Smart Athlete Podcast Ep. 19 - Stephanie Howe Violett - Manage Your Ego - Part 2 of 3

I've talked to several guys now that are, they're both associated with universities or colleges. And both the gentlemen I talked to are studying things going on in the gut microbiome in relation to ultra runners. But they deal with a lot of like GI distress and that kind of stuff. 

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JESSE: I've talked to several guys now that are, they're both associated with universities or colleges. And both the gentlemen I talked to are studying things going on in the gut microbiome in relation to ultra runners. But they deal with a lot of like GI distress and that kind of stuff. Do you work with any kind of correlation between the two GI distress/appetite? Do you come across any of that in the studies you're doing? STEPH: Yeah. And I mean, I'm not doing-- I'm not currently doing any research right now. But a lot of like-- Well yes, I come across-- I do lit reviews all the time in this stuff because I'm working with-- Most athletes who come to me for help with sports, nutrition are having problems and having a lot of GI distress. And so that's something that yeah, I'm definitely learning a lot about because it's kind of a new frontier in terms of like learning how to apply it to each individual. Like, we kind of know like that it's important but when you look at the studies, it's hard to figure out okay, so how do you apply this to person X. So, learning about people's digestion, and the foods that they're eating habitually, I think is a really important piece. And for me, I've learned-- I've done this for a few years now. You take the science, you take what we know, but then you have to get to know the person and find out about them because everyone is so unique. And their genetics and what they eat is going to affect their gut biome. And that's going to cascade trickle effect to what they're fueling with how it's responding when they're racing. So, super fascinating. It's the more I know, the more I learned, the less I know. JESSE: I’ve kind of seen a couple things recently. Are you familiar with Tim Noakes? He's from South Africa. STEPH: I lost that part of it. JESSE: That's okay. Are you familiar with Tim Noakes? He's from South Africa. STEPH: I am familiar with Tim Noakes. JESSE: So, he says some, I'll say unique things as far as, if I understand correctly, basically, carbohydrate’s bad, there's a very small percentage of people that should be eating carbohydrates. But along that line, I've also seen somebody else talk about this idea that certain people are fueled best by fat and fueled best by protein, or fueled best by carbohydrates. And there's like these genetic differences that kind of create these variations in people. Do you come across that or do you think there's any credence there? STEPH: So, first of all, I used to be really afraid to say my opinion about this. But Tim Noakes has not done good science as of lately, and a lot of the fat and carbohydrate stuff is not valid. Some of his older studies, research that he’s done on hydration is really fascinating, great. But this trend that people are latching on to is not good science. I think that's really oversimplifying to say like someone does better on carbohydrate, fat, and protein. I think, yeah, people do better on certain foods, different percentages, but it's not like someone can just eat fat and be well fueled. And right now, the popular thing is not having carbohydrate and that's so bad for a number of reasons. Just to give one big reason, the brain alone needs 130 grams a day to stay alive. And like a low carbohydrate diet, when you're restricting that much, your body's going to break down. Other sources of fuel, convert it into ketones that your brain can use, but that's not healthy long term. And then also carbohydrates, especially fruits and vegetables have so many micronutrients in them. So, I really think we look for this, nutrition is like one of those things we look for the trend. Like oh, just do this, don't do this, and you'll be healthy. But it's more complex than that and all three nutrients are important. It's not like you can just eat whatever you want and that you should eat only carbohydrate, but you need all three. And someone might be better with 30% protein, where someone else might be better with 15% protein, but there is a range. And it's not all or nothing. JESSE: I think part of our issue with nutrition and trying to figure out what our diet is, first everybody needs to eat. So, then it's partly this struggle of convenience versus what is healthy, but then more. So, how do we define healthy? There's this idea about I need to be healthy, but what does that mean? I can't remember if this is, I think it's a Google thing. They use KPIs, key performance indicators, and they say what gets measured gets accomplished. Well, how do you measure what healthy is? STEPH: Right. Yeah, I think healthy is not a destination. It's like a working