Paleo, Maffetone & the Method

Have you ever asked yourself?

  • Why can’t I lose weight?
  • What can I do to reach my potential as an ultra runner?
  • Why do I sometimes have pain and discomfort?

Dr Phil Maffetone says he can’t tell you the answers to such questions but what he does say is that he can help you find out.

He has a mantra that ‘everyone can succeed’. I agree, we are all capable of so much more than we think. But often, we need to think outside the box or we need to think in a very different way. We all become programed; we conform to the general consensus when actually finding our own path may very well be the best decision we could make.

Forget easy fixes. They don’t really exist. If you want something, you are going to need to work at it. That doesn’t necessarily mean you will need to make sacrifices but it may mean that you will need to adjust your thought process and look at things from a completely different angle.

Dr Maffetone has evolved and developed his ‘method’. We are all individual but certain patterns exist within all of us when we are not balanced in a perfect way.

As Dr Maffetone says, “These were physical, biochemical and mental-emotional imbalances, complete with various signs and symptoms. These patterns provided vital information, which helped lead to quicker and more accurate evaluations, and faster therapeutic outcomes.”

The ‘method’ leads to specific questions such as “Do you get pain?”

  • How do you get the pain?
  • When does the pain start?
  • What makes it better or worse?
  • How long does the pain last?

“These questions are a vital part of my style, and important tools anyone can use to find and fix physical ailments, metabolic imbalances and other problems.” Says Dr Maffetone.

Ultimately we all need our own personal program that will allow us to progress and function to the best of our ability. We need to self-test.

“By testing the body by adding or avoiding certain foods or specific workouts, for example, one can obtain valuable information to begin piecing together the details of an individualized program.”

There are many different facets of health and fitness that also must work together to create optimum human potential for an ultra runner, we are primarily looking at the bodies efficiency at using fat as a fuel and the physical activity that we undertake in training to make us stronger and fitter for the challenges ahead.

Burning body fat helps any athlete to perform at high levels, particularly ultra runners. The benefits are incredible, lets face it, and we all have plenty to call on. If we are using the fat within our bodies effectively not only can we perform better but we also prevent the accumulation of excess stored fat and weight.

Most of the body’s energy for daily living comes from the conversion of both sugar (glucose) and fat to energy (in the form of ATP).” Says Dr Maffetone “Some people rely on larger amounts of fat, with the result of high physical and mental vigor, improved health, and better all-around performance.“

If you are not able to burn fat and rely mostly on sugar for energy, then you will burn less fat in day-to-day life but more importantly you are neglecting one of the primary fuel sources that will enhance your training and race experiences. In addition, you will have the highs and lows that are associated with the ‘spikes’ from a high sugar diet, you will gain body fat and weight and you may very well feel sluggish with less consistent energy to perform daily tasks.

Is a Paleo lifestyle something that you now feel will enhance your life?

But Paleo is only one aspect of the Maffetone Method. If you want to switch on the fat burning mechanism within your body and enhance it, then we need to look at how we undertake our physical activity. Dr Maffetone pioneered this process way back in the 80’s with Mark Allen (now a highly respected champion Ironman Triathlete).

We need to train our Aerobic system.

“By stimulating the full spectrum of slow-twitch muscle fibers, which rely on fat for fuel, improvements in the heart and lungs with increased circulation and better brain function also occur.”

If we don’t train our fat burning system we are missing a really key component that will enable us to function at the best of our ability, we actually run the risk of becoming aerobically deficient.

Dr Maffetone explains, “Being aerobically deficient is a common syndrome associated with fatigue, increased weight and body fat, reduced immune function, physical disability, and hormonal imbalance.”

The Maffetone Method also covers so many other aspects such controlling chronic inflammation and stress management, which you may like to follow up on in one of his many publications.

  • “In Health & Fitness” by Dr Phil Maffetone HERE
  • “The Maffetone Method” by Dr Phil Maffetone HERE

I caught up with Dr Maffetone for episode 32 of Talk Ultra and we discussed the Aerobic system and Paleo diet. You can listen to the full interview HERE

Aerobic Training

How do you calculate your own maximum aerobic training heart rate?

To find your maximum aerobic training heart rate, there are two important steps to the Maffetone Method:

1. Subtract your age from 180.

2. Modify this number by selecting among the following categories the one that best matches your fitness and health profile:

a. If you have or are recovering from a major illness (heart disease, any operation or hospital stay, etc.) or are on any regular medication, subtract an additional 10.

b. If you are injured, have regressed in training or competition, get more than two colds or bouts of flu per year, have allergies or asthma, or if you have been inconsistent or are just getting back into training, subtract an additional 5.

c. If you have been training consistently (at least four times weekly) for up to two years without any of the problems just mentioned, keep the number (180–age) the same.

d. If you have been training for more than two years without any of the problems listed above, and have made progress in competition without injury, add 5.

