeling them, but this is a person who may need to spend some time with some technology to get more sensitivity or awareness of what they're actually feeling. So, again, you know, like there’s unlimited options for these things. We’re not for or against them. Let’s be mindful and think through them.
Tommy: So then the next thing that I wanted to talk about was some of the other things that you talked about in the book, which— Sort of putting your body under stresses to improve health, right, so the idea of hormetic stress be that fasting, or cold, or dehydration and how you can use that to improve health, but also potentially improve performance. So, how do you recommend or think the people can sort of introduce some of these things? How does it benefit just like the average person? How will you maybe use it in a professional athlete which has a lot of other stuff going on? Do you have any thoughts on how people start to introduce some of these things?
Andy: Excellent segue by the way.
Andy: Not bad. No. I mean, this is exactly what we’re gonna talk about. I think the most impactful way that we can help people start to feel their own physiology is not actually the heart rate monitors and stuff, but things like. So, I mean, you mentioned hormetic stress. If you’re not familiar with that term, what you're basically getting at is the idea that some things are toxic at very high levels, but they're actually helpful at low levels. Right? So, you think of fasting that way. So, a 24-hour fast is actually I think—
Well, it's pretty clearly beneficial for people, but a 35-day fast would be deadly. Right? So, this is hormesis at its finest, right? And I would love to say that I came up with this concept, but clearly there's a scientific word for the idea so like it’s been around for a long time. I did not invent this idea, right? This is basic chemistry. Yeah. We would say that this is a great way to— There are physical adaptations to cold, or hot, or thirst, or fatigue. And they’re numerous and wide ranging. Certainly, we’re gonna discuss some. But I think it’s for the surface level kind of drawing back what we just talked about. It is good that she gave you a nice way to start to identify what things feel like. And some examples that come to mind— Just to mention, my friend, Mike Bledsoe, who is the creator and host of Barbell Shrugged, I remember maybe a few years ago he was playing with some fasting. I think he was just doing a 24-hour fast and what he realized was he was using coffee as an excuse to get out of work. He said that. I was like “What do you mean?” He was so introspective about this that he said, “You know, like what I noticed was, you know, I have bought into the dogma that coffee is good for you, etc., and fat in your coffee and how much it goes to your brain and improves and all this stuff.” And so, which may or may not be true. It doesn’t matter, right? Well, he’s like “What happened was I got so excited about it and that felt so good and I liked it. I was, you know, making just coffee, coffee, coffee and doing this all the time. And I got the point where I was like any time I had to do an important work task, I’m like, well, okay, I gotta go make my coffee. I gotta put my fat in it obviously.” Well it didn't take long for him to be basically relying upon that coffee cocktail for him to get any important work done. Well, the next step was he was like he could not get important work done without that. And if it was gone, or they were out of coffee, or he couldn’t get to it if he’s in the road, he was like “oh my god” like he was flustered and he couldn’t get work done. Well then, what he did is when he started doing this fasting, what he realizes, not only was I doing that, but anytime I had like a semi-decent difficult thing to do, I would be like, oh, I gotta go make some coffee. And he said he realized that he was using this coffee, this physical 15 minutes or whatever it took to make him French press to get out of doing real work. And he it was subconscious and he wasn't like doing it, you know, on purpose, but he realizes. He’s like “man”, but it took him to do some fasting because he realizes like he started to do some work and then he’d be like “Oh, I gotta make coffee.” And they’d be like “What the hell.” And then he started doing something else. Oh, I got to make coffee. He’s like I had just developed this habit of start working hard on something difficult, go make coffee. And he’s like I didn't need the coffee to do the work, but it took him to that fasting to start to realize that I'm using coffee as a crutch.
Andy: And so now, he has a much better relationship with coffee I will say and he has also a much better relationship with work. It’s interesting for him to say, “Well, I know I have this— I start to do something difficult or have a tough choice to make like I need to actually just be in the moment and concentrate and get it done rather than looking for the next distraction, or nootropic, or water, or whatever it is that I find myself being distracted by.” So, it improved his productivity and he still drinks coffee and he goes back to it. It’s not that coffee is bad for you, but he needed to be more mindful of what he was doing. So, I think that's a very good example of the only way he would have ever found that out is by doing some fasting or other things. So, all these physical stressors can be beneficial in a lot of ways. That’d be one example of the many, many examples.
