ALEX: [00:00:00] I say so let’s say you are competing at a high level when you are like 17 or 16 or something, you’re going to be fast then because you’re not going to have much body fat at all. Like, you’re going to be fast. And so then when your body catches up, when you start gaining weight, especially on the run, but also on the bike, any sport where maybe other than swimming, any sport where gaining weight will slow you down, as long as it’s not functional weight, you’re going to get slower.
Intro: [00:00:38] This episode of the Smart Athlete Podcast is brought to you by Solpri. If you’re active at all, whether you’re running or simply out walking for the day, you’ve probably experienced one of the number one problems that active people have, and that’s chafing. Solpri’s all-new, all-natural anti-chafe balm solves that problem while feeding your skin the vital nutrients it needs to be healthy. If you’d like to stop chafing once and for all and treat your body right, go to Solpri.com to check out the anti-chafe balm today. And that’s S-O-L-P-R-I.com.
JESSE: [00:01:14] Welcome to the Smart Athlete Podcast. I’m your host, Jesse Funk. My guest today is a former Canadian ITU pro triathlete, raced in a lot of the fun races I wish I had done fast enough to be able to do. She is a certified exercise physiologist, currently working in a human performance lab as a Ph.D. candidate in exercise physiology. She’s also an online triathlon coach. So, if you have needs in that area, you can get in touch with her. Welcome to the show, Alex Coates.
ALEX: [00:0:42] Thank you very much for having me.
JESSE: [00:01:44] Yeah. Thanks for joining me. Thanks for joining me in the lab. It’s always nice to have different backgrounds. I’ve always got my ridiculously messy bookshelves and my door that if anybody’s been watching the podcast for a while knows it. I stripped that door of paint, I don’t know how many months ago, six-eight months ago, and I still haven’t stained it. So, I’m going to get there one of these days. But you got all kinds of like fancy instruments and stuff that’s behind you — [crosstalk]
ALEX: [00:02:09] Mostly just like Dr. Carton’s kind of thing. But yeah, it’s supposed to be a biomechanics lab that I’m in, so yeah.
JESSE: [00:02:17] Is it — I mean, how is it like? Is it going to work or school? However you classify it in your brain, I guess. Yeah, it’s like, is it like going to the playground every day where you got all these toys, you got to bring people in, and you’re like, okay get all my machines and show me some stuff?
ALEX: [00:02:34] It’s pretty fun. It’s pretty fun, honestly. Like, we have our med cart. We have two bikes over there. Just before this podcast, we were doing this protocol where we have blood flow restriction cuffs, and I’m on a tilt bed, and I was echoing — so I was doing echocardiography on myself while having my legs completely blood flow occluded. And it was super painful. And yeah, it’s fun. It’s just crazy. But it’s good.
JESSE: [00:03:00] So, are you putting yourself through all the protocols before you bring in, I’ll call them patients or subjects or anybody for research? Are you like, let’s put me through this and see what happens?
ALEX: [00:03:11] Yeah, so we have like, one rule in our lab, which is we try to follow it, which is like, if you’re going to do something to someone from outside, you should probably do it on yourself first to make sure that it’s not crazy. I mean, everything we do is quite painful. But you have to have that perspective. And then, like with COVID right now we have to test mostly just within the department. So, we’re just testing — Our lab has seven people. We’ve been testing ourselves for all our different studies just over and over and yeah, so lots of pain.
JESSE: [00:03:44] So, is that basically your training regimen now where you’re just like,
ALEX: [00:03:47] Yeah, I just do studies.
JESSE: [00:03:48] don’t need to keep track of like, okay, this day…rest day. It’s just like, okay, what study are we doing today? What kind of protocol do I have to put myself through?
ALEX: [00:03:56] Yeah, exactly. I hate the studies, though, where there’s no exercise. So, we have one study going on, where you just do the oral glucose tolerance test. So, you drink like 100 grams of sugar, it’s gross. And then you just sit there for two hours, or we do it with muscle stem, or you do it with blood flow restriction. But either way, you’re just lying still for two hours while your blood glucose goes crazy. So, I hate that. But I like the exercise days because yeah, you get a workout in and you get some data.
JESSE: [00:04:25] Yeah. So, now I have to ask about drinking the sugar. Is that just — you’re just taking table sugar and putting 100 grams in like 16 ounces of water you got to chug or like — [crosstalk]
ALEX: [00:04:36] It’s basically that. So, it is like a standardized drink and they make it orange flavored so that it’s more easy to drink. But yeah, you could do that. You could easily just put 100 grams of table sugar in water. But yeah, we have like these pre-packaged drinks and you just drink it as fast as you can and then watch your blood glucose go through the roof. It’s terrible.
JESSE: [00:05:01] Why is maybe maybe a good question because I’m just thinking about like — and you know as you’re prepping to race, you’re not going to take in 100 grams of sugar in an hour. Let alone just being like, hey, let’s chug this — [crosstalk] Right. Let’s see what happens. It just sounds like you’re, I feel like it would definitely make me pass out after your insulin goes crazy, and then you crash. And I’m just like, now I need a nap. So, does it basically tear you up even though you’re laying there doing nothing?
ALEX: [00:05:37] Yep, basically. So, that specific study, the master student who’s running it, he’s looking at how — So, we know that when you do that it impairs your artery function for a bit. And so he’s basically looking to see if when you do, if you drank it, and you have the muscle stem, or if you drink it, and you have blood flow restriction, or you drink it, and you have blood flow restriction and muscle stem, which one kind of prevents that impairment the most.
It’s looking from preliminary data, like the muscle stem is the best. So, basically, exercise is good at preventing the bad things that happen when you drink too much sugar in a minute. But yeah, either way, for us doing it, it’s terrible. Because they do that test to see whether or not you’re diabetic. So, how well your body responds to that crazy amount of glucose. But we’re basically like, doing it so often that we’re like giving ourselves diabetes instead of using it to check your diabetes. It’s terrible.
JESSE: [00:06:41] Yeah. So, are you doing like, with the muscles — I know we’re getting down a rabbit hole already. But maybe that’s fine. So, with the muscle stimulation, are you on a treadmill or are you using a stim machine? Like, what’s the protocol for that?
ALEX: [00:06:58] This one is just a machine. Yeah. And so — or actually, we kind of do our own, make our own pads, but it would just be the same as maybe a physio kind of muscle stim machine, and it’s just you’re lying on your back, and we put it on the quads. And we actually go pretty hard. So, it’s like, kind of the most stim that you can handle before it gets painful. But you do that for half an hour. And that seems to help to reduce the blood glucose and like help with the vascular impairment. More than — So, yeah, the other condition is, you have these blood pressure cuffs, you put them around your legs and occlude blood flow for, I think it’s five minutes on, five minutes off, while the stim is going on at the same time.
And it’s interesting, because — I mean, we haven’t quite seen all the vascular data from that. But I think — I do think that the muscle stim by itself is actually going to be better than the blood flow restriction as well. But yeah, there’s a lot of research going on right now in the blood flow restriction space for injuries, or for performance enhancement and stuff. And yeah, our lab does a lot of that. I’m like, myself, I don’t really do a lot of that research myself, but most people in our lab are investigating uses of it.
JESSE: [00:08:15] Okay. And obviously, this is preliminary, but now I’ve got a bunch of questions, and you have to excuse me, ‘cause I know just enough to be dangerous, not…useful. So, with the stim machine, so — and clarify this, if I get this wrong for the listener here, the stim machine, you’re putting pads on there’s electrical stimulus, it forces your muscles to contract. Sometimes physios use it for rehab, which is where I’ve encountered it during college. When the machine is forcing your muscles to contract, are you — is your muscles still using fuel like it would if you were using your brain to make the muscles contract?