For example, if you are thirty years old and fit into category (b), you get the following:
180–30=150. Then 150–5=145 beats per minute (bpm). 

In this example, 145 will be the highest heart rate for all training. This is highly aerobic, allowing you to most efficiently build an aerobic base. Training above this heart rate rapidly incorporates anaerobic function, exemplified by a shift to burning more sugar and less fat for fuel.

If it is difficult to decide which of two groups best fits you, choose the group or outcome that results in the lower heart rate. In athletes who are taking medication that may affect their heart rate, those who wear a pacemaker, or those who have special circumstances not discussed here, further individualization with the help of a healthcare practitioner or other specialist familiar with your circumstance and knowledgeable in endurance sports may be necessary.

Two situations may be exceptions to the above calculations:

• The 180 Formula may need to be further individualized for people over the age of sixty-five. For some of these athletes, up to 10 beats may have to be added for those in category (d) in the 180 Formula, and depending on individual levels of fitness and health. This does not mean 10 should automatically be added, but that an honest self-assessment is important.

• For athletes sixteen years of age and under, the formula is not applicable; rather, a heart rate of 165 may be best.

Once a maximum aerobic heart rate is found, a training range from this heart rate to 10 beats below could be used as a training range.

For example, if an athlete’s maximum aerobic heart rate is determined to be 155, that person’s aerobic training zone would be 145 to 155 bpm. However, the more training at 155, the quicker an optimal aerobic base will be developed.

Initially, training at this relatively low rate may be stressful for many athletes. “I just can’t train that slowly!” is a common comment. But after a short time, you will feel better and your pace will quicken at that same heart rate. You will not be stuck training at that relatively slow pace for too long. Still, for many athletes it is difficult to change bad habits.

CASE STUDY taken and edited from markallenonline.com

Mark Allen says:

During my 15 years of racing in the sport of triathlons I searched for those few golden tools that would allow me to maximize my training time and come up with the race results I envisioned. At the top of that list was heart rate training. It was and still is the single most potent tool an endurance athlete can use to set the intensity levels of workouts in a way that will allow for long-term athletic performance. Yes, there are other options like lactate testing, power output and pace, but all of these have certain shortcomings that make them less universally applicable than heart rate.

In our sport there are three key areas of fitness that you will be developing. These are speed, strength and endurance. Strength is fairly straightforward to do. Two days per week in the gym focusing on an overall body-strengthening program is what will do the trick.

Next are the focused workouts that will give you raw speed. This is perhaps the most well known part to anyone’s training. These are your interval or speed sessions where you focus on a approaching a maximal output or your top speed at some point in each of these key sessions. But again, developing speed in and of itself is a fairly simple process. It just requires putting the pain sensors in neutral and going for it for short periods of time.

Now for the tougher part…the endurance. This is where heart rate training becomes king. Endurance is THE most important piece of a triathlete’s fitness (or ultra runner). Why is it tough to develop? Simply put, it is challenging because it usually means an athlete will have to slow things down from their normal group training pace to effectively develop their aerobic engine and being guided by what is going on with your heart rate rather than your will to the champion of the daily training sessions with your training partners!

For those patient enough to do just that, once the aerobic engine is built the speed work will have a profound positive effect their fitness and allow for a longer-lasting improvement in performance than for those who blast away from the first day of training each year.

What is the solution to maximizing your endurance engine? It’s called a heart rate monitor. And using one in the way I am going to describe will not only help you shed those last few pounds, but will enable you to do it without either killing yourself in training or starving yourself at the dinner table.

I lived by the motto “No Pain, No Gain” motto. And it worked…sort of. I had some good races the first year or two, but I also suffered from minor injuries and was always feeling one run away from being too burned out to want to continue with my training.

Then came the heart rate monitor. A man named Phil Maffetone, who had done a lot of research with the monitors, contacted me. He had me try one out according to a very specific protocol. Phil said that I was doing too much anaerobic training, too much speed work, too many high end/high heart rate sessions. I was forcing my body into a chemistry that only burns carbohydrates for fuel by elevating my heart rate so high each time I went out and ran.

So he told me to go to the track, strap on the heart rate monitor, and keep my heart rate below 155 beats per minute.

Maffetone told me that below this number that my body would be able to take in enough oxygen to burn fat as the main source of fuel for my muscle to move. I was going to develop my aerobic/fat burning system. What I discovered was a shock.

To keep my heart rate below 155 beats/minute, I had to slow my pace down to an 8:15 mile. That’s three minutes/mile SLOWER than I had been trying to hit in every single workout I did!