Tommy: So then, I think this again comes back to something that I've heard you say about when you’re optimizing something, you're not adapting. And so, when you come to an athlete trying to optimize themselves— I know you don’t like that word, but you said it. So, I’m gonna use it. When they’re optimizing, say, for performance, then bringing in other things that they have to adapt to is maybe going to be detrimental because it just adds to the total stress load, their homeostatic load. But potentially, you can use some of these things outside of that particular time in their training cycle so that then when they next come to try and optimize, maybe they're in a better position to do that. You know, they’re physiologically stronger. They've made some adaptations that then make them a better athlete. So, can you talk about how you implement some of those things?
Andy: Yeah. So, you know, I came upon this idea of, well, I’ve been thinking about it for years now and a guy named Cal Dietz, who is the head strength and conditioning coach at the University of Minnesota— He said it this way and it was really that conversation I had with him about years ago that I was like “oh okay” and like a light bulb went up and he put it that way. Optimizing risks and adapting. And then I heard— I was with Michael Phelps’ longtime swim coach. Bob Bowman I think is his name. And he talked about spending the last, I think, 8 weeks before Rio training at elevation. And if you know anything about training at elevation like all the “science” says like you don't train at elevation. You live high at elevation, but you train low. And here he is, the best athlete, and the best coaching staff like training high and living high.
You know, 5 years ago, I would have thought like he's such an idiot. He doesn’t know science. Oh my God… But I've learned a new maturity in the last 3 years and I thought like, okay, maybe he knows something I don't know. What could that possibly be” And of course, talking to him and on his coaching staff was Ben Levine who’s done the vast majority of this altitude research and then I started thinking “Well, wait a minute. If they guy who's publishing the research that says live high, train low is on his team, but yet they're still training high and living high, okay ,clearly he knows the research like he is the guy. So, obviously, I'm missing something.” And that was a very good lesson to me of saying like “Well, let's maybe try to be a learner, not a knower here.” And so, I started thinking like why would he possibly be using it. And of course, I dug down a little bit deeper with him and what he was saying was basically “Yeah, we know that it's not optimal for performance.” So, if you go live in elevation for 8 weeks and train at elevation and you come back down, your VO2 max is not gonna be any higher and it might be lower. That's not really necessarily argumentative. That the data shows. The difference though is interpreting what does that data mean. Most people, myself included, thought “Okay. Therefore, it means altitude training not only doesn't work, but it might be bad for you.” And they had the vision to think that's not what the data says. The data actually says if you're trying to maximize performance right now, then maybe that's true, but he wasn't trying to maximize his performance at that time. He was trying to optimize his adaptation, which is to challenge and improve red blood cell count, improve blood volume, things like that, which we know happens at elevation. Then he comes back down and spends the last 4 weeks or something before the actual games at elevation. His performance then goes way up. And that's when I was like that— Okay. See now, like now we're using science and we're not over interpreting studies and they had the intelligence to not just read the title of the paper and think like that's how it works.
Tommy: Read the abstract.
Andy: Yeah. Like they actually were mindful about what's that data say and let’s not over interpret it. And so, the data says, “Hey, it’s good for improving red blood cell count, and blood volume, and hematocrit, and things like that. It’s not good for performance.” Okay. So, let’s use it to induce adaptation and then let’s come back. Let’s recover from that. Spend some time improving performance and now we’re good. So, the same thing I think can be said with going through bouts of low carbohydrate diet for an endurance athlete. I mean, all the data for the most part says this is not a good thing for performance, but maybe there's some adaptations that can occur. The difficult part about this is you're gonna have to swallow the ego and realize, yes, your numbers might down for a few workouts. But that's not what you're there for like you’re not in practice to break world records. You’re in practice to get better so that when you go perform your breaking world records. So, that's really been the difference optimizing at all times versus spending some time adapting.
Tommy: So, I guess taking some time to focus on some of the things that may be beneficial, but you're not gonna see the gains for some time in the future.
