Improving Fitness Fast, Minimalist Footwear & If Eating Eggs Will Kill You — Q&A
Q: What’s the best way to improve running endurance fast?
This is an extremely common question, although the more frequent version is “How do I get fit fast?” to which the answer is simple, “Go as hard as you can, for as long as you can, as often as you can.” The problem with this answer is that it does not take into account the reality of the high-risk and unsustainable nature of that approach — which, if executed unconsciously, will eventually lead to either burn-out or injury. This question is really only striving to improve physique and measurable fitness — not the applicability of that hard-earned fitness.
In other words, force-feeding your physiology lots of high-intensity training will definitely cause adaptation, and rapidly improve the body’s appearance and ability to produce energy. It will not improve, however, the preparedness of the tendons and ligamentous structures in such a way that would enable you to withstand hours and hours of activity — such as needed for running a 10k or a marathon. You will build “laboratory fitness” with this approach, but I wouldn’t recommend trying to run a marathon.
So back to the question, “How to improve running endurance fast?”.
Here’s a sustainable, low-risk approach to do exactly that:
Run for 20-30 minutes 5 mornings per week, completely fasted, using only your nose to breathe.
Do not be surprised if you are forced to run a 12-15 minute mile. With this aim, I’ve had my athletes run with their mouths full of water, and I myself occasionally even tape my mouth shut with a Somnifix strip. This run is going to support fat adaption, since your heart rate will self-limit and stay perfectly within your fully aerobic zone (it’s physically impossible to sustain anaerobic outputs and buffer lactic acid with only nose-breathing). You’ll also be running at a slow enough speed that your tendons and ligaments can slowly adapt to the demands of running, and improve their health and durability as 2.5X bodyweight is absorbed with each step.
Walk 20,000 steps per day.
I wrote about this in my article, Injury-Free and Fit as Hell. Walking is one of the best ways to naturally improve mobility and joint function from head-to-toe. Nature knows where things are supposed to anatomically “stack up” - it’s only when we disrupt the natural order of things in our sedentary lives that we cause them to fall into faulty patterns. It’s my hypothesis and contention that a disproportionate amount of the cramping we see during endurance events is the result of faulty anatomical stacking - not electrolytes.
Do some form of breath-holds each day.
This is a hack I’ve used for years to improve athletes’ fitness who live at sea-level and plan to race at altitude. Breath-holding causes our stem cells to release our body’s natural EPO (no, you won’t fail a drug test) and increases our C02 tolerance and oxygen efficiency. There are two styles of breath-holding that you may want to consider:
A. Most extreme: Near-maximal exhalation breath holds.
How to do it: While sitting on the couch, take a 2-second inhale through your nose followed by a full exhale as you pinch your nose closed. Keep your mouth closed throughout and start the clock. Recover for 1-3 minutes between reps and try to avoid hyperventilating or mouth breathing when you do finally breathe. Do 2-5 reps per day.
B. Less extreme, same benefits: Walking breath holds.
How to do it: While walking, take a 2-second inhale through your nose followed by a 3-second exhale as you pinch your nose closed. Keep your mouth closed throughout and count the number of steps you can take before a strong air shortage accumulates. Recover for 1-3 minutes between reps and try to avoid hyperventilating or mouth breathing when you do finally breathe. Do as many as 10 reps.
Run as long as you can once per week.
Keeping in mind the lessons above and the value of low-intensity, run as long as you can once per week. Why not more? Because running is statistically one of the most incident-prone activities on the planet - with 82% of participants injuring themselves at some point, and 70% of those injuries being recurring. The pathology of nearly all of these injuries is overuse in the form of too much volume and too much speed.
So once per week, hit the trails or the road, nose breathe for the vast majority of the run, ideally have a destination to keep your mind engaged, and go for as long as you can. And no matter what happens or how you feel tomorrow - you have to walk your 20,000 steps. If you do it right, do not be surprised if you feel amazing after these long runs and have minimal soreness.
Q: Advice for intelligently adjusting to “zero drop” footwear?
As with so many things in life, setting proper and intelligent expectations at the outset is everything. In the case of zero-drop or minimalist footwear, if you are a desk-jockey who’s never played a sport and recently read Born to Run - do not expect to be running barefoot through the Copper Canyon like a Tarahumarian by summer.
Another important and loosely related fact is that while running, our bodies, starting at the feet, must absorb 2.5-10X our bodyweight with every step. That’s a lot of force to absorb and requires one of two things: a lot of cushion or perfect anatomy.