ALEX: [00:08:58] Yep, yep. It is. Yeah. So, that’s kind of, I guess the main idea behind it for this is that you’re basically kind of — Your muscles do have to use some extra glucose. I mean, yeah, yeah. It’s different, right? Yeah. ‘Cause it’s not voluntary, but it still does burn through the glucose as if the muscles are contracting. And so yeah, yeah, that’s kind of the idea behind it.
JESSE: [00:09:26] That’s why I just — as I was thinking about it, and you were saying that the inclination is that probably that would be the thing that doesn’t make the blood glucose levels spike as high I think is what you had said. So, my inclination was like, okay, well, is that because your body’s basically signaling the sugar to be moved to store or use glycogen — So, that’s why I was like, I think that only makes sense if the stimulation is actually using fuel. And I was like, I simply don’t know whether it does or do not.
ALEX: [00:09:58] No, it does. Yeah. And then so then I’m doing, so I don’t know if you’ve heard of super sapiens, they’re the new continuous glucose monitors. They just got banned actually from UCI cycling, because it was like too much data. But a lot of famous athletes are being sponsored by them. And basically, it’s giving you minute by minute blood glucose readings. So, we’re going to be doing some studies with those just to see how we can use it to enhance performance, I guess, or kind of help you with training and everything. And so with, what I’m going to do is basically similar to what we just talked about, but then also add a full body exercise, after you drink the 100 grams of sugar.
And in theory, and this should definitely be the case, is full body exercise is going to be much better than just muscle stim. But it’s kind of like a graded response, you’ve got nothing, which is the worst, and then you’ve got this blood flow restriction, which probably is better than nothing. And then muscle stim, which is better than both, and then full body exercise is going to definitely be the best. But, yeah.
JESSE: [00:11:02] And then like, from there because as we were talking about before we got going, working on a new sports drink. So, I’m interested in the body’s response to sugar and when you need sugar and all that kind of stuff. And then looking at competing products and all this. So then as I’m thinking about this, something else that I’m curious, and whether you know about without the study is like, so you can only — your body can only absorb so much of one source of sugar. It’s like 60 grams or something an hour. [crosstalk] Yeah. So, I think it would be also interesting to say, if you — those 100 gram vials or samples or whatever are standardized, but if you could mix them and say we’re going to do like a 50/50 glucose fructose, and then how does your body respond to that? And then I’m especially interested in, you may have seen this, there’s a number of companies coming out with products they’re using this sugar called cluster dextrin, which is supposedly you can take in a much larger quantity per hour while exercising.
ALEX: [00:12:05] Is that the Martin stuff?
JESSE: [00:12:09] I’m not sure. I’m not sure. I know Scratch Lab’s new super fuel, it’s the black bag. I know they are using it in somebody else, I just can’t remember. But I haven’t looked into it that much. And partly, I’m like, where did this stuff come from? How do we figure it out? And then why does it — Why is it you can supposedly actually take in more carbs per hour with it?
ALEX: [00:12:36] So, yeah, the original Martin, they claimed that you could take more in than normal glucose, fructose kind of mixtures. And then they found — they did a big study and found that you couldn’t. It was the same amount as if you just did a normal glucose, fructose kind of mixture. But there’s newer versions, and I know, the [inaudible 00:12:58] guys are using it.
And they once again claimed that you can absorb a lot more. And just because it’s different, like receptors, different absorption kind of receptors, so you can kind of find the perfect mixture so that you absorb the most possible from each source, then yeah, you can take in the most sugar, essentially. And, so whether or not it’s true, like whether or not you can absorb more than like a traditional glucose, fructose mixture, I don’t know if that is fully known. But they do still claim that you can. So, yeah, we’ll see.
JESSE: [00:13:34] Right. I mean, that’s the trouble with supplements, is you — well, at least in the US. I don’t know what the regulations are in Canada, but you can claim all kinds of things without necessarily having evidence to back it up. Which is where people go, oh, the supplement industry is not regulated, which isn’t true, because it is. There are lots of regulations in terms of like production and stuff, and quality control. But it’s the claims part that isn’t so regulating where the confusion comes in. But I mean, you’re at the, I’ll call it the forefront, but you’re in the setting, you’re part of the group of people that it gets to say, okay, this is bullshit, or this is real. Like, you can actually figure out what’s going on.
ALEX: [00:14:17] Yeah. Yeah. And I don’t know for certain if like — So, yeah, I know that there was a study that came out. So, the stuff that like, two-hour marathon guys, those guys what they were taking, I think following that, like around that time, they found that the Martin, whatever concentration wasn’t actually better than normal. But I do think from that they’ve revamped it. So, yeah, I haven’t seen their more recent research if there is any, but yeah.
JESSE: [00:14:44] Okay. So, we’ll continue down the rabbit hole here. So, with the 100 gram thing you’re taking in, say I decide, well, I heard Alex talk about this thing and I think it’s going to be my way to super fuel for my upcoming race. So, I’m going to take one in every hour. And then we know that’s not going to be a good idea. So, what happens beyond that [crosstalk] 60 gram limit or whatever, that extra 40 grams; what’s happening to that? Is your body just going to shoot it out? Is it going to give you diarrhea or — [crosstalk]
ALEX: [00:15:21] Yeah. It’s basically GI distress as far as I know. It’s basically like, since you’re not able to absorb it, then and also, a lot of the time, your body has to kind of try to dilute it. So, you’re pulling water into the stomach to try to dilute it, and you’re not able to absorb it, so you’re not able to use it, so then you’re going to have GI problems. But you can train your gut to handle more and more carbohydrate. So, you can get upper ranges slightly over 60 if you’re really good at it.
But yeah, other than that, let’s say you find your max is about 40 to 50, I wouldn’t try and exceed that especially in a race. Like, if you can push it in training to your max, but then in race, just go with what works. And if the most you could take in is 40 to 50. Cool, just go with that rather than give yourself GI distress, and then that’ll add tons of time to your race you have to stop or whatever. So, yeah.
JESSE: [00:16:21] Yeah. I mean, for you — So, for you listening, if you’re more familiar with long course Ironman format, you may not know, like with IT racing, what Alex is doing for her racing career, there’s a much smaller margin for error. Like, if you’ve got a flat, you’re probably unless you’re just the biggest stud on the run, probably not coming back to be on the podium. Unlike an Ironman where, like when Christy Walton had a flat and she had to change and still came back to win. Like, it can happen in the longer formats. But when you’re on the race for two hours, give or take, anything goes wrong and like the day is over.
ALEX: [00:17:06] Yeah, exactly. When you get a flat, basically you kind of resign yourself to your day being over. Maybe you finish the race, but if you lose the pack, and that’s the other thing with IT racing, it’s pack riding, right. So, as soon as you lose the pack, you’re screwed. You know, then you’re racing for definitely not top 10. So, yeah.
JESSE: [00:17:29] Just try not to get lapped and pulled out of the race at that point.
ALEX: [00:17:31] Yeah, exactly.
JESSE: [00:17:34] Yeah. Which that’s — Again, if you’re not familiar with ITU racing they’re lapped courses, so if the leaders on the bike pass you and you’re still on the bike, then you’re pulled from the race for the day and your day’s over. Which makes sense. I mean, the laps it’s not like a mile long lap where [inaudible 00:17:51] come up on you quick. But if somebody is injured or like, I know — Gosh, it’s been quite a while. I think you were racing pro at the time, but I don’t think you were in this race. Not that I would know. It was [inaudible 00:18:05] in like 2010. It was — [crosstalk] Yeah, it was the like, the year with the — I think 2010 was the year — I was there 2009 and 2010 because I get mixed up which is which.
ALEX: [00:18:21] Cool. [crosstalk] Simon Whitfield?