Andy: Let me finish the Cal Dietz example and I think this will help too. So, we were asking Cal about if he uses heart rate variability. And he said yeah. And so, what he says obviously, it’s like “Look, but I think about this in context.” Now, Cal, again, is a strength conditioning coach. So, this is something extremely well-vetted, and studied, and talked about in the strength and conditioning community, which is this extremely complex program designer privatization strategies. And so, he took his understanding of privatization and said, “Look, I've got different mesocycles. I’ve got different blocks. And I’ve got different phases of my year. Now, I don’t wanna be too mean. But in general, endurance athletes don't do this.” Right? Certainly far less than strength and conditioning folks. And so, Cal said, “Look, do I use HRV? Yes. But if I'm in a block of my training that says— maybe 16 weeks out from the beginning of football season and I'm in a 4-week block where I'm trying to improve their conditioning, whatever, if they wake up and their heart rate variability sucks, good. I'm not taking a day off like were going harder that day like we're going again.” The whole point is to overshoot to induce adaptation, right, to make you work harder. Now, that exact same score at a different block or say they're trying to peak strength that block or they're trying to recover because they’re 4 weeks out before the season comes in 4 weeks. If you see same HRV score during that phase, well now, he’s gonna have a totally different reaction, which is “Okay. Now, we're paid. We’re backing off today because we're trying to focus on recovery for this 4-week block or whatever you say.” And so, I think that’s a very good example of using it in context, understanding, like we talked about earlier, what's the point of today's workout, what's the point of this week, this month, this mesocycle, or are we setting up a straining. If you don't have that stuff figured out, then how the hell did you ever know what to do you’re your heart rate variability says you're tanks today.
Or if it says you’re good today and you're supposed to be in an overtraining phase, then like you better add more volume. You better get going harder because you're not really challenging yet. So, I think those are very good examples of utilization of understanding this idea of are you adapting or are peaking.
Tommy: I guess also coming to the idea of a measure you take is only as useful as how frequently you take it and how much you understand it, right? So, you just take a single snapshot of it, but it doesn’t really tell you anything about all of those different cycles that you just mentioned in what way you are within those.
Tommy: So, taking some time to kind of understand exactly where that fits in your own physiology and your training cycle.
Andy: Yeah. And realizing like just because you have a heart rate monitor variability or a high blood glucose reading after one time of eating 1 meal or something, that doesn't mean we threw the whole thing out.
Andy: And this is all interesting. And now, let's do it again. Like my friend, Robb Wolf, just came out with a really interesting book where he used to say like basically try eating much different meals and taking your blood glucose and seeing which one your blood glucose was higher. And I think that's fantastic. Actually, I used similar example on our book. Well, we can do this one time. So, it's just like you eat an apple one time and you get a bump in your blood glucose like don’t throw apples out the rest of your life. Well, okay, see what happens again. Make a note of it. Next time you eat an apple, make a note of it. And if you keep seeing it 3, 4, 5 times in a row, okay, now you say, “All right. Now, we gotta—” Maybe you have to cook the apple differently or you have to eat it with a combination of a different food differently and see how that processes. But we don't necessarily throw things out or throw things in at all times because of one measure.
Tommy: Yeah. I mean, we know Robb pretty well. Big fans of his 7 Day Carb Test and Wired to Eat. Big fans of his work. And we use that a lot actually with our clients—
Andy: Yeah. He’s great.
Tommy: …to understand, but then it all comes back— Just like you said, it comes back to mindfulness, is understanding the context of when you eat that apple and maybe there are lots of other things going on that of course the problem was that one particular time and the rest of the time is not an issue. So, coming back to being very cognizant of the context that you’re in is really what it sort of tends to boil down to. Is that what you were saying?