progress. And I think you're healthy when one, it's not just like your body demographics. It's not like your weight, your body fat percentage. It's more holistic than that. And I think being healthy is when you're well-fueled, and that's really easy to just glaze over. But when you're getting all the nutrients, when you feel good there's that too, when you're able to train and recover and not have your body be run down. And when you have a healthy relationship with food, I think that's super important. And that's like maybe underemphasized in when we describe being healthy. I think someone who is super restrictive, they may look healthy from the outside, but that's not holistically a good sustainable place to be in. So, I think taking a step back, and we look at numbers but then looking at the big picture, how do we define just feeling good and feeling like mental, physical, spiritual, if you will. Those all matter. So, for each person, it's going to be different. Bodies are different and I really don't believe that bike race weight and that sort of thing. I think there's like a range for everyone but it's more a feeling like when you feel strong, when you feel fit. And for females, it's much easier to know this balance. Because if you have a normal menstrual cycle, that's a sign that your body is healthy, and you're kind of optimized. Males don't have that, so it's a little more tricky to find that balance. Because it's easier to go too low without your body telling you this isn't good. Right. JESSE: Right. Yeah. I've been there myself. Yeah. And I talked to, at least one guy and he was saying, so this the testosterone scale of healthy is from 300 to 1,000. He was down to like 100. And he was talking about-- why did I just forget his name, American marathoner? Help me out, Stephanie? STEPH: ?? 8:05> JESSE: Yes. He was talking about Ryan Hall’s testosterone being in the toilet. I don't know whether he said this facetiously, but the guy I talked to his name is Matt Bach. He was saying Ryan measured at like 12 or something one time. I don't know if that was an actual number, or whether he was being like it was like 12, you know, just saying it was a way low. Have you seen the pictures of Ryan? STEPH: And if you hear Ryan Hall talk about his health now, yeah, I mean, he seems in a much better place. Like he looks great. And I know, you can't, you definitely can't judge from looking at someone. But I mean, he looks healthy and strong. And it seems like he is really happy, and in a much better place. So, I think it's unfortunate that we sometimes see elite athletes in this place where they're really unhealthy, yet their performance appears to be the top of the game. So, I don't think that's necessarily a good message to send. JESSE: Yeah, I think there's almost a culture in some aspect in terms of running and like being thin, thin equals fast and I don't know that that's necessarily the case. STEPH: Yeah, it’s not. JESSE: With Ryan, he's retired obviously, so he actually, funny enough he’s my size now. We're both 5’10. He's up to 165, which is what I weigh and then I race at, okay. But I couldn't imagine, I think his bottom weight at peak performance was 127, or something just gone, tiny. STEPH: And I just kind of asked myself Is it worth doing this to yourself? I don't think it is. I mean, I know I don't have like millions or well, not millions, but so much prize money riding on this. I just would never do it to my body. I think I'm more, not respectful of it but I want to be able to walk when I'm 50. And I guess I would rather be happy and healthy. And I get why they do it. I mean, you know if that's like your career, and you're in the spotlight, you have this pressure, but I don't know why, but I have this ability to step back and look at the big picture. And yeah, that's a tough, tough situation. JESSE: Well, thinking about your kind of mental state you had said to me-- So, to remind both you and if you're listening, that you won the Western States 100 in 2014, you’d said some something to me along the lines of I'm not really a runner, or like I'm a pretty casual runner. I'm trying to figure out what's going on with this duality in your mind because to me, in no world do you win the Western States 100 and you're just casual. Unless you're a genetic freak, I suppose, maybe that's what’s going on. STEPH: No. Yeah, I shouldn't be that nonchalant. I mean, I train hard, I work really hard. I my mom calls me type triple A child. I mean, there's a reason I have a Ph.D. So, I do work really hard. I pushed myself and when I'm training, I'm serious about it. But I don't let that the the only thing that defines me. So, I like when I meet people and they have no idea I'm a runner because they get to know me outside of running. And I do other things as well. And this has become more important to me, probably the last three or four years because I've had some injuries. And when you're injured and all you do is run, that's a pretty sad state to be in. So, I like to run and