Our feet have over 100 muscles and over 30 joints, which as designed, set the stage for incredible potential, functionality and dexterity. However, like so many things in life, if you don’t use it, you lose it! Just about anybody reading this article likely falls into a category of people that, since infancy, have been wearing shoes more often than we’ve been barefoot. In turn, those 100+ muscles and 30+ joints probably function today more like six or seven muscles, and two or three joints. So in answer to the question of how to transition intelligently, do it slowly and do it consistently. Here’s a quick 3-phase approach:
Phase 1: Spend as much time barefoot as possible, and continue to do so throughout all three phases of this plan. Slowly begin to walk barefoot in the woods or on trails to build greater dexterity. Although most should not plan to be a “barefoot runner” now or ever. Begin to wear a 0mm-5mm drop shoe with a wide toe box to work and for daily activities like grocery shopping, and even lifting weights. Continue to run or play sports in whatever you’re wearing currently.
Phase 2: Reduce the drop of your “everyday shoe”, for example from 5mm to 3mm, or 3mm or 0mm, as you transition your running shoe to a more minimalist, albeit not fully minimalist shoe. Most people should be in 5mm-8mm at this stage for their running and sports.
Phase 3: Go fully minimalist across the board, and be open to the fact you may need to run in a 3mm-5mm drop for the foreseeable future. Running long distance on pavement is not “natural” for the human. The risk of overuse injury is staggering, so an “unnatural” shoe with a 3mm-5mm drop may be required to meet those unnatural demands. The best indicator that you’ve gone too far on the minimalist path is shin splits and knee pain.
Q: Eggs and cholesterol. Did you see the JAMA article?! More cholesterol = more mortality. Thoughts?
This question came in regards to the 2019 release of this study and presumably from a person who, at some point, heard me state my belief that eggs are a source of vital nutrition in the human diet. This study, along with the recent statement of coconut oil as “pure poison” by a Harvard professor, are in my opinion entertainment and not fact.
Things we must consider before jumping to conclusions:
Correlation Is Not Causation. There are so many variables to control in the human body, which many of these large population-based observational studies could not possible factor in before drawing a conclusion.
Nearly 70% of the American population is overweight or obese, and many of those have various forms and stages of metabolic syndrome. Ergo, any randomized population-based sample is bound to have many people that are not healthy, active adults.
The “healthy-user bias” states that people who engage in one healthy activity, such as getting 30+ minutes of daily exercise, are much more likely to engage in other healthy activities, such as avoiding processed foods or added sugar. The opposite bias is also true! So after 50+ years of the American Heart Association and the FDA demonizing fat and cholesterol, those in the population consuming the most of it are very likely to be sedentary, overweight, smoke, drink, and eat sugar. In fact, the conversation around this JAMA article ended abruptly for me when I read that the researches counted “foods that contain eggs” (which included cake and ice cream) as “eggs” and/or “cholesterol”.
People like me have always stated that quality of food is everything. I’ve never seen a research study on eggs, or any other animal product for that matter, state that the subjects were fed organic, pastured eggs or animal products — not once. Ergo, demonizing processed, conventionally raised, and often pre-packaged animal products is something both sides of the fence can agree on.
There is so much conflict of interest and financial investment in the American public’s dietary consumption that there is simply no way for the average person to grasp the depth of the corruption, or who is pulling the strings behind research such as this latest eggs and cholesterol study. The single best thing we can do is routinely test our inflammation, blood glucose, insulin levels and lipids, and interpret what we’re doing on an N=1 basis.
Q: What are the best ways to improve digestion?
Before discussing the things we can do to improve the digestion that’s taking place inside of you, we must first consider the underlying pathology that leads to most digestive upset — the nervous system. I strongly believe that most digestive problems are the result, directly or indirectly, of activation of the “Fight-or-Flight” response. The pathological cascade of stress, or being more anxious and preoccupied than relaxed and present, actually reduces blood flow to the gut, increases muscular tone, and hampers total digestive capacity. Ergo, the best way to improve digestion is to relax and never eat while stressed, preoccupied or while rushing around. Once you set the stage for optimal digestion, here are my favorite tricks:
Prepare foods properly.
Nuts and legumes should always be soaked and sprouted. Grains, such as wheat or flour, should only be consumed if fermented as it is in sourdough breads. Fermentation actually pre-digests many proteins such as gluten.
Drink your food.
Take small bites and chew your food thoroughly. “Drinking your food” illustrates the extent to which you should chew, decreasing the total workload you are placing on your gut.
Try Digestive Enzymes or Bitters.
Occasionally giving your digestion a “day off” is super useful and should be a part of just about everybody’s wellness strategy. A daily 12-16 hour fast, a weekly 24-hour fast, or multi-day liquid-caloric fasts are my personal favorite ways to optimize gut health.
3-5 deep breaths before a meal can do wonders for your digestion as I described above. This helps get us out of Fight-or-Flight and into a relaxed, “rest and digest” state. Personally, especially when consuming animal products, I place my hands over my food, as I show gratitude for the animal and the good fortune to be where I am in this moment.