JESSE: [00:18:23] Yeah, it was the six way sprint finish with Simon Whitfield that won. And — [crosstalk]
ALEX: [00:18:28] I think my sister was there. I think my twin sister was racing that race.
JESSE: [00:18:31] Yeah. So, there was a like, [inaudible 00:18:35]. I don’t know what Iowa people call themselves. He had been like winning the amateur race for a number of years and finally went pro. And I don’t know how he got into this race. He was certainly fast enough to race the Continental cup in the lower like ITU races, but he just was not in shape to race with those guys that he got lapped out. But it was like that was an instance where I saw it. And I was like, I mean, that probably made sense because he wasn’t going to come back on the run. And — [crosstalk]
ALEX: [00:19:05] The trick for that is it just — it comes down to the swim. Because it’s like, yeah, sure, you probably are fit enough to hang in the bike pack and then like the ride doesn’t really matter how slow you go, you’re not going to get lapped out. But it’s the swim because if you can’t swim and make a pack and a good pack, you know, if you’re too far back on the swim, then your day’s definitely done. Because the packs, the front packs are going to go so fast that like you can’t time — everyone thinks that coming from Ironman or something, they can time trial as fast as the pack and it’s like, no, no, you can’t. The pack’s working together. They’re going so fast. I mean, if you just look at Tour de France riders, they’re riding like 45 to 50 kilometers an hour for like six hours just because they’re in a huge pack. So yeah.
JESSE: [00:19:50] Yeah. Well, it’s like that — I only got a very little bit of experience in like group riding and draft legal. There was a couple like amateur draft legal races I was able to be invited to. And just the energy difference and just sitting behind one person, let alone a group working together is ridiculous. And you can look at the numbers and say, okay, you’re going to save 25% energy with optimal drafting. And you can understand that logically, but when you understand it in your legs when you’re doing it, it’s a whole other thing. And you go, oh, that’s why there’s no way. Not to mention you’re on a road bike with shorty aero bars at best. Like, you’re just — you’re not going to get into a great time trial position to get down there. So, it’s a nice thought in theory. [crosstalk] But you know it doesn’t work in practice.
ALEX: [00:20:48] No, exactly.
JESSE: [00:20:51] So, I do want to ask about, so with your racing career, it seemed like you kind of came out of high school-ish age straight into pros, right?
ALEX: [00:20:59] Yep, that’s right.
JESSE: [00:21:00] So, how is that transition? I know last week, I talked to a pro cricketer from South Africa, and he kind of did the same thing. Just high school to playing professionally, which is a little alien to any US listener, because we have this collegiate development system where everybody goes to college and plays college sports. But that period of time from like, 18 to 25-ish is such a big physiological development. And I know, from other former pros I talk to that just the jump up in difficulty from amateur races to pros, even if you’re ready, it’s still an adjustment. So, how did that transition go for you? You know, do you recall how you felt at the time?
ALEX: [00:21:51] Yeah, great question. So, yeah, it’s very different when you kind of are just fed into the pro kind of system. So, I went like [inaudible 00:22:01] into junior elite into U23-elite into [inaudible 00:22:06] elite. And so I never kind of had the experience of not being in elite sport, I guess. So, in one hand, it’s really easy. But on the other hand, I think now looking back, I think that system is why we had like seven women who could have like podium in Rio.
And then none of them were fit or able to race it well in Rio. And I think it’s because — so especially with female athlete development, like with men, it’s fine. You’re going through puberty and everything. You’re getting fitter, you’re getting stronger, and it’s just kind of like, it’s okay, if you just keep training more and more and more, and your body is going to strengthen and you’re going to get stronger and bigger and better, and all that.
But with women, so you’re in junior elite, let’s say you’re like 17 years old, and then you’re 18, you’re 19, you are kind of going through puberty, but you are supposed to be like becoming a woman, but you’re not because you’re training really well. And if we look at swimmers too, like swimmers going to the Olympics, there’s one girl from Canada, I think she’s 14 years old, and she’s going to the Olympics. So, what’s interesting is you’re not really allowing your body to gain the fat that it will eventually gain and you’re not kind of like — so like you’re starting — you’re going through puberty, but you’re not going through it completely.
And then what ends up happening is around the age of 20, 21, all the way up to maybe 23, that’s when all the women start breaking down. So, we looked at like [inaudible 00:23:41] game when she was 19-20. Because she has like awesome strength to weight ratio, we’re really fit, we can compete with the best woman in the world, like all that, but we never allow our bodies to catch up. And then — so then your body catches up, right around that age of like 23, maybe 22, something like that. And then all the girls just like crack.
Whereas if you look at the US women, so a lot of them are doing, yeah, collegiate varsity swimming, varsity running, whatever. They’re training, but they’re not quite training at the same level that we trained at. Like, we trained like elites when we were 19, 18 and so then I really think it makes a healthier, stronger athlete when they come into it later, like as women because they kind of allowed their bodies to go through puberty, then they can just instead of like trying to gain fat while training 25 hours a week, instead you like start just — you already had the fat and now you can kind of lose it and like get strong, get fit get kind of ripped. I don’t know. So, I really think our system is not set up for female athlete development. I think it works fine for men, but we have some work to do on the women’s side, for sure.
JESSE: [00:24:54] Yeah, yeah. Well, and you’ll probably I would guess know more than I do. But I think I remember reading — I wish I could remember which book because I think it was a podcast guest book as well. But reading about, like one of the challenges women have developmentally is like going through puberty and then it — Like, assuming that it’s not being delayed through like, too much training, that like, there’s usually like, a time reversion where, say, you’re running a 19-minute 5K, well, then you may slow down for a year and be back to 20 minutes or something. And then you feel like you’re going backwards, so then the tendency is to want to work harder, which makes things worse. But if you just like, stay the course, like you’ll speed back up, and I think that’s something that’s not addressed very well by most coaches.
ALEX: [00:25:47] And that’s what I’ve been trying to kind of talk about recently in my talks and stuff is like, I say — So, let’s say you are competing at a high level when you are like 17 or 16 or something, you’re going to be fast then because you’re not going to have much body fat at all. Like, you’re going to be fast. And so then when your body catches up, when you start gaining weight, especially on the run, but also on the bike, any sport where maybe other than swimming, any sport where gaining weight will slow you down, as long as it’s not functional weight, you’re going to get slower. And we don’t talk about that.
You’ll have these girls who are training super hard and they’re getting slower and it’s because their body’s catching up, you know? And then yeah, exactly like what you said, if you just stay the course, you don’t freak out, you make sure you’re still eating enough. Because what happens then is the girls stop eating as much. Or the coaches, even the coach will be like, oh, you’ve gained weight. It’s like, they had to.
Like, they’re having this like rebound, sometimes they’re gaining too much weight, because their body’s like, we have to do this now. You know? And so yeah, you are going to gain weight, you are going to get slower. But then if you — as long as you don’t start restricting energy, you’ll settle right out, and you’ll be faster than you ever were. But the problem is that most girls don’t know that’s going to happen. They do restrict food, they go into the relative energy deficiency in sports cycle, and they start gaining more weight, and it’s just like this and then they get stress fractures. And then it’s like this recipe for disaster. So, yeah.
JESSE: [00:27:20] Yeah, almost like there’s a whole psychological challenge there. Because I mean, not only — this is something I wanted to talk to you about too, is like you’ve got the — what I’ll call, like the Instagram reality constantly chirping at you, which that has existed for a long time prior to Instagram. But it was magazines or TV or whatever the medium is chirping at you about you should look this way. But there’s this — like, how do you convince a girl that’s gaining weight that you need to eat more? Because it’s so counterintuitive to like the — what I’ll say is the cultural norm of like eat less and you’ll lose weight. It’s like no, you have a very specific situation that that is not applicable to you.