like love it and train hard, but I also like to be able to disconnect. And when it comes down to it, no one cares. Like it's ultra running, you know what I mean? Like in the grand scheme of things, and I honestly don't think I'm any more special than someone who finishes last place. They're working like that hard and I think that's unique to ultras. It's the experience of going through the race. I mean, everyone is going to have a story and someone who's out there for double the time, their story is probably going to be even more incredible. JESSE: Yeah, I definitely think thinking about that and thought about it more when I was doing like half iron distance races. It's like I'd finish, I’ll say four and a half hours, give or take, and I would be toasted. But then I think about okay, there's-- I'm trying to compete for podium, but then there's whoever is going to finish last for the day is going to be out for eight hours, nine hours, 10 hours. Like, how much more grueling is that compared to like the four hours I just spent going hard? STEPH: I know. I know, it's crazy. And in ultras, it's even more. This is really fresh in my mind because I just at a race called ?? 13:15>. And my husband ran and he did fantastic. He finished in 34 hours, he was 10th. And - he finished, we went to bed. The next day, we went and had breakfast, lunch, I went for like a three-hour bike ride. And at dinner that night, there's still people finishing, like there's a 60 hour cut off for that race. So, watching some of them come across the finish line, it was like wow, you guys, you guys have stories. JESSE: Yeah. I think maybe for us, but definitely, for me, I'm competing for a podium spot, often at a race. And so there's that motivation, but also, I just want to have fun. So, maybe we should like to talk to these people and be like what is the motivation to spend 60 hours running just complete? STEPH: Yeah, just to complete, something that you're not sure you can finish. I think the draw of a lot of these races, they’re in the mountains so it's spectacular scenery. It's a challenge because on the start line, it's the unknown. Like a marathon, you can generally know I can get through this, I can walk it in if I need to. But when you're talking about, this race was like 180K, which is a little over 100 miles and like 45,000 feet of climbing. So, that's like getting on the start line, can I do this? And I think that's a huge, huge draw for people who’s pushing themselves to a place that they're not sure they can accomplish it. So, yeah, it's pretty cool. JESSE: Yeah. With people I have on the show, it's often very competitive, and intelligent people, but maybe I should try to seek out a few more people in the back and be what are you doing out here? STEPH: Yeah, I mean, in like ultra runners, especially. And it's a lot of-- I've looked at the demographics of the ultra runner. They're really high educated, which is funny to me, and you're doing ultras, which seems silly sometimes. But most of them have really cool stories. So, I think that would be really if you're into it just do that, that would be awesome. JESSE: Yeah. Well, I think you probably-- I try to classify people that come on the show as competitive and intelligent. But really, when you're out running for 60 hours, there's something-- you can classify that as competitive, whether you're in the back or not. So, I think that would fit. One of the things maybe, this is a draw ultras for intelligent people, but what do you think about for all that time? I mean, it's just you, the trail, your legs; what are you thinking about for all that time? STEPH: On my best races, I'm present the entire time. I'm thinking about the race and what I'm doing. And that's how I know it's a good race. But that doesn't happen all the time. So, normally, I'm breaking it into manageable chunks. Try not to let my head wander. I don't listen to music. So, I don't have that distraction. It just sounds like noise to me. I usually try to just think about okay, you just need to get over this mountain pass, and then you get to see your crew or whatever. Yeah, I mean, it just kind of depends too because there's sometimes your stomach goes south or your legs or you know, it's always like problem solving. And you can go up over, like last year at UTMB it was raining, but then you go up over the past and it's like snowing ice scene and you just have to deal with all those elements. So, that I think there's a lot more to be thinking about gear wise, do I put my poles away right now or do I get out my extra jacket. So, there's more things, I guess that keep you interested or keep you on top of it than when you're running on a road. And I don't mean to say running on the road is easy because to me that is like the hardest thing you could ever do. It's just like constant turnover and pushing yourself. Here, it's like you can walk a little bit and then run a little bit. So, yeah. Go to Part 1 Go to Part 3

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