My body just couldn’t utilize fat for fuel.

So, for the next four months, I did exclusively aerobic training keeping my heart rate at or below my maximum aerobic heart rate, using the monitor every single workout. And at the end of that period, my pace at the same heart rate of 155 beats/minute had improved by over a minute. And after nearly a year of doing mostly aerobic training, which by the way was much more comfortable and less taxing than the anaerobic style that I was used to, my pace at 155 beats/minute had improved to a blistering 5:20 mile.

That means that I was now able to burn fat for fuel efficiently enough to hold a pace that a year before was redlining my effort at a maximum heart rate of about 190. I had become an aerobic machine!

On top of the speed benefit at lower heart rates, I was no longer feeling like I was ready for an injury the next run I went on, and I was feeling fresh after my workouts instead of being totally wasted from them.

Now use the 180 Formula as outlined above and….

Go out and do ALL of your cardiovascular training at or below this heart rate and see how your pace improves. After just a few weeks you should start to see a dramatic improvement in the speed you can go at these lower heart rates.

Over time, however, you will get the maximum benefit possible from doing just aerobic training. At that point, after several months of seeing your pace get faster at your maximum aerobic heart rate, you will begin to slow down. This is the sign that if you want to continue to improve on your speed, it is time to go back to the high end interval anaerobic training one or two days/week. So, you will have to go back to the “NO Pain, NO Gain” credo once again. But this time your body will be able to handle it. Keep at the intervals and you will see your pace improve once again for a period.

But just like the aerobic training, there is a limit to the benefit you will receive from anaerobic/carbohydrate training. At that point, you will see your speed start to slow down again. And that is the signal that it is time to switch back to a strict diet of aerobic/fat burning training.

Who is Mark Allen?

Mark Allen was born January 12, 1958 and is the six-time Ironman Triathlon World Champion. He graduated from Diego, where he was an All-American swimmer, with a degree in biology. After competing and losing in the Ironman Triathlon Championships six times, Mark Allen emerged victorious in 1989, winning one of the most difficult one-day sporting events in the world. It would be the first of six Ironman victories for Allen, the last coming in 1995 at age 37.

Web Site markallenonline.com

What is Paleo?

We have had some excellent discussions on Talk Ultra in the ‘Talk Training’ element of the show and I recommend that you go back and listen to them. In particular, my discussion with Barry Murray in episode 19 available HERE

The Paleolithic (‘Paleo’) lifestyle has been gaining a lot of interest lately. It has gained increased momentum recently with such notable figures as Prof Tim Noakes and Comrades legend, Bruce Fordyce changing to this way of eating and reaping the benefits. So much so, that Prof Tim Noakes is re writing the nutrition section of his iconic book “The Lore of Running’.

Followers of a Paleo lifestyle are finding that they loose weight quickly as well as generally feel better once their bodies adjust to it.

Paleo is a call to old food values for millions of years ago before a relatively recent event, ‘The Agricultural Revolution’, completely changed the way humans eat.

But what does Paleo mean for you and your running lifestyle?

Well, it will mean a complete change for many… A daily diet of rice, pasta or potatoes will go. No grains, no bread, and especially no sugar or processed carbs, nothing that comes out of a box or a carton and no vegetable oils.

Nothing labeled “low fat” or “light”. Low or light usually means fat is removed and replaced with processed sugar.

I can hear you now, but that is what I eat. I live on rice, pasta and bread.

Paleo is high fat, medium protein, and low carb. It is about eating plenty of meat, eggs, fish, vegetables, fruits and nuts. The emphasis of this diet is based around eating fats of all kinds such as the ones found in Canola oil. Ideally when cooking, you will use coconut oil or butter.

Paleo and exercise work well together and as we have explored with Dr Phil Maffetone and the case study of Mark Allen, if you are patient the rewards can be reaped. Many ultra runners (amongst other athletes) are switching to a Paleo approach, 2012 Western States winner; Timothy Olson is a classic example.

You may find this article taken from ‘Me & My Diabetes’ of interest.

Earlier this summer, Steve Phinney and Jeff Volek, authors of The Art and Science of Low Carbohydrate Performance, headed to the Western States 100-mile Endurance Run, to study how runners in this grueling race fared, literally, for they were checking how the athletes performed, AND how they ate.

Link HERE

Ultimately, and I love this quote, this article is ‘Food for Thought’. Paleo has been around for years and recently its prominence has grown. Just like barefoot running became the next best thing after the book ‘Born to Run’, Paleo may very well be the next best diet. I however feel that having investigated it for months that a Paleo approach, or should I say, a reduction in carbohydrate is certainly a direction that can reap rewards and benefits.

But it’s all about the individual and finding out what works for you!

I’d love to get your feedback and stories both for and against all that has been mentioned above.