ALEX: [00:28:02] Not going to work. Yeah. I know. It’s so hard. It’s so hard, because so yeah, when you have a girl who’s in a state of [inaudible 00:28:09] or a guy too, right, but like, let’s say you’re in a state of low energy availability, your metabolism gets down regulated. So, now every time you eat, even if it’s already less than what you’re supposed to be taking in, you eat slightly more than that, your body is going to hold on to all those — as much as it possibly can. And then that looks like weight gain, or I mean, it is weight gain, right. And the only way to break that cycle is to eat more. And then just let the metabolism ramp up on its own, because you’re eating enough.
And then you can have that healthy balance, where if you exercise or you eat less, then you’ll start losing weight like a normal person, right? And that’s the hardest thing because, yeah, if you get to that point where no matter what you do you gain weight, like it’s an awful, awful place to be in as an athlete or anyone. But especially as an athlete, if your career, your life is your sport, and it seems like no matter what you do you gain weight, like it wreaks havoc on your mental state for sure.
JESSE: [00:29:15] I always feel like — and I’ve had my own challenges. So, I’m not trying to play it off as like, oh, I’m perfect and I know all the things to do for myself. I have a coach and we talk and we just — It’s like, not only do you have to convince them, okay, you need to eat more, but it’s like, you’ve got to get them to buy into it. So, they’ve got to trust you as the coach or whatever. It’s like, just trust that this is going to work and there’s all the anxiety building about I don’t have the energy to workout and I’m gaining weight and just all the psychological stressors going on. And one side note, it’s not really a side note, but for the listener, REDS or Relative Energy Deficiency Syndrome is kind of Alex’s thing, her area of expertise.
So, just to clarify that [inaudible 00:30:07] but — Which, when I was listening to the other interview that you’d done on the [inaudible 00:30:18] Athlete Podcast, you’d mentioned your sister was, you know, you’re both racing as pros and she really ended up overtrained. I thought I had read that you were overtrained as well. So, like, at some point, was it just her or was it both of you? I mean, how did you get into saying, okay this is my area of specialty.
ALEX: [00:30:38] So, my sister was the one who got really bad. I wouldn’t say I ever — like, she had full blown what we call overtraining syndrome. But it looks like chronic fatigue syndrome, or maybe it is the same thing. Maybe — You know what, it’s very similar to what we’re calling long COVID. So, the chronic fatigue that happens after a virus, it’s basically like, well, it seems like it’s just your body can’t handle stress anymore, right.
And so like, for someone with chronic fatigue, or this long COVID, they can’t exercise at all, because any additional energy expenditure just makes their body shut down, you know. So, that’s what my sister got. And I think it was a combination of many different things. So, she definitely was in REDS, like she had Relative Energy Deficiency in sport, she was also doing a lot of altitude training camps. She got progressively worse over time. And like, maybe it was even slightly triggered by a virus or something.
But either way it all added up, so that she got to the point where, for years, she couldn’t exercise at all. Like, couldn’t go for a light bike ride. So, that’s terrible. Normally — that’s very rare. So, I think what I don’t like is when people overuse the term overtraining syndrome, because that syndrome, when you get to that point of complete, like, can’t even go for a light bike ride, that is rare, but it happens. And so I don’t want to like overuse that term.
But like for myself, and I think any athlete have gotten to the point of overreaching, so functional overreaching or non-functional overreaching. I think almost all of us have been there at some point. So, it’s basically just when you get so tired from training that you can’t perform. So, even if like gun was held to your head, if you had to do a 5K [inaudible 00:32:24] or something you would do really bad. But with a week or two weeks, maybe three weeks of recovery, you bounce back, that’s just overreaching, and that’s what I’ve definitely had many times in my life.
JESSE: [00:32:39] Well, that — Maybe I’ll apologize because I know, like I often refer to as overreaching as overtraining. It is like the common vernacular for like, people are asking about what’s going on or what do I do. Or even like, you on the other podcast you just described the various stages in their delineations. And burnout being this psychological component. I just did a video on how you recover from burnout and talking about — I refer to it as overtraining.
Part of it is not being clear enough on each individual stages on my part. So, that’s certainly my issue. But then, part of it is just trying to, like, for most people, say, average Joe, if they’ve reached this stage of overreaching, it’s like, okay, you take some time off. Like, that’s all I need to say. But it’s like trying to explain that there’s all these factors that go into it.
And I think one thing that you talked about on the other podcast that it can be a trigger. And I think in the studies you’re talking about, like how just adding miles didn’t really get, like participants into overreaching or overtraining [inaudible 00:33:53] intensity. But the thing I try to educate people on is that life is a stressor too. It’s not — Like, your exercises don’t live in a bubble where it’s just like, well, I did the say mileage, it’s fine.
It’s like, yeah, but are you getting divorced? Are you, like, we just finished a kitchen renovation for the last eight months, that was stressful. You know, are there other things going on that are stressing you? And that is something I think is not talked about enough when we just want to be like, this is how to structure a training routine. It’s like, yeah, but what else is going on? Do you have like a huge deadline at work you got to get done? Like then maybe you’re not going to complete all your training hours this week.
ALEX: [00:34:35] Exactly. And I think that’s what’s different from like an elite athlete who can, I mean, sure, they’re still going to have personal life issues and stress and stuff, but they can dial it in so well, like when you’re just training, if you’re not working, you don’t have school, like you don’t have — all that you’re really focusing on is training. It’s so easy to just get the training load right because it’s like all we really care about is the training.
And so you can train so hard because that’s all you — that’s the only stressor, I guess. That’s the only thing that’s putting stress on your body. But then like, for myself when I went back to school, and I started trying to like do my masters and train, or like, even just day to day life now, like I cannot handle at all the training that I — even like intensity [inaudible 00:35:21] even one session, right? I can’t handle it. And it’s just because there’s so much else going on in my life.
And yeah, I think that the additional stressors or all the other things that are going on in your life they’re, yeah, more taxing on your body than training. You know, and they’re what allow you to — whether — they say whether or not you’re going to have a good session that day, for sure. Like even yesterday, I did a whole day of data collection. So, doing data collection for three different studies. And I went home and I was supposed to do — I signed up for this virtual 10K.
And I went out and I ran 5K and then I just quit. And it was such a sudden quit. Like, it was like I hadn’t consciously decided I was going to quit. And then all of a sudden I just stopped and stopped my watch and then I walked home. And then I laid on the ground for like three hours because I was like so dead. And it was interesting, because it’s like, why, you know? But I think it was just because my whole day of work, like, my body was like, no this isn’t happening today. You’re going to have to redo this. So, yeah, it’s interesting.
JESSE: [00:36:28] Well, it’s like in the midst of all that and I think one of the things you even talked about in the other podcast is like making sure you’re fueling properly, and not like [inaudible 00:36:39] talking about intermittent fasting it’s such the thing right now. And it’s like, I’m certainly guilty of this, though, I often get my workouts done in the morning so I don’t run into this. I eat breakfast, and then like an hour later go out for whatever the workout is.
Is it like, with the data collection, and I don’t know, you can obviously tell me, somebody has their work day and they’re busy all day and maybe they forget lunch. And it’s like, they’ve been going all day, and then now they’re getting home or getting off. You know, maybe they get off early, three or four o’clock then go do their workout at five. You haven’t eaten anything since — hopefully you had something at breakfast and you’re like expecting to perform when you’re in such a bad space.
ALEX: [00:37:25] I mean, that’s exactly what — yeah, I think yesterday, what happened was I had brought my food, but I ate my lunch around 12:00, wasn’t even like that big. And then I had a snack when I got home. But like, then I waited to run. And so just overall, a lot less calories than I would have had if I just stayed at home all day. Then I went outside to run at, like, I don’t know, 05:00, 05:30 or something and it was still like three degrees here, and just like 70% humidity or something. Sorry, that’s Celsius. Yeah. I don’t know what that is in Fahrenheit.
