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The February 2016 newsletter is out - Primal Endurance

February 1st, 2016 at 4:59 AM

Hello from Reston,

January is behind us now and for those on the east coast from Virginia northward, we got to test out just how strong our backs are from shoveling 2-3 feet of snow. Maybe some of us need help with deadlifts to improve our back and core strength (more to follow below).

January would not be January without the crappy US News and World Report’s article on best (and worst) diets. For the past two years the Paleo diet was voted dead last as the worst diet, but not this year! This year we came in 2nd to dead last! This year the Whole30 diet came in last, which is basically a Paleo elimination diet. So Paleo has firmly solidified the bottom two rungs now. I’ve said this in year’s past but it bears repeating. There is zero science behind US News and World Report’s rankings. It is strictly based on opinions of a handful of individuals. If you look at the list in the link below, you’ll see the Slim-Fast diet is in the middle of the pack. How can a diet based on manmade drinks be better than one that uses whole, non-processed real foods? Crazy! I always say that Paleo is not a diet, but it’s a lifestyle. I know that sounds cliché, but I’ve been eating this way for four years now and I still weigh the same amount (180 pounds) as I did when I lost 25 pounds in two months back in 2012. For those of you that are still in New Year’s resolution mode remember that only about 4% of people that diet via calorie restriction, will keep off the weight when surveyed three years later. Therefore, for most of us unless we change our lifestyle, diets will only provide short term results and may even worsen your long term outlook.


Let’s talk some positive news. Kale is making its way into fast food restaurants. When I think of Chick-fil-A, I envision breaded, fried chicken patties and waffle fries. Tasty yes, but not healthy. The next link shows Chick-fil-A’s new “superfood side”, which is a salad made with kale, broccolini, dried cherries, almonds, walnuts and pecans. The public demand for healthier choices is really starting to reach all of the major fast food chains now. We all vote with how we spend our food dollars and a healthy change is in progress.


On a similar good news note, large food companies are starting to buy smaller food companies that focus on providing quality healthy products. I put this into the category, “if you can’t beat them, then join them”. One example that is featured in the next link shows that General Mills Corporation has bought Epic Bar. Epic Bars are made from meat that is grass fed and pasture raised. Epic Bar has been a longtime supporter of the Savory Institute. I’ve also listed a link below on Allan Savory’s TedX talk on how we can use pasture raised animals to help reverse the world’s desertification. It really is an amazing piece that has been viewed over 3.4 million times. Big Agra argues that we need grains such as wheat, corn and soy to feed the world. The sad truth is that farming grains on such a massive scale is causing irreparable damage to the planet via global warming and top soil erosion.   By some estimates if we continue down the path we are on, there won’t be top soil left for farming by the year 2050.



The next link cannot yet be determined if it’s good news or not. The story is about how some environmentally conscious groups are taking the Monsanto corporation to court (the World Court in The Hague, Netherlands) for crimes against humanity. I’m sure most of you know that Monsanto is the company behind much of the GMO seeds and have paid millions of dollars to fight against GMO labelling in the US. Monsanto also manufactures some of the most deadliest chemicals used in agriculture, including Round-Up and 2,4,5-trichlorophenoxyacetic acid (used in the defoliant Agent Orange in the Vietnam war). While it is likely that this event won’t lead to any real penalties against Monsanto, I’m hopeful that the bad press worldwide will further serve to sway public opinion against Monsanto and their GMO seeds and assorted chemicals.


OK, let’s move onto this month’s topic. The folks over at The Primal Blueprint sent me their latest book called Primal Endurance to read and review.   It is co-written by Mark Sisson and Brad Kearns. You can buy this book at The Primal Blueprint website or at the Amazon link provided here below.


Primal Endurance is focused for those amongst us who want to perform in long distance events such as marathons, triathlons or ultras. The book is useful for those who want to compete or just enjoy participating in casual endurance sports such as running, cycling and swimming. I must admit that I am somewhat of a biased reviewer. I have immense respect for both Mark and Brad. I’m also certainly not what you would consider an endurance athlete. I despise jogging and always have. I will occasionally go out for a 40 mile cycling trip, but those journeys usually entail stopping at a great barbecue joint or microbrewery. All that said, I thoroughly enjoyed reading Primal Endurance and learned quite a few things along the way.

