Metabolic Efficiency 101
|October 13, 2014||Posted by Emily under Uncategorized|
Written for beginnings, by a beginner.
After I posted my new and improved training plan, a lot of you wanted to know more about this Metabolic Efficiency Training (MET) business. Which I’m happy to share with you. Just keep in mind that my background is in politics and I currently work at a brewery. If you want to analyze the upcoming elections and discuss what fall beer would pair best with Meet the Press, I can go on all day. Science type stuff is not my forte. BUT, I do enjoy learning and I’ve been studying up to educate myself on all things MET, Maffetone, and heart rate, so I’ll share some of that knowledge with all of you. (*also note that I’m combining principles from Maffetone and MET under the same umbrella of “metabolic efficiency.”)
Here’s the skinny on fat adaptation:
What is metabolic efficiency?
Using exercise adaptation and nutrient manipulation to become better at burning fat.
Why the heck does this matter?
Because we’re wired to operate on fat. With the ability to store only 2,000 calories of glycogen and 80,000 (or more!) of fat, we could theoretically run for days without needing much for fuel. Additionally, for us endurance athletes, 99% of the races we’re running (or triathloning) are in the aerobic, fat-burning zone. But, most of us have trained our bodies to rely on carbohydrates for fuel which restricts our ability to tap into those fat stores.
If you can help your body adapt to using fat for fuel, you can become a more efficient runner and be less dependent on carbohydrates for energy. This helps us: perform better, avoid GI distress, reduce our chances of bonking, and halt increased cortisol production (which can slow tissue healing and hurt our immune systems, reducing our ability to recover and upping our risk of injury).
How do you train your body to adapt to fat burning?
Two things matter: exercise and nutrition.
1) Exercise adaptation.
Let’s start with the basics: when you run (or partake in any form of exercise), you are either operating at an aerobic level or an anaerobic level. An aerobic effort is a much easier effort than its big brother. When you’re aerobic, you use fat as the main fuel source. But when you’re anaerobic, you need those carbohydrates to sustain the higher effort.
If you focus on improving your aerobic fitness, you can increase your production of fat-burning mitochondria and train your body to burn fat faster and longer.
2) Nutrient manipulation
The other half (or more, according to reliable sources) is nutrient manipulation. Let’s start with the basics here too: there are three macronutrients (fat, carbs, and protein) and when you eat them and how much you eat of them matters a lot. (#science) Refined carbohydrates and grains or too many carbohydrates period can train your body to rely on carbohydrates for fuel because carbs can cause your insulin levels to spike, which reduces your ability to burn fat and increases your need for carbs. It’s a vicious (and, at times, an absolutely delicious) cycle. The goal behind the nutrition side of MET is to stabilize your blood sugar and optimize your ability to tap into those fat stores.
How you do you know when you’re aerobic or anaerobic?
The only surefire way to tell if you’re in an aerobic or anaerobic zone is by measuring your heart rate. Everyone has a maximum aerobic heart that tells you what your ideal fat-burning zone is.
The best way to measure your heart rate during activity is with a heart rate monitor. I am currently using the Suunto Ambit 2 , but there are also many other garmins and GPS devices that come equipped with heart rate monitors. Or you can get a more affordable Heart Rate Monitor that just measures heart rate without shoving pace/distance/ALL of the data in your face. (I’ve also seen a lot of good deals on LeftLane <—referral link also gets you some bonus cash off your first order.)
How do you find your maximum aerobic heart rate?
There are two main ways to identify your maximum aerobic heart rate:
This was the brainchild of Maffetone after seeing the 220 formula fail to work on a number of athletes he was working with. Over a period of 30+ years, he used thousands of lab-based results to develop the 180 formula. This formula has athletes subtract their age from 180 and then modify that number based on a number of other factors (like injury history and training consistency).
Obviously heart rate is a very individual thing but the 180 formula has proven to be a reliable way to determine maximum heart rate for athletes unable to access full tests. There are also tests which Maffetone encourages athletes to use when heart rate training (MAF tests) and you can use those results, the amount (or lack) of progress, and perceived effort to help fine tune your target heart rate.
2) Metabolic Testing
If you have access to a clinic that performs these tests and the resources to justify taking them, you’re going to get the most accurate results from doing this. These tests will be able to identify the exact point at which you switch from fat burning to anaerobic sugar burning and you’ll walk away knowing your anaerobic threshold and maximum aerobic heart rate.
I know my maximum aerobic heart rate, now what?
Train under it!
According to Maffetone, the ideal way to develop your aerobic system, is to train within 10 beats of your max HR (so if your max HR is a 150, you want to train between 140-150), but he also makes a case for training at all levels beneath your max HR so you can develop the full range of aerobic muscle fibers. He encourages using warmups/cool downs to do this more effectively.
If you do this correctly, you will achieve a higher level of fat burning and improved aerobic performance. (For example: if you start out running a baseline of 9:45 minute/miles with a max HR of 150, that pace will get faster and faster over time while you stay at a 150 HR).
For more information from people who actually know what they’re talking about, here are some resources that I’ve been using:
Books, Articles & Interviews:
The Big Book of Endurance Training and Racing-By Phil Maffetone. A bible for all things Maffetone & endurance sports
Metabolic Efficiency Training-By Bob Seebohar
The Maffetone Method-Also written by Phil Maffetone
Metabolic Efficiency: Becoming a Better-Butter-Burner-By Sunny Blende for Ultrarunning Magaine
Metabolic Concepts in Returning to Running-Joe Uhan on iRunFar
An Interview with Endurance Expert Phil Maffetone-Interview on Will Run Longer
Metabolic Efficiency FAQs-Bob Seebohar’s Blog
What is the Maffetone Method-Phil Maffetone’s website
Speed Up by Slowing Down with Phil Maffetone on Trail Runner Nation
Carb Burning Vs Fat Burning with Sunny Blende on Trail Runner Nation
The Power of Aerobic Training with Phil Maffetone on Endurance Planet (a little triathlony for me, but still full of good info on the nuts & bolts of Maffetone training)
Burning Fat, Training Slower and the 1:59 Marathon with Phil Maffetone on Runner Academy
Larisa Danis Interview on Ultra Runner Podcast
Larisa came in 2nd at the 2014 Western States, is chasing an OTQ, and is reppin’ the US at the 100k World Champs.
Running and Racing with a Heart Rate Monitor with Gary Gellin on Trail Runner Nation
Gary Gellin usually has a single digit number for his finish place at ultras and continues to race well as a master.
Mark Allen went from six DNFs/not wins at IM Kona to six consecutive wins with the final one as a 37 year old. He’s Maffetone’s first proof that training slow to race fast might actually work.
***As a final note, I should stress that everything in life and in endurance sports is very individual, including what works for your physical activity and nutrition. One of the things I like about Maffetone, is that he never prescribes a one-size-fits-all plan, and instead gives you tools to find out what works for you. Using MET is a big trial for me and one that may or may not work. My goal is not to endorse this method for the entire internet, but to fill you in on what I’m experimenting with and why. Expect to see updates (that hopefully show progress!) and more information as this experiment continues over here in Eugene.***