JESSE: [00:37:54] No, it’s fine. I’ll look it up — [crosstalk]
ALEX: [00:37:58] Yeah. Basically, it was really hot, I haven’t eaten enough, I had all the mental stress of just back to back testing. And, yeah, it’s so — I mean, for me anyway, I know that I’m very sensitive to calories. Like, I think when people, they almost like get used to not having enough calories, and so they can kind of handle it a little bit better. I mean, you’re still not handling it well. Like, no matter what, you will perform better if you are fed. And I think that’s something people need to realize. It’s like you will 1,000% perform better, you will have a way better session if you are fed, especially with carbs. Like, you need those full glycogen stores, you’ll be able to push so much harder.
But like for me too, I think I’m just — maybe because I know that about myself, I’m extra sensitive when I’m not fully repleted. And yeah, no, it’s super — It was like an interesting intersection of like psychology and physiology where like, I quit before even having thought about quitting, like — And my body, obviously, it’s really good that I didn’t push through and do the full 10K because I was so dead after — for so long and so like mentally foggy that like imagine if I had done the 10K, I probably would have just — I wouldn’t be talking to you today. So, yeah, it’s interesting.
JESSE: [00:39:13] So, one of the things I think about is like we’re basically on the same page, as far as I can tell is like, eat carbs they’re going to fuel you, they’re a good thing. And so one of the things like, I do videos about running because that’s my background. And I’m not a dietitian, but I do talk about food sometimes. And I talk to dietitians, so I’ve tried to get good information from them. But like, low carb and keto and those things are really popular right now. And there’s always a new fad diet, whatever that is at the time. And somebody somewhere sometime will be like, I’m a super vegan and I do really well at Ironmans. It’s like that’s awesome man. Like, you go – or woman or whoever, it is like, that’s great.
But it seems like, like when we look at literature and they do the study, like studies and try to figure out okay, what’s performance on a low carb versus carb cycling or running or whatever the study is [inaudible 00:40:17] it shows okay, yes, like endurance is an often hampered, but then like high-end power is hampered because you have no glycogen. It’s like they see — we’ll call it like, Ben, I don’t — Ben’s nobody. But for our example, we’ll call it Ben the super vegan. They see Ben and they’re like, well, he can do it, so I obviously can. It’s like Ben’s probably the exception to the rule. Like, how do you get past that psychology? Do you deal with that psychology with your athletes that are like, they’re like — that confirmation bias where it’s like, I want to do this. And I find the one example that’s like, they could do it. And you’re like, likely not?
ALEX: [00:40:56] Yeah, it’s really interesting. Because like — So, I think part of it is people don’t realize how much better that person could be doing if they were eating enough protein and carbs. So, it’s like, sure, they can do it, how fast do you think they would be if they were properly fueled and properly recovered? So, we know like — and yeah. So, if you’re getting enough good quality protein following workouts, you’re going to be able to have way more muscle protein synthesis, you’re going to be able to adapt to that training so much faster, it’s less stress in the body, and then exactly the same thing for carbs. So, it’s like it comes down to, can you adapt to the sessions that you’re doing? And then also, how hard can you push in those sessions so that you can kind of like, level up, right?
So, there’s a whole body of work done by Louise Burke out in Australia. And she’s the, I don’t know, god of sport nutrition. She does these crazy studies, where it’s mostly with elite racewalkers. And she gets them from all over the world, they come in, they do a training camp at her lab. And they, basically, every morsel of food that they eat is provided by her. So, she knows exactly what they’re taking in. And she will put them into groups of like, one’s high carb, one’s like, I don’t know, normal, one’s super low carb, maybe keto, whatever. And she’s done multiple versions of this study. And they also do races at the start and at the end. And the races are with prize money and everything, so the athletes have incentive to go as hard as they can. And what she finds is that — so we know that the high carb group will outperform any of the other groups.
We also know now that throughout a training camp, if you’re keto, you’re actually not adapting to the training the way that the normal carb or high carb groups will be. So, it’s basically showing like, not only are you hampering your performance in a given session, like in a given race, you also are not adapting to training, so you’re not able to level up, let’s say, the way that the other group is. So, really it’s interesting when people are like, oh, yeah, I know, I perform really well on, let’s say, low carb or vegan or whatever. And it’s like, but you don’t know how you would be performing, if you put that back in.
And I mean, even for myself, I found — So, I went through a phase when I was 21, where I was like really paleo. Which is paleo, it’s funny because it’s once again, it’s like any diet, it’s not meant for the elite athletes, because the elite athletes, like this is meant for people who are sedentary. Like, any sort of stress where you’re not giving yourself enough food is perfectly fine for somebody who’s sedentary because they don’t have the additional stress of exercise.
[inaudible 00:43:42] the exercise and if you actually want to perform in those sessions, like you need a lot of carbs, you need — I mean, with paleo, I had enough protein, but like, I don’t want to be a fat burning machine. I want to be able to run 5K or 10K really fast. And I found when I started adding more carbs back into my diet, even through just like oatmeal, rice cakes, rice, whatever, all of a sudden, I stopped getting sick so much. I was able to push in workouts, workouts seemed easier. And it’s just like, yeah, so maybe like for some athletes who really can’t — who really believe like, one way is the best way for them. It’s like, okay, do that. Do it for three months, and now like promise me that you’ll add some back in and see how — the difference, right? And then just let them kind of figure that out for themselves.
JESSE: [00:44:34] It’s so perplexing. Like, one of the things I think we get ourselves into trouble with is that our brains are trying to find patterns and things right? Like that’s what the human brain does. Like we find patterns, we identify them. But then we identify false patterns too. And that’s where confirmation bias comes in where you’re like, I think this is what happens and then you see it and you’re like, yep, that’s what happened.
Even though you may be ignoring evidence to the contrary. It’s just, I don’t — I don’t have a question. It’s just interesting sometimes how people get themselves down a rabbit hole of like, this is definitely going to work, like, in this case, like this certain diet, I believe this diet, like I wholesale bought it, and I know it’s going to make me the best I ever could be. And then they’re performing well and it may be just because of — in part, because of the belief that they’re going to be doing well so then there’s like psychological motivation. But it may be ignoring like, oh, I also kind of — I’m not recovering as fast, but like, I’ve got the motivation to keep pushing.
ALEX: [00:45:42] And also, like if you start losing weight, and most diets work, like any diet: vegan, paleo, anything, they work initially, because you start losing weight, right? It’s just because you’re taking in less calories. And people will think like, oh, no, it’s because I’m taking in less carbs. And it’s like, no, it’s because you’re taking in less calories. And maybe it’s because it’s harder to take — Let’s say you cut out all processed foods or all grains.
Now, that’s like, a large amount of food that you just took out. And so yeah, like, if you were good at counting calories, you’d realize you’re taking in less, and so then you start losing weight, and then for a period of time, you will perform better. And then it’s just when you get to that point in time, following the like, low energy availability, REDS pathway, that as soon as your body’s like, you know what, this is too much stress.
Now, once again, down regulate the metabolism, even if I’m taking less calories, I’m gaining weight. And then you start having bone problems, and then you have stress fractures. And then that whole cascade. So, yeah, it’s hard. Like, people will be like, this is definitely working for me, and I’m faster. And it’s like, sure, for a bit like you will be for a bit. But my go-to is kind of diets for athletes. Like, if you’re an athlete, you shouldn’t be on a diet.