Andy: Yeah. You know, I had this weird thing happen like 3 years ago, maybe 4 years ago. My wife like all of a sudden started getting shooting pains in her stomach and she had like no idea what was going on and all of sudden it got really, really bad. And she realized like whatever we were eating for breakfast. And that time, it was eggs with spinach, and mushrooms, and peppers, and onions. It’s all in there. Like can't keep doing that. So, she just switched entirely and went to oatmeal, which is not something we generally eat, but she’s getting all these pains and then it went away. Went back to the eggs, boom, immediately got the pain. And so, she’s like “I think after 27 years or whatever I've developed a food allergy or something to eggs.” And so, she went off eggs for basically 2 years or something like that and then she peppered it back in like she’d have half an egg once a month or something. All right. No pain. No twinges. Well, it took a while to figure it out, but it actually wasn't the eggs. She has this really weird combination. If she eats bell peppers, onions, and eggs together in the morning, for whatever reason, that's just terrible pain for her. And so, we just like “Okay. We just don't add bell peppers in the morning to her.” Like she’s fine. So, she eats eggs, eats the mushrooms, the spinach, or whatever else we put into it, asparagus, and broccoli. No problem. For some reason, she has this really weird effect of things. And so, we didn't throw the entire thing out and say, “I’m never eating eggs again or ever eating this.” We, you know, pulled things out one at a time and started to try to identify what’s going on here. We found out what her problem is and then we got a blood testing done, blood work done. Weren't able to figure out via the blood work, or the allergy testing, or any of that stuff, but we were able to figure out like what this weird combination is and waited a few years. And now, she's actually fine eating that combination. So, the other part of it is like you have to also realize that your physiology changes.
Andy: So, just because it is this way now, it doesn’t mean you can’t ever improve. So, well, you’re super sensitive to apple right now. Well, maybe after some dietary changes you won't be anymore. Maybe you have a problem in your physiology of handling the sugar thing, but you can change that. That can be improved. You know, these things don’t define you. They just may help you be aware of something you need to work on. And you may not necessarily know what it is, but let’s never throw things outside this way. This is how I operate. Well, maybe, but maybe that’s how you operate because that’s how you operate.
Tommy: I think that’s a pretty good message to sort of wrap things up. I know you’ve got probably some more undergrads to torture in your lab. So, maybe you can tell us where people can find your find, find you, find your work, things that you’d like people to sort of go out and read or listen to so they can find out more about what you’re doing.
Andy: Yeah. So, you can check out the book, Unplugged. It’s up on Amazon, in Barnes & Noble. You know, all that stuff. It should be easy to find. I think you mentioned the title earlier and I’m sure you can link to it and all that stuff.
Tommy: Yeah. We’ll link to everything you mentioned, all the people, and as much of the research that we can. Yeah.
Andy: So, you can find me on social media, Andy Galpin. I think the handle is @Dr like Dr. Andy Galpin and that’s pretty easy to find as well. You can also check out my little podcast, which is a little bit different.
It’s only 9 episodes long. We spend about a month kind of making each episode. So, that’s called The Body of Knowledge and that's on iTunes, Stitcher, and thebodyofknowledge.com. And it’s got social media and stuff if you wanna follow it there. We released season one last year and we are filming season 2 right now.
Tommy: Oh, cool.
Andy: So, that will be out towards the end of this year or the beginning of next year sometime. Maybe a little sooner. And then finally, my website, just andygalpin.com where all that same stuff will be up there eventually and it's got a Patreon account associated with it, which I'm about to launch. I haven’t really officially launched it. But what it’s basically doing is trying to take every lecture of every given, all my undergraduate and graduate, mostly my graduate curriculum, my entire university lectures and put ‘em all up there for free and just give those away to everybody and to do it in a way that's not textbook style, but more practitioner based. So, you'll the videos that are up now or, you know, the physiology of fat loss, physiology of strength, how to choose the right exercise, things like that. So, that's all up and that’s free and it always will be free. If you wanna create a Patreon account, that's great. If not, hey, that's fine too.
Tommy: That's awesome. I can imagine that becoming a real resource on people who want to—for people who wanna better understand exercise physiologies. So, will definitely link to that and people should definitely check all that stuff out.
Tommy: I’m looking forward to doing the same myself and watching all of your— I know you have a 3-hour lecture on muscle type physiology that I haven’t watched yet, but one day soon I will sit down to enjoy that.
Andy: Well, if it makes you feel better, there is a 5-minute version as well. So, there’s a 5-minute version of everything. There’s a 25-minute version. And there’s a 55-minute version, but sometimes, as you mentioned, that 55-minute version goes to 3 hours. I think my physiology of fat loss went like 2 hours.
Andy: But there is a 5-minute version of all those as well. So, that's up and available.
Tommy: Okay. Perfect. This has been absolutely great. Thank you so much, Dr. Andy Galpin, for joining us. And yeah, now I’ve run out of things to say. So, thanks. It’s been great.
Andy: It’s my pleasure, man. I really appreciate the opportunity and fun chat and great questions. Thank you.
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