9 thoughts on “Paleo, Maffetone & the Method

  1. YOGAXRUNNERS trains u to self test in every single cell of your body, brings alignment of body, mind and spirit and therefore prevents injuries. “Yoga endures what cannot be cured and cures what cannot be edured” (BKS Iyengar)
    Namasté

  2. I’ve gone from being a vegetarian with a background in high intensity training as well as endurance training. Now I am following a Paleo-type diet and have been using Phil Maffetone’s principles for about 18 months. I do also throw a fair bit of strength and speed work from time to time.

    During this time, I have noticed a steady increase in performance and health with only one minor injury. The reason I really like Phil’s methods is that the emphasis is on health and sustainability with performance increases occurring almost as a bi-product. For me this lead to consistent training which I believe is less likely to be interrupted by injury.

    When starting out depending on your levels of aerobic fitness, the chances are you will have to walk more than you usually would on hills. You sort have to go out with the mindset of:

    “i’m going to train at my target heart rate for a couple of hours and this will mean that i will move as quickly and efficiently as possible at that heart rate, be that by walking or running”

    Rather than…..

    “i’m going to go run for a couple of hours’.

    It is then massively rewarding when you can run hills at an aerobic HR that you had to walk up a few weeks before.

    Training using his formula and a heart rate monitor makes you leave your ego behind and really listen to your body. Deliberately slowing down and sticking to your goals takes every bit as much self discipline as pushing yourself hard. I think it took me quite a while to really accept this and as soon as I did, the benefits seemed to come all the more quickly.

    He also provides a lot of information on what to look for in terms of signs of stress and overtraining. This means that you can use some relatively objective measures to pick when it is the right time for you to be throwing in some higher intensity training and speed work without causing problems for your body.

    I agree with the comment above that the term ‘Paleo Diet’ has become a bit loaded and is maybe a red herring – In recent publications, quite a few authors who advocate ‘Paleo’ principals have stopped using the term and put less emphasis on the ‘cave man ‘ stuff.

    This is only my experience and of course others may differ but i have nothing but positive things to say about Dr. Maffetone’s methods. I would really recommend his book ‘The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing’ to anyone who wants a single source of information on his principals.

  3. I am a big fan of Maffetone, but wanted to share where I went wrong using his method (and it was my error for not following his program properly). I started running with the goal of running long. This after never running in my life. My body naturally settled at 11 minute miles and a nice low heart rate. I ran like this for two years with hardly any speed work at all. Long, long runs.

    Then I discovered Maffetone, and started running at my MAF of 143. I saw some improvement but very quickly plateaued. What I should have done, if I read Maffetone right, is then incorporated speed work. But since I had only been doing his method for 8 weeks, I assumed that was too soon (I hadn’t taken my 2 years of running into account). I kept on MAF running for another 2 months and really saw no improvement.

    Finally, I started running 800s and Tempo runs for the first time in my life. One month of that and my speed at MAF dropped by well over 1 minute per mile. Then it started to plateau, and I switched back to MAF pace, now I’m seeing more gains.

    My point is, when Mark Allen found MAF, he was already a runner with excellent neuromuscular coordination, etc… I fell into the category that Mark Laithwaite (sp) mentioned on one of the Podcasts last year… I seemed to run the same speed no matter what the heart-rate. So for runners like me, speedwork and Hillwork was the key to dropping 2+ minutes a mile.

    Again, if I had followed MAF properly, my test scores would have told me to do speed work. So for any of you out there that notice MAF isn’t working for you, do what Maffetone says: switch it up. Don’t be slaves to MAF running — your aerobic system may be waiting on your sorry-ass glutes (pun intended) or your stride inefficiency. Especially if you got into running late, with the goal of running long, and you’ve never seen a track or run a 5k in your life.

    Cheers!

  4. Canola oil is not okay on paleo (or for anyone, really). Too much processing, and too much omega-6. The only good vegetable oils are Extra-Virgin Olive Oil, Avocado Oil, Coconut Oil, Palm Oil, and to a lesser extent nut oils.

  5. Fruit Although fruits should be eaten moderately during a
    Paleo diet, could result in deadlock when it comes to snacks
    recipes. Eating fish has a number of proven health benefits, so
    Teri and I take some time to prepare our meals for the week, make a
    shopping list, and head to the grocery store.

  6. Pingback: Episode 81 – Murphy Polyakova Zahab Laithwaite | Ian Corless host of Talk Ultra podcast

  7. Pingback: CYCLING for RUNNERS – Article 7 March On! | Ian Corless host of Talk Ultra podcast

  8. Pingback: FAT a burning question for the long distance runner | iancorless.com – Photography, Writing, Talk Ultra Podcast

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