You can be on a specific let’s say like for me, I find I’m pretty sensitive to gluten. I don’t eat gluten, but I don’t count myself as being on a diet. Like, I’m substituting my carbs and eating a good amount of carbs no matter what. So, like, there’s always going to be exceptions. But it’s just like diets are not meant for athletes. They’re meant for people who aren’t exercising. And then yeah, yeah, that’s my go-to.
JESSE: [00:47:23] Yeah, I think along those lines you’d said on the other podcast is like, a diet itself is like a workout like it’s its own stressor. I really like that just because I think it helps frame it a little bit easier where it’s like — So, instead of thinking, okay, I’m on a diet. I’m also working out, it’s like, well, now you’re basically doing two a days.
ALEX: [00:47:43] Exactly. Yeah.
JESSE: [00:47:44] So, if you’ve gone from not working out to doing two a days, like, it’s probably going to be a bad time.
ALEX: [00:47:50] Too much, it’s too much. Yeah, exactly. Like if you really want to try, like a super restrictive vegan diet or something, do it on your offseason because then you’ll get to feel what it’s like. And then when you’re training again, you can’t — don’t do it. Yeah. It’s definitely like doubling up. Because it’s basically what you’re doing is you’re putting that energy stress through your body. So, exercise is an energy stress, you’re stressing the body.
It’s like no matter what, if you’re training hard, you’re going to have a period of a calorie deficit. And like, that’s good for short periods of time. And that’s the way a diet works too. It’s fine for a short period of time. It’s just you then have to replenish it, everything; allow the muscle protein to come back, allow all your systems to adapt to the training. It’s how any sort of stress and adaptation cycle works. So, yeah.
JESSE: [00:48:39] So, now I’m going to ask you a personal question that I’m thinking about. So, anybody that’s been listening, back on episode 100, I had my coach on and we were talking about this. And I’m trying to lose weight in that sense. I’m trying to get leaner because I’ve never been real lean, I would refer — like, I’ve been like the skinny-fat athlete pretty much my whole life, which I think is a signal that I’ve just been eating too many carbs. Like, over COVID I gained too much weight. I’m 5”10. So, I got up to like 174 pounds. And I know like racing weight, I probably need to be closer to 160. So, I’m not real small by any stretch of imagination. But in college, I was racing at 155 and post-college like 158. My fastest 5K, I was at 163. So, like, I’m not trying to get down to 140 or anything. That would be nuts.
So, I’m trying to get 160-ish. And what I’ve been doing, I’m not consciously dieting. I’m just trying to be like, I basically have a system of like, if I’m hungry I eat, but trying not to eat too many extra desserts or things like that. And then I take my weight every day. And then if I have too many days in a row where I lose weight, so say on Monday I’m 167 and then by Friday, I’m 163. I’m like, that’s too much like, I’ll purposefully eat more to bring my weight back up so I don’t like, hamper my performance and end up in that overreaching period. Am I on the right track to do what I want to do? Or — [crosstalk] I just want to make sure I’m not like doing some weird dysregulated eating or anything. Like, I want to make sure I’m doing it right.
ALEX: [00:50:24] Doing it right. Yeah. So, the goal to — so the idea is you want to be losing it gradually. And in like the smallest possible increments possible. So, it’s kind of like, if you can be in a 300 to 400 calorie deficit, you’ll be okay. Like, per day. [crosstalk]
JESSE: [00:50:41] My goal is actually to try to shoot for like, 200. Because I find when I tried like three to four, I get hangry, like, I just get mean. And then I know for sure that I’m like need to eat something because like, I’m being pissy about everything, just the littlest stuff. And it’s like, that’s the signal to me, like, eat something, [crosstalk] you’re too under-calorated or whatever
ALEX: [00:51:03] So, I have a couple like rules of thumb there. So, yeah, you want to keep it within that, like small energy deficit because too big, then you’re just going to put yourself into REDS and then you lower your metabolism, and then it’s not going to work for you. So, that’s one thing. Another thing is just make sure you’re eating enough after your workouts, because that’s the only time you’re going to adapt from the workouts.
You don’t want to impede the ability to adapt from the training, otherwise, the training becomes essentially worthless, right? You know, if you can’t get faster from it, why are you doing? So, make sure you’re fueling quite a lot after the training. So, it’s like, if you’re going to eat big, eat it after the training. And then what I would do too, is, so like, let’s say you want to do anything [inaudible 00:51:51] hard session, I would make sure I’m eating carbs before and after.
But then say I have easy stuff, you could swing towards eating more protein, lower carbs. Because the protein if — let’s say you’re in a calorie deficit, but you have enough protein, the protein is going to allow you to maintain your muscle mass, not lose any of that muscle mass, not lose any of those essential proteins essentially, but still lose a little bit of weight. You want to really target the like, fat loss, not muscle loss, right. Yeah. So, that’s just from a calorie deficit, but maintaining your protein or even upping your protein intake, and then cycling the carbs around the training. That’s what I’d say.
JESSE: [00:52:33] So, we’ve basically just been in base building the last year, and we just did a fourth of July run. So, you’ve got [inaudible 00:52:38] on the first and we’ve got the fourth. And so it was a four mile run. So, I’ve got a baseline now from this race, but like, we’re only going to really start the build and then race period later on. Like, I’m looking over the next year, like, okay, so I’m only running like six minute pace right now, which is not bad for just doing long, slow miles. And then I’m like, okay, I’d like to get down to like 5:30 pace for my 10K. So, I just like I said, I’ve got you captive so I figured I’d poke your brain a little bit, you know, selfishly trying to make sure I’m on track. Because my tendency, growing up, has basically just been like, I didn’t eat enough my senior year of high school, partly just like —
I talked about this on the running show that I do on YouTube — is that like, I didn’t eat breakfast before I’d go to school and we’d have lunch and then workout. It’s that same thing where like, didn’t eat all day, ate at noon, or whatever time they had lunch scheduled. You workout at three o’clock. It’s like you barely consumed anything. I was just so broken down. So, then into college, my tendency was basically like, just eat. Like, just eat.
And it’s still like — you get to be really conscious. I mean, I messed up, like my junior year conference because I — we were staying out of town and I didn’t have access to all the food and I was just wiped from my races. And it was a two day event. I run in the steeple on one day and 5K the next day and just — I had no juice for either. And so I think that’s where I get into just I’ll have a little extra body fat as long as I’ve gotten the fuel — [crosstalk]
ALEX: [00:54:24] Yeah, you’ll perform much better.
JESSE: [00:54:27] Right.
ALEX: Yeah, exactly. It’s like you don’t have to worry. It’s like we worry so much about race weight, but it’s like, you’ll perform better if you’re fueled and you’re fueled for your sessions. Even if you’re carrying a couple extra pounds of fat, you’ll still perform better than if you’re skinny and under-fueled. It’s just finding that — like, I think people have to feel that for themselves. Like, it’s hard to believe it. You know, you’re like no, no, like senior is faster.
You have to figure that out for yourself. Figure out what it feels like when you are under-fueled and then realize like, oh yeah, like when you can push, when you can really go hard, and you can dig super deep because you’re fueled, like that’s a great feeling. And then when you’re under-fueled, you find like — it’s like, you just can’t get that extra little bit of push. Like, you can’t make yourself go hard enough in a race situation. And that’s a sign of, yeah, not enough fuel. So, yeah, it’s a big thing.
JESSE: [00:55:24] Yeah, I think you talked about this in the other interview with — talking about communicating with your athletes. And I try to really push this is people making notes about how they feel on particular workouts. I’m like the rate of perceived exertion religion. Like, if you have no other point of reference, like, what was your RPE for the day? And it’s like, if you’re paying attention to that all the time, at least, I feel like, I would have noticed that, especially on the bike, I think, because there’s actual gears, so it’s almost easier to like, quantitative qualitative matchup. But I would just be like, I just didn’t have the next gear that day, or whatever. Or I could be like, man, I really just felt like, say we were going, supposed to be like Z4 training or something.