One of the more interesting things I learned about in the book deals with the Maffletone number. First a little background. I’ve often heard Mark write and speak about the large number of his running colleagues that have passed away, while still being quite fit. Note that there is a difference between being fit and being healthy. The toll that long hours of repetitive endurance cardio training takes, fueled by high carbohydrate diets, has too often been a recipe for disaster. Mark and Brad stress periodization in Primal Endurance. They emphasize a rest period in the off season and recommend starting off the new season by keeping the body in the fat burning zone, versus going into the cardio zone, while training. Most of you have likely used a piece of gym equipment like a treadmill or elliptical and seen heart rate numbers for fat burning and cardio zones on these machines. These zones are based on the approximation formula where your maximum heart rate is supposed to be 220 minus your age. The fat burning zone is approximately 55-75% of your max heart rate. Once you exceed the fat burning zone you enter the cardio zone. Phil Maffletone is a running coach who has written the book The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing. The Maffletone number is the maximum number you should allow your heart rate to go up to when beginning training for endurance events. By not exceeding this number you will keep yourself in an aerobic, fat burning zone and build up your “aerobic engine”. This training phase could last several weeks and its purpose is to train the body’s aerobic system (meaning with oxygen, which occurs when fat is burned). When the body enters the cardio zone it becomes anaerobic and burns without oxygen. The stress imparted on the body is much greater in the cardio zone, as many more dangerous free radicals are created when burning sugar for fuel, versus burning fat for fuel in the fat burning zone. The Maffletone number is also a simple equation. It equals 180 minus your age. So I’m 50 years old and my Maffletone number would be 180-50 or 130 beats per minute (BPM). The majority of my endurance training should be limited to that upper heart rate of 130 BPM. Primal Endurance has multiple testimonials of world class endurance athletes that tried this approach of slowing down during training. At first they complain that training doesn’t even feel like training, because they are restricted by their Maffletone number. But when their competitions begin, amazing things start to happen. They are much better rested and not only compete just as well as they did previously, but they consistently beat they personal bests. The lesson here is more and harder is not always better. You need to train smarter.

Strength training is a bit of a controversial topic amongst endurance athletes. Some believe that strength training is not only a waste of time, because it takes away from precious actual endurance training, but it could also add bulk to an endurance athlete’s frame leading to slower competitive times. Mark and Brad blow this premise away and focus a chapter on how strength training can significantly improve competitive endurance athletics. They feature Jacques DeVore and his concept of Maximum Sustained Power (MSP) training. Instead of the classical workouts consisting of 3 sets of 8-12 reps per set, the MSP approach uses heavier weight and less reps. The theory behind this approach is that MSP training will teach the body to be more explosive and fatigue less. The fatigue less part is what ultimately helps competitive endurance athletes once again beat their personal bests. So how does an MSP workout go? It’s best done with exercises that are total body such as squats, one legged presses or deadlifts. I said at the onset that I’d talk more about deadlifts. Many trainers believe that the deadlift is the ultimate total body exercise. In the MSP workout you first need to find your 5 rep maximum weight. This means that with this weight, you should be able to perform 5 reps before your form starts to falter. Once you know your 5 rep max number, you follow the rep sequence 4-3-2-2-2-1. You should rest 10-20 seconds between each mini set. If you feel good enough after this sequence, rest a couple of minutes after the last mini set, before repeating the routine. The key is to not lower the weight during the entire workout. It should be noted that the classical workouts consisting of 3 sets of 8-12 reps per set are intend to increase hypertrophy (your muscles get larger). When using the MSP workout you will become more powerful, but will not add the bulk, which has its advantages when competing in endurance sports. If you happen to being looking at getting larger muscles, you still may want to vary your routine to mix in an MSP workout every so often, to increase your strength. This way when the next snowpocalypse occurs, you’ll be primed for endless hours of shoveling.

Primal Endurance is loaded with many other fascinating topics such as proper diet for peak performance, ketogenic training, how to use sprint workouts to better endurance performance and tips for optimal recovery. Whether you are seriously competitive in endurance sports or just really enjoy going for long runs or bike rides, this book is well worth reading.

Fitness tip of the month:  Try some MSP training

Are you in a bit of a rut with your strength training workouts. For a change of pace the next time you do total body exercises such as deadlifts or squats, ditch the 3 sets of 8-12 reps per set approach. First you need to figure out your 5 rep max weight. Then follow the rep protocol 4-3-2-2-2-1, resting only 10-20 seconds between each mini set. Rest for a couple of minutes, then if you feel up to it, repeat the rep protocol once or twice more.

Recipe of the month:  Paleo Chicken Wings recipe

The Super Bowl is less than a week away. When I think Super Bowl, I always think chicken wings. The link below has 21 different Paleo chicken wing recipes. In full disclosure I haven’t made any of these, so I can’t rate them. However, with 21 recipes to choose from, I’m sure you can all find at least one that will work for you. Enjoy and go Jets (Oh yeah, we didn’t even make the playoffs). If you try one recipe and think it was delicious, I’d love to hear back from you.


Be well,



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