And I was just like, pushing the top end or going a couple of watts over whatever my top end would be and just be like, I felt great, and paying attention to what you’re eating versus that qualitative approach. Like, how did I feel? If you do it enough, it seems like you’ll start to go, oh, yeah. Over the weekend, I just ate pizza and cake. And then I felt like crap come training on Monday because I didn’t actually get any good nutrients in over the weekend. Maybe you can get through it because you took in carbs and fats and some proteins, but just like the quality of it wasn’t good.
ALEX: [00:56:51] Yeah, it’s really checking in. I mean, I’m 100% on the same page as you. It’s like, to me, watts, and all my other metrics, they don’t tell me as much as if it was just like, okay, but how did you feel at that wattage? Or how did you feel at that heart rate or whatever? Because, yeah let’s say, I see someone and I prescribed them a workout, I said I want you to do — let’s say it’s on the bike, and I want you to do three by 10 minutes threshold, or like around that FTP kind of value. And then so they’re hitting their watts. And like, maybe their heart rate looks fine. But it’s like, but what, if it was way harder to do that than it usually is?
Like, that’s telling me something that it’s either you’re overreaching, or you’re or you haven’t fed properly, or you’re just in a really stressful period of your life or we didn’t recover you enough from your previous sessions, whatever it is. But like, I wouldn’t be able to tell that from the file. The only way I can tell that is if you gave me an RPE or you gave me a comment. So, I try to hammer that home to my athletes, but it’s hard with online coaching, because it’s in their hands, kind of. Like, I can say it as many times as I want. But unless they feel like telling me, I just don’t know.
JESSE: [00:58:03] Well, it’s just — I don’t know if it’s one of those things where — this is a phrase from one of my business mentors, he talks about, you don’t have to watch somebody else fall off of a cliff to know you don’t want to fall off a cliff. And I think sometimes people do need to fall off a cliff before they really understand it. And that’s one of those things, like — I think you talked about it with — I don’t know if it was today or the other conversation, because it’s all jumbled in my head now.
But just like some of those things are like precursors or signals before you reach that, like overreaching, overtraining period, like you feel a certain way or this isn’t happening because of this. And it’s like, if you wrote those down in the journal, or in the log or in TrainingPeaks, or whatever you’re using, then like you, in particularly your athletes can go, okay, maybe next week, we’re going to we’re going to pull back the volume or the intensity or something and deal with this before it becomes — [crosstalk]
ALEX: [00:58:58] Before it happens. Yeah, exactly. I know. And some athletes are really good at that and other athletes are really bad. And some athletes, they don’t — all of a sudden, they’ll stop trading, and then I’ll be like, all right, what’s happening? And it’s because they went off the cliff. It’s like, we could have prevented it. But that’s okay. I guess we’ll just like let you wait it out again, for the 10th time.
JESSE: [00:59:23] Yeah. Well, it’s like, I go back to Dr. Matt Jordan, who is at the Canadian Sports Science Institute. And he has a lab, kind of like what you’re in now. And he takes all these biometrics and tries to figure out all these different things. And what I talked about with him, is that no matter what data he can come up with and reliable predictors for injury or recurrence of injury, it’s like, if we come back to RPE, it ends up correlating and being one of the most reliable measures, no matter what data we can take.
So, it’s like when you’re talking about probably your athletes or athletes of — I’ll say — I can always call — say average Joe. But that covers a really broad range of people. It’s like not everybody has access to all that stuff and can be taking lab measures all the time. And it’s like, if you just get in touch with how you feel, [inaudible 01:00:20] like have a little Kumbaya moment and – [crosstalk]
ALEX: [01:00:24] It’s so interesting because the physiology does line up with the mental state, it’s just that people don’t know what to look for. So, when you’re full when you’re fully overreached — So, like functional overreaching, or non-functional overreaching at any given effort, so let’s say like — well, not even effort, like power output So, let’s say you’re used to going 200 watts on the bike at a heart rate of 150. So, next time when you’re overreached, if you’re going 200 watts, now, you’re going to be at a heart rate of 140. So, your heart rate’s actually suppressed. And what that feels like is it feels like — it doesn’t feel easier, it feels like you can’t push. So, then now like, let’s say, we go up to 300 watts, now your heart rate’s still suppressed by like 10 or more beats. It feels like you just can’t go hard.
And then it just gets to a point where you stop since you can’t do that wattage, because your heart rate isn’t keeping up. And so that’s just like one physiological sign that matches with the effort level. It’s like, you’re in the pool, or you’re running and you just have a feel like — you feel really heavy, you feel like you can’t sprint even if you wanted to. And your physiology matches up with that. You’re going to have less lactate production, you’re going to have a suppressed heart rate. And yet, athletes who don’t have that awareness, think, oh, it’s all in my head. You know, it’s like, oh, I feel heavy, I feel bad, but it’s just in my head. I just have to keep pushing through it. And it’s so interesting, because like, it’s like, no, the physiology usually lines up with the psychology and you just have to trust yourself.
Like, if you feel bad it’s because you’re not doing good. You know, you are doing bad and you’re doing bad for a physiological reason. So, like, I don’t know, I’m really not one of those people that’ll ever say oh, it’s all in your head. I think nine times out of 10 it’s not in your head, it’s in your body, your head knows. And you don’t trust it, but your head knows that you’re not doing well. And it’s just like that one time [inaudible 01:02:18] where you have someone who just kind of gives up because whatever, for whatever reason.
Like, someone passes you and you’re like, I shouldn’t be passing me and then you quit. But I don’t think that happens as often as we think, you know. So, yeah, my go-to is like, if you’re feeling bad, it’s not in your head. It’s real. Like, think about why, why are you feeling bad? Maybe you’re overreached. Maybe you’re under-fueled, all of those reasons. So, yeah.
JESSE: [01:02:44] Yeah. So, when I was getting ready to talk to you I just — thinking about overtraining, overreaching made me think about Vanessa Raw from back on Episode 61. You’re probably familiar with her. You may have raced together.
JESSE: And so former British ITU triathlete. And we talked about just, she spent so much of her career overtrained and injured and just being pushed too hard. And it’s like, just, she wasn’t listened to. She knew like something was wrong. But there’s just like this culture of just go harder and like you’ll improve. It’s like, how many times do we have to — using the metaphor again, push an athlete off a cliff before we go maybe we shouldn’t do this?
ALEX: [01:03:32] I know, I know. And the culture, especially when she was racing, it was so bad. I mean, it was when I was younger too. It was so bad. It was very much like, it’s all in your head mentality. So, like so many athletes that I know, including my sister, it’s like, they would go out for a run, then they would not be able to do it, they’d like start walking back. It’d be like impossible to do the workout. And yet the coach or the doctor even would be like, well, it’s all in your head. Like, you just don’t want it bad enough. And it’s like, no, that’s not a thing. Like, that’s not a thing. And if these athletes are professional athletes, they want it more than anyone else in the world. Like, they want it so bad. It’s everything to them. It’s their whole life. Like, lives. Like, it’s like the guests, the absolute opposite — if anything, they want it too much, you know.
So, like, let’s just listen to them. If they can’t do it, it’s not in their head — Yeah, sure, a blood test might show up fine, right? Because with overreaching, if it’s not with energy deficiency, if it’s actually just pure overreaching, it’s more like neural than anything or it could be cardiac. But either way, it’s like, it’s not going to show up in a blood test. That doesn’t mean there’s nothing wrong. Like, if you can’t get your heart rate up, there’s something wrong. And yeah, we just have to listen to the athletes. Like, blows my mind. Like, yeah, my boyfriend at the time, he basically got kicked out of the National Center because they decided that he didn’t care because he was overreached, like super badly overreach. It’s just so frustrating. But, yeah.
JESSE: [01:05:04] So, as we’re winding down, I didn’t get to ask you this, so I want to ask you this before I ask my final question And it’s how prevalent do you think overtraining is among the professionals or the professional peloton, however, you want to classify that group, all the way from continental through woke up, like the whole system.
ALEX: [01:05:26] So, I think that every athlete ever would have experienced at least functional overreaching before in their life, because that’s kind of just your training camp fatigue, where you get to the end of a really hard training block and all of a sudden, your times are just bad. Like, you just can’t go the times that you could at the start. So, that’s just kind of your normal training camp fatigue, but it is functional overreaching. And we have shown that it’s not as good for adaptation as if you had just been acutely fatigued. So, like, you just had normal training fatigue, but you could still perform, you would perform — you’d adapt to that training and perform better overall than if you got to that point of functional overreaching. But I think every athlete has experienced that at some point or another. And it takes like a week, maybe two, and you should bounce back, and you’ll be good.
Now non-functional overreaching, I think most athletes probably would have felt it as well. It’s just like, when you get into a hole, and it takes like a month or more to get out of. That’s non-functional overreaching. I feel like most athletes would have felt that as well. And then when we’re getting into like overtraining syndrome, that’s still a very small percentage, because usually, what that is, that would be like Vanessa Raw and stuff, where you end up quitting the sport because you can’t do it.
So, that’s still a pretty small percentage. And then in terms of like, low energy availability, that’s definitely tied in with the overtraining syndrome, like Vanessa Raw and my sister. And those [inaudible 01:06:56] I feel like — I mean, the nice thing about REDS and low energy availability, it has pretty obvious markers. And so the most obvious one is stress fractures. If you’re having stress fractures, there’s a very good chance that you’re in a low energy state.
And so I would say like, I mean, basically, any athlete that’s had a stress fracture likely was there, and they’re not performing optimally, even if they think that they’re doing fine because they’re not fueling properly. And I don’t know, I want to say like, we don’t have solid numbers on it, but like, I bet you close to 50% of elite endurance athletes have had a stress fracture, and so likely had REDS. Yeah, so it’s high. It’s high numbers, you know. I mean, and like with the training, with endurance sport, just you training so much like you have such a high volume that even if you don’t have some sort of disordered eating or anything, it’s just so easy.
And like you said too when you go to school and stuff, it’s just so easy to unintentionally not fuel properly, or you just don’t know. Like, yeah, you don’t realize how to pack your food for the day. I’ll start coaching some athletes who kind of went from being not athletes to becoming triathletes, and like, you need to eat a thousand more calories a day than you’re eating. And they’re just so used to eating the same thing every day. Yeah, so it’s easy to like, unintentionally get yourself into these bad positions.
JESSE: [01:08:29] It’s something I think about just because it seems like it — Maybe it’s just me going if we could have prevented this like, in Vanessa’s case, if we could have prevented this, then what kind of career could she have had? And even if she didn’t become world champion and win Olympic gold, just the qualitative experience of having a more productive, enjoyable career, like, instead of running her into the ground and just grinding her into a pulp.
Like, I just think about the qualitative experience of the person and like, is it really — especially our pros. I mean, all the amateurs because there’s way more amateurs and pros, but like, the pros should be the example of like how to do it right. And it’s like if we treat the best of the best, not the best we can, are we really like setting a good example of what the sports should represent? So, I guess I think about that sometimes.
ALEX: [01:09:34] Yeah. And I think like, we just have this tradition of really bad coaching. And it’s so built in, it’s like we have these — I don’t know what to call them, like dictator coaches. So, it’s like a coach that controls your whole life. They control your — everything that you do in the day as well as like your mental state. Like, they control everything and it’s so unnatural. And like, we know that happy athletes are performing better.
Athletes who have like a say in what their day looks like, what their life looks like, who they get to hang out with, like those athletes and specifically like triathletes, the ones who have control over the training, have control over their life, are the ones that are performing on the top. And the ones who are in the middle are not performing up to their potential are the ones with these like dictator coaches or dictator federations that don’t let them have a say in their life. And it’s so backwards. I don’t know why we have that set up.
I mean, specifically, like in Canada, we have just — it’s been like this forever. And it’s like the athletes are treated like they’re 10 years old. Like, they have no say in anything, which is absolutely insane when you’re an adult. You know your body better than any coach could ever know your body. Like, you know when something’s good, you know when something’s bad, you know what makes you happy, you know what makes you not happy. And the fact that athletes don’t get to make those calls is — that’s what’s ruining all the athletes, right? So, I don’t know.
I will also say on that, I think that we just need a culture shift. Like, I think there’s other sports who have gone through the same sort of thing where they used to think like, oh, we need to control our athletes down to every minute of their day. And they slowly realized that’s not what makes a good athlete. And for whatever reason, at least in Canada, we haven’t caught up. But hopefully, we catch up soon. You know, like, I don’t know what — say like the [inaudible 01:11:32] I don’t know what their coaching is like, but what it seems like is that they have control over what they do. They have more say in it. I don’t know if that’s the case, but it does seem like these top athletes get to choose where they’re training, who they’re training with, like they have more say. So, yeah, hopefully, the sport progresses to that. I don’t know.
JESSE: [01:11:56] Yeah. Alex, as we’re running down on time, I’ll ask you the question I’m asking everybody this year. And that question is how do you stay motivated after failing to reach a goal?
ALEX: [01:12:07] Oh. Good question. I guess, I mean, I was just thinking about my more recent goals. My reading goals are like less intense, right, because I’m not an elite anymore. But for me, it’s just because it’s not over. Like, things aren’t — It’s not like when you fail then it’s done. And then you should just throw in the towel. It’s like, okay, it’s part of the process. So, like, even I had a goal to run a fast half marathon, but I’m always getting Achilles injury, so it’s never happening.
But to me, it’s just kind of like it’s not a failure. It’s just the step in the right direction. And eventually, hopefully, one day, I’ll get there. So, I guess I think, for me, it’s just like, don’t put that — Like, have a goal, but don’t be like, if I don’t get it, then it’s over. Like, why is it over? That’s just like part of it. And one day, you’ll get it as long as you don’t put that end post there. So, yeah, I’d say that’s my answer.
JESSE: [01:13:15] Alex, where can people find you, see your research, get in touch, all that kind of stuff?
ALEX: [01:13:20] Well, I’m on Twitter. My Twitter handle is SuperAlex_C. And I’m also working with this group called One Athlete, and it’s at, I think, just www.oneathlete.com, maybe.ca, but maybe.com.
JESSE: [01:13:38] We’ll check, it’ll be in the description.
ALEX: [01:13:38] Yeah. So, that is — So, what we’re trying to do with One Athlete is we’re trying to make a monitoring tool for energy deficiency and for overtraining, and for overreaching. And so the idea is you’ll do this questionnaire once a month, let’s say, or once a week, but once a month is fine. And it just like track your scores over time and you’ll get to know, like, if you have a score of whatever, then you’re at risk, you’re in a bad place. And so the idea is you just do this monthly questionnaire, and you’ll know where you’re at. So, what we’re trying to do is validate that right now. We need a thousand athletes to fill it out, and we’re at like 140.
So, if we can get the word out, go to One Athlete, fill out the questionnaire, it’s called Alpha, that would be really helpful. Yeah, so you can find me there. And then also, so my lab is the Human Performance Lab at the University of Guelph. And we have our own website, and we post our research there. So, if you’re interested in any of the blood flow restriction or anything, all that has been posted up there. And yeah, that’s it, I think.
JESSE: [01:14:42] Sounds good. Thanks for hanging out with me today, Alex.
ALEX: [01:14:44] Thank you very much for having me.